Project Azorian: The CIA’s Declassified History of the Glomar Explorer
Matthew Aid, National Security Archive, Feb 12 2010

For the first time, the CIA has declassified substantive information on one of its most secret and sensitive schemes, “Project Azorian,” the Agency codename for its ambitious plan to raise a sunken Soviet submarine from the floor of the Pacific Ocean in order to retrieve its secrets. 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 the Agency’s in-house journal 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 Aug 1974. The National Security Archive submitted a Freedom of Information Act request to the CIA for the document on Dec 12 2007. Also published today for the first time are recently-declassified White House memoranda of conversations from 1975 recounting the reactions of Pres Ford and cabinet members to ongoing news of press leaks about the Glomar Explorer, including Seymour Hersh’s exposé in the NYT on Mar 19 1975.

Document 1: [Author excised], “Project Azorian: The Story of the Hughes Glomar Explorer,” Studies in Intelligence, Fall 1985, Secret, Excised copy.

Document 2: Memorandum of Conversation, Feb 7 1975, 5:22-5:55 p.m., Confidential, Excised copy. Archival source: Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library; National Security Adviser–Memoranda of Conversation, box 9, Feb 7 1975 – Ford, Kissinger, Schlesinger, Colby, Gen Jones, Rumsfeld. Calling his national security team together, Pres Ford expressed his worries about leaks to the press, such as reports on recent National Security Council discussions of the Strategic Arms Limitations Talks. During the course of the discussion, DCI Colby interjected that he had been in touch with the LA Times, whose editors were going to publish an article about the Glomar Explorer. He said that he called Franklin D. Murphy, the chief executive officer of the Times-Mirror Company, which published the Times, but his call was to no avail. The next afternoon, Feb 8 1975, it ran a story entitled “US Reported After Russian Submarine/Sunken Ship Deal by CIA.”

Document 3: Memorandum of Conversation, “[Jennifer?] Meeting, Mar 19 1975, 11:20 a.m., Secret, Excised copy. Archival source: Ford Library, National Security Adviser–Memoranda of Conversation, box 10, Mar 19 1975 – Ford, Schlesinger, Colby, Buchen, Marsh, Rumsfeld. The day that Seymour Hersh’s story appeared in the NYT, Ford also met with top advisers. Sec Def and former DCI Schlesinger recommended acknowledging the “bare facts” because it was implausible to deny the story. DCI Colby, however, thought otherwise and his advice prevailed. Remembering that Pres Eisenhower’s admission of the downed U-2 exacerbated the 1960 crisis, he suggested that confirming the story would put Moscow under “pressure to respond.”

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