Underwater Odyssey of the CIA team

Underwater Odyssey of the CIA team

Declassified documents reveal new details of the US intelligence mission to lift a sunken Soviet submarine

Historical The US Department of State in the United States International Relations series published a volume on national security policies in 1973-1976. Among the nearly thousand pages of transcripts of meetings and internal documents of the 9 department devoted to the Azorian project, the io200 publication found itself partially succeeded by the CIA’s attempt to lift the Soviet K-129 submarine from the seabed.

The submarine K-129 was launched in the 1959 year. It was built on the project 629 - diesel-electric submarines carrying three ballistic missiles R-13. All these were made 24 pieces. K-129 was later converted by the 629A project - under the P-21 missiles.

8 March 1968 of the year K-129 sank in the northern part of the Pacific Ocean, about three thousand kilometers from the Hawaiian Islands, at a depth of 5,6 thousands of meters. There were 98 people on board. According to the official version, the submarine was flooded with water through a faulty air intake valve. Americans adhere to the version of the false triggering of rocket engines in closed mines - this is evidenced by the high radiation background in the extracted fragments and the noise from which the operators of the SOSUS hydroacoustic system found the submarine.

The USSR searched for K-129 for two months, but never found. Intelligence of the U.S. Navy guessed what happened, according to the activity of the Soviet fleet in the area of ​​the well-known submarine route of Project 629, and made SOSUS operators listen to the hours and days of archived records in search of something like an explosion. This allowed to narrow the search area to three thousand square kilometers. From Pearl Harbor, the USS Halibut submarine, equipped with deep-sea search engines, went there. K-129 was found in three weeks - by August 1968.

In Washington, they reasoned that the Soviet submarine with ballistic missiles on board was just a gift from heaven. If it could be raised, the Pentagon would have at its disposal the P-21 missile technology, cryptographic equipment and documentation. It remains only to understand how to extract the submarine mass 2,5 thousands of tons from a depth of 5,5 kilometers, and even so that no one noticed. This is how the secret CIA project Azorian appeared.

In the next part of the Bondiade, which appeared on screens in 1977, there was a giant tanker that captured nuclear submarines. Perhaps the screenwriter of the film was inspired by the leaks published two years before regarding the Azorian project. To get the K-129 from the bottom of the Pacific Ocean, the CIA decided to create a giant ship, at the bottom of which the lifting mechanism and dock for the submarine would be hidden. It also had to be equipped with stabilization systems, such as those used on drilling platforms.

Ship Hughes Glomar Explorer. Photo: AP

The capture device, designed specifically for the Soviet submarine, was collected separately on a closed barge. To install it on a ready-made ship, the barge needed to be flooded and complete installation under water - so the ship’s assignment could be hidden from most workers.

The construction was entrusted to the company GlobalMarineDevelopment, used by the shipyard SunShipbuilding in Philadelphia. The ship was named “Hughes Glomar Explorer” - according to legend, the ship was built by industrial magnate Howard Hughes to extract iron-manganese nodules from the seabed. The billionaire did not object to the use of his name: his companies and so fulfilled many secret military contracts.

“Mr. Hughes is a recognized pioneer entrepreneur with a wide range of business interests; he has the necessary financial resources; he often acts in secret; and he is so eccentric that media reports on his activities often range from truth to perfect stories, ”the project leaders told Secretary of State Henry Kissinger in a letter dated 1974 on May. It was among the documents included in the current Department of State publication.

Development, construction and testing of the project stretched to 1974 year - and even then ended in a hurry. Six years after the death of the K-129 in Washington, they already doubted whether the game was worth the candle: the Soviet Union switched to the P-29 missiles of a much longer range. The usefulness of the information that would have been obtained by disassembling the P-21 was questionable.

The then director of the CIA, William Colby, however, insisted on continuing the mission, not wanting to spoil relations with hired staff. “We need to take care of the reputation of the state. Closing the project at such a late stage will seem to contractors to be tyrannical. This is an important point in intelligence programs, where security and cover issues require closer relations between contractors and the state, ”he explained in another letter published by the State Department.

As a result, 4 July 1974 of the year “Hughes Glomar Explorer” arrived at the place of death of K-129. The operation to lift the submarine lasted more than a month: it was necessary to wait for perfect weather. In addition, the incredible size of the vessel incomprehensible destination twice attracted the attention of Soviet ships in the area.

By early August, "Clementine", as the sailors called the capture device, was lowered to the bottom on a stepped pipe, like a drill. It was supposed to raise more than half of the submarine at a time - the front 42 meters. However, two thirds of the captured part, including the cabin, collapsed back - the steel “claws” could not bear the load. As a result, only the first 11 meters of the K-129's bow were in the secret dock of the “Glomar Explorer”.

The operation was recognized as partially successful: according to official information, in the raised fragment of the submarine were two torpedoes with nuclear warheads and six crew members. Some employees of the Azorian project later claimed that they managed to “save” the codebooks and other documentation.

Soviet sailors were buried at sea with military honors. Because of the high background radiation, the bodies were lowered into metal coffins. According to the correspondence published by the State Department, the possibility of preserving the personal belongings of the deceased for subsequent transfer to the relatives was initially considered: this could ease the tension if the Soviet Union found out about the project.

Intelligence agents filmed the entire operation of raising the boat on film for the archive department. In 1992, CIA Director Robert Gates handed over a fragment of the recording with the burial ceremony to Russian President Boris Yeltsin.

The wreckage of the Clementines and K-129 had not yet touched the bottom, and the CIA was already preparing for the second attempt. It was clear that the "Hughes Glomar Explorer" will have to return to the dock and substantially rework the capture system. So the new voyage of the “dual purpose” ship would take place no earlier than the next favorable weather season - the second half of the summer of 1975.

The failure with the Azorian, however, came at the very height of the Watergate scandal. 9 August 1974, US President Richard Nixon has already resigned under the threat of impeachment, so for many in Washington, not ambitious projects with dubious international consequences, but “covering the rear” became a priority.

Even Kissinger, who had always supported Operation Azorian, began to consider it a time bomb. “This story will inevitably leak: too many had to be dedicated. All remaining intestines are thin. Yesterday, they kept trying to make it clear that they wanted to protect themselves from the “Azorian”. A depressing meeting, ”he explains his position to the new president, Gerald Ford, in a transcript published by the State Department.

The fact that the Azorian project was about to become public was best understood by the CIA. In January, 1974, about their project, was learned by NewYorkTimes journalist Seymour Hersh. The director of the department, William Colby, met him twice, urging him to postpone the publication of the investigation because of the threat of an international scandal.

The second meeting between Hersh and Colby took place on 10 February 1975 of the year. But three days earlier, LosAngelesTimes wrote about the true purpose of Hughes Glomar Explorer. The newspaper learned about the secret project due to its own oversight by the CIA.

5 June 1974, the office of one of the companies working on the Glomar Explorer, was robbed. In addition to money, the criminals carried out four boxes of documents. Among them could be a memo with the description of the Azorian project - if it was not properly destroyed after reading.

A few months later, a man turned to the Los Angeles police who identified himself as the intermediary of those in whose hands the documents turned out to be. The latter demanded $ 500 thousands for them. The CIA tried to find out if there was a description of “Azarian” among the papers, and told about the FBI note. Those handed over to the police, and the latter asked the intermediary.

So this story came to the Los Angeles Times. Their first article was short, with many inaccuracies and dubious sources, so the CIA continued to insist on the silence of journalists who knew the details of the case. But 18 March, 1975, columnist Jack Anderson publicly announced his intention to reveal all the details. It untied the rest: The New York Times, the Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times came up with editorials on the Glomar Explorer.

Hersh and colleagues mistakenly called the secret project “Jennifer” - this code name was used on all documents to designate a category of secrecy. In the CIA and the US Department of Defense, a system of blocks of information has priority over general levels of admission: classified documents and objects are divided into conditional “cells”, the right of access to each of which is determined by additional criteria - service needs, guarantees, and so on.

The Ford administration decided to ignore publications in the press. The temptation to admit the existence of a grand project, of course, was great. “This episode is an important achievement of America. This operation is a technical miracle with preservation of secrecy, ”said Defense Minister James Schlesinger at a meeting between the President and the 19 power unit in March 1975 (the transcript was declassified in 2010).

Further publicity, however, could force the USSR to take retaliatory actions, therefore the Azorian project remained secret. The CIA responded to official requests under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) with the words "we can neither confirm nor deny". This phrase is now called the “response of Glomar” or “glomarization”.

A sharp reaction was expected from the Soviet Union, as to the incident with the U-2 reconnaissance aircraft in 1960. Moscow was silent. According to the CIA, the Kremlin chose not to publicly acknowledge the loss of the submarine, the inability to find the place of its death, and the failure of intelligence regarding the ship Glomar Explorer.

In the same report of April 1975, analysts of the CIA warned: "There is no doubt that the Soviets will do everything possible to complicate or thwart the second attempt." Pairs of divers armed with several meters of cable would be enough to damage a device like the Clementines. And most importantly, in the USSR they now knew where K-129 rests.

As a result, the US authorities refused to attempt to raise the remnants of the Soviet submarine. In June 1975, Kissinger wrote to Ford: “It is now clear that the Soviets do not intend to allow us to freely carry out a second mission. The Soviet tugboat is on duty from March 28, and by all indications will remain there. Our capture system is vulnerable to the most innocent events at sea, such as a boat passing too close and “accidentally” touching a ship. The threat of a more aggressive hostile reaction is also present, right up to direct confrontation with the ships of the Soviet Navy. ”

According to the official version, the Azorian project was closed on this. Glomar Explorer really was retooled for deepwater drilling, and in 2010 was sold to another company.

Now the Azorian project remains secret. Most of the available reliable information became known only in 2010 year. At that time, the already mentioned transcript of the Ford meeting with the security forces and a well-censored article 1985 of the year from the internal CIA journal were published. It is still not clear what the Americans were able to lift from the bottom, in addition to the torpedoes and seamen’s bodies, are hidden many details of the mission planning and ship preparation, including the designation of some field laboratories stationed on board at the last moment.

But it is known how much three presidential administrations of the United States spent on a secret project - $ 800 million. In terms of modern dollars it is almost $ 4 billion. The Azorian has become one of the most expensive secret operations of the Cold War.
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  1. +8
    April 26 2014 09: 20
    In this whole story, it is especially "shitty" that the then leadership of the USSR "disowned" its dead submariners, like - we don't know anything, our boats did not disappear, something like that. And the relatives of the victims were "asked" to keep quiet. About "glasnost" naturally in those days it was not so much to say, to see in a dream - "it was unhealthy." These are the "costs" of the Cold War at that time.
    1. 0
      April 26 2014 16: 51
      there is such a profession, to protect the homeland !!!
      1. +1
        April 26 2014 20: 05
        No need to demonize our country, on the other side of the ocean the behavior of the authorities would be about the same. These are the rules, no matter how bad this word sounds in this case, games.
  2. +7
    April 26 2014 10: 46
    The veil of secrecy was partially opened only sixty-five years after the sinking of the submarine. And when we find out the truth about the Kursk, I wonder?
    1. macarque
      April 27 2014 13: 41
      It was not during the lifetime of the current leadership that the children were simply killed, albeit by accident, and given peace to those who survived the accident calmly and heroically.
      And the eternal shame on the leadership of the Federation Council and the country. countries due to the fact that those responsible for the loss of the ship and crew are not hanged for eggs as a warning to their followers
  3. 0
    April 26 2014 11: 42
    There were dashing times, secrets, secrets, secrets, there were many secrets in the Soviet Union, how much more we still have to learn.
    1. The comment was deleted.
    2. 0
      April 27 2014 18: 37
      It was very convenient to cover up their own carelessness and incompetence with the notorious secrecy. Moreover, information about serious emergencies, as a rule, was a secret only for its own citizens, but not for a potential adversary ... Therefore, in Soviet times, there was such a joke: “There is fun in Russia - listening to the BBC at night. "
  4. 0
    April 26 2014 12: 01
    Interesting. The first time I read about it.
    It is strange that the bodies of our submariners were so radioactive, even after a long stay at a depth of 5.5 km.
    1. +2
      April 26 2014 12: 32
      About 5-7 years ago there was a detailed broadcast on TV regarding this operation of amers.
      Quote: Takashi
      It is strange that the bodies of our submariners were so radioactive, even after a long stay at a depth of 5.5 km.

      It seems to me that this is not true. There was no explosion, pressure warheads of severe radiation contamination destroyed by pressure cannot be determined by definition, and their destruction is unlikely.
      Let us leave this fact on the conscience of the yusats.
  5. Gagarin
    April 26 2014 12: 54
    Large-scale projects and events.
    Plus, the Americans for the due funeral of the sailors.
  6. 0
    April 26 2014 14: 44
    Quote: Gagarin
    Plus, the Americans for the due funeral of the sailors.

    And the fact that, according to all the data available to date, the American submarine that made the collision is to blame for the death of the K-129. About a month ago, maybe a little more on "Russia 1" there was a documentary on this topic.
  7. -1
    April 26 2014 16: 38
    there is such a profession- to protect the homeland!
  8. +1
    April 27 2014 04: 13
    Quote: sub307
    In this whole story, it is especially "shitty" that the then leadership of the USSR "disowned" its dead submariners, like - we don't know anything, our boats did not disappear, something like that. And the relatives of the victims were "asked" to keep quiet. About "glasnost" naturally in those days it was not so much to say, to see in a dream - "it was harmful to health." These are the "costs" of the Cold War at that time.

    Also, when I read about this boat it seems in the Komsomol, I was very indignant at this fact, submariners gave their lives for their homeland at dawn, and these creatures in the leadership of the country and the Navy did not even want to give them their last debt, bury them humanly, Amers themselves had to do this, for which I am grateful to them.
  9. 0
    April 27 2014 08: 19
    We have a documentary about K-129, it is clearly proved that our boat was rammed by an American.
    1. mamba
      April 27 2014 18: 56
      Quote: balyaba
      our boat was rammed american.

      According to our sailors, the nuclear submarine "Scorpion" is considered to be the culprit of the collision, although according to American data it was carrying out a certain mission in the Mediterranean at that time.
      Nevertheless, she was allegedly sunk by our nuclear submarine near the Azores in May of the same year in retaliation for the death of the K-129. This conclusion was reached by the American military journalist Ed Offley after 25 years of investigation into the death of the "Scorpion".
      1. mamba
        April 27 2014 19: 47
        I am sorry for the mistake. The American multipurpose nuclear submarine "Swordfish" ("Swordfish"), which rammed the K-129 with its sharp deckhouse, is considered to be the culprit of the collision.
  10. 0
    April 27 2014 14: 05
    the one that we then do for the troughs once a simple Amer’s boat rams and drowns us. and then the torpedoes are nah. they aren’t needed. then it turns out that we simply have a supply line in barrels. something is not clean here like that.
  11. +2
    April 27 2014 14: 26
    I’ve read it before, when the boats are nearby, they become blind and deaf to each other, I don’t think that the Americans deliberately went into a collision, so you can sink yourself, a movie about this was missed, but a tragic accident apparently happened. Playing cat and mouse between submarines at that time was a common practice with recording noises and trying to identify the ship.
    Eternal memory to all those who died for our Motherland.
  12. +4
    April 27 2014 18: 39
    I already wrote here, about the K-129, its commander, captain 1st rank Kobzar, about the electrician from this boat, who miraculously survived. I'll add more. It so happened that I myself lived on the street named after Kobzar, named in memory of this commander in Rybach (now Vilyuchinsk). I was friends with this electrician, I saw his "demobilization" album with photographs of the entire crew and even with the families of the officers. The crew lived together as one family.
    Now into the topic. Submarine K-129 of project 629. This is a diesel submarine with three ballistic missiles placed in the wheelhouse. The diesel boat is low-noise and cannot “compete” with the nuclear one in terms of noise. Naturally, it is capable of detecting submarines earlier and making an evasion maneuver. A collision of boats in such conditions is unlikely. One can judge about the contacts of our atomic boats with American and diesel-powered Varshavyanka boats. The atomic ones have one - two contacts for military service, they have dozens. That is why Varshavyanka became so popular. Their noise is lower than the background of the sea. Therefore, I do not believe in any collision in the Pacific Ocean. Yes, in narrows, straits, anti-submarine lines, where they are already waiting for you, anything can happen! But there is nothing in the open ocean.
    And now what the electrician told me. This boat has three groups of batteries. The batteries were old and heavily gassed with hydrogen. So much so that hydrogen afterburning furnaces did not always cope. I personally burst hydrogen directly in the compartment. I know what it is, well-exploding volumes were small. So they had to replace all groups of batteries before the military service. But they delayed the delivery of tasks, then they did not change the batteries with loading and unloading ammunition. This process is not easy. It is carried out with depressurization of the durable case, the expansion of all elements and so on. They didn’t have time for military service and were sent to military service at random.
    Here they have blown the battery! This was told to me by a person who felt this particular battery as a native woman for four years while serving. Unfortunately, he recently died.
    By the way, the authorities knew with what battery the boat was sent. But no one opposed. Everyone was afraid for his chair and shoulder straps. And the result is known.
    Then you can compose whatever you want. Even a clash with an NGO (unidentified underwater facility).
  13. +1
    April 28 2014 00: 18
    Quote: Lyton
    Quote: sub307
    In this whole story, it is especially "shitty" that the then leadership of the USSR "disowned" its dead submariners, like - we don't know anything, our boats did not disappear, something like that. And the relatives of the victims were "asked" to keep quiet. About "glasnost" naturally in those days it was not so much to say, to see in a dream - "it was harmful to health." These are the "costs" of the Cold War at that time.

    Also, when I read about this boat it seems in the Komsomol, I was very indignant at this fact, submariners gave their lives for their homeland at dawn, and these creatures in the leadership of the country and the Navy did not even want to give them their last debt, bury them humanly, Amers themselves had to do this, for which I am grateful to them.

    There is nothing to thank Amer for. In fact, they ravaged a military grave. The fact that the USSR did not recognize the loss of the ship does not change matters. And the Americans knew what they were doing. And they shot a film about the funeral in order to hide behind it like a fig leaf when a crime comes up.
  14. 0
    April 28 2014 02: 09
    Quote: tolancop
    There is nothing to thank Amer for. In fact, they ravaged a military grave.

    They buried our sailors with military honors, but could just throw them overboard, the goal was documentation, codes and technologies, think about how many unburied dead soldiers lay in our forests after the Patriotic War 41-45g. still find the remains and as they should bury.
    Indifferent information, useful thanks, in the article I studied indicated that Kobzar moved his safe with codes somewhere in the aft compartment, as he was tall and prevented him from stretching his legs when resting.
    1. 0
      5 May 2014 10: 06
      And relatives and friends were given a piece of paper with the wording "DROWNED IN THE SEA"! Like this? Fuck you and drown in the sea? He did not die doing his duty, but "drowned in the sea"! Based on the wording, there were no pensions, no benefits for families - nothing!

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