Washington: The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) for the first time has revealed details about an ultra-secret Cold War-era project to raise a sunken Soviet submarine from the depths of the Pacific Ocean in 1974.
The high-risk salvage operation, code-named ‘Project Azorian’, had been shrouded in secrecy for decades but the spy agency broke its silence in newly-declassified documents published yesterday by an independent watchdog, the National Security Archive.
The documents, drawn from a 50-page article written for an in-house CIA journal, recount the daring bid approved by then-president Richard Nixon to raise the submarine using a specially-designed ship, the Glomar Explorer.
Newspaper articles in 1975 first uncovered the operation but the Central Intelligence Agency initially refused to confirm its existence and had declined requests for information even after the Cold War ended.
"They`ve been holding on to it for years," John Prados, an author and analyst at the National Security Archive, said.
"The release of this article greatly advances our knowledge of Project Azorian."
The episode began after a Soviet Golf-II submarine, the K-129, sank in 1968 in an accident 1,560 miles northwest of Hawaii, the cause of which remains unclear. The Soviet sub, which was carrying three ballistic missiles armed with nuclear warheads, offered a potential boon to US intelligence agencies if it could be lifted out off the ocean floor and examined.
The newly-released documents have passages that are blacked out and questions about the ultimate success of the operation -- and what the CIA learned about Soviet subs and warheads -- remain a mystery.
Journalists and historians have concluded the ambitious salvage effort produced mixed results, as only sections of the submarine could be retrieved and the most sensitive Soviet equipment was not recovered.
"So was ‘Project Azorian’ a waste of time and taxpayer money?`" asked Matthew Aid, who edited the papers for the National Security Archive.
"We will not know for sure until the CIA declassifies the remainder of this article and other documents relating to this operation," he wrote.
According to the CIA account, Nixon personally backed the creation of a task force in 1969 to try to retrieve the sub, despite the technical hurdles posed by having to raise the giant vessel from 16,500 feet below the sea`s surface.
The project was nearly cancelled over its mushrooming costs and over concerns that it could derail a burgeoning detente between Washington and Moscow, the documents show.