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Project Azorian: The CIA and the Raising of the K-129
This is one of the more famous episodes of Cold War technical espionage: what does the US government do when a Soviet missile submarine sinks to the bottom of the ocean? Raise it, of course!

This book is fairly straightforward history, with some effort put into debunking and evaluating various conflicting accounts. There's far more attention to narrative order and detail than there was put into suspense or popularization, making it a fairly dry read for anybody without a pre-existing interest in intelligence history. That said, the underlying story is pretty amazing - that they managed to build something this big, and keep it secret until almost the very end, complete with getting Howard Hughes to supply the cover story, that they were building a prospecting ship for undersea mining.

From a historical standpoint, it is interesting that in the 1970s we knew sufficiently little about Soviet capabilities that the investment was considered worthwhile - the Glomar Explorer cost about as much to build as the USS Enterprise. This, despite the fact that the project was briefed to the senior leadership as having about a 30% chance of success, and, true to advertising, the project was not really a success. Oh, they built an amazing ship and managed to pull something off the ocean floor, but they lost the nuclear warheads and the cryptographic material, which were the targets of the project.

Afterwords, the ship wasn't good for much intelligence-wise, and was sold off to an offshore oil drilling company - in fact, the company that became Transocean.

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August 2013

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