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

SUBJECT

  • Disposal of the GLOMAR EXPLORER

You will recall that in June 1975 you approved2 a 40 Committee recommendation3 that the special activity for which the GLOMAR EXPLORER was developed be terminated. We noted at that time that disengagement and disposal would be a lengthy process. In fact, we are still involved in it.

It was the 40 Committee assessment that not only did publicity prevent continuation of the special activity in which the GLOMAR EXPLORER was engaged, but also ruled against the ship’s future use in a similar manner. We next turned to the Department of Defense to determine its need for the vessel. We subsequently turned to other Government agencies. Many expressed an interest, but they lacked an approved program and financial resources to acquire and operate the ship.

We were then confronted with a Congressional appropriation action which directed that CIA’s funding for this vessel be terminated by [Page 926]the end of Fiscal Year 1976. An extension was obtained to permit CIA funding through the transition quarter. There is wide agreement that the GLOMAR EXPLORER is a unique vessel and should be retained as a national asset, if possible. Lacking an alternate Government owner and faced with a deadline on expenditure of funds, the vessel was declared surplus and turned over to the GSA for disposal, but with provisions that would permit Government recall in any lease or sale arrangement GSA might make.

At this point the laws pertaining to surplus Government property went into effect. GSA again made the rounds of other Government agencies and some parts of the project complex were claimed, but no agency was able to claim and operate the vessel. Eventually, the ship was advertised for lease, bidding time was extended, but there were no satisfactory bids. GSA opined that an effort to sell the GLOMAR would not generate sufficient return to be acceptable and that it might be bought for scrap which would be even less satisfactory. The Administrator of GSA joined others in recommending that it be retained as a national asset. Mothballing the ship in the reserve fleet was cited as the most feasible and economical option for retention.

The Operations Advisory Group (OAG) has discussed this situation on several occasions. At its meeting on 16 August4 it was advised that following earlier OAG consideration, Deputy Secretary of Defense Clements and Director of Central Intelligence Bush had made a joint approach to the chairmen of the Appropriations Committees of the Congress to discuss this problem. It was explained that there is Government interest in the ship but that programs to utilize it by civilian agencies are several years down the road; that to sell the vessel for scrap would not only lose it as an asset, but be subject to severe criticism because of so little return in comparison with its costs. An alternative supported by the OAG was that the ship be put into a mothball status as part of the reserve fleet of the Navy, and Clements and Bush suggested this to the Appropriations Committee chairmen. It was proposed that Defense and CIA share the mothballing cost, which was estimated at between $4 and $6 million, and that the Navy acquire title to it. The two chairmen sanctioned this proposal and agreed to support reprogramming and the use of funds from the CIA Reserve for this purpose.

Details are being negotiated between CIA and Defense, but it appears that this proposal is viable and will satisfy the major points endorsed by the OAG without dissent—that the ship not fall into foreign hands, that it be available for future Government use, that CIA’s rela[Page 927]tionship with it be terminated. It is contemplated that CIA and Defense will share the initial mothballing cost, and that CIA will advance funds for up to five years’ caretaking expenses. There are different degrees of mothballing, so a precise total cost figure is not yet available, but is expected to be within a range of $5 to $7 million.

Recommendation

That you approve this OAG-recommended plan to transfer the GLOMAR EXPLORER to the Navy for mothballing with initial expenses shared between CIA and Defense and CIA to provide caretaking funds for up to five years.5

  1. Source: National Security Council Files, Ford Administration Intelligence Files, MATADOR, 1976. Secret. Sent for action. Ratliff forwarded the memorandum to Scowcroft under a covering memorandum, August 23, with the recommendation that he forward it to Ford. (Ibid.)
  2. See Document 206.
  3. See Document 205.
  4. The record of the meeting is in the National Security Council Files, Ford Administration Intelligence Files, 40 Committee/OAG Meetings, Minutes/Approvals, 1976.
  5. Ford initialed his approval on August 30.