ISRO espionage: Former space scientist seeks fresh probe in autobiography to find out role of foreign spy agencies

Thiruvananthapuram: Former Indian Space Research Organisation scientist S Nambi Narayanan has made out a strong case for a high-level reinvestigation into the infamous espionage case that shook the very foundation of the country’s premier space agency in the 90s in his autobiography.

 ISRO espionage: Former space scientist seeks fresh probe in autobiography to find out role of foreign spy agencies

Book cover of former ISRO scientist S Nambi Narayanan's autobiography Ormakalude Bhramanapatham.

The book in Malayalam entitled Ormakalude Bhramanapatham (Orbit of Memories) was released on Thursday by Shashi Tharoor, Member of Parliament in Thiruvananthapuram. The English version of the book entitled Ready to Fire is expected to hit the stands in December this year.

Penned by journalist turned film director G Prajesh Sen, Ormakalude Bhramanapatham seeks to establish the role played by external agencies in the sensational case and goes on to argue that unravelling them and their motive behind it would be in the greater interest of the nation.

The scientist, who was the prime accused in the case that was later found to be a fabricated one by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), has been hinting at the involvement of the US and French agencies, which lost out to Russia in the global tender floated by India for the complex technology.

After missing the tender, the two tried to prevent India from acquiring the technology. They were apparently scared by the competition India could pose to the lucrative business, which was monopolised by a few countries. The geosynchronous launch system powered by the technology had estimated business worth $300 billion as on 2004.

"India could have fetched at least 30 percent of the global business if it had acquired the technology then. The espionage case delayed it by 15 years. If the case had not hit the ISRO it could have developed the technology in 2001," said Nambi Narayanan.

However, he does not think that the case was cooked up by either the US or French agencies. But he believes that the foreign agencies, especially the CIA, might have used it to prevent India from gaining the cryogenic technology.

The case came up in October 1994 following the arrest of Maldivian national Mariam Rasheeda on the charge of overstay in the country. The Kerala Police gave it the espionage angle after they allegedly found her connections with ISRO scientist D Sasikumaran.

It assumed serious dimension after the Intelligence Bureau (IB) caught up with the case claiming that the ISRO scientists were involved in selling the space technology to Pakistan through the Maldivian national. The CBI found this false and on the basis of the agency's report, the Kerala High Court and the Supreme Court dismissed the case.

Nambi Narayanan felt that the actions of the police at the behest of the IB was perfectly according to the script of the foreign agencies. Having failed to acquire the contract for transfer of cryogenic technology, the US and France had been trying to prevent India from acquiring the technology.

The US sought to stall the Indo-Russian collaboration by imposing sanctions on Russian agency Glavkosmos and ISRO. When India went ahead with the process of developing the technology despite the setback their attempt was to shatter the team involved in the project.

The scientist believed that the US government might have used the CIA to achieve this objective. The arrests made in the case showed that the focus was on cryogenic technology. While Nambi Narayanan was the director of the cryogenic division Sasikumaran was his deputy.

Two Bangalore-based businessmen arrested in connection with the case were also associated with the cryogenic mission. While one, Chandrashekar was an officially appointed agent of Glavkosmos, the other SK Sharma was a supplier for the ISRO.

Nambi Narayanan's autobiography said that the members of the special investigation team constituted by the Kerala government to probe the case had tried to link the espionage to Pakistan. He said that they had forced him to say the name of a Muslim during the interrogation.

Though he mentioned the name of former president APJ Abdul Kalam it was not acceptable to the police. When the force mounted, he mentioned the name of one of his Muslim classmates. They then wanted to tell him how he had taken the money he got from the espionage to him and where he had hidden it.

A section of the media had projected the case as part of the power struggle in the Congress especially after the name of former state police chief Raman Shrivastava was dragged into the case. Shrivastava, who was working as DIG then, was close to the then chief minister late K Karunakaran. The rival faction in the Congress picked it up and forced Karunakaran to step down.

"The perception is wrong. There was no political angle in the case. My investigation has shown that the spy case was the illegitimate child of the US-French agencies with the intention of burying me and the ISRO in the cemetery," Nambi Narayanan wrote in his book.

He pointed out that Brian Harvey, a US scientist, had in his well-researched book Russia in Space--The Failed Frontier had also hinted at the hands of the CIA in the ISRO espionage. He brought together a wealth of evidence to support his claim.

"There is strong evidence to support the involvement of the foreign agency in the case. It is important to find out their motive. This is in the interest of ISRO as well as the nation as foreign interference in the country’s strategic programmes could stall the development of the country," the scientist told Firstpost.

He said that the open letter written by former ISRO chiefs Satish Dhawan and UR Rao in his support at the time of the investigation of the case had forewarned about the danger. Nambi Narayanan said such interference was continuing even now.

He said that he was at a loss to understand the reluctance of the government to order the reinvestigation. The CBI report has already mentioned the names of the officials involved in fabricating the case and has stressed the need for an investigation into their role in the fabricated case.

"I don’t know what is preventing the government from doing it. I had even met Prime Minister Narendra Modi and demanded such a probe. But my pleas have fallen on deaf ears," the scientist said adding that the lapse could prove to be costly to the country in future.

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Updated Date: Oct 26, 2017 17:07:26 IST