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206. Memorandum From the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger) to President Ford 1

SUBJECT

  • Project MATADOR

You will recall that our attempt last year to recover a large portion of a Soviet submarine from the Pacific was only partially successful—that a [less than 1 line not declassified] part of the target broke away and fell to the ocean floor. Our intelligence exploitation of the part that was recovered was of such significance, and the prospects of what we might obtain if we were to recover more of the submarine were so promising, that plans were made for a second mission. You approved these preparations on 6 February.2

The day following your approval, the Los Angeles Times reported3 a CIA contract with Howard Hughes to use the HUGHES GLOMAR EXPLORER to raise a sunken Soviet submarine in the Atlantic. Efforts were made to enlist the cooperation of newsmen and publishers to refrain from publishing additional material in the interests of national security. Many cooperated but when columnist Jack Anderson declared that on 18 March he was going to reveal details of the first MATADOR mission, the agreed embargo “dam” collapsed and we were inundated by authoritative publicity.4

Preparations for a possible second MATADOR mission continued because we wanted to avoid any official confirmation of the press revelations by abruptly terminating the operation, and because we were not sure of Soviet reactions and therefore entertained the hope that we still might have an opportunity to recover a valuable intelligence target.

There have been several Soviet acknowledgments5 of the press accounts, but they were low key and official public positions were avoided. Through your private channels you know that the Soviets [Page 923]have expressed6 their concern about our intentions and have inquired about the dead bodies we recovered.

It is now clear that the Soviets have no intention of allowing us to conduct a second mission without interference. A Soviet ocean-going tug has been on station at the target site since 28 March, and there is every indication that the Soviets intend to maintain a watch there. Our recovery system is vulnerable to damage and incapacitation by the most innocent and frequent occurrences at sea—another boat coming too close or “inadvertently” bumping our ship. The threat of a more aggressive and hostile reaction would also be present, including a direct confrontation with Soviet navy vessels.

The 40 Committee reviewed the status of MATADOR on 5 June.7 It was the reluctant, but unanimous, conclusion of the Committee that the risk of a Soviet reaction was too great to warrant a second recovery attempt. Postponement was considered, but any change in the Soviet position was deemed unlikely. Therefore, it was agreed that the Committee recommend that Project MATADOR be terminated.

It will take months to disengage completely from this complicated operation. Additional publicity can be expected. The question of disposal of assets is being explored and various disposition alternatives will be developed for your consideration.

Recommendation

I recommend that you approve the termination of Project MATADOR.8

  1. Source: National Security Council Files, Ford Administration Intelligence Files, MATADOR, 1975. Top Secret; [codeword not declassified]; MATADOR. Outside the system. Sent for action. Ratliff forwarded the memorandum to Kissinger under a covering memorandum, June 11, with the recommendation that he forward it to the President for decision. (Ibid.)
  2. See Document 195.
  3. See footnote 4, Document 196.
  4. See footnote 2, Document 197.
  5. See Appendix A attached to Document 202.
  6. See Document 199.
  7. See Document 205.
  8. Ford initialed his approval on June 16.