In 1992, Joe Biden blocked the sale of Russian Cryogenic rocket engine technology to India describing it as being “dangerous”. India was all set to master Russian cryogenic rocket technology when the United States – in cahoots with its moles in the Indian Intelligence Bureau – set in motion a series of events that implicated India’s leading space scientists on cooked-up espionage charges.
Russian Secret Rocket tech to India
The Russians were offering a secret engine, the RD-56 or KVD-1, built by the Isayev Design Bureau. The KVD-1 had unsurpassed thrust and capabilities and NASA had nothing that could match the Russian engine for years. In fact, the rocket engine was originally developed as part of the Soviet manned moon landing programme as far back as 1964.
India signed a contract worth Rs 235 crore with Glavkosmos, the Soviet Union’s space agency, in January 1991 to buy seven cryogenic engines, along with technology transfer for these systems, for the Geostationary Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV) project. Following the collapse of its Soviet empire, Russia was under considerable American influence. In this backdrop, both Glavkosmos and ISRO anticipated the United States would try and stymie the deal.
So Glavkosmos and ISRO drew up Plan B – outsource the manufacture of the cryogenic engines to Kerala Hi-tech Industries Limited (KELTEC). The arrangement was designed to get around the provisions of the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) – a Western cabal that aims to deny ballistic missile technology to non-Western countries, especially India.
US opposed the Deal
The US opposed the sale of cryogenic engine technology on the grounds it violated the 1987 Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR). However, experts contended cryogenic engines meant for space rockets have little utility for ballistic missiles as the fuelling of such space rockets takes a period of several days. Such a procedure would have little relevance for military use as missiles are intended to be deployable at short notice.
In May 1992, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee added conditions to an aid deal, proposed by then US president George H.W. Bush, that would transfer $24 billion to Russia. The committee voted to block the Russia aid deal if Moscow decided to go ahead with the cryogenic engine contract with India.
The Los Angeles Times reported on May 14, 1992, that Joe Biden described the sale of cryogenic technology to India as “dangerous”. “I am confident that the Russian leaders will recognise the wisdom of stopping this sale once they see the risk of losing their economic aid… This is no minor sale; this is dangerous,” Biden was quoted as saying by Los Angeles Times.
Interestingly, Joe Biden also aided China to steal American Nuclear secrets. China General Nuclear Power Corp, a state-owned company accused of stealing American Nuclear secrets for the Chinese Communist Party has been funneling millions through an investment firm, cofounded by Democrat Presidential Candidate Joe Biden’s son, Hunter Biden.
Indo-Russian Covert Op to hoodwink US
Russian scientists sympathetic to the Indian cause realised the tech transfer window was about to close, and decided to transfer the production technology to their old friends.
However, with American spies crawling all over Russia during the early 1990s, transferring such a large cargo wasn’t going to be easy. “ISRO first contacted Air India but the airline said it could not transport the equipment without customs clearance. And that was not possible without the American lobby in Russia coming to know about it,” J. Rajasekharan Nair reveals in his book, Spies From Space: The ISRO Frame-Up.
So ISRO entered into an agreement with Russia’s Ural Airlines, which was ready to take the risk for a little extra money. “The appropriate documents, instruments and equipment were allegedly transferred in four shipments from Moscow to Delhi on covert flights by Ural Airlines. As a cover, they used ‘legitimate’ transhipments of Indian aircraft technology travelling the other way to Moscow for testing in Russian wind-tunnels.”
This was confirmed by cryogenic team leader Nambi Narayanan who told the Indian media he was on board the flights that transported the technology to India.
CIA plans to sabotage India’s Space Program
The United States knew further arm-twisting at the diplomatic level would not be productive, says Nair. “So the CIA was entrusted with the job of aborting the circumlocutory transfer of cryogenic rocket technology through KELTEC, and of stalling or discrediting the transportation of raw materials and spare parts to ISRO.”
The first hint there was a foreign hand trying to destroy – or at the very least slow down – India’s space programme surfaced in 1997 when five leading scientists – Satish Dhawan, U.R. Rao, Yashpal, Rodham Narasimha and K. Chandrasekhar – along with former Chief Election Commissioner T.N. Seshan wrote a joint letter to the government, saying the espionage charges against Nambi Narayanan and Sasi Kumaran were fabricated.
It is a measure of how successful the CIA was in this spy game that its agents in the Kerala Police and Intelligence Bureau (IB) were able to have a swing at just about everyone in the cryogenic project.
For instance, the IB had Vasin of Glavkosmos interrogated at Moscow, and tried to link him to the case. “The IB implicated Ural Airlines after airing the lie that Ural had, as part of the espionage activities, transported documents from ISRO to Glavkosmos,” says Nair.
(Nair also claims because of pressure from above, his book was made to disappear from stores and was never reprinted.)
That the policemen who went after India’s top scientists and the IB men who guided them have been either cleared of all wrongdoing or remain unquestioned hints at their connections way up in the political leadership. The big question is who are these people who aided the CIA in scuttling India’s biggest space project?
Send in your tips and submissions by filling out this form or write to us directly at the email provided. Join us on WhatsApp for more intel and updates.
GreatGameIndia is a journal on Geopolitics and International Relations. Get to know the Geopolitical threats India is facing in our exclusive book India in Cognitive Dissonance. Past magazine issues can be accessed from the Archives section.
False flies! Trump declassifies Russia Hoax docs. Pelosi pushes 25th Amendment
Top 10 Weird News - Edge of Wonder