Ramparts Scandal – CIA Spies At Indian Universities

In February 1967, senior officials from the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) were horrified when the American west-coast magazine, Ramparts, exposed the US intelligence organisation’s longstanding financial relationships with a number of international educational and cultural bodies. In a series of damning articles, reproduced in The New York Times and The Washington Post, Ramparts documented the CIA’s provision of covert funding to, amongst others, the National Students Association, Asia Foundation, and Congress for Cultural Freedom (CCF).

Ramparts Scandal - CIA Spies at Indian Universities
Ramparts Scandal – CIA Spies at Indian Universities

Ramparts Disclosures

Ramparts Says C.I.A. Received Student Report
Juan de Onis
New York Times, 1967

The Central Intellengence Agency used undercover financing and secret collaborators to turn the National Student Association’s international activities into “an arm of United States foreign policy,” Ramparts magazine said yesterday. The magazine said in an article “that international staff members of the association had passed along, often unwittingly, reports on foreign student Leaders” to the C.I.A.

“This information help the C.I.A. in evaluating the political tendencies of prospective political leaders in critical areas of the world,” Ramparts said. The article alleged that the C.I.A. had funded most of association’s international activities since 1950 with millions of dollars channeled to the organization, and affiliated bodies, through tax-exempt “C.I.A.front foundations.”

The imminent appearance of the article, which will be on sale about Feb. 23, has caused present and past leaders of the association to acknowledge that C.I.A. funds had been used in the organization’s international programs.

Students turned Spies

The relationship between student association and the C.I.A., unknown to all but a few of the organization’s leaders, “meant lots of money, a sense of doing important work, over-seas, travel, and, perhaps most important of all, very little feeling of having sold out one’s political convictions,” Ramparts said.

According to Ramparts, the few student officials who were aware of the C.I.A. relationship and were in regular contact with agency officers were given a full national security check. If they passed, the article said, they were ‘declared “witty.” But most of the association’s leadership, elected to office from university campuses or hired to the organization’s staff; knew nothing of the relationship.

Rampart said one of those was an international staffer who visited student groups in Spain during protests against the Franco regime. “The same staff member had previously gone to the Dominican Republic shortly after the, American intervention there,” the article said. “He brought back a report on his contacts with university students who had participated in the civil war on the side of the constitutionalists.” The report was passed on to the C.I.A.

In the Dominican conflict, the “constitutionalists” opposed United States military intervention and fought for weeks against the Inter-American Peace Force sent to pacify the island.

Ramparts Disclosures on CIA funding of Indian Universities
Ramparts disclosures on CIA funding of educational institutions and recruitment of students, NYT 1967

Ramparts Scandal in India

In India, where the fourth general election campaign to be held since the end of British imperial rule in August 1947 was then in full swing, confirmation that the Indian Committee for Cultural Freedom, a local offshoot of the CCF, had accepted money from the CIA provoked an outpouring of public indignation.

Chester Bowles, American ambassador in New Delhi at the time, lamented that fallout from the Ramparts furore was likely to prove particularly damaging to United States’ standing in India, ‘where we [the US] had developed especially close and extensive relationships with Indian universities and with individual scholars, none of which were in any way connected with intelligence operations.’

The public relations challenge Bowles faced in India as a result of the CIA’s activities was complicated the following month when The Washington Post published an essay written by his predecessor in New Delhi, the Harvard economist, John Kenneth Galbraith. With no little irony, Galbraith observed that recent events had confirmed the CIA to be, ‘a secret agency…with an excellent instinct for headlines.’ More significantly, Galbraith went on to recount his experiences of working alongside the CIA in the subcontinent, noting in the
process, that the Agency’s, ‘activities were generally known to, and involved no conflict with, local [Indian government] authorities.’

Bankrolling Indian Elections

In March 1961, before leaving to take up his ambassadorial posting, Galbraith had taken exception to the scale and scope of the CIA’s interference in India’s internal affairs. During a briefing provided by Richard M. Bissell Jr., the Agency’s Deputy Director of Plans, or clandestine operations, Galbraith was ‘appalled and depressed’ to learn of the CIA’s intention to spend a sum ‘well into the millions [of dollars]’ to bankroll the Indian election campaigns of pro-Western politicians, and subsidize anti-communist Indian newspapers and magazines.

Such activity, Galbraith lamented, was unlikely to prove effective in swaying Indian opinion, but was almost certain to leak into the public domain, damaging Indo-US relations and compromising his position as ambassador. Emboldened by the CIA’s public humiliation following its disastrous Bay of Pigs operation against the Castro regime in Cuba that April, Galbraith attempted to rein in the Agency’s activities in India. Although only partially successful, the ambassador’s resolve to limit covert American intelligence operations in the subcontinent earned the disapprobation of the Agency, which dismissed him as, ‘basically anti-CIA.’

Subverting democracy in South Asia

Back in 1967, opposition groups on the left of India’s political spectrum seized upon Galbraith’s comments in The Washington Post as confirmation that the CIA had been actively subverting democracy in South Asia. Exasperated by Galbraith’s indiscretion, the CIA’s Director, Richard Helms, curtly informed the former ambassador that he had, ‘raised unshirted hell in India and [had]…provided the central point of an acrimonious debate in the Lok Sabha.’

Fresh from the campaign hustings, India’s parliamentarians fed off rumour and suspicion surrounding America’s foreign intelligence service, and competed eagerly with each other to exhibit the toughest and most populist anti-CIA line possible. On 23 March, India’s Foreign Minister, M. C. Chagla, bowed to mounting pressure for government action and announced that a ‘thorough’ official inquiry would be conducted to ascertain whether the CIA had interfered in Indian politics.

‘We cannot permit foreigners or foreign governments to dictate to us what sort of a government we should have or what sort of people should be elected,’ Chagla asserted. ‘We will unearth any activity that is objectionable, that is against the national interests.’

A rogue elephant on a rampage

The global spotlight that America’s press cast upon some of the CIA’s more questionable activities in early 1967, was to have a profound and enduring impact upon Indian perceptions of America and its intelligence services. In the wake of the Ramparts scandal, the CIA came to occupy a prominent place in mainstream Indo-US cultural and political discourse. Indeed, for the remainder of the twentieth century, and beyond, anti-American elements inside and outside India drew repeatedly upon the spectre of CIA subversion as a means of destabilising New Delhi’s relations with Washington.

The blanket exposure given by the world’s press to CIA indiscretions after 1967, exemplified by the international media circus’ that developed around Congressional probes into the US intelligence community in the mid-1970s, made a deep psychological impression in India. Having publicly catalogued the CIA’s involvement in a series of plots to assassinate national leaders and subvert foreign governments, the chairman of one influential investigative committee, the Democrat Senator from Idaho, Frank Church, famously characterised the Agency’s behaviour as akin to, ‘a rogue elephant on a rampage.’

Moreover, in India’s Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi, whose Congress Party saw its parliamentary majority slashed at the polls in 1967, India was governed for much of the next two decades by a leader with a visceral mistrust of Western intelligence services in general, and the CIA in particular. One former CIA officer, who served in India in the early 1970s, recalled that, ‘CIA agents…were to be found according to Indira Gandhi, beneath every charpoy and behind every neem tree.’

Excerpts from The CIA and the Politics of Intelligence in Cold War South Asia by Paul Michael McGarr published in the Diplomatic History, Volume 38, Issue 5, November 2014

Hemant Karkare Assassination Mumbai Attacks India in Cognitive Dissonance
Excerpts from our book India in Cognitive Dissonance

When the RAW counter intelligence was going to arrest a traitor and defector, the Prime Minister’s office and the Home Ministry pushed them to go slow, and gave him a window of 24 hours to escape to Nepal and from there to the US. Contrary to the standard CIA policy of disowning assets, he was fully assisted in his escape to the US by the CIA, risking an exposure of their role.

Having him under Indian interrogation would have risked far more than mere CIA’s hand being exposed, for he was only a conduit for a much larger flow of information involving countless other individuals. It is openly known that several officers who collaborated with him are still working for the RAW.

American reports state that the CIA officials involved were punished for exposing their role. But perhaps again, and more likely, the CIA is not so foolish in exposing themselves after all. It was merely sending a message to other RAW agents : “Betray India and work for us — and if there is any trouble – well absolutely don’t worry, both we as well as your own Indian Government will help you”!

Indeed, only just a few months ago, more defectors have followed his path. Not only defectors, but countless other RAW and IB agents have settled down in the US “post-retirement”. Is it not true that both Prime Ministers Vajpayee and Manmohan Singh had gone out of their way to protect him? Have not several Prime Ministers in the past exposed critical deep agents of the RAW? Was not our defense minister, Mr. Parikkar, himself forced to admit this?

Read all about clandestine intelligence operations against India in our exclusive book India in Cognitive Dissonance.

GreatGameIndia is a journal on Geopolitics and International Relations. Get to know the Geopolitical threats India is facing in our exclusive book India in Cognitive Dissonance

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