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.
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.
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."
Thursday, February 18, 2010
CIA Operation Azorian: "New Details" Released