188. Memorandum for the Record1


  • 40 Committee Meeting, 5 June 1974

The 40 Committee met in the White House Situation Room on 5 June 1974 to discuss Project AZORIAN.

Members present were: The Chairman, Henry A. Kissinger, Secretary of State and Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs; Deputy Secretary of Defense William P. Clements, Jr.; Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Joseph J. Sisco; Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Thomas H. Moorer; and Director of Central Intelligence William E. Colby.

Also attending were: Albert C. Hall, Assistant Secretary of Defense (Intelligence) [less than 1 line not declassified] David S. Potter, Assistant Secretary of the Navy (R&D) [less than 1 line not declassified] Carl Duckett, Deputy Director of CIA for Science and Technology; William G. Hyland, Director, Bureau of Intelligence and Research, Department of State; Major General Brent Scowcroft, Deputy Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs; and Richard T. Kennedy, Deputy Assistant to the President for National Security Planning.

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The Chairman arrived at 1632 and the meeting began with a briefing by [name not declassified] Questions about the operation were asked by the Chairman and answered [name not declassified] Mr. Colby and Mr. Clements.

The Chairman said that he must know what is going on at all times; that if Soviet ships were in the target area he wanted to know about it.

He was assured that communication systems had been devised to insure this and that he would be kept informed. Mr. Duckett described how apparently clear messages sent by the ship actually would contain coded information.

The Chairman asked what could go wrong with this operation.

Mr. Colby and Mr. Clements responded, “Lots of things.” They described some of the mechanical, security and other problems.

Mr. Clements said that there were serious political problems that the Chairman and higher authority must consider. A “flap” could be horrendous; successful completion of the operation could be a plus. In any event the operation cannot be kept secret.

Mr. Colby said he was not so sure it couldn’t be kept quiet. He said we could tell 1700 of the 1800 who know about the project that it failed and nothing was accomplished.

Mr. Sisco doubted that this would work.

Mr. Clements said he was not sure that we had anything to gain by recovering the six-year-old target. He said that he had talked with Dr. Edward Teller “who has been up to his eyeballs” in this endeavor and that Dr. Teller has doubts.

Mr. Duckett disputed that Dr. Teller had been involved “up to his eyeballs,” or held negative views.

Mr. Clements called on Mr. Hall to comment on what value the target would be. Mr. Hall said we do not know how the Soviet missile system works, that we’ve never had one of their warheads and that recovery might well lead to information which would provide a firm base from which to estimate for intelligence purposes. On the other hand, the Soviets are now two generations beyond the target missile so recovery won’t help us to know much about the current Soviet capabilities.

Admiral Moorer said that crypto equipment was really the most significant—more so than any nuclear material. He thought that the Soviets were not likely to interfere in the operations, but he was concerned about leaks in the U.S.

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Mr. Colby said we could thank the wisdom of Dick Helms that Robert Maheu2 did not know anything about Howard Hughes’ connection with this project because if Maheu did, it would be all out now.

Mr. Sisco doubted that the project could move ahead without a leak; the chances were 100 to 1. Political repercussions would far outweigh any intelligence gain. He said he was not an expert, but he doubted the intelligence gain and he was certain it would leak. Relations with the Soviets would be affected, and there would be domestic repercussions as well and the President would have to take the heat.

Mr. Clements thought the domestic impact of a leak could go either way—pride that we had screwed the Soviets, or blasts of the President for allowing such a foolish thing to happen.

The Chairman asked if the Soviets found out about the project wouldn’t they say “boys will be boys,” or would they say “You dirty SOBs”? He said a memorandum to the President would be necessary. He summarized: On the plus side there is the value of intelligence to be gained, crypto missile, missile design, etc.

Mr. Hall interrupted to say that the crypto is line of sight, ship to ship, not high level strategic so it is not going to be of much value.

Mr. Duckett said that was not known for sure, that the ship had been modernized and had been on station off our west coast just before it sank, so that it was reasonable to expect that it had higher quality communications and crypto equipment.

The Chairman asked if there was a leak what would the impact be publicly, and what would be the consequences with the Soviets.

Mr. Hyland said he thought that the Soviet reaction would be nil.

The Chairman agreed, adding the Soviets would likely view it as an intelligence coup which we got away with.

Mr. Clements warned not to leave out the Howard Hughes involvement.

Mr. Duckett said not to forget that we have been deep into this problem for four years without a serious leak, and that he was proud of that.

Mr. Colby said he did not think that the risk of a leak was 1000 to 1.

The Chairman said that in any event, there are two reactions to consider—public and Soviet.

Mr. Sisco thought that the public reaction could be positive—pride over the successful undertaking and accomplishment.

Mr. Clements declared that if it were up to him, his judgment would be to go ahead.

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Admiral Moorer dismissed the argument that the Soviets would be a problem; the public problem would be domestic.

The Chairman said that the domestic problem was for the President to decide. The U.S. public will support it if it is in the national interest.

Mr. Hyland said if the project were called off, we would be asked what was the justification for halting.

The Chairman said “Morality.”

Mr. Potter said there was the same chance of a leak whether we went ahead with the project or not.

The Chairman, discussing the domestic implications, said that if the project were stopped we would be asked why it was cancelled, why we went ahead with this when we knew four years ago that it was immoral. And if we go ahead now we will be asked why we did when we knew it was immoral. The President is faced with political considerations—public and Soviet; Howard Hughes’ involvement; and a possible direct confrontation with the Soviets.

Mr. Colby said he was prepared to take the domestic heat.

Mr. Clements said we should not forget the spirit of détente.

The Chairman asked the principals where they stood.

Mr. Clements was for.

Mr. Colby was for.

Admiral Moorer was for.

Mr. Sisco said he had doubts about going ahead.

The Chairman said that he would present the subject to the President for decision.

As the meeting was breaking up, Admiral Moorer said he had to talk about the scheduled [less than 1 line not declassified] mission. The Chairman said he did not want the ship to do anything until after 3 July, and Mr. Colby said we would see to that.3

Rob Roy Ratliff
Executive Secretary
The 40 Committee
  1. Source: National Security Council Files, Nixon Administration Intelligence Files, 40 Committee Meetings, Aerial Recon. Papers, 1974. Top Secret; JENNIFER. No copies were distributed. Drafted by Ratliff.
  2. Robert Maheu, a former FBI agent, was a Hughes aide until 1970.
  3. Ratliff prepared a memorandum for the record, June 10, which read as follows: “Following the 40 Committee meeting on 5 June 1974, the Chairman of the Committee prepared a memorandum for higher authority incorporating the essential points of the Committee discussion of Project AZORIAN.

    “On 7 June higher authority approved the Project AZORIAN mission with the provision that the actual recovery operations not be initiated until after his departure from the USSR.” (Ibid.) Kissinger’s memorandum to Nixon was not found. Nixon traveled to the Soviet Union from June 27 through July 3.