It has been whispered for more than four decades now, that the deaths of Vikram Sarabhai and Homi Bhabha were not accidents or medical incidents.
These were assassinations.
More recently, in the 90’s as India was struggling with a rampant West and a Soviet Union on the verge of collapse, a ‘scandal’ hit the ISRO. To an India struggling to develop cryogenic technologies for advanced rocketeering, this was a big set back.
More than 15 years later, these ‘spy’ scientists have been exonerated – but India’s space program was slowed down.
They began their scientific careers as the two bright stars of India’s space research programme . Later, of course, APJ Abdul Kalam‘s and S Nambi Narayanan‘s lives would go on separate trajectories and their stories would read very differently.
Kalam, who was working on the solid propulsion system in the Indian Space Research Organisation (Isro), went on to become a much-loved President of India. S Nambi Narayanan, who was working on the liquid propulsion system — the technology was successfully used in many satellite missions — during the same period, was branded a spy and traitor, his brilliant scientific career dented forever even as he fought against an unjust system to prove his innocence.
Narayanan, along with six others, including his Isro colleague D Sasikumar, was arrested on November 30, 1994 on charges of espionage and for selling defence secrets to two Maldivian women, Mariam Rasheeda and Fauzia Hassan.
He spent 50 days in jail after that and lived in anxiety and ignominy until the Supreme Court cleared him of the charges in 1998. But even after that he never got to work in the prestigious cryogenics field at ISRO.
“They framed me in a false case, perhaps to destroy India’s space research program which was moving at a fast pace,” he says in a soft voice, caressing his long, grey beard that shines in the morning sun. “The state police pressured me to say that even the Isro top brass was involved,” says Narayanan.
The case was later taken over by the CBI which found no evidence, and said it was fabricated. This was later upheld by the Supreme Court. But it may not be closure yet for Narayanan as the identity of key players who fuelled the case still remains in the dark. Also, the question remains unanswered whether it was merely an unfortunate chain of events or if there was a larger game plan.
Narayanan, personally, believes in the role of some external agencies which wanted to halt India’s cryogenic space research programme. “We can now put the jigsaw puzzle together if we can look at what was happening internationally at that time as India was cutting into a billion dollar space industry poised to take off with its cryogenic engine research,” he says.
Police inspector Vijayan, who registered the first case against the two Maldivian women for overstaying, and the vernacular media which printed verbatim what the state police said, were perhaps minor characters in a larger international conspiracy.
India, by the early 1990s, had developed its own solid and liquid fuel and was able to put its satellites in orbits up to 800km. But the ultimate challenge was to develop a cryogenic engine that would propel heavy rockets with payloads of more than three tonnes to the geo-synchronous orbit, 36,000 km away from earth. These satellites would then provide accurate geo-spatial images of earth and would usher in a path-breaking revolution in telecommunication and media.
Cryogenics, the science of extreme low temperatures, has been a tricky one for rocket scientists across the world. “At stake was a 300 billon dollar space research and applications industry which was in the hands of five nations — the US, France, China, Russia, and Japan. Almost every major country wanted to put its own satellites in the orbit and they could do it only with the help of these five nations,” says J Rajashekaran Nair, who authored Spies from Space: The ISRO Frame-up .
In 1992, India signed an agreement with Russia for transfer of technology to develop cryogenic-based fuels. The agreement was signed for Rs 235 crore, when the US and France were offering the same technology for Rs 950 crore and Rs 650 crore respectively. “Documents show that US president George Bush (Sr) wrote to Russia, raising objections against this agreement and even threatening to blacklist the country from the select-five club,” Rajashekaran says. Russia, under Boris Yelstin, succumbed to the pressure and denied cryogenic technology to India.
To bypass this monopoly, India signed a new agreement with Russia to fabricate four cryogenic engines after floating a global tender without a formal transfer of technology.’ Isro had already reached a consensus with Kerala High Tech Industries Limited (Keltch) which would have provided the cheapest tender for fabricating engines . But this did not happen as the spy scandal surfaced in late 1994.
“If you look at the people who were arrested in the case, they were all connected in some way in developing or procuring the technology . We cannot rule out foul play by an external agency,” says Rajashekaran. The plot, says Narayanan, was to tarnish the image of a premier research institution.
“How could we have leaked out cryogenic missile technology when we did not even possess one? But what we lost in the process was years of hard work to revolutionise our space research, and the credibility and morale of our scientific community. And on a personal level, it ruined the lives of six families who were dragged into the case for no fault of theirs.”
via The scientist who wasn’t a spy – Times Of India.
Death of Bhabha
For decades now, there has been a speculation about the death of Homi Bhabha. To my mind, till today, these were ‘conspiracy’ theories – of a weak and poor nation, which probably saw ghosts under their beds.
Bhabha died in mysterious air crash near Mont Blanc in Swiss Alps, when Air India Flight 101, a scheduled Boeing 707 flight from Mumbai to New York, crashed on January 24th, 1966.
Officials investigated bombing that killed an Iranian scientist in January, 2010 | Source: telegraph.co.uk
The pilot did not report any problem with the aircraft, and was preparing to land at Geneva, when without any forewarning the plane crashed. All 106 passengers and 11 crew were killed.
A subsequent enquiry concluded that it was pilot error, who had miscalculated his position – and started descent for Geneva, while still in the mountains, only to crash in to the Swiss Alps.
Some other individuals concluded otherwise.
Two deaths in two weeks
Bhabha’s death was 15 days after Shastri died at Tashkent – again by mysterious heart attack. Before that in 1955, in another Air-India crash, it was suspected that Chou En Lai was the intended victim.
Strangely, Vikram Sarabhai, also died in his sleep at Kovalam, even though he suffered from no signs of any heart disease. Before Pokhran in 1974, Nehru claimed from 1958 onwards, that India could produce a nuclear weapon in a few years time.
Game of Death – In Persia
In an attempt to delay the alleged Iranian development of nuclear weapons, top nuclear scientists from Iran have been assassinated.
In total, 5 Iranian nuclear scientists have been killed since 2007. Another has been wounded and one more has disappeared. In addition, the head of Iran’s ballistic missile programme has been killed and a deputy defence minister disappeared.
via Iran nuclear scientist dead: mysterious recent deaths and disappearances – Telegraph.
Iran claims that this is the handiwork of Israel and USA.
Iran says the attacks are part of a covert campaign by Israel and the West to sabotage its nuclear program, which the U.S. and its allies suspect is aimed at producing nuclear weapons.
Iran has blamed Israel’s Mossad as well as the CIA and Britain’s MI6 for the assassinations, with support from some of Iran’s neighbors. The U.S. and Britain and denied involvement in the slayings. Israel has not commented.
The TV said closed circuit cameras in a Tehran street recorded one of the operations, providing clues for Iran’s intelligence agencies to identify and arrest the suspects.
One of the suspects, Behzad Abdoli, claimed that he received training in Israel, along with several others.
via Iran Scientist Assasinations: Confessions In Murder Of Nuclear Scientists Aired On State TV.
Not surprisingly, USA denies and Israel does not reject any involvement in these killings.
Like three previous Iranian scientists ambushed on their morning commute, the latest nuclear expert to die on his way to work was a victim of Israel’s Mossad, Western intelligence sources tell TIME. “Yeah, one more,” a senior Israeli official said with a smile. “I don’t feel sad for him.”
Wednesday’s attack followed the pattern of previous operations planned by Mossad and carried out over the past two years by Iranians trained and paid by Israel’s spy agency, according to intelligence sources. The targets were chosen from the ranks of scientists seen as crucial to Iran’s nuclear effort — the country’s top physicist, Majid Shahriari, was killed by a magnetized bomb in October 2010.
The similarities among the attacks were not lost on Iranian authorities, who immediately blamed both Israel and the U.S. for Wednesday’s attack. “The bomb was a magnetic one and the same as the ones previously used for the assassination of the scientists and is the work of the Zionists,” Tehran’s Deputy Governor Safar Ali Baratlou was quoted as saying by the Fars News Agency.
Israel is officially silent on the incident. However, its top spokesman for the country’s military posted this on Facebook: “Don’t know who settled the score with the Iranian scientist, but for sure I am not shedding a tear.” The Obama Administration insisted it had nothing to do with the attack. “The United States had absolutely nothing to do with this,” National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor declared. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made her denial of U.S. involvement “categorical.”
The contrast in responses reflects the good-cop, bad-cop roles the allies have assumed in the international effort to dissuade Iran from pushing ahead with its nuclear program. While Washington leads the global effort to press economic sanctions on Tehran, Israeli leaders frequently make thinly veiled suggestions that it may not be able to restrain itself from launching military action on Iran; they also never bother to deny a leading role in covert efforts to slow the nuclear program. In addition to the assassination campaign, Western intelligence sources say Israel was responsible for the massive explosion at a missile base outside Tehran in November.
via Who Killed an Iranian Nuclear Expert? Israel Isn’t Telling – TIME.
Most analysts believe as do
A lot of western security experts will say that the Iranians have some justification in their suspicions, at least as far as Israel is concerned. Mossad is expert at carrying out assassinations abroad and Israel has most to lose from Iran acquiring a nuclear weapon.
How effective the assassinations have been remains unclear. Experts generally agree that the most effective covert strike was the deployment of the Stuxnet computer virus, which caused the uranium-enriching centrifuges at Natanz to spin out of control and then blow up. Stuxnet, probably developed in a joint mission by Israel, the United States and Britain, allegedly set back the Iranian nuclear programme by more than 12 months.
via Assassination of Iranian nuclear scientist is a familiar story – Telegraph.