Kill scientists, disrupt N-weapons programmes (augmented)

unnamed (2)
Bhabha and Albert Einstein (at the two ends) in Princeton with physicists Hideki Yudawa (Nobelist for predicting the pi meson) and John Wheeler (who defined the ‘black hole’)

Having mulled for a week the assassination of the nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh near the town of Absard northeast of Tehran on Nov 27, it is clear it was an event that was foretold. On September 9, 2019 the Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu briefed the home and international media about how the Iranians had experimented on prototype nuclear weapons at a site in Abadeh, not far from the uranium centrifuge enrichment complex in Natanz, and how on realizing that the site was compromised Tehran proceeded to cover up its tracks by demolishing this facility. Probably because it feared attracting an US or joint US-Israeli aerial/remote strike under cover of the JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan Of Action) prohibitions. In that briefing Fakhrizadeh was identified as central to Iran’s crossing the weapons threshold. His goose was cooked then. Driving to work in his car, he was terminated with a super-sophisticated kill system involving a remotely controlled weapon firing at a mobile target tracked — whether by a standoff drone or by satellite is a matter of speculation.

A year earlier in May 2018, Netanyahu had taken to the stage to reveal a rich haul by the Israeli external intelligence agency, Mossad, of what Jerusalem claimed was most of the Iranian weapons-related archive spirited away from a warehouse in Tehran. If Fakhrizadeh’s killing was evidence that the Pasdaran (Revolutionary Guard) in-charge of the country’s nuclear programme was lax about providing security to the leading scientists involved in critical and sensitive work, the spiriting away by the Israelis of a treasure trove of some 55,000 highly classified papers and an equal number, as BBC reported, of files in 183 CDs stored in an apparently unattended building, proved the Iranians to be just as loose with their secret documents.

But the world is well aware of Israel’s proven partiality for preemptive-preventive military action to neutralize even the remotest threat. In 1990 an inspired Canadian long range gun designer and ballistics expert Gerald Bull, who helped Canada, the US and China design and perfect long range artillery systems, was shot by Mossad agents outside his home in Brussels. He was, at the time, helping the regime of Iraqi President Saddam Hussain develop ‘Project Babylon’, perhaps, the biggest artillery system ever conceived — a 150 meter long gun, weighing 2,100 tonnes, with a bore of one meter (39 inches), capable of placing a 2,000-kilogram projectile into orbit and, if fired laterally, of its massive shell hitting any target in Israel, or Iran. (Iraq and Iran were then in a 10-year war.)

Attempts to cripple in the early stages the nuclear weapons programmes of adversary countries by terminating the lives of leading scientific and engineering figures involved in them is by now a tried and tested strategy. The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists reveals that the nuclear pioneer Niels Bohr proposed to the Allied governments during the Second World War the kidnapping of the leading German physicist Werner Heisenberg, the 1932 Nobel prize winner for creating the field of ‘quantum mechanics’, lest he produce the A-Bomb for Hitler.

India was the first country targeted for its nuclear weapons ambitions post-1945. On 24 January 1966, an Air India Boeing 707 aircraft, ‘Kanchenjunga’ — Flight AI 101 on a hopping flight — Bombay-Beirut-Geneva-London crashed into the 15,300 foot high Mont Blanc on the approach to the Geneva airport. A US CIA agent Robert Crowley admitted getting a Bombay airport services staff member — for a few rupees no doubt — to place a bomb in the luggage hold. As he told a reporter Gregory Douglas, who reproduced this revelation in his book ‘Conversations with the Crow’, “We had trouble, you know, with India back in the 60’s when they got uppity and started work on an atomic bomb.” On Bhabha, he said, “[T]hat one was dangerous, believe me. He had an unfortunate accident. He was flying to Vienna to stir up more trouble when his Boeing 707 had a bomb go off in the cargo hold.”

According to Douglas, Bhabha was targeted by the CIA after his statement in October 1965, that India could, in fact, build an atomic bomb within 18 months if okayed by Delhi. But as I detail in my book 2002 book ‘Nuclear Weapons and Indian Security’ (now in a 2nd edition published in 2005), Bhabha had actually pleaded with Nehru in November 1962 to allow him to test a nuclear explosive as a means of raising the morale of the Indian people who saw their army being pummeled in the Himalayas by the Chinese PLA. Nehru, as always when it came to weaponising the capability, demurred and set India back in the nuclear realm in such a way that it has never really recovered. With that also went the chance of the country beating China to the A-Bomb and vaulting into the ranks of the great powers. China tested its fission device in October 1964 –some three months after Nehru died. India did not test until ten years later, and then failed formally to weaponize.

Incidentally, John F Kennedy thought of ending the Chinese nuclear weapons programme by attacking the Chinese nuclear weapons complex at Lop Nor but desisted for fear of Russian reaction. Later Russia considered doing the same and so informed Washington but the US was discouraging because by then it had begun to perceive a nuclear China’s utility in containing the Soviet Union.

Pakistan’s nuclear weapons programme could have been throttled had Indira Gandhi permitted the Israeli strike aircraft staging out of Indian bases in early 1982 to take out the Kahuta nuclear weapons facilities. This operation was revealed to me by the Israeli General Aahron Yaariv, the military intelligence chief to General Moshe Dayan in the 1956 Sinai Campaign, when I was in the kibbutz at Kiryat Shimona covering the 1982 Lebanon War. I wrote about it then, and have detailed the strike operation in ‘Nuclear Weapons and Indian Security’. That operation would also have eliminated the frontline generation of Pakistani nuclear scientists and technologists. Recall that Israel had bombed the Iraqi Osirak reactor the previous year and had displayed the required expertise.

I had advised in a Sunday paper column in the Summer of 1987 (if I remember correctly) that India still had a six month window to strike, but if it did not it would have to forever hold its peace with Pakistan. India did not and the situation is what it is today.

Except, the ground reality is as perilous for Indians involved in the weapons directorate at BARC, Trombay, and elsewhere today as it is for their Iranian counterparts. According to one count ( ), between the years 2008 and 2016, some 70 Indian science and technology personnel employed by the Atomic Energy Commission in Trombay and at Kalpakkam have mysteriously died, 38 of them in extremely suspicious circumstances. Many of them were involved in the high-value breeder reactor project to secure for the country “energy independence” that Bhabha had chalked out per his 3-stage plan — heavy water-natural uranium reactors producing the feedstock for breeder reactors which, in turn, fuel reactor run thorium — a mineral of which India has the 2nd largest reserves in the world. In many of these cases, the local police have rushed to judgement and usually pronounced the deaths suicides!

In the last four years there might have been more such unexplained deaths. This is a ridiculous state of affairs where Indians involved in ostensibly high-security projects — weapons, breeder and thorium reactors — are being bumped off with the Indian government seemingly unaware of the threats, and doing less than nothing to protect the country’s prized nuclear science and engineering talent.

Of a piece is the case of the ISRO scientist responsible for indigenously developing cryogenic rocket technology DrNambi Narayanan. One day in 1994 he was hauled up by Kerala Police for espionage and leaking sensitive documents to Pakistan, tortured in jail, and asked to confess. He didn’t. CBI took over the case in 1996 and after a thorough investigation concluded Dr Narayanan was not guilty of anything. This exoneration did not prevent the Kerala Police from troubling him again, nor did it persuade ISRO to return the good Doctor to his previous job. In the meanwhile the cryogenic engine project floundered, and cost and time over-runs accrued. The opportunity cost to the country of this action of the Kerala Police was immeasurable. And yet no one from that State Police cadre was hauled up and held accountable for this action that was obviously engineered by any number of countries who didn’t want to see India become a space power.

Put all these cases related to strategic technologies sector together, and one can discern the clear intent and pattern of targeting technical personnel in order to sabotage and subvert India’s progress. There is no trained police agency providing 24/7/365 protection for Indians in highly sensitive technology programmes as is the case in most advanced countries, and especially in China and Pakistan. There’s something phenomenally wrong here. Time the government and country woke up to these dangers and did something meaningful to assure members of our nuclear and space communities the safety and the peace of mind they deserve.

About Bharat Karnad

Senior Fellow in National Security Studies at the Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi, he was Member of the (1st) National Security Advisory Board and the Nuclear Doctrine-drafting Group, and author, among other books of, 'Nuclear Weapons and Indian Security: The Realist Foundations of Strategy', 'India's Nuclear Policy' and most recently, 'Why India is Not a Great Power (Yet)'. Educated at the University of California (undergrad and grad), he was Visiting Scholar at Princeton University, University of Pennsylvania, the Shanghai Institutes of International Studies, and Henry L. Stimson Center, Washington, DC.
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54 Responses to Kill scientists, disrupt N-weapons programmes (augmented)

  1. Vaibhav says:

    A brilliant article !

  2. V.Ganesh says:

    Mr. Karnad, were you a journalist or a writer then when you say you were covering the 1982 Lebanon War?

  3. V.Ganesh says:

    Wow, Mr. Karnad. So, you must have had a diploma or bachelor’s degree in journalism/mass media/mass communication to have been recruited as a journalist by the Hindustan Times and sent to cover the 1982 Lebanon War, right?

    • Wrong. In those days a journalism degree — which is a lot of crap — was not required. Nor is it required now. One has to just know the subject. And be able to write.

      • ARINDAM BORA says:

        Are subject knowledge and writing skills the only pre-requisites to become a strategic affairs/defence/security analyst? If I may Mr. Karnad, how can someone with no connections like me launch myself in the above field. I mean why would anyone even care to go through my content let alone publish it on their platform?
        Do you have any suggestions sir?

      • No, Mr. Bora. But especially by acquiring domain knowledge through undergrad and grad degrees at reputable universities with renowned strategists-scholars on faculty who have done seminal work in the field.

  4. Sankar says:

    Something missing here- It was Indira Gandhi who tacitly approved and goaded the officials of defense and technology departments to go for a nuclear detonation test in 1974. If she were at the helm today, I doubt whether China would have dared to make incursions in Ladakh or in Doklam plateau.
    Bhabha was a first rate theoretical physicist. You need experimental physicists, metallurgists and others to make the nuclear bombs. Bhabha could have headed a project for nuclear arsenal but that would be the limit of his contribution just like Oppenheimer headed the Manhattan project. The real scientific and technological work in the US was by Enrico Fermi in making atomic bombs. Heisenberg was the “father of theoretical nuclear physics” true, but he would have been nowhere in making the bomb. There is a vast divide between theoretical expertise and experimental expertise. That Bulletin’s story is just poppycock – makes a good sale. I am sure Iran will find an equally capable replacement for her murdered scientist.

  5. PRATIK KUMAR says:

    Hi sir. I saw your webinar yesterday (on youtube) on ‘Future of India China relations’ conducted by Chandigarh University on 21st October 2020. Sir that IAS office, rahul bhandari, seemed to be a loser. It seems he meant that (by his speech before the Q/A session) India can’t be aggressive as it imports a lot of important products from china like medicines, semiconductors etc. Fine, India imports such products but if India becomes aggressive (like recognising taiwan, nuclear arming vietnam and so on…) its not that china will stop exporting such things. I don’t know why these bureaucrats are so scared of China like china ye kar dega, vo kar dega…..I think such losers are greatly responsible for India’s current state. What would you say about such IAS officers sir? His views seemed totally opposite of yours.

    • Gaurav Tyagi says:

      Mr. Kumar, the reason why these IAS and bureaucrats are so scared of China is because China has deeply penetrated the Indian bureaucracy. The Chinese provide Indian high ranking bureaucrats with loads of underhand cash.

      • Shanal says:

        I can sense that. But we need solid evidence. Can you provide one ?

      • Gaurav Tyagi says:

        @Shanal, do you seriously think that guys like Ajit Doval would leave any trace of their nefracious dealings? One just has to apply logic and connect the dots to arrive at a logical conclusion.

      • Anon says:

        Gaurav Tyagi@ — What China, even Pakistan overwhelms our bureaucracy. They have managed to deep penetrate our system. Their arrogant chums write articles to educate “gullible” Indians on “social issues”. If any solution is proposed the bureaucrats educate our leaders on why it’s not possible, and wont come up with alternatives. In the corporate world, such people would be fired. Modi was expected to fix this but he also depends on the same people. The Indian military is not far behind and have started resembling bureaucrats. The China situation has exposed the military leaders. The current generation of bureaucrats and military leaders are comfortably stuck in their ideas. Leaders can change every 5 yrs but not these people. The Indian systems need a radical overhaul.

  6. Gaurav Tyagi says:

    Greetings Mr. Karnad,

    What’s your take on this;

    I doubt that Iran has the capacity to strike deep inside Israel. Nethanyahu and his wife/son are involved in various high profile corruption cases in Israel. Isn’t it possible that Nethanyahu himself is behind the assassination of Mossad Commander to pin the blame on Iran?

    • Gaurav Tyagi says:

      This obviously is a fake news. No mainstream media has reported it. Mossad Commander being assassinated in Israel is a big news. Global media surely would have picked it up, if it was for real.

  7. Shanal says:

    Do these issues reach PM’s ears. Why don’t you try reach (may sound naive) out to him and avail him of the threat level?

  8. Shanal says:

    Which country was involved in this Nambi Narayan case? Pak, USA or China ?

      • What's in it anyway says:

        Pak won’t do it because they were already in range without the cryogenic engine. They might have been in the middle…
        U.S. would have gone straight for the kill.The pattern doesn’t match, that leaves us with China .. they do it that way ….. in UK infact in whole of Europe they have paid from bureaucrats to MPs to have their way.

  9. andy says:

    Here’s a longer version of Crowlys conversation with Gregory. Incredibly he claims they ‘aced’ Pm Lal Bahadur Shastri as well . Shastri and Babha died within two weeks of each other,Shastri on 11 jan 1965 and Babha on 24 jan 1965 ,both died while travelling abroad.Maybe not so incredible if you consider the geopolitical situation of the time,India had just defeated a US ally Pakisatan in the 1965 war. 3 months earlier Babha had said on All India radio that India could develop a nuclear bomb in 18months. India was drawing closer to the USSR in spite of its non aligned status. This probably gave CIA the motive to go ahead with their nefarious designs plus they were people who had the means to make such things happen. Conspiracy theory or truth? Mind boggling but plausible.

  10. Veeru Singh says:

    Respected Sir,
    9/11 happened in New York, only because Pakistan had nuclear weapons.
    Jo hota hai, achche ke liye hi hota hai.
    Now America may destroy Pakistan completely and divide it into 3-4 pieces.
    This Indian – American friendship would have never happened if Pakistan did not possess Nuclear weapons.

    Jai Hind

    • Unlikely what you say will happen.

    • Anon says:

      US and Britain see Pakistan as a strategic asset to monitor Afghanistan. It was these powers that trained Pakistan’s Intelligence services. You should read the book ‘Fulcrum of Evil’ by MK Dhar. Indian interests don’t match with US’. America just wants to use us as sidekick. But surprisingly in India all are united, irrespective of their ideology, in their blind love for the US. No doubt it must have been very difficult for Bharat to find allies to support his arguments on the nuclear deal. Now the US also tells us what’s good for us through Brookings India filled with Indian wannabees desperate for acceptance by Uncle Sam. The fact that even our PM is fascinated by America is worrying.

  11. Kunal Singh says:

    corrupting someone with money is more ethical than killing them.

  12. Shanal says:

    Correct me if I am wrong
    An ex-intelligence guy pavneet singh( Now teaches in Vajiram & Ravi) said in one of his Quora ans that NSAs of both countries planned Pulwama & Balakot and also that NSAs of both countries meet often around the globe and discuss things.

  13. Muhammad Aryan says:

    **|||| “Pakistan’s nuclear weapons programme could have been throttled had Indira Gandhi permitted the Israeli strike aircraft staging out of Indian bases in early 1982 to take out the Kahuta nuclear weapons facilities…….”

    “I had advised in a Sunday paper column in the Summer of 1987 (if I remember correctly) that India still had a six month window to strike, but if it did not it would have to forever hold its peace with Pakistan. India did not and the situation is what it is today.” ||||**

    I have tremendous respect for Mr Karnad. However, the Indian strategic community’s fascination with making an Israel out of themselves every now and then is bizarre.

    Firstly, New Delhi and Tel Aviv would’ve been stopped in their tracks by a phone call from Washington DC. The Pakistani National Security Establishment under Gen Zia had been collaborating deeply with the Yankies in Afghanistan. And given the highly militarized character of the region, any mobilization across the Radcliffe would’ve been surely picked up by the multi-national spy network operating between the Indus and the Jehlum Rivers against the Soviets. The signal might very well have come from the Mossad of all places since it too besides the CIA had been coordinating with the ISI.

    Secondly, the Zia regime acquired the F-16s precisely for the protection of nuclear and missile assembly installations. Moreover, mobile air defense units already in place in the northern region would have inflicted significant damage to any intruding IAF (both Israeli and Indian) jets. The intruders might have dropped their ammunition on their intended targets but their chances of returning safely across the border in one piece were negligible.

    PAF was and is a formidable entity not some rusty Baathist flying club.

    Thirdly, Sanjay Gandhi’s untimely death had crippled the politico-organizational machinery of the Congress Party, and, therefore, despite trouncing her rivals, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was in no position to undertake such a sensitive venture. The strong centrifugal pull of India’s regional political dynamics had begun to dominate her routine. Also, restiveness in the critical border province of Punjab was getting out of her hands. Had he been alive, Sanjay would have kept the rear intact thus allowing his mother more roam to operate assertively in the region.

    Fourthly, unlike East Pakistan/Bangladesh, the Western sector has never been a walkover. Integrated supply lines of the Pakistani military would have dragged New Delhi into a protracted battle requiring full and expensive mobilization which given the state of Indian economy at that time could’ve been a non-starter.

    Fifthly, why would Israel get into this mess? What was there for her? The attack on Osirak was understandable from the Israeli perspective. But how did Kahuta serve any long term Israeli interest? Conversely, any such foolish step would have created one more adversary for Israel in the Middle Eastern theatre. Pakistan would surely have used Iranian networks in Lebanon to settle scores with the Israelis. Killing Iraqi scientists carried little or no cost. Iraqi ‘counter intelligence’ was a bunch of glorified police enforcers only effective against unarmed civilians and low ranking military officers of the Iraqi ‘military’.

    Lastly, North Korean missile components often took the Karakoram highway to enter Pakistan. I am sure the Indian intelligence community was aware of this movement. Why it chose to sit idly by is anybody’s guess.

    From across the Radcliffe line

    • @Muhammad Aryan — The pivotal point is why, as you put it, “would Israel want to get into the mess”. At the time there was real concern in Israel that Pakistan’s “Islamic Bomb” could be accessed by various adversary Arab states. including Saudi Arabia, that supposedly financed Pakistan’s acquisition of nuclear weapons and missile technologies from China and North Korea. The Operation was well underway with special ordnance prepositioned at the Jamnagar air base, etc. This was a near-run thing for Pakistan and Islamabad knew it. The reason why the Pakistan government thereafter was on a diplomatic overdrive through the US and other channels to convince its Israeli counterpart that Pakistan wouldn’t go down the route Tel Aviv feared, etc.

  14. Sir,
    Don’t you think that if CIA wanted to assassinate Dr Homi Bhabha they would have killed him alone??
    Why would they crash Air India Flight 101 in which 117 passengers were killed?
    I don’t think it would be a difficult task for CIA to kill dr Bhabha alone back in 1965 ,because 2(or may be 3) of our PMs have also been assasinated after Kanchenjunga crash.
    Don’t you think it’s a fake narrative??
    Please answer.

    • No. Besides, the Trombay community too believed then, as they do now, that Bhabha was done away with.

      • Shanal says:

        Could sound a bit off topic but very very hard to keep within
        Was Energy security ( Not allowing East Pakistan to pump their oil) the reason for India’s intervention in 1971 and creating Bangladesh ? We don’t allow them to do it even now. Because Assam’s topography is inclined towards Bangladesh.
        Again the same guy. Please clear this for me 🙏🙏

  15. “”According to one count, between the years 2008 and 2016, some 70 Indian science and technology personnel employed by the Atomic Energy Commission in Trombay and at Kalpakkam have mysteriously died, 38 of them in extremely suspicious circumstances. “”
    No offence but what is the source of this information??

  16. Sir,
    Robert Cowley also admitted that CIA assasinated Shri Lal Bahadur Shastri.
    What’s your take on that?
    Who do you think killed Shastri:- CIA,KGB or internal politics of India??

  17. harsh2002patel says:
    So the truth is that we are in more pathetic condition than Iran.

  18. Ghdh says:

    After Balakot though it was not done as expected Gen Bajwa did get scared and released IAF pilot .A slight change in Indian response and resolve was enough to deter pak from escalating the situation though pakis behave all irrational they are also pansies when push comes to shove. Appear strong when you are weak seems the strategy of pak

  19. MrMister says:

    Ghdh@ — Yes, the “Pakis” are pansies, that is the reason why they attacked in broad daylight. And, Indians are bravehearts when they let Chinese sit on 1000sqkm of land. Nice bhakt logic.

    • Ghdh says:

      India’s defence and military leadership is pathetic. I am not defending it. I was talking about Pakistan and the perception Pakis have created that they are fearless and lunatics who are willing to start nuclear war at the drop of a hat and Indians are buzdils, even though they are buzdils but are better at hiding it. I admire the way Pakistan has utilised its limited resources very well something we should also learn and apply vis a vis China. I just made an observation based on details available in public and you interpreted and added meaning to it as per your political filter. Good luck with that. Lucky you, many Indian bureaucrats and mil leaders think like you, and either overestimate or underestimate adversaries .

  20. Gaurav Tyagi says:

    @Anon, India has always tried to control other South Asian nations. Now, all of them probably with the exceptions of Bangladesh and Maldives are in the Chinese camp. Sri-Lanka, Nepal even Bhutan is having negotiations with China. Indian army is as corrupt and as inefficient as the other government departments in India. They just get high on subsidized liquor and are TV studio warriors. China by occupying vast tract of Indian land during the first half of this year has revealed to the world the inefficiency of Indian political as well as military leadership. India can only play “fixed games” with Pakistan with the help of BJP poster boys like the current NSA of India.

  21. LowIQ says:

    Dear shri Karnad,

    Trust you’re doing well. So it appears that yours and shri Chellaney’s doubts have been confirmed. Biden just dropped the reference to Indo-Pacific and referred to it as Asia-Pacific. Here:

    Much ado for BECA (R?) agreement…

    Stay safe.

  22. Gaurav Tyagi says:

    @Shanal, the following is an excerpt from my write up, “The Truth behind….”, weblink of that article is provided here in the “replies” section;

    Pakistan’s National Security Adviser Lt. Gen (retd) Nasser Khan Janjua held a secret meeting with his Indian counterpart, Ajit Doval on December 26th. This meeting took place in Bangkok.

    – See more at:

  23. Avatar says:

    Still Indians will lick American and British boots with rush because they suffer from slave mentality and are ready to pick fight with an Asian giant in order to please their anglo matsers!

    • Gaurav Tyagi says:

      @Avatar- Sad but true. India still suffers from colonial hang over. Britishers recruited clerks for the empire through an entrance exam.

      Sadly, the practice is still prevalent. Since, the so called independence from the British rule (in actuality it was a transfer of power from white colonial masters to their brown sycophants) these sahibs (IAS, IPS, IFS) have been milking the system and will continue with their malpractices.

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