Wednesday, June 21, 2006

The B K Subbarao Espionage Case

Finally we find a public admission of the role of the US in the B K Subbarao case. From the notes of Amb. John Dean - US Amb. to India at the time.

In 1987. the Indian Navy had leased a Soviet nuclear submarine. The purpose of the lease was to train the Indian navy in the use of such a technically advanced naval vessel. The reactor unit was sealed and the spent fuel was to be returned to the Soviet Union. Mr. Gandhi had assured President Reagan that "this specific submarine on lease from the Soviet Union would not be used in any manner in the event of any hostilities." Prime Minister Gandhi had assured President Reagan in writing that there was "no ground for any apprehension". Naturally, our navy wanted to know more about the submarine leased from the Soviet Union to India, and this led to a covert operation to obtain detailed plans and drawings of this vessel. The incident occurred when an Indian Navy Captain was arrested at Bombay International Airport before boarding a flight for the United States in possession of detailed technical data on the Soviet nuclear submarine. Apparently, Indian Intelligence had tracked the Indian naval officer - or was he a double agent - and, in any case, I was asked to meet with the Prime Minister who confronted me with the facts. I did my best to smooth ruffled feathers, and fortunately Mr. Gandhi was sufficiently experienced in international relations to know that information on the Soviet vessel was a legitimate target for our Intelligence agencies. I urged that the apprehension of the Indian officer before leaving India with the drawings should not adversely impact on over-all U.S.-Indian relations. At the same time, I protected vis-a-vis Washington the American official who had been in charge of this case at the Embassy. He left the post quite rapidly, but has enjoyed an interesting career after his service in India.

So the only open question left here is - was B K Subbarao, a double agent?

I think the answer to that question is - no - he was not.

So why then have several people including a retired high-ranking officer of the DAE and several supreme court judges gone to such extraordinary lengths to absolve Dr. Subbarao of wrongdoing?

I know the answer to this but I will wait for another American observer to comment on that.

The DAE and the Sahar Police had said very clearly that they had their man, but many Indians on the internet seem to be more keen to think that the Sahar Police and the DAE were wrong and they improperly imprisoned Capt. Subbaro. All this was carefully regurgitated before a friendly Indian media audience by the Non-Proliferation experts after the 1998 tests to "prove" GoI's incompetence. Ofcourse Capt. Subbarao himself went on to make allegations of DAE's involvement in criminal activities like smuggling and black marketeering. Not long after that he went on to talk about the incompetence of the DAE and the Indian establishment on every fora that the Non-Proliferation community could lend him.

Now that an American observer - no less than their ambassador in Delhi himself - has indicated that Capt. Subbarao was indeed an American Confidential Informant. I wonder how all those Indians who put their faith in the Non-Proliferation sponsorred lies will feel about their spirited opposition to a government of India that they assumed was incompetent.


At 11:02 PM, Blogger s c r a p s s t u f f s said...

Just as I thought.

BKS claimed that he had a better design for a sub based nuclear reactor than the *entire* DAE could muster up. Tabhi laga ke daal mein kuch kala hai.

BTW, do you know what his PhD topic was?

At 11:07 PM, Blogger s c r a p s s t u f f s said...

Hey, can you name the retired high ranking officer of the DAE? Maybe then someone can take a stab at guessing the answer which you won't reveal.

At 3:42 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was one of those who thought a cabal had done BKS in- if these are the facts, mea culpa. But again, how did BKS escape censure- didnt the case against him collapse?
Also his claim was that the documents were foisted on him..

At 9:31 AM, Blogger maverick said...

Hi Scrapstuffs,

The 80s were marked by a gradual shift away from the anti-americanism of the 70s. There was an almost imperceptible warming of ties. The crowning achievement of this time was the meeting between Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and the Vice President George Herbert Walker Bush, where the Prime Minister asked the Vice President if the US intelligence community had any plans to disrupt India and the Vice President replied in the negative.

If you read Amb. John Dean's account carefully, it deeply contrasts with other accounts from the 60s and 70s written by people like Robert Baer where the Americans expressed a deep dislike of the intrusive and overbearing presence of India's intelligence agencies. Baer in his accounts talks about how hard the Indians made to get a hold of documents relating to the T-72 tank. The Americans viewed these as legitimate targets for intelligence gathering activity. The Indians saw the information as something that could be of considerable use to the Pakistanis. For the Indians to accept that their soviet supplied assets were acceptable targets for the US intelligence community, implies that the GoI believed that the risk from leakage of this information from the US to the Pakistanis was manageable.

Another unspoken and unwritten tradition among friendly nations is that if we catch each others' spies - we do not make a big deal out of it. It is not the same with a nation that is hostile to you. There is a difference and we have to make that difference apparent in our national conduct.

In general the counter intelligence machinery only acts if the offense is percieved as being truly excessive. In this case unless the offense risked exposing the details of Soviet nuclear reactor design. An event of this nature would have severely polarized ties between India and the USSR. This could not go unpunished.

I think that should go some distance in explaining the nature of GoI's actions.

I was going to wait for an American to come out and say this, but I will say it anyway.

The US created the media environment conducive to letting Capt. Subbarao coat himself in the aura of a martyr. And an Indian elite that was very upset with years of economic control readily bought into this fantasy.

This in my opinion remains the only great weakness of the Indian elite. They are simply too keen to lend credence to any lies people are willing to tell them about their own government. The Americans are well aware of the Indian elite's ability to give the GoI the full benifit of malice.

Do I blame the Americans for using this tendency in the Indian elite to believe lies? no I don't - I think it is a legitimate tactic in psy-war to exploit such weaknesses.

Lies only becomes true when idiots believe them. I blame the idiots not the liars.

At 12:26 AM, Anonymous MS said...

BTW this guy wrote multiple articles about India's H-Bomb tests as failure. See the links

At 5:26 AM, Blogger phony said...

Latest US news says he is decorated captain of the Indian Navy and an accomplished advocte.

Purdue student accused of threatening president released on bond
The Times of Northwest Indiana

HAMMOND - B.K. Subbarao, a decorated captain of the Indian Navy and an accomplished attorney on the subcontinent, came to his son's rescue Tuesday in federal court.

Subbarao's son, Vikram Buddhi, is charged with using stolen identities on the Internet to post messages exhorting readers to kill President George Bush and other leaders and to blow up American infrastructure.

At a hearing in April, U.S. District Magistrate Andrew Rodovich said Buddhi, 35, was a flight risk and refused to release him on bond.

On Tuesday, with Subbarao vouching for his son, the judge released Buddhi on $100,000 bond. Rodovich ordered Buddhi to live with his father in a nearby hotel during his trial and to refrain from using the Internet.

Subbarao said Buddhi comes from an honorable family that would not harbor a fugitive from American justice and that Buddhi would never be able to work in his field with criminal charges hanging over his head.

Prosecutors objected to the release, saying they recently discovered text files on Buddhi's computer indicating the Purdue University graduate student had an "absolute vile hate" for the Bush administration.

"When read as a whole, it makes you wonder about Mr. Buddhi's mindset," Assistant U.S. Attorney Philip Benson said during Tuesday's hour-long detention hearing. "Someone who incites other people to assassinate and blow up nuclear plants and airports, we believe, is a danger."

Buddhi, a native of India, has been a student and part-time teacher of math and engineering at Purdue's West Lafayette campus for almost 10 years.

The 11-count federal indictment alleges Buddhi hijacked Internet Protocol addresses of other Purdue students to post messages on Internet chat rooms last December justifying the murder of Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney and raping their wives. He also made threats against Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and sensitive American infrastructure, the government says.

During an initial meeting with authorities at the university, Buddhi admitted making the Internet threats, prosecutors say.

But on Tuesday, Subbarao suggested that someone else must have hacked into his son's computer to make it appear that Buddhi had posted the threats.

Buddhi's federal defender, John Martin, has requested to have the confession stricken from the record, saying Buddhi was not informed of his rights and did not have an attorney present.

His attorney told Rodovich Buddhi had been assaulted in jail in Hammond and Porter County since his arrest.

At 6:34 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

How weird...father arrested for spying for the US and son arrested for inciting hatred against the US.

There has to be some reason for this wayward behaviour by the son vikram...That needs to be probed and his punishment needs to be decided based on those circumstances too.

At 10:45 AM, Blogger xzibit said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

At 10:45 AM, Blogger xzibit said...

His thesis was on "Nuclear Power Plant Modelling and Design Multivariable Control Approach". In 1985, Subbarao was awarded a Ph.D by the Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay for his thesis.

At 10:46 AM, Blogger xzibit said...

For detailed case history go through this link......

At 12:18 PM, Blogger ALex said...

This is nothing but politics hum sab chor hain.Only god, the politicians (US,USSR and India) and Mr.Subba Rao Know the truth, but to be honest my experience with truth has been that whenever you know the truth they set you up or create a propaganda that you are bad.I have a strong gut feeling that Mr.Subba Rao is Honest.

At 9:04 AM, Blogger Somnath Bharti said...

Had Dr. Subbarao been a american spy, his son would not have been languishing in USA jail for last 4 years on scrupulous and unproven charges.

At 6:36 PM, Blogger maverick said...

Dear Somnath,

I am sorry I didn't reply to this earlier.

Based on the Dean testimony it would be quite reasonable to conclude that the US made some kind of approach to Capt. Subbarao. It appears the approach failed and was exposed. At this time the GoI though institutionally disposed to keeping the whole thing quiet - had to make a big fuss about taking care of it to avoid losing a good friend in the Soviet Union.

>> Had Dr. Subbarao been a american spy, his son would not have been languishing in USA jail for last 4 years on scrupulous and unproven charges.

There appear to be two likely scenarios for this.

1) Leverage - Based on the testimony of Amb. Dean, it is likely that the US never felt entire sure of Capt. Subbarao's loyalties and felt it had secure some kind of leverage over him.

2) Dissonance - the segment of the USIC that sought to cultivate Capt. Subbarao was no longer in a position of influence when his son ran into trouble. After 9/11 the homeland security impulse far outweighed the "lets make friends" impulse. People were a little jumpy and a lot of terrible stuff happened.

On an unrelated note.

I feel a lot of non-technical people are impressed by the idea that Capt. Subbarao had a better design than the DAE for a submarine nuclear reactor. I don't think this is possible given that the IN had barely been operating a submarine fleet for about a decade prior to the start of the project.

Why just the DAE - at that time not even the Americans were entirely sure of their own reactor designs. In the US there were a lot of ideas on what a submarine nuclear reactor could be. The only reason a PWR was chosen was because Adm. Hyman Rickover decided to push ahead with the most reliable technology available in the US at the time. Even decades after Rickover left his influential position in the USAEC - people still spend a lot of time looking over their shoulders going "was the PWR thing... a good idea?".

The equivalent in India would be a PHWR type assembly. Given that India had no enrichment facilities at the time, the DAE would have been reluctant to pursue the PWR option. It is likely that the DAE was acutely aware of the material science issues and control systems problems that are inherent in a nuclear reactor and the IN simply was not. The DAE probably wanted to build a shore based reactor and not jump into a ship based one which is much more demanding. The DAE approach most likely relied on using something other than enriched uranium and first getting a sense of how exactly the neutron transport and heat transport equations in coupled in the core.

It is highly unlikely that Capt. Subbarao would have had any clue as to how to explore regions where the equations fail. That would be completely out of character with how engineers are trained in India. Most engineers are taught to use certain equations, and to use control systems to compensate for where equations fail.

It is possible Capt. Subbarao as an engineer was drawn to the belief that a multivariate control system would provide some kind of reliable design, but as you might be aware - the more variables you try to control in a system, the more you invite a complex systems failure.

There were four people involved, Singh, Aggrawal, Subbarao and Bhushan. It is unclear if any of the other three supported Capt. Subbarao's view. If Capt. Subbarao would have made the claim that an advanced control system could keep the reactor operating under difficult conditions, the DAE might have countered Capt. Subbarao's POV with "no actually you can't control a reactor when the underlying equations are coupled in an unknowable state - that is the definition of chaos which no control theory can properly account for."

There obviously was no real reason why these clashing views could not have coexisted or at least interacted productively, but that was not the way things went.

At 1:25 PM, Blogger maverick said...

Hello Somnath,

A few more engineering/physics points.

1) There are two main candidates for a submarine nuclear power plant. The first is an PWR with enriched uranium and the second a CHTR using a lead/bismuth or other liquid metal coolant. The former was developed extensively for US submarine by Adm. Rickover and the USAEC. The latter was attempted as a powerplant in the Soviet Alfa class. The Alfa class caused the American Navy considerable concern as it had an underwater speed of 45 mph.

2) With any reactor (CHTR or PWR) one has to deal with three things

a) the neutron transport equation
b) the heat transport equation (including any fluid mech/Navier Stokes that come up)
c) the couplings between the heat transport and the neutron transport.

No physicist worth his/her salt would be comfortable sharing these three things with a Naval engineer. The number of people who know exactly how the coupling between the equations works is likely very very small. The systems of equations described above is by its nature - nonlinear and seldom analytically solvable. The most common approach is computational. This computation requires significant resources and time. Typically no physicist is comfortable sharing the computational algorithm or the resource with anyone outside a limited physics community.

3) Any solution to a system of equations (like the one described above) can be treated as a surface in an space composed of the variables in the equation and any couplings or coefficients. This surface is "knowable" in a hypothetical sense - i.e. through sufficient exploration (experimental and computational) it is possible to know the surface well enough.

4) If the surface is actually known (as opposed to theoretically approximated) then a control algorithm (essentially a multi variable one) will be able to find the local optimum (minimum or maximum) on that surface. This kind of thing is called optimization theory - it is used extensively in device control all over the industry.

5) When the couplings between equations are not well explored, one is at the mercy of the control algorithm and situations like Chernobyl develop. Let me clarify - at Chernobyl - the leading engineer operated the reactor in an unsafe condition - i.e. a condition where the couplings between the neutron transport and thermal transport equations was poorly known. The result was that the reactor core developed hot spots and usually where you have a hot spot - the rate of neutron transport changes significantly causing a greater rise in temperature. This is called a runaway process. It can happen for a variety of reasons and it almost happened at Oak Ridge back in 1940. Luckily a couple of physicists from Los Alamos were on hand and they were able to secure the situation despite all the engineers heading the project feeling that the physicists were over-reacting and that it was only a 0.1 deg increase in temperature. It was only after the reactor temperature rose by 1 degree C in the same time as it rose by 0.1 deg C, that the engineers began to get worried.

cont'd below

At 1:49 PM, Blogger maverick said...

Also some historical notes.

1) The DAE did not have serious computational ability till the late 90s. That was when a system called ANUPAM came online. The person who was critical in pushing the entire things through graduated from IIT and was hired via spot offer by the head of the DAE. This person went on to contribute significantly to India's development in computational science. It is a long and wonderful story and it is best left to DAE sources to tell it.

2) At the time that Gurmit, Subbarao etc were attempting a reactor system design - they didn't have tools needed to really solve the problems they were attacking. The experience I suspect was more like what the WWII period at Los Alamos was like. It was not clear to anyone what information was critical and what was noise. This most likely accounts for the difference in perception between M R. Srinivasan's time as DAE leader and his predecessor. A lot happened in that time to change the way people thought about some of the issues discussed above.

3) I find the claim that the Indian Navy had any clue what it wanted a nuclear submarine in 1970 something laughable! The Navy had not indigenised anything significant at the time and the only system they had ever inducted that was made in India was a sonar system that BARC had developed. The Navy people were learning about nuclear submarines just as much as their counterparts at BARC were.

4) In my own recollection, the Navy people who came to BARC were an unhappy lot. I sensed that they looked down upon their civilian partners in the project. This was not uncommon for the time, the vardiwalle always thought that the civilians seemed to endlessly fuck around instead of getting things done. Regrettably being very impressionable at the time and not being seized of the facts, I agreed with them. It was a different time, I was a different person.

5) The core dissonance between the DAE side and the Navy side may have shown up in a difference in concerns over where the emphasis or focus should be. The Navy probably wanted a reactor design that could actually withstand being jiggled by the waves. The DAE probably was worried about issues like embrittlement and containment failure. These are differences that IMO are not resolvable.

6) If I look upon that time and think clearly I come up with a deep sadness that Capt. Subbarao counts DAE as his enemy. I don't think DAE is Capt. Subbarao's enemy. Given what has happened a sense of rancor in Capt. Subbarao is natural but the people he had issues with are gone. Neither the Joint Secy DAE who allegedly accused him nor the Dr. Raja Ramanna who allegedly saved him from a much worse fate are around anymore. With the choice of the PWR as the Arihant powerplant, the control variables and the algorithm that can be used to control them are no longer up for debate.

7) Even the DAE will acknowledge that an informed and responsible citizenry helps improve the quality of national decision making. In an environment where private nuclear operators liberated from liability will own and generate nuclear power - a vigilant citizenry is essential to safety. Can Capt. Subbarao play a role in informing and educating the citizenry on the responsibilities that accompany nuclear power? Yes he most certainly can. Will he be able to keep the rancor of the tragic past out of it? I don't know. I do know that if he doesn't keep that out of it, people will find it difficult to accept anything he says as it will look like he has an axe to grind.

Hope this helps get across where I am coming from on this issue.

At 1:52 PM, Blogger maverick said...

Sorry there is a typo in the previous post. The DAE's Anupam system came online in the late 80s.


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