The 1970s

The Glomar Explorer

Project Azorian


Project Azorian was the U.S. effort to raise a sunken Soviet submarine from the Pacific seabed. A special vessel, the Glomar Explorer, was built by a mining company owned by Howard Hughes. On 12 August 1974, the Glomar recovered about half of the submarine, with two nuclear torpedoes onboard. Andrew, For the President's Eyes Only, p. 399, tells the story succinctly. On 12 February 2010, the CIA released a redacted version of a Studies in Intelligence (Fall 1985) article entitled "Project AZORIAN: The Story of the Hughes Glomar Explorer," previously classified at the SECRET NOFORN level. The article (the redactions include the name of the author) is available at: http://www.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/nukevault/ebb305/doc01.pdf.

Aid, Matthew. "Project Azorian: The CIA's Declassified History of the Glomar Explorer." National Security Archive, 12 Feb. 2010 -- at http://www.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/nukevault/ebb305/index.htm.

"Today the National Security Archive publishes 'Project Azorian: The Story of the Hughes Glomar Explorer,' a 'Secret' 50-page article from the fall 1985 edition of ... Studies in Intelligence. Written by a participant in the operation whose identity remains classified, the article discusses the conception and planning of the retrieval effort and the creation of a special ship Glomar Explorer, which raised portions of the submarine in August 1974....

"[T]he CIA made significant deletions from the text of the article.... For example, the CIA refused to declassify any information concerning the massive cost overruns.... Nor did the declassified portions of the CIA article answer the critically important questions of how much of the submarine the Hughes Glomar Explorer managed to bring to the surface, or what intelligence information was derived from the exploitation of the portions of the sub that were recovered."

The text of the Studies In Intelligence (Fall 1985) article, as released, is available at: http://www.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/nukevault/ebb305/doc01.pdf.

Bartlett, Donald L., and James B. Steele. Empire: The Life, Legend, and Madness of Howard Hughes. New York: Norton, 1979.

This biography of Hughes includes a chapter on the Glomar Explorer.

Booth, Marilyn. "The Jennifer Triangle: Hughes, Glomar, and the CIA." Harvard Political Review 4 (Spring 1976): 17-25. [Petersen]

Burleson, Clyde W. The Jennifer Project. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1977. London: Sphere, 1979. College Station, TX: Texas A&M University Press, 1997.

Clark comment: The 1997 reissue of The Jennifer Project includes a new foreword and postscript. Also note that the correct project name is Project Azorian; Jennifer was the special security compartment created for information on the project. Commenting on the first edition, Constantinides says that there are things in this book "that make one hesitate to accept its reliability," and recommends Verner and Collier's book, A Matter of Risk, as a better source.

Burns, Thomas S. The Secret War for the Ocean Depths: Soviet-American Rivalry for the Mastery of the Seas. New York: Rawson Associates, 1978.

Petersen notes that this book includes a chapter on the Glomar Explorer.

Business Week. Editors. "Did Hughes Really Build a Mining Ship? CIA's Recovery of a Russian Submarine." 7 Apr. 1975, 26-27.

Eustis, Frederic A., III. "The Glomar Explorer Incident: Implications for the Law of Salvage." Virginia Journal of International Law 16 (Fall 1975): 177-185. [Petersen]

Maheu, Robert, and Richard Hack. Next to Hughes. New York: HarperCollins, 1993.

Robert A. Maheu died at the age of 90 on 4 August 2008. See Matt Schudel, "Robert Maheu, 90; Tycoon's Aide, CIA Spy," Washington Post, 6 Aug. 2008, B5.

Surveillant 2.4 notes that this book includes a "somewhat breathless insider's account of Maheu's role in a small part of Operation Mongoose -- the code name given to the second Bay of Pigs operation.... [He] adds little that is new." According to NameBase, "Maheu tells about his work for the CIA (he was the CIA-Mafia liaison for the assassination attempts on Castro).... But in the end Maheu sees himself as just another nice guy who got taken for a ride, and many of his readers will feel that there's still plenty he'd prefer not to share with commoners like us."

Polmar, Norman. "In the Wake of a Sunken Soviet Submarine." U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings 136, no. 12 (Dec. 2010): 60-64.

The focus here is not the effort to raise K-129 (Project Azorian) but rather the effort to keep the operation secret after the fact and to deal with the Russian belief that the entire sub was retrieved.

Polmar, Norman, and Michael White. Project Azorian: The CIA and the Raising of the K-129. Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 2010.

Goulden, Washington Times, 4 Feb. 2011, and Intelligencer 18.3 (Summer-Fall 2011), says that "Project Azorian ... was a singular success for the CIA and the U.S. Navy." This "engrossing book, while highly technical in patches, tells a dramatic story of how Navy intelligence officers pinpointed the location of the lost sub, and how CIA devised the technical means of hoisting it to the surface." For West, IJI&C 24.3 (Fall 2011), the authors not only provide "the final word" on this project but "plenty of fresh detail." The book also "neatly dispose[s] of a dozen well-embedded intelligence myths."

For Robarge, Studies 56.1 (Mar. 2012), the film and book constitute "the definitive accounts of this remarkable effort." In both, the authors "draw on a much wider range of sources than have previous chroniclers of the project.... [They] put these new sources to excellent effect, presenting numerous fascinating and hitherto unpublicized or underappreciated facts about the planning, implementation, and accomplishments of AZORIAN.... White's movie is well produced and keeps the viewer's attention," although "[s]ome of the engineering sections drag a bit."

Reed, W. Craig. Red November: Inside the Secret U.S.-Soviet Submarine War. New York: Morrow, 2010.

Polmar, Proceedings 136.6 (Jun. 2010), comments that "[c]ombined with the many errors of fact and a lack of understanding of U.S. and Soviet submarine practices and operations, th[is] book makes poor reading for the professional." One of the three major stories told concerns the loss of the Soviet ballistic-missile submarine K-129 and the partial recovery of its wreakage by the CIA's Glomar Explorer. After providing the wrong sailing date for the K-129, "virtually every subsequent paragraph contains error or 'drama' -- hyperbolic conversations -- that cannot be verified."

Writing in "Comment and Discussion" in Proceedings 136.9 (Sep. 2010), Mathers finds that "[t]he prevalance and frequency of error and exaggeration in Red November is such as to deny it any respect as a historical rendering." The book "should not [italics in original] be endorsed as a historical document."

Sharp, David H. The CIA's Greatest Covert Operation: Inside the Daring Mission to Recover a Nuclear-Armed Soviet Sub. Lawrence, KS: University Press of Kansas, 2012.

Nagorski, Wall Street Journal, 20 Apr. 2012, notes that the author "served as director of recovery systems for Project Azorian.... Sharp has clearly worked hard to gather every shred of information from the episode. Unfortunately, his passion and effort aren't matched by a gift for storytelling. The writing is engineer-friendly, perhaps, but largely misses the drama of the tale." Nevertheless, he "brings a trove of fascinating material to his account." Noting that "[w]hether Azorian was the CIA's greates covert operation may be a matter for debate," Peake, Studies 56.4 (Dec. 2012) and Intelligencer 19.3 (Winter-Spring 2013), adds that "Sharp's firsthand, well-documented account is valuable in any case."

For Poteat, Intelligencer 19.1 (Winter-Spring 2012), the author "writes with the authenticity and knowledge one has only after a first-hand, insider role." Brooks, Proceedings 138.10 (Oct. 2012), sees this as an "outstanding book.... No other book on this subject can claim the degree of firsthand information and detail that Sharp offers." To Amundson, NIPQ 29.1 (Jan. 2013), the author has done "an excellent job of describing the genesis, development, and execution of Project AZORIAN." Zaic, AIJ 31.2 (2013), finds that while "[t]he story stands on its own merit,... the focus on the engineering and technical details suggests a more narrow audience."

Stephanson, Jack. "The Glomar Explorer Story -- A Prequel." CIRA Newsletter 23, no. 2 (Summer 1999): 37.

A brief note on the "precursor surface mission to the site of the Soviet sub" later raised by the Glomar. The stay on site included observation and harrassment from Soviet ships.

Varner, Roy, and Wayne Collier. A Matter of Risk: The Incredible Inside Story of the CIA's Hughes Glomar Explorer Mission to Raise a Russian Submarine. New York: Random House, 1978. London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1979.

Constantinides: "Collier was a contract employee of CIA in charge of recruiting personnel.... He is thus able to give first-hand details on arrangements for cover, personnel selection[] and training, and on technical characteristics of the Glomar Explorer." The author "acquired details on what happened during the ship's mission from talking to certain crew members, which is not as trustworthy as personal knowledge." Collier "has a tendency" on some subjects of which he had no direct knowledge "to make assumptions ... without making it clear they are only that.... [Nevertheless,] this is the best book on the subject until someone composes a better version based on either official records or first-hand knowledge of the project from start to finish." Further to that last comment, see Polmar and White, Project Azorian (2010).

Williams, David L. Salvage! Rescued from the Deep. Shepperton, UK: Ian Allen, 1991.

Surveillant 2.1: Salvage is an "account of a number of ... salvage operations ... [including] the CIA's attempt to lift a Russian submarine" with the Glomar Explorer.

Woodward, Calvin. "Document Confirms CIA '74 Mission to Lift Sunken Soviet Sub." Associated Press, 14 Feb. 2010, A12. [http://www.washingtonpost.com]

On 12 February 2010, the CIA "released an internal account of Project Azorian, though with details taken out.... The document is a 50-page article quietly published in the fall 1985 edition of Studies in Intelligence.... In it, the CIA describes a mission of staggering expense and improbable engineering feats that culminated in August 1974 when the Hughes Glomar Explorer retrieved a portion of the [Soviet] submarine, K-129."

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