National Interest: Once upon a spooky time
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On the front page of this newspaper today, you couldn't have missed our defence correspondent Manu Pubby's story on the joint India-US U-2 spy place missions over Tibet in early 1960s. This is based on some recently declassified CIA documents. What if I said this isn't really a new story? And what if I said, instead, yes, yes, of course it is a new revelation. And then suffixed it with an OOPS!!! Preferably in all capitals, and many signs of exclamation.
The funny — and fascinating — thing with spy stories is, that just when you think you've cracked one, another one emerges from behind it, and makes you look silly. I would have thought I, as a reporter then with India Today magazine, had cracked in the winter of 1983, the joint Indian intelligence (then only Intelligence Bureau, or IB, since RAW wasn't yet formed) and CIA story on the U-2 operations. Now, three decades later, I have to acknowledge that I had got only a part of it, and that somebody far cleverer had sold me a dummy, though possibly with good intentions.
The story first broke out of Washington when I was following up the infamous Larkins Brothers spy case in New Delhi for an India Today cover story along with my friend and colleague (now group editor, special projects and features, at the Express) Dilip Bobb. Major General Frank and Air Vice-Marshal Kenneth Larkins, had been arrested in India's most significant spy bust for stealing and selling away secret manuals of MiGs, apparently to the US. Both were convicted. These remain the seniormost Indian defence officers ever convicted for spying. But it was in the course of pursuing that scandal, and investigating the widening arms bazaar-defence services-espionage network that the story about joint IB-CIA operations in the '60s broke. Of course, then there were immediate denials.