Skip to comments.CIA opens files on project to raise sunken Soviet submarine
Posted on 02/13/2010 12:59:40 AM PST by ErnstStavroBlofeld
The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) for the first time has revealed details about an ultra-secret Cold War-era project to raise a sunken Soviet submarine from the depths of the Pacific Ocean in 1974.
The high-risk salvage operation, code-named Project Azorian, had been shrouded in secrecy for decades but the spy agency broke its silence in newly-declassified documents published yesterday by an independent watchdog, the National Security Archive.
The documents, drawn from a 50-page article written for an in-house CIA journal, recount the daring bid approved by then-president Richard Nixon to raise the submarine using a specially-designed ship, the Glomar Explorer.
Newspaper articles in 1975 first uncovered the operation but the Central Intelligence Agency initially refused to confirm its existence and had declined requests for information even after the Cold War ended.
"They've been holding on to it for years," John Prados, an author and analyst at the National Security Archive, said.
"The release of this article greatly advances our knowledge of Project Azorian."
The episode began after a Soviet Golf-II submarine, the K-129, sank in 1968 in an accident 1,560 miles northwest of Hawaii, the cause of which remains unclear. The Soviet sub, which was carrying three ballistic missiles armed with nuclear warheads, offered a potential boon to US intelligence agencies if it could be lifted out off the ocean floor and examined
(Excerpt) Read more at zeenews.com ...
He is fine. His arm is still giving his problems.
"I am determined to elect a president of our choosing this year and one who will be deeply indebted, and who will recognize his indebtedness. Since I am willing to go beyond all limitations on this, I think we should be able to select a candidate and a party who knows the facts of political life....If we select Nixon, then he, I know for sure knows the facts of life."
-- from handwritten memos by Howard Hughes, early in the 1968 presidential campaign
Howard Hughes lend his name to the project to support the cover story.Hughes and his companies did not have any actual involvement in the project.
September 09, 2008
A lost Soviet submarine. A mad, reclusive billionaire. A dangerous covert salvage from the bottom of the sea. A Cold War espionage thriller? No, its the true story of a unique recovery ship thats now getting a new lease on life with oil and gas companies.
The Glomar Explorer is a massive 618-foot-long, 50,000-ton deepwater drilling vessel, which BP contracted to carry out drilling operations in its Gulf of Mexico Atlantis oil field. However, the ship was originally designed for a far different mission. Built during the 1970s for tycoon Howard Hughes, her space-age claw would pluck precious minerals from the deepest ocean floors.
Or so the world was told.
The story of the Hughes Glomar Explorer actually began back in February 1968, when K-129, a Soviet Golf-class submarine, disappeared mysteriously in the Pacific Ocean some 600 miles northwest of Hawaii. Despite an intensive search, the Soviets couldnt find a trace of their sub. But thanks to a top-secret naval intelligence system based in Pearl Harbor, the United States Navy knew that K-129 had sunk. And, more important, where.
K-129 carried the Soviets latest nuclear missiles and torpedoes. She also carried their most advanced navigation system, coding devices and code books. If the sub could be salvaged, it would be the intelligence coup of the Cold War.
There was one problem. The sub lay on the bottom in 17,500 feet of water more than three miles down. And experts said it couldnt be salvaged.
Raising the beast
The CIA ignored the experts and hired Houston-based Global Marine Inc. to raise K-129. Because no submarine could operate at that depth, a special salvage ship had to be built that would incorporate radically new technology all under the cover of reclusive billionaire Howard Hughes seabed-mining venture.
However, the ship couldnt lift the submarine alone. A submersible mining barge equipped with a massive claw positioned beneath the ship would serve as an underwater platform to lift and then as a hanger to hide the recovered submarine.
If the Soviets discovered the ships true mission, the Hughes Glomar Explorer could be sunk.
The vessels crew faced hazards that would sober even the bravest. First, the nuclear warheads, exposed to immense water pressure, might be unstable and could possibly explode during retrieval. Perhaps even more dangerous, the salvage crew would be alone on a vast ocean. If the Soviets discovered the ships true mission, the Hughes Glomar Explorer could be sunk.
And, finally, there was the weather. If a storm hit while lifting K-129, the pipe string could snap, tearing the ship in half.
By June 1974, after extensive preparations, the Hughes Glomar Explorer and the submersible barge were ready. By now Howard Hughes was a madman in failing health, and President Richard Nixon had resigned in disgrace. The Cold War raged on.
The Hughes Glomar Explorer moved into position over the wreck in July. But President Ford didnt grant permission to begin the operation until August 11. Working under immense time pressure because of a rapidly closing weather window, Project Jennifer was carried out over the next month. Soviet spy ships arrived and began circling and watching.
The massive claw with its hydraulic fingers grappled the sub, and lifting began. Slowly the submarine was hoisted from the seabed. When the ship was carrying the full weight of the sub, 2,500 tons, she sat seven feet lower in the water. The operation continued until the wreck was some 5,000 feet from the surface. Then disaster struck.
Part of the claw broke off and the wreck began to disintegrate. A nuclear missile slipped from its launch tube and tumbled back to the seabed. There was no detonation. A nervous crew continued lifting. The remaining section of the sub was small enough to fit into the ships moon pool, a huge opening in the center of the ship, where it was dissected and analyzed.
The world remained in the dark about the ships true mission, which the CIA code-named Project Jennifer. However, that changed when four burglars broke into Hughes office and stole thousands of dollars in cash and files about the project, scattering papers as they fled. Assuming the files contained business documents, the thieves demanded a million dollars for their return. The FBI and the Los Angeles police were brought in.
Most of the documents were ultimately recovered but, despite tight secrecy, details leaked to the media. In February 1975, Jack Andersons column in the Los Angeles Times broke the story of Project Jennifer to the world. The ships cover was blown, and plans to return that summer to recover the remainder of the wreck were abandoned.
Exactly what the US Navy recovered remains a debate even today. Some say that the entire submarine was raised and that the claw-breaking story was further cover. Officially, only the forward 38 feet of the submarine was salvaged, and with it a pair of nuclear-tipped torpedoes, several encoding devices, various code books and the bodies of six sailors, which were given a solemn Soviet burial at sea. In 1993, then-CIA director Robert Gates gave a videotape of the burial to Boris Yeltzin, the former Soviet leader, as a confirmation that the Cold War was over.
So what became of the Hughes Glomar Explorer?
She was transferred to the Navy in 1976 where she stayed essentially mothballed for the next 20 years. Global Marine, one of the largest offshore drilling contractors in the world, came up with a better idea. In 1996, the company signed a 30-year contract with the Navy to lease the vessel and totally recondition and convert her into a one-of-a-kind deep-sea drill ship.
After $180 million in conversions, the ship, renamed simply the Glomar Explorer, can drill in 7,500-foot waters and, with some modification, up to 11,500 feet 2,000 feet deeper than any existing rig.
Now retired from CIA service, the Glomar Explorer, whose very name recalls Cold War intrigue and adventure, is no longer salvaging sunken submarines. Still a proud vessel, shes now contracted to companies like BP, helping them find oil in the Gulf of Mexicos ultra deep water.
This article originally appeared in Beyond magazine, Fall 2001.
K-129, a Soviet Golf-II Class submarine, sank in the Pacific on April 11th, 1968 with a full complement of nuclear ballistic missiles on board. The CIA concocted a plan to enlist the billionaire Howard Hughes to build a ship that would be capable of lifting the sub off the ocean floor 17,000 ft. below.
It had long been known the ocean floor was littered with chunks of magnesium mixed with other useful metals. Hughes made it known that he was going to build a ship The Hughes Glomar Explorer for the purpose of harvesting these metals. Other mining companies were so taken in that they began their own deep-sea mining operations. In fact, the entire enterprise was a cover for the CIA.
In June of 1974, the completed Glomar Explorer attempted to lift the ship. It was partially successful, as the sub broke apart during the operation. Only part of the sub was ultimately recovered - including the bodies of 8 Soviet sailors who were filmed being buried at sea in a bizarre ceremony. What materials were actually recovered are still classified. More details can be found here.
One wonders who the CIA could even turn to these days to pull off that sort of an undertaking. The bottom line is: they just dont make billionaires like they used to; do pompous blowhards like Larry Ellison, CEO of Oracle, or geeky shut-ins like Steve Case of AOL and Michael Dell of Dell Computer even hold a candle to Howard Hughes?
How did that go: Order in the court. The judge is eating beans. He is sitting in the bathtub sinking submarines.
I have never heard that before.LOL
I’m not that old. I heard it from my mom.
Nothing in the article that I see that hasn’t been published before. Nothing about Sunnyvale.
God, now I am going to have to watch that movie. I have been avoiding it because I am homo-phobic.
It’s a great movie and a “laugh-a-minute” for those who lived through those times... :-)
You have convinced me.:-)
.. the effect however is clear in the minds of some. Ninety-nine men lost when the Soviets lured the U.S.S Scorpion into a trap believing that a collision with the U.S.S. Swordfish sank their boat.
Not one word about the U.S.S Scorpion here or in the article?
In possession of the latest encrytion gear taken from the U.S.S. Pueblo and virtual daily updates by John Walker the Soviets could indeed track the Scorpion
According to the book All Hands Down about the 1968 destruction of the submarine USS Scorpion investigators were ordered that hostile action was not to be given any consideration.
Though it is very likely that the Soviets lured the Scorpion into a trap the LBJ administration and the Nixon administration did not want to hear it.
The book quotes a source involved in the official investigation: "Ninety-nine men are not worth [what would follow]. Other reasons had to be found for the loss."
OK so an immediate war with the Soviets (nukes and all) would be a hefty price to pay but couldn't Nixon/Kissenger have delayed détente? Or something!
“The project was nearly cancelled over its mushrooming costs”.
In reality this was one of the most cost effective projects the U.S. has undertaken.
Reason to obtain the sub was to obtain Russian Top Secret
Crypto Codes used in their and our Top Secret Communications.
Soviiest had no idea for a few years that we’d in fact obtained their codes.
“Soviiest had no idea for a few years that wed in fact obtained their codes.”
Naval codes. The USSR’s air and ground forces codes - using one day pads and five alaphabet letters in a grid formation (example: ABNRO BYXAA CCAAB RRAAY BABYO) - had been broken since the late 60s.
Wonder how much / if the Glomar Explorer’s chances of success could have been enhanced by the availability of GPS ...
Wonder how much / if the Glomar Explorers chances of success could have been enhanced by the availability of GPS ...
I'm not sure. I don't think that the Russians were saying much about their sub, so I don't think they were giving away information about the location. I don't know how much difference it would have made for the Americans, once they found the sub, in the first place. And then, I don't know if GPS would have helped in regards to the problem of the sub breaking apart when they were lifting it up.
I sorta think it would not have made any difference.
With a combination of today's technologies (GPS, deep submersibles, ROVs, etc,) I would think our chances for success would be considerably improved.
Yeah, I see what you mean and in that respect, then yeah, it could have made a difference. But, if you read another FReeper’s post, we got the “whole thing” anyway ...
We may be reading misinformation about this subject... :-)
Interesting article, but it always bugs me when reporters get the most basic facts wrong:
“ By June 1974, after extensive preparations, the Hughes Glomar Explorer and the submersible barge were ready. By now Howard Hughes was a madman in failing health, and President Richard Nixon had resigned in disgrace. The Cold War raged on.
The Hughes Glomar Explorer moved into position over the wreck in July. But President Ford didnt grant permission to begin the operation until August 11.”
Nixon resigned on August 9, 1974, not in June. Thus, Ford effectively granted permission as quickly as feasible under the circumstances.
It includes a detailed scanned article, but, unfortunately, some of the pages appear to be truncated by premature EOFs, leaving only blank gray on the bottom portions.
The article does include a sketch of the "Clementine" lifting device, etc...
1) I searched for "sea shadow" "HMB-1" in Google Images.
2) I clicked on this image:
3) I allowed the whole page to load...
That's " the long way 'round", but it works - I tried it out to be sure...
I got there by searching for the September, 2002 issue of "The Sub Committee Report Magazine" based on this lead from the mikekemble site:
"The following item was sent to me by its author Tom Docherty in November 2004. It was written for The Sub Committee Report Magazine. September 2002 Edition. Reproduced here with the author's permission. http://subcommittee.com/"
That is the "scanned article with the bottom parts of many pages "grayed out" by apparent "early EOFs" (End-Of-File characters). Probably computer glitches -- but, possibly, a crude means of "redaction"...
Comments 30 & 31 were intended for you, too...
I read it brought up two nuclear torpedoes and six bodies.According to a Lockheed engineer on site, the recovered section did not contain nuclear missiles nor the cryptographic equipment or codebooks that would have been of such extraordinary value for U.S. military intelligence
If Lockheed engineers are anything like Pratt & Witney engineers I’d trade a the whole lot for a broken fungo bat.