U.S. Admits to Secret Hunt for Sunken Soviet Sub

Discussion in 'The Okie Corral' started by Smashy, Feb 14, 2010.

  1. Smashy

    Smashy

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    WASHINGTON – In 1974, far out in the Pacific, a U.S. ship pretending to be a deep-sea mining vessel fished a sunken Soviet nuclear-armed submarine out of the ocean depths, took what it could of the wreck and made off to Hawaii with its purloined prize.

    Now, Washington is owning up to Project Azorian, a brazen mission from the days of high-stakes — and high-seas — Cold War rivalry.

    After more than 30 years of refusing to confirm the barest facts of what the world already knew, the CIA has released an internal account of Project Azorian, though with juicy details taken out. The account surfaced Friday at the hands of private researchers from the National Security Archive who used the Freedom of Information Act to achieve the declassification.

    The document is a 50-page article quietly published in the fall 1985 edition of Studies in Intelligence, the CIA's in-house journal that outsiders rarely get to see.

    In it, the CIA describes in chronological detail a mission of staggering expense and improbable engineering feats that culminated in August 1974 when the Hughes Glomar Explorer retrieved a portion of the submarine, K-129. The eccentric industrialist Howard Hughes lent his name to the project to give the ship cover as a commercial research vessel

    The Americans buried six lost Soviet mariners at sea, after retrieving their bodies in the salvage, and sailed off with a hard-won booty that turned out to be of questionable value.

    Despite the declassified article, the greatest mysteries of Project Azorian remain buried three miles down and in CIA files: exactly what parts of the sub were retrieved, what intelligence was derived from them and whether the mission was a waste of time and money. Despite the veil over the project, its existence has been known for decades.

    "It's a pretty meaty description of the operation from inception to death," said Matthew Aid, the researcher who had been seeking the article since 2007, when he learned of its publication thanks to a footnote he spotted in other documents. "But what's missing in the end is, what did we get for it? The answer is, we still don't know."

    Much of the operation on the scene unfolded as Soviet vessels watched and sometimes buzzed the Glomar Explorer with helicopters. The Americans told the Soviets they were conducting deep-sea mining experiments.

    Journalists broke the story in 1975, led by Seymour Hersh, then of The New York Times, and columnist Jack Anderson. The CIA maintained its silence except for declassifying a videotape of the burial of the Soviet seamen that was turned over to Russian President Boris Yeltsin in the early 1990s.

    Now the CIA article, written by an unidentified participant in the operation, brings back to life a time of brinkmanship between two nuclear-armed superpowers as they raced to uncover each other's military secrets. That competition ranged from space, across continents, to the ocean depths.

    For Washington, that meant sparing no expense to retrieve a mammoth vessel loaded with nuclear arms, codes and Soviet technology.

    Yet the disclosed sections of the article hint that not much of value was found, just as long-ago reporting on the episode concluded.

    It only claims "intangibly beneficial" results such as a boost in morale among intelligence officers and advances in heavy-lift technology at sea. The author argues the value in mounting the operation was in proving it could be done — an assertion that does not point to a trove of intelligence.

    "Lifting a submarine weighing approximately 1,750 tons from a depth of 16,500 feet had never been attempted or accomplished anywhere before," the article says. "A government or organization too timid to undertake calculable risks in pursuit of a proper objective would not be true to itself or to the people it serves."

    To researchers, that sounds like bureaucratic justification for a project thought to have cost over $1.5 billion in today's dollars.

    Accounts vary about what was actually brought back. Years later, Russian officials concluded the CIA recovered at least two nuclear-armed torpedoes, not much of a bounty. In other tellings, most of the vessel broke up and fell back to the ocean floor, yielding little. The article does not settle such questions.

    Nor does it say why the submarine is thought to have gone down.

    The saga began in March 1968 when K-129, carrying three ballistic missiles armed with nuclear warheads as well as its torpedoes, sank 1,560 miles northwest of Hawaii with all hands lost. It took six years to ready the Glomar Explorer, create a winching system and sail to the wreck.

    The CIA article carefully recounts the engineering hurdles of the operation, discloses the fears of the U.S. crew that Soviets would try to land on the Glomar Explorer and confirms that plutonium contamination was found in the salvage, apparently leaking from retrieved torpedoes.

    But much else on the salvage is redacted and the CIA's story ends with the ship going to Hawaii, leaving out what was taken and its significance once investigated back on land.


    http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,585784,00.html?test=latestnews
     
  2. eyesnorth

    eyesnorth

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    Some of this was covered in the book Blind Man's Bluff. I forget who the author was. As a Navy Brat I found it to be an interesting read.
     

  3. flatag

    flatag Must have tacos

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    Blind Man's Bluff: The Untold Story of American Submarine Espionage by Sherry Sontag and Christopher Drew

    An interesting book that explores the submarine service and shows that it is more than just floating around in a steel pipe.
     
  4. Ragnar

    Ragnar

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    I read the story of the Golf class SSB way back when the CIA first published the report in 85.

    After the Cold War was over, they declassified it and printed a shorter version around 1995. I'm surprised it took the "researchers" this long to find it.
     
  5. Retseh

    Retseh

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    This doesn't make sense, the Navy released the video of them burying the Russian sailors at sea years ago.

    The whole thing was a fiasco, if only because the technology in the sub was out of date even by soviet standards, and one of the missiles slid out of its launcher as the sub broke in two - gulp.

    Of course the real story is why the sub was 300 miles outside of her approved patrol area and heading towards Hawaii at the time of the sinking............the answer to that question is the REAL reason we spent countless millions trying to raise her.
     
  6. airmotive

    airmotive Tin Kicker

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    The the US admits to this 10 years after the Discovery channel does a two hour documentary on the project?

    I can't wait to see if we admit to having nuclear weapons!
     
  7. The Machinist

    The Machinist Please! Please! No more!

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    If this had happened just a few years ago, we'd be waiting until 2025 to figure out what to do, spend 4-5 times as much as the initial projections, and then cancel the project.
     
  8. 220-9er

    220-9er

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    This is really old news. Maybe a few more details have come out recently but it was a big news story 20+ years ago and most of this stuff came out then.
    The fact that the CIA dosen't discuss or confirm it isn't a big deal. That is their standard response to anything until decades later.
     
  9. Sam Spade

    Sam Spade Staff Member Lifetime Member

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    Not the codes/cypher equipment, not the comms gear...
     
  10. 63Bravo

    63Bravo

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    A book exists covering this, and it is a GREAT! read .I believe it is called the jennifer project...
     
  11. TBO

    TBO Why so serious? CLM

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    ...and not the Vodka. :thumbsup:
     
  12. Oramac

    Oramac

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    no no no. you're all wrong. the REAL question is:

    was the sub named Red October?!?
     
  13. Carrys

    Carrys Inquisitive

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    So what if they didn't recover anything "relevant", they tried and got what they could. It was a sunken sub for gosh sake. What did you expect, to find all hands aboard and playing cards? That's exactly the sort of thing I expect out of our CIA. If they hadn't tried, what good are they?

    They did their job and did it as well as could be expected. Good for them.
     
  14. void *

    void * Dereference Me!

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    The decision to recover or not recover should have been (and hopefully was) made based on the potential payout, given the information known at the time the decision is made.

    Coming back later, looking at the actual payout, and saying 'we got nothing from that, we shouldn't have done it' isn't a valid criticism.
     
  15. Oramac

    Oramac

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    you must be an economist. or at least have studied Game Theory.
     
  16. major

    major Rejected member

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    Shhhhh! That's still TOP SECRET.
     
  17. void *

    void * Dereference Me!

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    I write code - but I've read Schelling (and others) a time or two.
     
    Last edited: Feb 14, 2010
  18. hhb

    hhb

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    I think Howard Hughes built the Explorer.
     
  19. GlockPride

    GlockPride M&P

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    Wonder if they'll ever go after the one in the north Atlantic from 2000?
     
  20. airmotive

    airmotive Tin Kicker

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    I had forgotten the name....she was the 'Kursk'.
    A tragic story. Several crewmembers were trapped alive in her aft engineering spaces. A young Lt. wrote several letters to his young wife and stashed them on his body for people to find. Very sad.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Russian_submarine_K-141_Kursk