How Howard Hughes Helped CIA Hunt a Sunken Sub

The public believed he was crazy enough to do it
By Kevin Spak,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 20, 2014 12:14 PM CDT
How Howard Hughes Helped CIA Hunt a Sunken Sub
Howard Hughes stands in front of a Boeing Army Pursuit Plane.   (Library of Congress)

Howard Hughes: billionaire, aviator, engineer … and CIA asset? Yep. Hughes once provided the necessary cover for a secret operation codenamed Project AZORIAN, in which the CIA tried to retrieve a Soviet sub from the bottom of the Pacific Ocean without anyone being the wiser, the Houston Chronicle reports. The story first leaked in 1975, but for decades the CIA was tight-lipped about it—so much so that the phrase "neither confirm nor deny" is sometimes known as the "glomar response" in honor of the ship that conducted the salvage operation, the Hughes Glomar Explorer, iO9 reports. But recently the State Department released a massive trove of documents on the incident, bringing the story back into the spotlight.

The CIA knew it needed a recovery ship with a secret opening bottom, a giant barge, and a "capture vehicle" to grab the sub. The agency's cover story for this massive setup: It was a Hughes foray into deep ocean mining. Hughes, Henry Kissinger reasoned in a now-declassified memo, "habitually operates in secrecy, and his personal eccentricities are such that news media reporting and speculation about his activities frequently range from the truth to utter fiction." The op was only partially successful—and abandoned after the press leak—but it did become the basis for a 1977 James Bond movie. (Also back in the news: The house Hughes crashed a plane into.)

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