Spies in the Himalayas

Secret Missions and Perilous Climbs

M. S. Kohli and Kenneth Conboy

In the towering mountains of northern India, a chilling chapter was written in the history of international espionage.

After the Chinese detonated their first nuclear test in 1964, America and India, which had just fought a border war with its northern neighbor, were both justifiably concerned. The CIA knew it needed more information on China's growing nuclear capability but had few ways of peeking behind the Bamboo Curtain. Because of the extreme remoteness of Chinese testing grounds, conventional surveillance in this pre-satellite era was next to impossible.

“At 23,000 feet above sea level, basic processes like thinking and breathing become quite challenging. So how ambitious—if-not foolhardy—would it be to send teams of mountaineers up India’s highest mountains to install complicated nuclear-powered tracking devices? That’s precisely what the CIA and India’s intelligence apparatus did in the mid-1960s, with some success. . . The heretofore largely unreported material should please mountaineering enthusiasts.

—Publishers Weekly

“Relates the intriguing tale of several joint India-United States espionage expeditions to the Himalayas. . . . The book is as likely to find a place on the bookshelves of aficionados of extreme sports as it is on those of international historians.

—International History Review
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The solution to this intelligence dilemma was a joint American-Indian effort to plant a nuclear-powered sensing device on a high Himalayan peak in order to listen into China and monitor its missile launches. It was not a job that could be carried out by career spies, requiring instead the special skills possessed only by accomplished mountaineers. For this mission, cloaks and daggers were to be replaced by crampons and ice axes.

Spies in the Himalayas chronicles for the first time the details of these death-defying expeditions sanctioned by U.S. and Indian intelligence, telling the story of clandestine climbs and hair-raising exploits. Led by legendary Indian mountaineer Mohan S. Kohli, conqueror of Everest, the mission was beset by hazardous climbs, weather delays, aborted attempts, and even missing radioactive materials that may or may not still pose a contamination threat to Indian rivers.

Kept under wraps for over a decade, these operations came to light in 1978 and have been long rumored among mountaineers, but here are finally given book-length treatment. Spies in the Himalayas provides an inside look at a CIA mission from participants who weren't agency employees, drawing on diaries from several of the climbers to offer impressions not usually recorded in covert operations. A host of photos and maps puts readers on the slopes as the team attempts repeatedly to plant the sensor on a Himalayan summit.

An adventure story as well as a new chapter in the history of espionage, this book should appeal to readers who enjoyed Jon Krakauer's Into Thin Air and to anyone who enjoys a great spy story.

About the Author

M. S. Kohli, India’s most eminent mountaineer, led the successful Everest Expedition of 1965 that put nine men on the summit—a world record that stood for seventeen years. His books include Mountaineering in India and The Himalayas. Kenneth Conboy is a former policy analyst and deputy director at the Heritage Foundation whose other books include The CIA’s Secret War in Tibet and Spies and Commandos, both from Kansas.

Additional Titles in the Modern War Studies Series