More documents emerge on CIA effort to salvage Soviet submarine

Project AZORIANBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
New documents have emerged about a massive effort by the United States Central Intelligence Agency to recover a sunken Soviet nuclear submarine in the 1970s. This blog has written before about Project AZORIAN, a 1974 attempt to recover a Soviet submarine in 5,200 meters of water. The initiative cost the CIA over $800 million, which translates to something like $3 billion in today’s prices. It centered on an effort to salvage K-129, a Soviet Golf II class submarine that had suffered an internal explosion while on a routine patrol mission in the Pacific Ocean, in 1968. The explosion caused the vessel to sink along with the three nuclear ballistic missiles it was carrying and nearly 100 crew members, all of whom died in the incident. The Soviets initiated an immediate frantic effort to recover the vessel but gave up after two months, unable to bring it to the surface. After the Soviets abandoned the site, a number of CIA scientists proposed to undertake an American effort to recover the sunken submarine. This, they suggested, would allow Washington to study the design features of Soviet nuclear warheads, as well as obtain cryptographic hardware that could prove useful in deciphering Soviet naval codes. This prompted the launch of Project AZORIAN, which commenced in 1974, once the Agency secured the necessary funds. As we have indicated before, the recovery team nearly caused a nuclear explosion when the submarine split while being raised, and its body hit the ocean floor. The CIA prepared to enter a new phase of the project in 1975, aimed at launching a second attempt to raise the sunken vessel. But the attempt was cancelled when vague snippets of information about the project were leaked to the press. Nothing more emerged until 2010, when the CIA aired a heavily redacted article about the project, which had originally appeared in the 1980s in Studies in Intelligence, the Agency’s in-house publication. Now, however, intelligence historians are able to rely on 200 pages of mostly fresh information on Project AZORIAN, released under the US Department of State’s Foreign Relations of the United States (FRUS) program. Supervised by State Department historians, the program’s most recent release, entitled National Security Policy: 1973-1976, includes new internal documents on AZORIAN. It consists largely of memoranda written by senior American cabinet officials responding to the project’s successes and failures, as well as reacting to the press leak, which eventually led to AZORIAN’s cancellation. The publication can be accessed on the FRUS page, here.

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