187. Memorandum From Rob Roy Ratliff of the National Security Council Staff to Secretary of State Kissinger 1
- Project AZORIAN—40 Committee Meeting
Culminating six years of effort, the AZORIAN Project is ready to attempt to recover a Soviet ballistic missile submarine from 16,500 feet of water in the Pacific.
The recovery ship would depart the west coast 15 June and arrive at the target site 29 June. Recovery operations will take 21–42 days (30 June to 20 July–10 August). The time element is critical because of a narrow “good weather window” (15 June–13 August) after which recovery efforts probably would have to be abandoned since it is doubtful security could be maintained until next year’s “good weather window.”
The innovative recovery system has been tested and project officials believe it will work. The United States Intelligence Board (USIB) reviewed the potential intelligence gain at your request and has reaffirmed the “unique intelligence value” of the target.[Page 877]
Now the 40 Committee must decide whether to go ahead. As part of the Committee’s assessment of political risks, special attention must be given to the President’s Moscow visit2 which is to begin two days before our recovery ship is to arrive at the target site.
The attached AZORIAN Mission Proposal3 was prepared [less than 1 line not declassified] and has been sent to other 40 Committee principals in anticipation of a meeting. I have attached to this memorandum a brief background statement4 comment on the main issues, and questions5 you may wish to ask at the 40 Committee meeting.
Where do other 40 Committee principals stand? My preliminary reading suggests that the major (and perhaps single) negative position may come from State (Hyland and INR to date; Sisco has yet to be briefed). At a briefing last week Secretary of Defense Schlesinger, Clements, Admiral Moorer and DCI Colby all reportedly favored moving ahead.
Following precedent, and because of the significance of the undertaking, you may wish to submit the 40 Committee’s recommendation to higher authority for approval.
In summary: The key question before the 40 Committee is whether the mission should proceed as scheduled, departing 15 June, arriving on site 29 June, and attempting recovery of the Soviet submarine from 30 June to 20 July–10 August. Because of the narrow “good weather window” a prompt decision is imperative to afford maximum time in which to accomplish the mission.
Conduct of the Meeting:
[less than 1 line not declassified] will be at the meeting prepared to brief on the status of the project and to address any questions you or the principals may have.
I recommend you open the meeting by asking for the briefing (it will take no more than 10 minutes) and then proceed to examine each of the major issues with the principals—your talking points are designed in this way.[Page 878]
- Source: National Security Council Files, Nixon Administration Intelligence Files, AZORIAN Project. Top Secret; JENNIFER. Outside the system. Sent for information. Kennedy concurred.↩
- Nixon traveled to the Soviet Union from June 27 to July 3.↩
- Document 186.↩
- Attached, but not printed.↩
- Attached, but not printed.↩
- Top Secret; JENNIFER.↩
- Document 185.↩
- Tab F, an undated paper entitled “[name not declassified] Operation,” is attached, but not printed.↩
- Tabs G and H are attached, but not printed. Tab G is a paper, September 22, 1973, outlining the contingency operations plan for Project AZORIAN. Tab H is an undated paper, entitled “Mission Cover Contingency Plan.”↩
- Tab E, an undated paper, “AZORIAN Target Object Crew Remains,” is attached, but not printed.↩