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on October 26, 2010
"Project Azorian: The CIA and the Raising of K-129" by naval historian Norman Polmar and documentary film producer Michael White provides the first unclassified, factual accounting of a unique event in world history - the loss of a nuclear-missile-equipped submarine in 1968, and its subsequent clandestine (partial) salvage by the CIA in 1974.

In the intervening 35-plus years, there have been many magazine and newspaper articles and several books addressing the K-129 and the CIA's recovery attempt -- incorrectly identifying the CIA effort as "Project Jennifer". Such reportings devolved over the years, as ignorance gradually was replaced by unsupported theories, wild speculation, and finally by absolute nonsense. These distortions and fantasies (represented as factual accountings) eventually motivated several men who participated in CIA's Project Azorian to step forward for in-depth interviews revealing the history of "Azorian" in intimate detail.

Added to the information obtained in these interviews of CIA & Naval officers, men onboard the Hughes Glomar Explorer, and ex-Soviet officials, Polmar & White have published actual photography of the K-129 wreck and, most astonishingly, have published the recorded sound trace of the catastrophe which sank that unfortunate ship. The acoustic recordings were captured by the U.S. Air Force hydrophone system operated by the Air Force Technical Applications Center (AFTAC) - and Polmar & White reveal that the Navy's SOSUS system never detected the deployment or identified the acoustic events associated with the loss of the K-129.

To these unprecedented sources, add a lengthy interview with ex-Soviet Admiral Viktor Dygalo, who was the K-129's Division Commander in 1968, and add a document review of Russian-language sources concerning Soviet naval activity in the Pacific in 1968. Polmar & White also include declassified documents revealing U.S. Pacific fleet surveillance and operational activities in the northern Pacific from February through May 1968, KH-4B satellite photography of the Petropavlavsk submarine complex in September 1967, and interviews with U.S. naval personnel who participated in events that conspiracy theorists can only speculate about (specifically an interview with the Officer-of-the-Deck of USS Swordfish when she bent her periscope, and with individuals involved in the 1971/72 Trieste dives north of Kauai). Finally, the book integrates the information revealed in a heavily censored 50-page CIA history released in 2010 in reaction to Michael White's documentary film. From these threads, Polmar and White weave the most complete and detailed rendering of this event available outside of the U.S. intelligence community.

Determining the cause of the loss by accident of any vessel is made difficult or impossible if there are no survivors to question, and lacking a forensic reconstruction of recovered parts. Yet, with a very detailed analysis of the acoustic information, Polmar & White come close to an explanation of the catastrophe. When the acoustics are combined with an examination of the photography, and Russian reports of K-129 communications problems at-sea are integrated - certain events identify themselves.

Like many such catastrophes, "Project Azorian" reveals that two or more highly improbable failures occurred in succession, finding a pathway to disaster which designers never considered, and provided no safety cut-out to prevent. Further expertise (probably only available in Russia from ex-Soviet naval architects, equipment designers, naval officers, and training specialists) will be required to verify and explain all the new evidence and identify a definitive chain-of-events to failure as well as "first cause".

After an extensive and detailed narrative of the CIA's "Project Azorian" salvage attempt, and its planned successor "Project Matador", Polmar & White review what the CIA salvaged from the wreck, and whether or not the "take" was worth the cost. An exquisitely detailed blow-by-blow discussion of the Project's intelligence-and-political-review process is included, providing the reader with an understanding of how "black" ops are evaluated and approved within the Executive Branch of government.

The book ends with eight appendices containing information on the K-129, its crew, its missiles, the USS Halibut (SSN-587), the lift ship (Hughes Glomar Explorer), the capture vehicle (the claw), and the "Hughes Mining Barge" (the submersible dry dock for the capture vehicle), 14 pages of "Notes", a "Book List", and a complete index. The "Book List" is a bibliography of earlier books concerning "K-129" with an evaluation of the factual or speculative nature of their contribution to the public's knowledge of this unprecedented event.

If the above does not reveal my unbounded enthusiasm for this book, it is a failure as a review. Others have postured and pretended, promising a unique knowledge of the K-129 and the CIA's salvage effort -- but prior to this book delivered only speculation and distortions. Polmar & White, finally deliver the goods -- they deliver a book demonstrating comprehensive knowledge of this fascinating and heretofore highly-classified incident which occurred at the height of the Cold War.

The CIA Project "Azorian" cost American tax payers about $1.4 billion (2010 dollars), spent between 1968 - 1975. Now for the first time, we can see what our representatives in the "black" communities did with our money, and evaluate for ourselves whether they properly protected our interests during those years of confrontation and threat.

"Project Azorian: The CIA and the Raising of K-129" is the ONLY authoritative unclassified source of reliable information on this event, and should not be read as just another layer of the speculation which has been accumulating since 1975. Azorian (this book) is the bible for FACTUAL data leading to an understanding of these events, and for identifying and measuring the purposeful misdirection, fictions, errors, and speculation which have been published over the past 35 years.

Buy it; read it; and appreciate that finally facts have been separated from the fancy and disinformation which has surrounded the K-129 loss since 1968.

Polmar & White have produced a tour-de-force.

Also highly recommended is the complementary DVD film by Michael White Productions which, in two hours, covers the same story visually: Azorian: The Raising of the K-129
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on May 17, 2011
I had heard of the Hughes Glomar Explorer before. The kind of science books I read as a kid often featured engineering feats such as the HGE, I can still remember the blurb about the ship being built for seafloor mining of manganese nodules. For reason or another it never worked out, but these books never said why.

It turns out it was all a lie. The Hughes Glomar Explorer was really one of the most ambitious gambits of the Cold War. The HGE was constructed for the singular purpose of clandestinely recovering a sunken Soviet submarine from the bottom of the Pacific.

The ballistic missle submarine K-129 sank on March 8, 1968 1,500 miles northwest of Hawaii. The American underwater sonophone network discovered that something had happened, and the position was triangulated. The USS Halibut was sent to locate the wreckage, and was able to accurately locate the wreck and take photographs.

Using this information, the CIA decided to try to recover the submarine, and the HGE was commissioned under the codename Project Azorian. The CIA contacted Howard Hughes and he was more than happy to provide a cover story for the mission and laundering of the money to disguise the true ownership of the ship. His many companies and eccentric reputation made both of these things possible. The cover story was so good that some universities began to offer programs in Ocean Engineering to prepare students for the seafloor mining boom.

The Soviets were fooled as well. They never discovered the true purpose of the ship until after it had already been used. The HGE was constructed in public, but the critical recovery vehicle codenamed Clementine was built inside a submersible barge to prevent anyone from realizing the ship was not actually equipped for mining.

This crazy idea almost worked. The submarine was successfully captured, but broke in half while being lifted to the surface. Only the bow was actually recovered. The Soviets actually watched this lift taking place, but did not know what had been done until the story was leaked in the American press in 1975. This leak scrapped plans to send the HGE back to recover the rest of the submarine, because the Soviets threatened war if an American ship returned to the site.

Project Azorian would ultimately cost $500 million, the same as a lunar mission in 1970. This project pushed the state of the art so far that the ship would not find another use for 40 years, when it was leased to Global Santa Fe for its stated purpose: seafloor mining. The American Society of Mechanical Engineering designated the ship a Historic Mechanical Engineering Landmark in 2006.

This is the second Historic Mechanical Engineering Landmark I have come across in a month. When I was touring the Johnson Space Center, my fellow associate asked me, "Why can't we make something like this?" We have vastly better technology as engineers. These guys worked on paper! However, I realize now that one of the things we are lacking is money. Project Azorian would cost $2.7 billion today. Not many people are willing to throw down that kind of money on something that will only be used once.

This book was a great read. I read the whole thing in two days while on vacation. The book is well-researched, with the explicit purpose of correcting the earlier mistakes of other books on the HGE and K-129. There are lots of fun asides about Cold War espionage and politics that situate the book in its historical context. Anyone interested in the Cold War, submarines, or just science and history should find this book engaging
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on November 4, 2010
This book presents the reader with well researched facts about the sinking of a Soviet Golf II Class submarine (K-129) in 1968 and how the U.S. located it and later recovered it (or part of it) with the purpose-built lifting ship "Glomar Explorer". This book provides not-seen-before photos of the Golf on the sea bottom (3 miles below the ocean surface) and of the US efforts to raise it. Of particular interest, is the analysis of the acoustic data collected by US sensors when the K-129 went down. This data was used to locate the position of K-129 when it sank. Recent re-analysis of this acoustic data provides the first fact-based assessment of what cause K-129 to sink--debunking conspiracy theories offered in several recent books that stated that K-129 was setting up to fire it's ballistic missiles at Hawaii when it sank. If you want the truth and can handle the truth, read this book.
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on November 10, 2010
In this spellbinding book,the authors have written a masterful account of one of the most intriguing moments in the saga of the Cold War Intelligence history. The Cold War waa in many ways a war of shadows which was also played out in the depths of the seas and oceans.
One of the most ambitious and daring projects was the CIA'S attempt to raise from the depth of the seabed the K-129 Russian submarine,which was carrying nuclear-armed torpedoes,missiles and other intelligence material. It took the Americans six years of technical preparations in order to attempt and salvage the submarine.This project,named"Azorian" cost the American taxpayers at least 500 milllion dollars and the ship which was supposed to carry out this mission was the "Hughes Glomar Explorer",financed by the mysterious billionaire Howard Hughes.
Unfortunately,only "some 38 feet of the submarine were recovered", while the targeted ballistic missiles and cryptologic material were not brought into the "Glomar"'s pool. Yet the project was successful,since Soviet intelligence agencies were unable to detect the US salvage effort. Material reovered fron the wreck,including two nuclear torpedoes and documents,did have intelligence value.
The project was a great technological achievement and the book reads like a Jules Verne adventure story.The authors dismiss many conspiracy-like theories as to why the submarine disappeared. It is based on extensive interviews and newly declassified CIA documents and will serve as another significant addition to the literature of the Cold War History.Highly recommended.
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on July 22, 2011
I have been interested in submarine operations for a long time now. Especially I'm interested in learning anything about covert operations. I like a lot of people had read about the Glomar Explorer and Project Jennifer, now revealed to be Azorian.

Having read Polamr's book on US and Soviet Submarine development I was keen to read Project Azorian given his credentials as an engineer. The book is technically detailed given that some aspects are still classified. Although not a long read it makes it quite clear what happened, but also detailed the opposition to the project.

Hopefully more details will come out, but for the layman out there it is sufficient.

Great book.
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on April 4, 2011
Polmar and White have given us a definitive and comprehensive account of Project Jennifer, and the US effort to recover sunken Soviet era K-129 Golf class submarine. This account is heavy on the details of the mission, and the people who made the mission possible. Parts of "Jennifer" are classified, but Polmar and White have woven together many sources to bring a first-rate accounting.

If you read and enjoyed Blind Man's Bluff or Spy Sub, you will probably enjoy this very readable and well-researched story of US engineers, scientists, and business people working together to do the impossible.

Highly recommend!
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on November 27, 2011
1968 was a bad year for submarines. In January the Israeli and French diesel-electric powered submarines Dakar and Minerve were lost at sea with all hands and the U. S. Nuclear-Powered Fast Attack Submarine (SSN) USS Seawolf (SSN-575) was badly damaged by a submerged grounding. March 11, 1968 the K-129, a Soviet Golf II diesel-electric powered ballistic-missile boat vanished north of the Hawaiian Islands carrying three ballistic missiles with one-megaton nuclear warheads. The story of the sinking and partial recovery of the K-129 by the CIA is the subject of this review.
Just two months later Scorpion (SSN-598) sank in the Atlantic. The short time between the of loss of K-129 and Scorpion led to decades of Cold War intrigue, diplomatic confrontations, investigations, speculation, and books based on conflicting, false, conspiracy theories labeled "non-fiction" to promote sales.
This is the first book that gets the facts right on the events leading to the loss of the K-129, how we knew where it sank and the Soviets didn't and the covert location and reconnaissance of the wreck by the super-secret Halibut (SSN-587). Due to recently declassified information it tells the story of Project AZORIAN that designed, built and operated the Hughes Glomar Explorer to salvage the forward section of the K-129 from a depth of 16,000 feet. This technical achievement is comparable to the Apollo 1969 moon landing as well as an exciting intelligence success by recovering a 38-foot section of the K-129 in plain view of the Soviets. This is one time we caught them "flat-footed, and pants down."
The authors have the right stuff. Norman Polmar has written dozens of books on naval subjects, held advisory positions for the Navy's leadership and is a recognized expert on U.S. and Soviet submarine issues. He is fearless in getting his point across, but can be controversial. Norman told me that this was a difficult book for him to write because more than 90% of his prior knowledge on PROJECT AZORIAN was wrong. I also interviewed Michael White by phone from Vienna, Austria and was truly impressed by his dedication to this project and what he calls "his team of experts" who have unprecedented knowledge of the subject and were personally committed to the making the book accurate. Michael's 104 minute video with the same title provides more detail and personal interviews with this team of experts.
There is a long list of unsung Cold War heroes like Raymond Feldman, a senior engineer at the time with Lockheed Ocean Systems, one of the key contractors, that helped plan and then run the project, including watching the recovery from TV cameras. Rear Admiral Viktor Dygalo, Soviet Navy Retired, Commanded a submarine division of ten ballistic-missile boats that included K-129. He ordered K-129 on patrol, participated in the search and wrote the letters to the families when K-129 was declared lost at sea.
Bruce Rule was the leading acoustic analyst for the Office of Naval Intelligence for 42 years. In May 1968, the Navy took the acoustic data and compartmentalized it so that not even the Navy's experts could review it. Consequently, it was not until 2009 - 41 years after the event - that Bruce's analysis of the data from open sources determined that the K-129 was lost when two ballistic missiles' rocket motors fired, melted the launch tubes and filled the boat with burning exhaust. This book gives details of the probable causes.
This book is critically important to understanding the Cold War as Shattered Sword: the Untold Story of the Battle of Midway by Jonathan Parshall and Anthony Tully is to better understand that pivotal battle. Shattered Sword makes a strong case that the Japanese defeat at Midway couldn't be blamed on the delayed launch of the Cruiser Tone's #4 scout plane or ADM. Nagumo's rearming his attack planes. Project AZORIAN provides indisputable evidence that sinking of K-129 and Scorpion can't be linked to or blamed on US/Soviet interaction.
The authors dismantle the conspiracy theories by proving they are mostly derived from unrelated data, selective interviews or just fabricated. This book should thwart attempts to write new conspiracy theory books on K-129 and Scorpion. This is a must read for all of you that were or wished you were in the exciting, dangerous, previously highly-classified, submarine component of the Cold War. I bet my 24-carat Gold Dolphins and Command at Sea Pin that you will love this book.
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on July 17, 2011
During the Cold War, the United States Navy and Central Intelligence Agency partnered on intelligence collection deep beneath the waves. Operations including silently trailing Soviet submarines and tapping into underwater telephone cables as described by Sherry Sontag and Christopher Drew in their book, "Blind Man's Bluff." They introduced the most technologically challenging operation of the Cold War, the raising of the downed Soviet submarine, K-129. Norman Polmar and Michael White discuss this operation in greater detail in a book and companion documentary that focuses on the subject entitled "Project Azorian: The CIA and the Raising of the K-129."
The whole project includes three major steps. First, find K-129 and determine if its condition was such that it could be salvaged in order to obtain intelligence in the form of details about Soviet submarine design, construction of nuclear weapons, and codebooks or other cryptological material. USS Halibut, an intelligence asset employed underwater cameras to pinpoint K-129s location three miles below the ocean surface. The photos revealed that the sub was salvageable. Next, a ship needed to be constructed that could raise the submarine. The bulk of "Project Azorian" describes in interesting detail the planning and construction of the "Hughes Glomar Explorer," complete with lifting cables, a capture vehicle, and a "moon pool" to house the submarine once retrieved. Howard Hughes allowed one of his corporations to act as a front for the U.S. government to at least reduce Soviet suspicion of the ship's actual mission. Publically, "Glomar Explorer" was trying to mine the ocean floor for manganese. Finally, the submarine and its contents were analyzed to derive as much intelligence value as possible.
By highlighting this whole effort, "Project Azorian" serves as an important book on Cold War history. It is recommended for intelligence analysts and sailors alike as well as any fan of engineering marvels.
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on November 9, 2010
This book is an excellent synthesis of investigation, research, reporting, analysis and writing. In covering a most complex intelligence operation in such rich detail, Polmar and White make readers feel as though they were actually standing bridge watches on the recovery ship during the operation. I was amazed at the volume and quality of the new information revealed by the authors, down to the weekly menu offered by the "stew burners" on board the Hughes Glomar Explorer. The technical data and background information contained in the book are superbly presented and help the reader to more fully understand the context and the components of the amazing Azorian project. In addition, the authors enlarge on the main topic by debunking some of the myths surrounding other Cold War submarine operations, e.g., the loss of USS Scorpion, and provide an update on the recent activities of some of Azorian's chief elements. This is an authoritative, compelling and well-told account that will be invaluable to scholars, Cold War historians, ship buffs, students of intelligence operations and all those who enjoy precise and factual reporting and who seek solid nonfiction that is even more exciting and provocative than a good novel.
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VINE VOICEon April 26, 2011
Project Azorian is an interesting book on a "black" project to salvage a sunken Soviet submarine. The scope and the ambition of the project are impressive. Project Azorian attempted to salvage a significant part of the Soviet submarine K-129 at a depth of almost three miles. This would be an ambitious project in modern times, but at the time the project pushed the state of the art.

Project Azorian was highly classified, but the authors still manage to provide an interesting history of how the location of the submarine was identified and how the project evolved. I remember the Glomar Challenger, the salvage ship built to salvage the K-129 and what turned out to the a cover story of undersea mining. It is interesting all these years later to learn the true history.

The authors were careful in their research. I did find what seems to be an error, however. At the end of the book the authors discuss the cost of the project, which was substantial. They compare the cost to the manned moon landing and suggest that the costs were comparable. They put the costs of Project Azorian at about 500 million 1970s dollars. The cost of the manned moon landing is difficult to determine exactly, but there is no doubt that it was at least an order of magnitude greater than the cost of Project Azorian. [Later: this was not an error and the authors clarify what they meant in the comment]
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