202. Memorandum Prepared by the Central Intelligence Agency1

SUBJECT

  • Soviet Reaction to MATADOR Mission

1. This memorandum discusses the possible and potential Soviet reactions to the HUGHES GLOMAR EXPLORER undertaking a second mission attempt. Soviet attitude towards détente with the U.S. and other political considerations which may influence their actions are also assessed.

2. Soviet reaction thus far to media publicity about MATADOR (Appendix A) tends to confirm the view that they regard the attempted recovery of their submarine as a serious affront and a sharp embarrassment.

3. Soviet restraint in refraining from public response probably stems from the following factors:

a. Precludes embarrassment at home and abroad in having to admit for the first time the loss in 1968 of the Golf submarine.

b. Avoids public acknowledgement of Soviet inability to locate the lost submarine vis-à-vis the obviously superior technical capabilities of the U.S. to not only locate but recover their submarine.

c. Hides chagrin at the failure of Soviet intelligence services being unable to uncover the true purpose of the Hughes deep ocean mining project during its five year development.

[Page 909]

d. Avoids public acknowledgment that the Soviet submarine was recovered under the watchful eyes of two Soviet surveillance ships at the site.

4. The Soviets appear to convey the desire that the United States cooperate in holding down publicity and, equally important, that there be no official U.S. Government acknowledgment of MATADOR; in addition, they show a willingness to maintain the posture of détente. In these circumstances, and anticipating widespread media exposure, a second recovery attempt will inevitably come to Moscow’s attention as preparations proceed. Such activity includes remating the Capture Vehicle with the ship in early May, followed by Integrated Systems Tests and later departure for the mission. This situation, an intent to proceed with a second mission, should register dramatically on them. The Soviets will recognize that sensational publicity is bound to occur if the U.S. is allowed to proceed. They would conclude that the U.S. was not only determined to compromise their security, but that it was willing, if not anxious, to humiliate them.

5. Apart from a desire to preserve their secrecy and to avoid outright humiliation, the Soviets would have to calculate how a second mission—and their own reactions to it—would affect bilateral Soviet-U.S. relations. The fact that Moscow’s détente approach is loaded with self-serving elements would not alter the biased reactions to be expected from those in the Soviet structure who either support or are critical of the détente.

6. It seems beyond doubt that the Soviets would go to great lengths to frustrate or disrupt a second mission. At the same time, they likely, though not certainly, would hope to maintain a general détente posture toward the U.S. This total reaction would be calculated to hold the best chance of preserving a relationship in which the Soviets have considerable at stake, while communicating to the U.S. that it must act within certain restraints or bear the onus of destroying détente.

7. The most likely means Moscow might seek to halt a second mission attempt is through a private diplomatic approach as the initial move. Simultaneously, the Soviets would have at least one ship, probably an auxiliary type, on station at the target site. Depending on the prevailing situation at the time the ship departs for the mission, including the nature and extent of media coverage and U.S. response to their diplomatic overture, the Soviets might resort to dispatching a combatant vessel to threaten or intimidate the HGE at the site. As the ship departs Long Beach, a Soviet submarine possibly may track her passage to the site reporting activities en route.

8. The Soviets also could, on short notice, declare the area surrounding the target site as closed under the pretense that ICBM test firings are being conducted into the area. This closing action is consist[Page 910]ent with past Soviet practice in adjacent missile testing areas and could support a wide variety of Soviet response contingencies.

9. The more subtle methods the Soviets might employ to harass or interfere with operations and thereby accomplish their objective of preventing target recovery are discussed below. The capability of the HGE to counter these possible Soviet actions is also evaluated.

Situation 1: HUGHES GLOMAR EXPLORER Encounters Soviet Naval Non-Combatant(s) (Unarmed) Stationed at the Recovery Site

The modus operandi of a Soviet naval non-combatant(s) stationed at the recovery site may be expected to parallel observed Soviet surveillance of other civilian vessels involved in U.S. Government-sponsored at-sea activities. In these instances, the Soviets have typically employed naval auxiliary units2 under naval command and control to discourage, by harassment, activity which they know or suspect has a covert mission.

With respect to the HGE, these smaller vessels can maneuver safely at very close ranges (less than 100 yards) and are suited to employing harassment tactics ranging from close passes at the ship, to fouling of the ship’s screw and/or positioning thrusters, to physically engaging and pushing the HGE sideways. At most stages of Capture Vehicle deployment, the recovery system will not be able to accept any degree of rapid physical displacement without risking permanent damage to the pipestring or heavy lift system. This includes twisting movement over 2 degrees a minute or lateral movement of 1/2 a knot. If pushing tactics were employed, the HGE would have to cease operations and were the recovery system to become damaged, the ship would be rendered virtually immobile until the Capture Vehicle and/or pipestring could be explosively detached from the HGE.

Therefore, while employment of unprecedented harassment such as mine emplacement by divers or other tactics discussed in Appendix B cannot be discounted, an aggressive Soviet auxiliary ship could interrupt and probably completely frustrate MATADOR operations using the more fundamental harassment tactics.

Larger non-combatant vessels, such as an AGM (range instrumentation ship), have been employed for surveillance (e.g., CHAZHMA during 1974 mission) but their inability to maneuver safely in close situations (less than 100 yards) limits their utility to that of conducting photographic and electronic surveillance and to providing command and control communications.

[Page 911]

Situation 2: HUGHES GLOMAR EXPLORER En Route to or at Recovery Site, Soviets Deploy a Submarine or Combatant Surface Ship(s) (Armed)

The HUGHES GLOMAR EXPLORER will continue to operate under the somewhat strained cover of a commercial ship engaged in systems testing of deep ocean mining equipment. The Soviets should be fully aware that the HGE has no visible naval escort. Soviet deployment of overt combatant forces against an ostensible U.S. civilian vessel is unprecedented and believed unlikely in this situation, but it cannot be ruled out if an unsuccessful Soviet diplomatic overture has taken place. U.S. ability to detect such deployments ranges from very good for surface ships to poor for submarines. Also, detection could vary with Soviet desire to conceal or to display an armed military response and could provide evidence or reinforcement of the adopted Soviet policy.

Covert deployment of a submarine by the Soviets is more likely. During AXMINSTER and the summer 1974 mission, a Soviet submarine was dispatched to the North Pacific apparently in response to the U.S. presence and bottom operations near the Soviet ballistic missile submarine transit lane. A Soviet submarine could easily operate in the vicinity of the HGE, even intercept it outside Long Beach and track it to the recovery site, without U.S. knowledge. Also, it is recognized that a Soviet submarine is capable of resorting to the use of a variety of underwater weapons against the ship at any time without ever being identified. However, a submarine would be unable to employ harassment tactics described in Situation 1. Its design is not suited to any form of physical encounter with a surface ship so that close underwater approaches either to the HGE or the pipestring would be extremely hazardous for a submarine.

The Soviets could direct a covertly deployed submarine to surface at the recovery site in full view of the HGE either to passively confuse and frighten the crew or to test for the presence of a prepositioned U.S. submarine. While such action could lead to an unpredictable U.S. military response, it might be worth the risk if the crew were frightened into abandoning the mission.

Situation 3: HUGHES GLOMAR EXPLORER En Route to the Recovery Site, Soviet Naval Combatant(s) Operating Near or Stationed at the Recovery Site

With the exception of YANKEE ballistic missile submarines which transit to and from patrol stations in a lane north of the recovery site, no Soviet naval combatants have been observed operating in North-Central Pacific in years. Therefore, the visible presence of a Soviet naval combatant at or near the recovery site prior to HGE arrival would [Page 912]signal clearly the high level of Soviet concern and probably their intent to discourage or prevent any further bottom operations in that area.

10. In the unusual circumstances that the Soviets assigned a combatant ship at the site, they might calculate that the U.S. would be forced to give way or escalate the matter in some fashion which would make Washington bear the responsibility for what evolves thereafter.

Appendix A

Paper Prepared by the Central Intelligence Agency3

Washington, undated.

APPENDIX A

Soviet Response to MATADOR Disclosures

1. On 7 February 1975, a front page Los Angeles Times article4 alleged a CIA contract with Howard Hughes to raise one of two sunken Soviet submarines in the North Atlantic and identified MV HUGHES GLOMAR EXPLORER as the ship involved. Although the story was picked up by other publications and received wide circulation, no Soviet response was noted.

2. On 18 March 1975, columnist Jack declared5 his intention to reveal the details of the Soviet submarine recovery. This action prompted immediate publication by the cooperating newspapers previously holding the story. Significant, accurate details of the recovery available to the news media have received wide national and limited international news coverage to date. The following paragraphs list the known Soviet reactions to this publicity.

a. Official Response: None

b. Unofficial Response:

(1) 20 March 1975: Oleg Yermishkin, second secretary of the Soviet Embassy, in an interview with Strobe Talbott of TIME, said that the Embassy charge had sent a cable to Moscow urging that a strong protest be lodged with the White House over the affair. While he viewed the event as a “setback to détente,” hinted at effects on the Ford-Brezhnev summit and viewed the humanitarian problem of secret burial as a conspiracy, Yermishkin stressed that the opinions expressed were solely his own.

[Page 913]

(2) 24 March 1975: During a luncheon meeting with Mr. Kamenev,6 Chief Press Officer at the Soviet Embassy, Mr. Daniel Gilmore, UPI, posed a question regarding Soviet intentions to request memorabilia of the men or the burial film. Kamenev was thought to say that it was being considered higher up.

(3) 29 March 1975: Prior to a committee meeting at the Law of the sea Conference in Geneva, Soviet Representative Valentin A. Romanov asked U.S. Committee Representative Leigh Ratiner (Director of National Ocean Mining Administration) what the U.S. planned to say if the submarine issue were raised in the meeting. The incident had been widely discussed off the record by foreign delegates but had not been raised in public forum. Mr. Ratiner replied that the U.S. would have nothing to say and would indicate no comment. Mr. Romanov replied, “Good, we do not want to say anything either.”

c. Operational Response:

(1) 21 March 1975: A pair of TU–95 Soviet naval long-range reconnaissance aircraft flew east into the North Pacific bracketing a submarine transit lane probably in support of a YANKEE submarine returning from routine patrol. The pair turned south at the International Date Line and lingered within 200 nautical miles of the recovery site for 2½ hours before returning to home base. Such a pattern has not been observed in recent years.

(2) On 21 March 1975 Soviet seagoing Tug ATA MB–11 concluded surveillance of the joint operation RIMEX 75 in the Hawaiian Islands, proceeded first to an area about 750 nautical miles northwest of Oahu (identified recovery site in all media coverage), then proceeded directly to the recovery site, arriving about 28 March.

(3) [4 lines not declassified]

(4) 31 March 1975: Intelligence Collection Vessel, AGI LINZA, took station over the site of the lost Soviet “N” submarine in the Atlantic and has remained there to date. This station was monitored continuously by Soviet hydrographic vessels from April 1970 until August 1974 and then vacated.

(5) 7 April 1975: Fleet Tug ATF MB–26 relieved ATA MB–11 at the Pacific recovery site and continues to hold station in the area.

(6) 20 April 1975: An unidentified submarine was located by the USS GRAY about 100 nautical miles southwest of Point Sur, California. The submarine was tracked north for two days before contact was lost. A periscope was sighted [1 line not declassified] In addition, the submarine appeared to be operating with two Soviet fishing trawlers located south of San Francisco. No information on this submarine exists from either the U.S. SOSUS [less than 1 line not declassified] networks. The unit has been classified non-U.S., non-friendly, but is probably Soviet. While no direct evidence exists to tie this contact with MATADOR, the appearance of a Soviet submarine near the coast of California is highly unusual.

[Page 914]

Appendix B

Paper Prepared by the Central Intelligence Agency7

Washington, undated.

APPENDIX B

Vulnerability of HUGHES GLOMAR EXPLORER to Physical Harassment

1. The HUGHES GLOMAR EXPLORER would be extremely vulnerable to physical harassment by another ship. It is designed and configured wholly as a commercial vessel, having no arms or armor, with many of its vital operating systems exposed above the main deck and shielded only from the weather by paint, rubber and plastic. In addition, the ship contains several specialized systems for maintaining accurate positioning and stability during heavy-lift operations, each of which is vulnerable.

2. Following is a broad list of ship’s systems and their corresponding vulnerability:

[Page 915]
Ship System Vulnerability
High pressure air and hydraulic systems High powered, armor piercing rifle fire.
Air bottles
High pressure lines
Heavy lift system Pushing during CV deployment causing motion of ship in twist
Gimbals 2° /minute, lateral motion
Stable platform 1/2 knot. (Probability of system
Pipestring damage increases the closer CV is to the surface).
Well, gates open, well flooded Wing wall heavily stressed, vulnerable to ramming amid ships.
Ship’s screw Susceptible to fouling by divers or with lines and cables.
Station keeping thrusters Susceptible to fouling by lines or cables.
Wave rider buoy Antenna destroyed or buoy picked up deprives station keeping system of wave stability data.
Ship hull Susceptible to diver/mine/charge/other implantation by divers during heavy lift operations
Work boat Harassment by surveillance unit when deployed
Ship’s communications Jamming by surveillance unit

3. This harassment activity may be conducted by a small, easily maneuverable Soviet naval non-combatant with a minimum of prepositioned special equipment. There is virtually nothing the ship may do to counter this harassment, and each Soviet action above has the potential of badly frightening at least some members of the crew.

  1. Source: Central Intelligence Agency, Office of the Director of Central Intelligence, Job 80M01066A: E[xecutive] R[egistry] Subject Files, Box 3, Executive Registry Subject File—1975 [codeword not declassified]. Top Secret; [codeword not declassified]; MATADOR. Colby forwarded the memorandum to Scowcroft under a covering memorandum, May 1, which reads as follows: “I have had the attached paper prepared here which discusses possible Soviet reactions to a second MATADOR mission attempt.” Ratliff forwarded the CIA’s memorandum to 40 Committee members under a covering memorandum, May 8, “in anticipation of Committee deliberations on the subject.” Colby’s and Ratliff’s memoranda are ibid. In a May 1 memorandum to Scowcroft, Ratliff asked, in light of the CIA’s assessment, “Can we continue to do something, or should we cut bait now and recover what we can?” (National Security Council Files, Ford Administration Intelligence Files, MATADOR, 1975)
  2. Most common examples: AGI (Intelligence Collection Vessel), AGS (Hydrographic Survey Vessel), ATA/R (Seagoing Auxiliary/Rescue Tug). [Footnote in the original.]
  3. Top Secret; [codeword not declassified]; MATADOR.
  4. See footnote 4, Document 196.
  5. See footnote 2, Document 197.
  6. Valentin M. Kamenev, Press Counselor of the Soviet Embassy.
  7. Top Secret; [codeword not declassified]; MATADOR.