Nehru okayed US spy flights to China from Orissa base: CIA files

U2U2s flew out of Charbatia

In the first official acknowledgement of secret US spy missions on China launched from India after the 1962 war, newly declassified CIA files have revealed that Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru gave permission for overflight and stationing of U-2 aircraft, getting valuable intelligence reports in return which he even used to brief Parliament on the border situation.

The legendary spy aircraft initially operated from Thailand and overflew India to spy on Chinese military installations but were later based at Charbatia airbase in Orissa, specially refurbished to accommodate the planes, according to the declassified "CIA history of the U-2 program". The spying missions were carried out between 1962 and 1967 using Indian facilities and airspace.

The CIA report, released by the National Security Archive, states that the US had two missions in mind when it stationed aircraft in India — to get a clear picture of Chinese deployment along the disputed border and to use it as a staging area to spy on the Russian anti-ballistic missile (ABM) testing site at Saryshagan (now in Kazakhstan).

In a detailed chapter on U-2 operations in India, the CIA records show that when Nehru sought US assistance after the Chinese attack in 1962, Washington suggested that aerial reconnaissance of the disputed areas should be carried out to provide US a clear picture of the situation.

Permission to use Indian airspace was given on November 11, 1962 following which a detachment of aircraft from Thailand carried out spying missions in the month of December and January 1963.

"Photography from these missions was used in January and again in March 1963 to brief Nehru, who then informed the Indian parliament about Communist Chinese troop movements along the border," the declassified records state, adding that China registered a formal protest to India after the overflights.

Following the spying missions, the US made a formal request to India to set up a base for U-2 aircraft during a meeting between Presidents J F Kennedy and S Radhakrishnan in Washington on June 3, 1963.

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