[Page 864]

184. Memorandum From the Director of Central Intelligence (Helms) to the Chairman of the 40 Committee (Kissinger)1

SUBJECT

  • Project AZORIAN 2

1. On balance, I am in favor of continuing Project AZORIAN.

2. I have examined the documentation prepared by the [less than 1 line not declassified] and feel that it presents a fair and objective description. I also have reviewed the re-assessment of the intelligence value of the AZORIAN target by the United States Intelligence Board on 10 August 1972.3 That assessment is in my opinion an accurate, national evaluation of the intelligence potential of the target.

3. The technical risks have been exhaustively studied by [less than 1 line not declassified] and they are, in my opinion, acceptable in view of the intelligence value of the target. The political judgements can only be made satisfactorily at the time the actual mission would be scheduled. With regard to costs, the bulk of the money has already been spent, the ship is nearing launch, and I think that the risk of significant additional cost increases is low. It is also worth noting that even if AZORIAN were cancelled now, the FY 73 funds planned for the program would probably be deleted by the Congress and not be available for transfer to other programs.

4. I have appended a paper which discusses the intelligence issues that have been questioned by those who now doubt the desirability of proceeding with Project AZORIAN. I agree that all these issues lead to very close judgements and it is reasonable that we should have some disagreement about them. Indeed, a year ago we debated them all and, on balance, decided to proceed with the program.4 However, I think the following points argue that it is now no longer sensible for us to reverse that judgement:

[Page 865]

a. All the new information that has been accumulated since our last decision goes in favor of continuing the program.

b. Costs that would be recovered are small and, in any event, may not be available for transfer to other programs.

c. On behalf of our cover story, our primary contractors have committed themselves publicly to a large ocean mining endeavor. Although there is sincere commercial interest along these lines, they would not have made a commitment to such a large expenditure at this time, and could not follow through on it, without the Government’s current involvement. I am concerned that we would have justifiable difficulties with these contractors over a termination.

d. Finally, I think we should be concerned about the Government’s reputation. To the contractors, a termination decision at this late date would, I believe, seem capricious. This is a serious matter in intelligence programs where security and cover problems require a closer relationship between the Government and its contractors than is customary in other contractual areas. Our reputation for stability within the contractor community is therefore an important matter, and I am concerned that in the wake of such a termination it would become more difficult to find corporations willing to participate with us in such a cooperative way.

Richard Helms 5

Attachment

Paper Prepared by the Central Intelligence Agency

[Source: Central Intelligence Agency, Office of the Director of Central Intelligence, Job 80M010066A: E[xecutive] R[egistry] Subject Files, Executive Registry Subject Files—1975 JENNIFER/[codewords not declassified]; AZORIAN; [codewords not declassified]. 4 pages not declassified.]

  1. Source: Central Intelligence Agency, Office of the Director of Central Intelligence, Job 80M01066A: E[xecutive] R[egistry] Subject Files, Executive Registry Subject Files—1975 JENNIFER. Top Secret; JENNIFER.
  2. AZORIAN was the codename for the first mission by the Hughes Glomar Explorer to recover the sunken Soviet submarine. In 2010, the CIA declassified a 50-page article from the fall 1978 edition of its journal Studies in Intelligence entitled “Project AZORIAN: The Story of the Hughes Glomar Explorer” that described the origins and execution of the mission. (“Project AZORIAN: The Story of the Hughes Glomar Explorer,Studies in Intelligence 22, No. 3 (Fall 1978), pp. 1–50)
  3. Not found.
  4. No record of such a decision has been found.
  5. Printed from a copy that bears a typed signature with an indication that Helms signed the original.