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The Nixon Administration and Watergate

Gamesmanship with the USSR

Project: Nixon, Ford, and Watergate
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The Glomar Explorer.The Glomar Explorer. [Source: Federation of American Scientists]The CIA attempts to carry out a secretive recovery, code-named Project Jennifer, of a Soviet Golf-II ballistic submarine that sunk in April 1968 in the Pacific Ocean. The submarine, carrying nuclear missiles, had sunk in over three miles of water. Analysts believe the submarine may have been a rogue on its way to attack Hawaii. The Pentagon is capable of carrying out the necessary deep-sea recovery effort itself, but President Nixon and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger decide instead to outsource the recovery to a private firm, Summa Corporation, headed by eccentric billionaire Howard Hughes. The cover story, which has Summa attempting to mine manganese from the ocean floor, is only preserved by CIA Director William Colby feeding Watergate leads to investigative journalist Seymour Hersh to keep Hersh from finding out more about the recovery mission (see February 1975). Summa has built an enormous recovery ship, the Glomar Explorer, for the mission, and the ship goes to the site. Kissinger badly wants the submarine for verification of arms control analyses of Soviet military and nuclear capabilities, as well as for his dealings with defense hawks such as Defense Secretary James Schlesinger. The Glomar has been on site since June, but for the last two weeks an armed Soviet trawler has been near the recovery vessel, taking photographs and making the civilian crew nervous. Many in Washington worry that the Soviets may try to board the Glomar. Kissinger feels that the “intelligence coup” of the recovered sub makes the possibility of a confrontation with the Soviets worthwhile. Ford, like Kissinger and the other senior officials informed of the operation, knows that the Glomar is completely vulnerable, but if President Ford sends US naval vessels to the site, the Soviets will do the same, thus escalating the situation. Worse, the closest Navy vessels are days away. This is Ford’s first test against the Soviets. Ford orders the Glomar to continue operations, but holds off sending naval vessels to the site just yet. [Werth, 2006, pp. 28-30; Federation of American Scientists, 9/14/2006] The rescue attempt is unsuccessful; as the sub is being pulled to the surface, it breaks apart, irretrievably scattering missiles, computer components, secret codes, and everything else of real value. [Werth, 2006, pp. 56] However, unconfirmed accounts say the CIA manages to retrieve a number of items, including three nuclear missiles, two nuclear torpedoes, the ship’s code machine, and various code books. [Federation of American Scientists, 9/14/2006]

Entity Tags: William Colby, Summa Corporation, Richard M. Nixon, Central Intelligence Agency, Seymour Hersh, Gerald Rudolph Ford, Jr, Howard Hughes, Henry A. Kissinger, US Department of Defense

Timeline Tags: US International Relations

Category Tags: Gamesmanship with the USSR

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