Gandhi Says FBI Should Have Told Him Sooner of Terrorist Death Plot
Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, target of a Sikh assassination plot broken up by the FBI, complained Tuesday that the Indian government should have been informed of the plot sooner.
He also criticized the FBI for not telling India about terrorist threats to its nuclear power facilities.
“The FBI was not giving us enough information,” Gandhi said.
But, he added, the Indian government is now “satisfied that the U.S. government is doing everything it can in this particular case. I am not afraid to go to the United States at all.”
He made the comments during a press conference the day before he leaves on a five-nation trip that will take him to Washington next week for talks with President Reagan and other officials.
The assassination plot, allegedly by Sikh terrorists, was cracked by the FBI through the use of an undercover agent posing as an expert on guerrilla warfare. Gandhi reportedly was to have been killed during the June 11-16 visit to the United States. The FBI announced May 13 that the plot had been broken.
The undercover FBI operation began several months ago, after agents were alerted to the alleged terrorist intentions of a New York computer expert, who is a member of the Sikh faith, and three of his associates.
Gandhi, complaining that his government had not been informed of the plot soon enough, said, “The FBI had been in touch with these people for quite some time, since November last year. The FBI had been involved in giving them training (through the undercover agent) for the particular acts they wanted to carry out. The people who were giving them this clandestine training were in touch with the FBI. . . .
“They also wanted to blow up various large institutions in India, including our nuclear power plant. But we were not told any of this.
“And even if it was difficult for the FBI to tell us about the assassination attempt and other things that would have compromised their position, they should have told us about the attempts to attack our nuclear plant because that’s not something that would have been limited to India.”
In a reference to a reactor breakdown in Pennsylvania in 1979, he said, “It would have been a Three Mile Island sort of thing.”
In expressing satisfaction with U.S. efforts to protect him, Gandhi said he does not believe that the U.S. government or the CIA has been behind any Sikh extremist plots, a charge made by many other Indian politicians.
“We have not felt the U.S. government is involved in this. We have said the Sikhs in the U.S. are involved and the U.S. government could take stronger measures to prevent it.”
In Washington, FBI spokesman Lane Bonner said he sees Gandhi’s comments as recognition that the FBI “successfully interdicted a terrorist action before it could come to fruition and before any lives were lost.”
Gandhi said two of the main topics he wants to discuss with Reagan next week are what he called the U.S. government’s failure to stop development of nuclear weapons in neighboring Pakistan and militarization of the Indian Ocean. He told American reporters here that he is also concerned about the increasing tensions along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border.
“We do feel that the border is becoming much too tense and we would not like to see that tension build up,” Gandhi said.
In recent months there has been fighting along the border between Afghan rebels and Soviet-backed Afghan government soldiers. Soviet diplomats in Islamabad, the Pakistani capital, have warned Pakistan against harboring rebel units in its territory and have threatened cross-border strikes.
Gandhi said he discussed the border tensions with Soviet leaders during his trip to Moscow last month and that the subject will be a likely topic of discussion in Washington, where he is scheduled to meet with Reagan on June 12.
However, the Indian prime minister, son of assassinated Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, gave no sign that he intends to harden the Indian government position on the presence of more than 100,000 Soviet troops in Afghanistan.
The fact that the Indian government, a severe critic of U.S. policies during the Vietnam War, has not openly and actively criticized the Soviet intervention in Afghanistan has been a major disappointment to the United States and is likely to figure in U.S. officials’ discussions with Gandhi.
Gandhi said he plans to protest the U.S. supply of sophisticated military equipment to Pakistan, with which India has fought three wars since both nations became independent in 1947, and what he claimed is the U.S. government’s failure to halt the development of nuclear weapons by Pakistan. “What we do object to is their (Pakistan’s) nuclear program, (which goes) well beyond their needs and well beyond the peaceful uses of nuclear energy available in the country today.”
Among other actions, Gandhi said, the United States should insist that Pakistan not develop nuclear arms before it sells any additional weapons to the Islamabad government. The United States has a five-year, $3.2-billion military and development aid agreement with Pakistan.
“We are not developing a nuclear weapons program at this moment. We would not like to develop a nuclear weapons program,” Gandhi said, in answer to a question about India’s nuclear weapons plans.
In 1974, India proved its nuclear capability by exploding an underground device in the Rajasthan desert and then, according to most experts, voluntarily abandoned its program, although it refused to sign the nuclear nonproliferation treaty.
As he has several times in recent interviews, Gandhi suggested, without directly stating it, that India might feel forced to restart its own nuclear program.
“We have to think of how we can counter the presence of a nuclear weapon right across our border,” he said.