By Lynne Bronstein
The U.S. Department of State has released documents relating to a hitherto unknown story about Howard Hughes' involvement in a secret project to retrieve a sunken Soviet submarine.
Known locally as “Mr. Culver City”, Hughes built the famous Spruce Goose aircraft in what is now know as Playa Vista. The hanger where the plane was built is all that remains of the Hughes Airport.
On March 14, the State Department released Foreign Relations of the United States, 1969-1976, Volume XXXV, National Security Policy, 1973-1976. The volume is a record of U.S. intelligence actions during the Nixon and Ford administrations, especially those relating to the former Soviet Union. Among the incidents described is an account of what was known as "The Azorian Project."
This was a project to retrieve a Soviet Golf II submarine that sank into the Pacific Ocean in 1968. The sub, which carried nuclear ballistic missiles tipped with four-megaton warheads, and had a 70-person crew, sank near Hawaii, the result of an internal explosion.
After retrieval attempts by the Soviets proved futile, the United States got into the act, knowing that the sub could give them information about Soviet naval codes. In August 1968, U.S. crews tracked the missing sub to an area about 1,500 miles northeast of Hawaii, more than three miles below the surface. CIA engineers determined that the only way to rescue the sub was to use a large mechanical claw attached to a ship on the surface.
According to the CIA web site, ""The ship would be called the Glomar Explorer, a commercial deep-sea mining vessel ostensibly built and owned by billionaire Howard Hughes, who provided the plausible cover story that his ship was conducting marine research at extreme ocean depths and mining manganese nodules lying on the sea bottom."
The recovery project began in 1970 and the actual attempt made in the summer of 1974 was only partially successful.
A second recovery attempt was planned but abandoned because rumors had begun to circulate about the top-secret project.
A burglary in the offices of the Hughes-owned Summa Corporation in June 1974 led to an LAPD police report of stolen documents. The CIA told the FBI that a memo on Project Azorian might be among the stolen papers. As information sped back and forth, the media got hold of the story. And as a consequence, the U.S. realized it would have to back off from further attempts to conduct a "secret" retrieval.
On June 16, 1975, Secretary of State Henry Kissinger sent a memo to President Gerald Ford:
"It is now clear that the Soviets have no intention of allowing us to conduct a second mission without interference. A Soviet ocean-going tug has been on station at the target site since 28 March, and there is every indication that the Soviets intend to maintain a watch there. Our recovery system is vulnerable to damage and incapacitation by the most innocent and frequent occurrences at sea-another boat coming too close or 'inadvertently' bumping our ship ..."
Project Azorian was then terminated.
According to writer Mark Strauss, who recounts the Project Azorian story on his blog http://io9.com/, the project inspired the story line for the James Bond film The Spy Who Loved Me.
The Foreign Relations selection released March 14 is available for purchase through the U.S. Government Printing Office, online at http://bookstore.gpo.gov or by calling toll-free 1-866-512-1800 (D.C. area 202-512-1800). For further information, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.