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Updated: April 9, 2013 07:00 IST
Kissinger Cables

Shut out of BARC, U.S. scientist foresaw Indian nuclear test

Murali N. Krishnaswamy
Comment (6)   ·   print   ·   T  T  
Indira Gandhi at Pokhran, nuclear test site.
The Hindu Archives Indira Gandhi at Pokhran, nuclear test site.

A year before India conducted its first nuclear test in 1974, a Bombay-based scientific representative of the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission was quite certain it would do so ‘in the not too distant future.’ Concurring with his assessment, a senior U.S. diplomat felt Prime Minister Indira Gandhi would take the step to offset public disenchantment with her government and the country’s growing economic troubles.

The American scientist’s suspicions grew, according to a U.S. diplomatic cable obtained by WikiLeaks, when the Indian nuclear establishment shut its doors on him, afraid that he was being used by the U.S. government to spy on them and would find out too much.

It is generally thought that the world was taken by surprise when the ‘Buddha smiled’ in Pokhran on May 18, 1974. But the cable sent by the U.S. Consul General in Bombay on April 4, 1973, was quite certain that India was on the verge of testing a nuclear device.

“As aura of Indo-Pak victory and 1970/72 electoral successes dim and as public disenchantment with PM and GoI mount reflecting increased economic distress it occurs to us in Bombay that in addition usual scapegoats, ‘demonstration’ of a nuclear device for peaceful purposes in not too distant future,” the U.S. Consul-General in Bombay wrote in the cable (1973NEWDE03743_b, secret).

The main source for the assessment was the AEC representative, John Pinajian, who had shared his ‘personal evaluation’ of India’s nuclear position with the Consul General, based on his own observations at ‘various levels in India, broad extrapolations based on technical papers presented at Indian scientific meetings as well as impression gathered from public and personal comments made by member atomic energy community.’

Dr. Pinajian told the U.S. Consul General that it was “fully within the capabilities” of India to “demonstrate its nuclear capability by exploiting peaceful application of a nuclear device” in the “near future and indications available to this end suggest that GoI may be working to this end.”

Dr. Pinajian was also of the view that the Department of Atomic Energy was laying the groundwork for the export by India of “largely ingenous [sic] atomic reactors (200 MWe).”

His impressions, Dr. Pinajian told the diplomat, were based on several things. Although he had “excellent credentials and contacts dating back to Oak Ridge” (the Tennessee city where some U.S. nuclear research facilities are located), he was being rebuffed by top scientists at the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC) and the Tata Institute for Fundamental Research (TIFR).

Despite an agreement with AEC India that the USAEC was making Dr. Pinajian “available as an expert,” and a suggestion by Dr. Homi Sethna, then AEC India chairman, that the scientist should ‘immediately’ go to work at BARC, Dr. Raja Ramanna, the head of BARC avoided meeting him until Dr. Sethna personally intervened to get him the appointment.

But the meeting was fruitless for the American scientist, as the BARC chief said it would be ‘impractical’ for him to work in the particular division he wanted to be in, as that would require permission from the Centre.

Dr. Ramanna pushed him off to TIFR instead. There too, Dr. Pinajian tried in vain to meet the institute’s boss, Dr. M.G.K. Menon. A member of Dr. Menon’s staff, Professor B.V. Thosar, had asked for permission to work with Dr. Pinajian, but “months have passed” and neither had heard anything.

The scientist felt this was significant as both BARC and TIFR would be “principal Orgnaisations [sic] involved in any move toward development of a nuclear device.”

Even Dr. Sethna, the USAEC scientist’s initial supporter, seemed to have abandoned him. “Additionally Pinajian has had increasing difficulty in seeing Sethna (has not seen since Feb although has requested appointment on number of occasions),” the cable notes.

The cable says that “key men in India’s atomic energy hierarchy are apparently reluctant to allow Pinajian to become involved in any access to these institutions. In my view their reluctance derives from their concern that Pinajian is knowledgeable and could find out more than they might like that he should. They probably fear we may be using him to observe their activities in the nuclear field”.

Then, despite Dr. Sethna’s statement that Trombay is “wide open and we have no secrets,” Pinajian told the U.S. Consul General, his contacts with personnel working there “(and he has a number of excellent contacts who value his advice) do not bear this out. His contacts suggest that outsiders working at Trombay are not free to roam around. In fact, friendly sources are unable to tell him who is working on a project and what is being done.”

Pinajian, says the cable, was satisfied from all indications available to him that the Indians are doing extensive work in the field of plutonium, recognising in addition that a “strong base for plutonium work is also necessary for utilization of plutonium in the DAE breeder reactor program.”

What is this US scientist complaining about that he was shut out and not allowed to freely 'roam' around BARC & TIFR ? Would an Indian scientist be allowed to do so at Lawrence Livermore ? This is the arrogance for which the Americans are getting pasted all over the world these days ? The US knew India's advancement in nuclear science and technology and that was why it strove hard to put pressure on India from emulating China in c. 1964. Indian test was imminent any time and the blatant US blackmail through USS Enterprise in c. 1971 was the last straw. The US therefore should have expected the nuclear test and they are trying to depict Pokhran-I as though it was a crime. Every country would conceal its nuclear weapons programme and there is nothing sinister about that.

from:  S.Sridharan
Posted on: Apr 9, 2013 at 15:18 IST

Yes, agree with Mr. Pankaj Kumar, Hindu should and can bring out those secrets regarding Dr. Bhabba which will endorse the trustworthiness of other Wikileak cables.

from:  Joy
Posted on: Apr 9, 2013 at 13:17 IST

Who are the other two gentlemen with Ms. Gandhi alongside K.C. Pant in the picture? Will anyone take pains to identify them for the benefit of all?

from:  Murtuza
Posted on: Apr 9, 2013 at 12:52 IST

The third point which is clear - Dr Pinajian was indeed a spy for the US
govt.

from:  krishna
Posted on: Apr 9, 2013 at 10:56 IST

I feel moral of the story is good ..If we are capabl to make Budha smile why we need somes ones assistance ...where we have to face the internal problesm like regionl or drought . And dont want the aid from US where we have to pay more than what we take and that for the life long.
Hats off to IRON LADY of INDIA .!!!

from:  vivek
Posted on: Apr 9, 2013 at 10:21 IST

It implies two facts : 1- US knew that Pakistan was Atomic Power much
before 1999 2- US knew that Pakistan and North Korea bartered Atomic
know-how with Missile know-how.

How was Dr. Bhabha killed ? is there any cable from US, I personally
request the Hindu to publish without further delay.

from:  Pankaj Kumar
Posted on: Apr 9, 2013 at 09:39 IST
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