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186. Memorandum to the Chairman of the 40 Committee (Kissinger)1


  • Project AZORIAN Mission Proposal

1. This is an operational mission of [less than 1 line not declassified], planned for the period June–October 1974. The mission has been assigned [less than 1 line not declassified] code name of Project AZORIAN. The objective is the recovery of a major portion of the Soviet GOLF II CLASS submarine #722 from the ocean bottom in the North Central Pacific.

2. Situation:

The AZORIAN Program recovery platform, HUGHES GLOMAR EXPLORER, ostensibly a deep ocean mining vessel, completed a series of extensive system tests and crew training off the west coast of California on 12 May 1974. Several difficulties, now resolved, were encountered during the test program. These tests have disclosed no technical deficiencies which would indicate that the mission cannot be successfully performed. The Mission Director—the senior U.S. Government officer on board, who heads the Mission Team—stated in his summary message following the completion of these tests:

“All tests at 2,800 feet have been completed. In spite of the fact that we have had to work through many problems, all systems have worked satisfactorily. The crew has performed extremely well. I am convinced that they are qualified to begin the mission . . . It is my recommendation that following the upcoming refit and crew rest period we begin the mission (on or about 15 June).”

The ship is now in Long Beach, California undergoing final system preparations for mission readiness. If approval to depart in mid-June is received, the ship would depart Long Beach, and at normal cruising speed arrive in the vicinity of the target in fourteen days, following which the recovery operation could commence. (See Tab A.) It is mandatory that recovery operation be initiated as early as possible in the “annual weather window”—the period between 15 June and 13 August 2—when there is the highest probability for sea conditions in that area of the North Pacific within which the recovery system can be successfully operated. Nominally, the on-site recovery operation would require approximately three weeks. However, if an [Page 870]allowance is included for holds caused by extreme weather or other contingencies, this period could be as long as six weeks.

As noted above, the time used to effect resolution of technical problems encountered in sea trials has required a curtailment of the deep water test as well as the simulated mining legs which were intended to further condition the USSR to the operation of the HUGHES GLOMAR EXPLORER. While simulated mining legs in the Hawaiian area would have generated additional publicity and would have provided the Soviets with further opportunities to observe the vessel, there was no assurance that that would occur. Deletion of these legs will not unravel the cover nor reduce the import of the considerable publicity in the media and trade journals developed over the past four years. Ostensibly the rationale for proceeding directly to the retrieval site is to determine “weather constraints on the mining system”. Analysis of these changes indicates that this new scenario remains compatible with a commercial mining hardware test and evaluation program. To the public, all time at sea since departing Chester, Pennsylvania, has been related to mining system tests. These activities have received considerable publicity. Conduct of tests to determine “weather constraints on the mining system” in an area where data exists on the sea floor terrain and where manganese nodules exist is consistent with the logic of the deep ocean mining cover. It is reasonably certain that the Soviets are cognizant of the existance of the HUGHES GLOMAR EXPLORER and its purported deep ocean mining role by virtue of the extensive publicity, Soviet over head reconnaissance, and the observational opportunities Soviet vessels have had at Long Beach.

3. Background

The Soviet GOLF II CLASS submarine #722 was lost in the North Central Pacific, in March 1968, following which there was an extensive, but unsuccessful, search for the wreckage by the USSR.

[2½ lines not declassified] the Chairman, United States Intelligence Board (USIB) established the G #722 as the highest priority target [less than 1 line not declassified] in August 1970. On 23 May 1974 the Chairman, USIB revalidated the requirement and indicated that “recovery of the AZORIAN submarine would provide information which can be obtained from no other source, on subjects of great importance to the national defense.” (See Tab B.)3 In October 1970, the AZORIAN Program was authorized [less than 1 line not declassified] to proceed with hardware acquisition and planning for recovery of the G #722. This decision was made recognizing that there was no other asset capable of satisfying at that time or in the fore[Page 871]seeable future, this USIB requirement. The major categories of equipment and related documents expected to be acquired include:

Cryptographic Equipments

Nuclear Warhead

SS–N–5 Missile

Navigation and Fire Control System

Sonar and ASW Countermeasures Equipments

4. Command and Control:

[2½ lines not declassified] The authority for direction and control of the mission operations is delegated to the Director, Program B (DPB). The Mission Director is the senior U.S. Government command authority embarked in HUGHES GLOMAR EXPLORER and is in tactical command of operations.

[3 lines not declassified] There is provision for reliable and secure communications between the Control Center and the ship. In the remote possibility that the HUGHES GLOMAR EXPLORER is subjected to severe hostile reaction by the USSR, plans have been developed to shift the ashore command and control [less than 1 line not declassified] to CINCPACFLT, in concert with higher authority. If the mission is compromised or at any other time, higher authority has the option of initiating a bilateral dialogue with the Soviet Union via the “hot line” or by other means in order to defuse the situation thus reducing the possibility of military confrontation at sea. However, mission success is predicated on the commercial mining cover withstanding the closest scrutiny, short of a complete compromise of the program mission. An evaluation of cover adequacy is noted in paragraph 6 below.

5. Schedule:

Recovery mission evolutions are planned to be accomplished against the following schedule subsequent to the departure of the HUGHES GLOMAR EXPLORER from Long Beach, California:

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Assuming 15 June Departure
Transit from Long Beach to Target Site 14 days 29 June
Target Recovery Operation 21–42 days 30 June to 20 July–10 Aug.
[less than 1 line not declassified] Enroute to Midway Island 21 days 10–31 Aug.
Midway Island [less than 1 line not declassified] 3 days 13 Aug.–3 Sept.
Post-Midway [less than 1 line not declassified] Lahaina Roads 28 days 10 Sept.–1 Oct.
[less than 1 line not declassified] 4 days 14 Sept.–5 Oct.
[less than 1 line not declassified] 10 days 24 Sept.–15 Oct.
Transit to West Coast 7 days 1 Oct.–22 Oct.
TOTAL: 108–129 days4 1–22 Oct.

6. Deep Ocean Mining Cover Evaluation:

From the outset it has been recognized that there could be no overt U.S. Government involvement in AZORIAN without attracting close Soviet scrutiny, and possible realization of the actual purpose for the program. The alternative was to structure the program as a commercial venture. The determination reached was that deep ocean mining would be particularly suitable. The industry was in its infancy, potentially quite profitable, with no one apparently committed to a hardware development phase and thereby possessing a yardstick by which credibility could be measured. Hughes Tool Company’s (later Summa Corporation) participation as the sponsor and sole source of funding was a logical selection. Mr. Howard Hughes is the only stockholder; he is recognized as a pioneering entrepreneur with a wide variety of business interests; he has the necessary financial resources; he habitually operates in secrecy; and, his personal eccentricities are such that news media reporting and speculation about his activities frequently range from the truth to utter fiction. The contractor team was chosen in light of their considerable experience and competence in the deep ocean arena: Global Marine, Inc.—ship construction and system operation; Lockheed Missiles and Space Co.—capture vehicle (ostensibly the mining machine); and Honeywell, Inc.—automatic station keeping and data processing.

After more than three years of carefully managed ocean mining cover planning, development and evaluation, certain conclusions concerning cover credibility and continued viability are considered reasonable:

a. The Summa Corporation Deep Ocean Mining Project (DOMP) is recognized and accepted by the media, both news and technical, for that which it purports to be. The DOMP has been the subject of attention in a variety of technical and trade journals.

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b. There is substantive evidence that the Summa project is accepted in the commercial world, both domestic and foreign, as a legitimate prototype mining enterprise. (See Tab C.)5

c. There is no evidence that the Soviets consider the deep ocean mining program to be anything but a mining venture. USSR scientific and academic institutions rely heavily on U.S. scientific and technical publications for knowledge of our activities in those arenas.

d. The classified elements of the AZORIAN recovery system hardware and mission scenario have been explained in terms of a deep ocean mining program.

7. Security:

Security is recognized as critical in maintaining the commercial cover of the operation. Though judged to be particularly effective through the present, security is known to be affected by the number of persons involved and by the passage of time. A minimal amount of speculation departing from the cover facade is known to have occurred and is discussed more fully under Tab D.

8. [1 paragraph (8 lines) not declassified]

9. Crew Remains:

Provisions for handling and disposition of the target crew remains are generally in accordance with the 1949 Geneva Convention. [less than 1 line not declassified] They will be handled with due respect and returned to the ocean bottom [less than 1 line not declassified] This approach was agreed to by the Interagency Contingency Review Committee (ICRC) on 8 May 1974. (See Tab E.)

10. Mission Assessment:

Certain conditions precedent and conclusions combine to support the assessment that the AZORIAN mission can be accomplished without incident:

a. The recovery site is in international waters about 1,200 nm from the Soviet land mass, removed from commercial shipping lanes, and not in proximity to normal USSR or U.S. naval operating areas, except that the site does lie within the 500 nm wide USSR submarine transit lane.

b. There is no evidence that the Soviets are sensitive to the mission site because of the G–722 loss. All indications point to their unawareness of the G–722 wreckage location. The search effort mounted by the USSR (at least 53 aircraft and 37 ships) during a two-month period, March–May 1968 proved unsuccessful. Since that time, no further Soviet search or operational activity related to that loss has been noted. This is in marked contrast to the frequent Soviet presence at the site of their NOVEMBER class submarine lost in the Atlantic. Because of the massive Soviet [Page 874]search effort, we can assume they are aware the U.S. knows of the G–722 loss, but they have shown no awareness of U.S. knowledge of the location. Furthermore, there has been no undue Soviet apprehension of the presence of U.S. hydrographic or survey ships in the loss area on numerous occasions since 1968. [less than 1 line not declassified] programmed surface surveys of the target site and general area were conducted to collect site data, enhance mining cover, and to test Soviet sensitivity to the site. The first (Project AXMINSTER), conducted by GLOMAR II during September 1970 to January 1971, received close USSR surveillance. This was attributed not to any Soviet sensitivity to the site, per se, but because the ship had intruded into the transit lane of the initial deployment of a USSR Y Class submarine to the East Pacific. The Soviet reactions to the AXMINSTER operation were subsequently analyzed by a panel [less than 1 line not declassified] (Details of the operation and the panel’s findings are contained in Tab F.) The second survey, ostensibly for future mining sites, was conducted by R.V. SEASCOPE during January-to-July 1972. The SEASCOPE operated within 45 miles of the target location and no Soviet reaction to this operation was noted.

c. As stated above, there has been no indication that the Soviets question the authenticity of the Summa Deep Ocean Mining Program. In this regard, it is believed that any USSR requirements for information relating to the HUGHES GLOMAR EXPLORER would lie within their scientific and economic (not the military) communities and can largely be satisfied through open U.S. sources. The only requirement expected from the military would be as part of an assessment of the activity of all ships approaching within 1,500 nm of the Soviet land mass. As the HUGHES GLOMAR EXPLORER offers no military threat, chances of surveillance are problematic, yet may occur due to the site being in a Soviet submarine transit lane or due to curiosity of the technical/economic aspects of the program.

d. Soviet opportunity to see the vessel thus far has been in satellite photography or by crews of Soviet commercial vessels visiting Long Beach or Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

e. A thorough and systematic examination of the threat to the AZORIAN platform by Soviet surveillance throughout all phases of its deployment has produced only a limited number of vulnerabilities. Each exists in the very near field around the ship and can be exploited only by the Soviets using highly specialized collection equipment and techniques not considered to be deployed or available to the most probable group of potential surveillance platforms. An exception to this finding is possible leakage of residual plutonium (if present) from the target into the ship wake during its final preparation for entry into the ship’s center well. During this period any surface ship could collect a water sample and return it to shore for analysis at a later date. The entire AZORIAN recovery system has been designed to deny from [Page 875]even close and continuous surveillance the true purpose of AZORIAN mission operations.

f. Operational planning is reflected in the AZORIAN Mission Operations Plan, the Contingency Operations Plan (Tab G), and Cover Contingency Plan (Tab H) (as reviewed by ICRC), and the CINCPACFLT Support Plan.

11. AZORIAN Program Phaseout:

Ancillary to the aforementioned comprehensive preparations essential to successful mission execution are adequate provisions for an orderly and constructive AZORIAN Program phaseout. Those provisions must afford a logical evolution in the “cover rationale” to protect the value of the AZORIAN intelligence product, and minimize the possibility of U.S. Government and contractor embarrassment. Among the options available is use of AZORIAN hardware (the HUGHES GLOMAR EXPLORER, heavy lift pipe and electromagnetic cable) for several months following the mission in an actual commercial deep ocean mining development program. This involvement of contractors would provide needed cover reinforcement and transition to ultimate disposition of AZORIAN assets.

12. Conclusions:

I have carefully reviewed the technical aspects of the AZORIAN program and have reached the following conclusions:

a. The AZORIAN system has the capability to recover the target section of the G–722.

b. Additional testing would add to my confidence level. However, such testing would cause a significant time loss of the early part of the favorable weather window. Much delay would have an adverse effect on the probability of success of the mission. It should be noted that certain tests (bottom sitting and full load) were never planned. Extensive sub-system testing and the redundancy capabilities designed in the system provide the maximum probability of success for those untested operations.

c. The mission team is technically trained and psychologically ready for the mission. I am particularly impressed with the capabilities that the mission team has shown in working around problems which occurred during sea test activities.

d. I further believe that the commercial mining cover program has been successful. There has been no indication of a serious breach in that cover. However, I must remain concerned that some exposure might occur if the program were delayed for a year. Such exposure could eliminate the possibility of conducting the operation in 1975.

13. Recommendation:

In view of the above, I believe that we would have the maximum probability of success by initiating the mission as soon as the ship is ready; that is, on [Page 876]or about 15 June. Therefore, it is recommended that the AZORIAN Recovery Mission be authorized to proceed as defined herein and in accordance with the attachments to this memorandum.

Tab A


[Source: National Security Council Files, Nixon Administration Intelligence Files, AZORIAN Project. Top Secret; JENNIFER/[codewords not declassified]; AZORIAN. One page not declassified.]

  1. Source: National Security Council Files, Nixon Administration Intelligence Files, AZORIAN Project. Top Secret; JENNIFER/[codewords not declassified]; AZORIAN. Ellipses in the original.
  2. Three week operation—no major technical delays. [Footnote in the original.]
  3. Document 185.
  4. A marginal note written in an unknown hand calculated that, assuming a June 15 departure, the mission would conclude sometime between October 1 and October 22.
  5. Tabs C through H are attached, but not printed.