the Wanderling


Operation Hat began shortly after China's first nuclear bomb test in 1964. The US CIA, with the cooperation of the Indian government, planned an expedition to the Himalayas to plant a nuclear-powered monitoring station on the summit of 26,600-ft-high Nanda Devi, from where it would eavesdrop on the Chinese nuclear test program in over-the-border Xinjiang Province.

The Agency recruited several top US civilian climbers who, together with four of India's best climbers from the 1962 Everest expedition, formed the cadre of the ill-fated Operation Hat. Far from succeeding in eavesdropping on the top-secret Lop Nor nuclear test site, Operation Hat was destined to threaten one of the world's great rivers with plutonium contamination.

The US climbers and their Indian colleagues set out up the south face of Nanda Devi in the autumn of 1965. A squad of porters carried the disassembled monitoring station, together with its SNAP power pack, on their backs. The SNAP - Space Nuclear Auxiliary Power - generator was a nuclear battery originally developed for the American civil and military space programs.[1] Shaped like a cone, SNAP was fuelled by between one and eight pounds of plutonium, was small enough to be carried by one man, and would power the monitoring station until its task was completed. The CIA would then send a second expedition to retrieve the station, SNAP and all.

Operation Hat ran into the first of its many difficulties when the expedition encountered severe weather and rock conditions. 2,000 ft from Nanda Devi's summit, the climbers decided to turn back, but not before they'd cached the monitoring station which would await their return - when conditions improved.

The Operation Hat climbers ventured back up Nanda Devi in the spring of 1966, but were dumbfounded to discover that a winter avalanche had swept the spy station from the mountainside. The vital SNAP generator, and its plutonium, were now entombed under a mound of rock and snow the size of a Giza pyramid. The CIA and its Indian government partner were in a quandary. The southern slope of Nanda Devi, where SNAP lay buried, is a major source of headwater for the Ganges, the sacred river of 500 million Hindus. A holy bathing place for pilgrims was just a few km downstream from the SNAP site. If SNAP were to break open under the weight of the avalanche, there was a real risk that the hallowed waters of the Ganges would be polluted with deadly plutonium, and both the Agency and the Indian government would face the wrath of millions of people.

Over the next two years, expeditions to locate and recover SNAP returned empty-handed. Eventually, after water sampling of the Ganges revealed no contamination, the decision was made to abandon SNAP in the hope that it would remain intact and that Operation Hat would remain a secret.

The secret of the lost SNAP was kept until May 1978 when the US journalist Howard Kohn revealed the existence of Operation Hat in Outside magazine. In a masterly-worded nonstatement to the Indian Parliament, Prime Minister Morarji Desai tried to defuse the danger of SNAP: 'The indirect evidence so far is that the safety precautions built into the nuclear-fuelled power pack may be as effective as has been claimed and, if so, pollution effects may not take place in the future.'(The Times, 18.4.78.)

In 1967, Operation Hat finally scored a success. A second SNAP- powered spy station was placed on, and eventually retrieved from, the slopes of nearby Nanda Kot mountain. The first SNAP is still there, entombed under thousands of tons of rubble. Many nuclear experts disagree with Morarjii Desai. They say that the SNAP generator will eventually corrode and disintegrate, releasing plutonium into the headwaters of one of the world's great rivers.[2]

The above information on Operation Hat is an excerpt from THE NUCLEAR AGE: THE HIDDEN HISTORY by John May (1989).








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Footnote [1]

SNAP 19C - Space Nuclear Auxiliary Power

The only known account of the SNAP 19C to have filtered down to the public level with any amount of credibility is found in a 94 page scientific study commissioned by the one time Indian Prime Minister Morarji Desai (1896-1995). In the report, 9 pages are set aside describing the device, which breaks down briefly into the following:

The SNAP 19C is composed of five elements: a hot fuel block, radioactive fuel capsules placed in its core, thermometric generators mounted around it, insulation material, and the block’s outer casing.

The fuel, an alloy of Plutonium and Strontium—Pu-238, Pu-239, and Sr-90 is divided in seven capsules. Each capsule has an inner cladding of tantalum (0.5 mm thick) with sufficient void space for accumulation of helium gas, the gas emitted on radioactive decay. The heavy-walled outer cladding of the capsule is of a 2.5 mm thick alloy—Haynes-25, which is composed of cobalt, nickel, chromium and tungsten, and possesses high temperature and corrosion resistant properties as well as high structural strength. The fuel capsules were installed in a hexagonal graphite block along with other accessories like thermocouples, thermal insulation material etc.

The overall components used for the Nanda Devi monitoring station was divided into component parts from an overall combined weight of 275 pounds, the segments then back-carried by the climbers as evenly as possible along with any other necessary support equipment.

Wikipedia offers the following:


SNAP-19(B) was developed for the Nimbus-B satellite. 'The SNAP 19 generators are fueled with plutonium 238 and employ lead telluride thermoelectric couples for energy conversion. Each of the electrically paralleled generators produces approximately 30 watts at beginning of life. Each generator ... weighs less than 35 pounds and is ... 6-1/2 inches in diameter by 10-3/4 inches high. [extended by] six fins.' Nimbus 3 used a SNAP-19B (with the recovered fuel from the Nimbus-B1 attempt).

SNAP-19s powered Pioneer 10 and Pioneer 11 missions. They used P and N doped 'TAGS' (Ag—Ge—Sb—Te) thermoelectric elements.

Modified SNAP-19s were used for the Viking 1 and Viking 2 landers.


Footnote [2]

Operation Hat itself did not start formally with actual 'boots-on-the-ground' personnel until shortly after China's first nuclear device was set off in 1964. However, the seed for the operation was planted five years earlier when it was first discovered China had established a Nuclear Test Base at Lop Nor in October of 1959 with Soviet assistance. By then U.S. covert operations into Tibet and the Himalayas were well on their way, re the following from the link so cited at the bottom of the paragraphs:

"Almost the very second Poe and I made eye contact we recognized each other, Poe asking, 'What the hell are you doing here?,' with my response at nearly the exact same instant being, 'I thought you were in Tibet.'

"The last I saw Poe was in 1959 or 1960. He was in Colorado at an old onetime World War II U.S. Army facility called Camp Hale, training covertly off the books, a bunch of Tibetans to fight the Chinese.(see) At the time I was a real civilian yet to be drafted, working instead for a small offshoot of a a major aerospace company involved with the then super-secret U-2 project. The person I worked for directly, called Harry the Man, was the top high altitude breathing equipment person in the world.

"Apparently in October of 1959 it was confirmed that China, with Soviet assistance, had established a nuclear test base at Lop Nor with all intentions of testing a nuclear device. U-2 flights over China were becoming extremely dangerous, so powers that be thought if they could put a monitoring station on top of some Himalayan mountain with a clear shot towards Lop Nor they could gather all the information they needed. Before a decision was made as to what mountain would be selected, it was a given it would be at a very high altitude. The same powers wanted to ensure that already existent equipment necessary to accomplish the mission could be modified, if need be, to operate in the rarified atmosphere OR if equipment could be designed to allow it to do so without modification. Enter Harry the Man. We were both at Area 51 at Groom Lake when the call came through for Harry to meet with some people at Camp Hale. I went along and while there met Tony Poe."

Not long after meeting Tony Poe, who would become notorious in legend and lore of the Secret War in Laos, I also met of all things under the same circumstances, an actual real-life Peace Corps Volunteer who in his own right, unknown to him at the time, would become more than just a footnote in the war.

It was the first time I ever met a Peace Corps Volunteer, active or otherwise --- which wasn't unusual considering the Peace Corps had only been founded the year before I was drafted. So said, he had to be one of the very first volunteers, and I have to admit there was something that impressed me about him. We were about the same age. He had already gone off to college, graduated, and joined the Peace Corps, an organization I had barely heard of, doing great humanitarian things by teaching barely educated indigenous folk, and here I was standing there with my face hanging out and hadn't done shit with my life.

The volunteer's name was Don Sjostrom, from Washington state and like me, pushing age-wise toward his mid-20's. He taught English somewhere in the center hinterlands of Thailand at a place called Yasothon. He was going to finish his Peace Corps tour of duty soon and was being recruited by USAID. They had brought him up to Laos to show him around a little to see if he might be interested when we crossed paths. Even though Sjostrom had been living under corrugated tin-roof Southeast Asia conditions in Thailand for many months, I'm sure even then the early wild west Terry and the Pirates atmosphere of Long Tieng was something of a shock.

So, why was I there? Primarily because, as found in The Code Maker, The Zen Maker, unlike almost everybody else in the world, the military discovered, after I was caught by the ASA, that with almost a miniscule amount of practice, I had an uncanny ability to accurately duplicate or counterfeit almost any Morse code operator's "fist" to such a point that what I sent, was totally undistinguishable for virtually anyone to differentiate between messages sent by me and that of any person I was imitating. The rest is still secret.(see)






"It was only when I was told some people have even heard what they thought was Morse code that my ears perked up. I was at one time in the military a notorious code sender of some repute, thought by some of my superiors to have been on par with the infamous Confederate guerilla telegrapher George A. Ellsworth or, thought just as equally if not more so, by the Army Security Agency as ready for the stockade. So said, on par or ready for the stockade, after hearing about the Morse code being heard I wanted to spend a night on the ghost plane, an idea that was easier said than done."


In the footnote sub-titled How I Got There (Part II) as found in The Code Maker, The Zen Maker, I write that after ending up in the far northern reaches of South Vietnam at a location not far from the DMZ I was met by a company spook and a nom-com with the Army Security Agency, both implying they were out of an I Corps communication intelligence facility in Phu Bai.

What always seemed to be the case for me in those days, being immersed in a quasi typical need-to-know or eyes-only status situation, since it was just the spook, nom-com and me, and we were out in the middle of nowhere I asked what was going on. The spook pulled me aside putting his arm around my shoulder saying it could be a day or two before we pulled out, depending on the weather at this end and the other end. I asked if we going into North Vietnam. He answered, close. The same way he couldn't clarify in those days, I still can't clarify in these days. What I am getting at is, even though I am revealing the military had a very special need for my talents duplicating and sending Morse code totally undistinguishable for virtually anyone to differentiate between messages sent by me and that of any person I was imitating, I am still not at liberty to tell for what use that talent was so needed and any implementation thereof, although the following may be of some insight:

"Note has been made of the presence of Ellsworth in the Cincinnati office, and his service with the Confederate guerrilla Morgan, for whom he tapped Federal wires, read military messages, sent false ones, and did serious mischief generally. It is well known that one operator can recognize another by the way in which he makes his signals—it is his style of handwriting. Ellsworth possessed in a remarkable degree the skill of imitating these peculiarities, and thus he deceived the Union operators easily."


John Hunt Morgan was a Civil War general infamous as the leader of southern guerrilla force known as the Morgan Raiders. A major part of Morgan's success that entrenched him into the historic annals of war was his successful use of telegraphy as an integral part of his military operations. He did so by recruiting into his Raiders a certain telegraph operator named George A. Ellsworth, known as Lightning, a savant telegrapher of unusual genius.

Ellsworth is known for being able to listen to another telegraph operator for just a few minutes and then mimicking that other operator's "fist" to a perfection. For the most part all telegraphers send with a distinct style, known as a fist, which other telegraphers can recognize as easily as they are able to recognize a familiar voice. Ellsworth would tap into a telegraph line used by Union forces and copy military dispatches transmitted on that line. By tapping the wire, Ellsworth's instruments became a part of the line and he could then, by blocking the downstream or incoming code at his point of entry, rewrite or send misleading or false messages downstream with the other-end recipient, listening to the fist, assuming the sender was a familiar.(see)

In July 1862 during Morgan’s First Kentucky Raid, his CSA cavalry stopped in Midway, Kentucky and seized the telegraph office immediately sending false messages to Union commanders in the area. What took place at Midway is best described in Ellsworth's own words as found in History of Morgan's Cavalry, Chapter VIII, page 192, linked below. Ellsworth is quoted as saying:

"At this place I surprised the operator, who was quietly sitting on the platform in front of his office, enjoying himself hugely. Little did he suspect that the much-dreaded Morgan was in his vicinity. I demanded of him to call Lexington and inquire the time of day, which he did. This I did for the purpose of getting his style of handling the 'key' in writing dispatches. My first impression of his style, from noting the paper in the instrument, was confirmed. He was, to use a telegraphic term, a 'plug' operator. I adopted his style of telegraphing, and commenced operations. In this office I found a signal book, which proved very useful. It contained the calls of all the offices. Dispatch after dispatch was going to and from Lexington, Georgetown, Paris and Frankfort, all containing something in reference to Morgan. On commencing operations, I discovered that there were two wires on the line along this railroad. One was what we term a 'through wire,' running direct from Lexington to Frankfort, and not entering any of the way offices. I found that all military messages were sent over that line. As it did not enter Midway office I ordered it to be cut, thus forcing Lexington on to the wire that did run through the office. I tested the line and found, by applying the ground wire, it made no difference with the circuit; and, as Lexington was Head-Quarters, I cut Frankfort off."