John Parangosky   Bob Ericson at Bodo.jpeg
John Parangosky   Bob Ericson at Bodo.jpeg

A Note About Sources


A Note About Sources

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This book is a work of non-fiction.

I have made every effort to verify all statements of fact, and direct quotes come either from existing documentation — official government records, court transcripts, and previously published books and articles — or from interviews with surviving participants, who recalled specific conversations to me. In those cases, I am trusting their recollections of dialogue. I have attempted to locate a second source for all facts that came to me from interviews, but that wasn’t always possible, and this being a book about intelligence — a business that employs and relies upon some of the world’s best liars — it’s always possible that someone’s memory is a little off, or that a person has intentionally misled me. I don’t think that’s the case, but I feel it’s worth mentioning anyway.

No book of narrative non-fiction is possible without those works that came before it, and I am indebted to several in particular. The two most important are Project Azorian by Norman Polmar and Michael White, and The CIA’s Greatest Covert Operation, by David Sharp. Polmar is a naval historian, and his collaboration with White — a filmmaker who made an hour-long documentary in conjunction with the book — goes deep into the military and engineering specifics of this story, on both the Russian and American side. Michael White’s accompanying film, also titled “Project Azorian,” is excellent, too, and includes beautiful computer-generated images of the various complex systems that made up the submarine recovery system on the Glomar Explorer. If you can’t quite picture Clementine and the heavy lift system, watch White’s film. Actually, even if you can picture it, you should watch the film.

Dave Sharp was a key member of Azorian’s original CIA engineering team, and the head of recovery on the mission. His book is tremendous. It’s part-memoir, part-history, and is chockablock with anecdotes and insider recollections about life inside John Parangosky’s think tank. Sharp fought the CIA’s notorious Publications Review Board for years for the right to publish. That permission was finally granted in 2011, a year after the National Security Archive got the CIA to release its heavily redacted internal history of the Azorian mission planning, engineering, and security apparatus.

No single document was more important to me than this official Agency history, which originally appeared in the CIA’s classified journal, Studies in Intelligence. It was written by an unnamed Agency historian, based on interviews with Azorian officers (including, presumably, Mr. P) and the reams of official program material that are still locked away in a Northern Virginia warehouse that I tried repeatedly, in vain, to get access to. I got as far as a meeting with a bureaucrat assigned to the office that decides what remains declassified and he stared at me dourly and offered little hope when I pleaded for help. “Do you have any idea how much material there is for this one operation?” he asked. “Boxes.” He meant this as a dismissal, but it only egged me on. I’m still after those boxes.

Two other, much earlier Glomar Explorer books I found helpful were A Matter of Risk, by Wayne “Cotton” Collier, and Clyde Burleson’s The Jennifer Project. These two were published long before any of the operation’s details were official acknowledged, which explains why Burleson’s book used the wrong name for its title. Until very recently, Jennifer is what pretty much everyone called Project Azorian. Collier was hired by Global Marine to recruit the Explorer’s non-spook crew, and I have no idea how he managed to write his somewhat myopic but very detailed account without going to jail.

The heart and soul of this book, however, are the humans who brought this incredible mission to life, and a surprising number of them were still alive to share their stories. They provided the best and most detail, by far, nearly all of it attributed and on the record — with only a few exceptions from retired spooks.


I plan to update this source information regularly, and will also use this space to correct mistakes. I come from magazines, which have rigorous fact-checking. Books don't have that. Accuracy is the responsibility of the writer, which—when you're talking about 100,000-plus words—makes mistakes sadly inevitable. I regret every one, though, and want to make corrections that will appear in future editions, and here, for transparency purposes.


Chapter Notes

Chapter Notes


Curtis Crooke has told this story on several occasions, including at the 2006 American Society of Mechanic Engineers ceremony honoring the Hughes Glomar Explorer as a “landmark.” (Here's the brochure from that ceremony, which is loaded with technical details, drawings, and photos.) Crooke also told it to me, of course, at least a few times, and I kept going back to him for more. He still has a copy of that Spang Tubular Products catalog on his shelf at home.

k-129 Down

Although the Soviets initially buried the story of the K-129’s loss, it was finally acknowledged after CIA Director Robert Gates’s visit to Moscow in 1992, and a flood of Russian media stories about the submarine followed. The general mission parameters and many details about the crew and submarine come from White and Polmar’s Project Azorian, and have been supplemented by a number of Russian sources, especially, “Theft of Submarine K-129” by Mikhail Voznesenskiy (2005), “Theft of Submarine K-129” by Mikhail Voznesenskiy ,” published in the newspaper Izvestiya, on July 4, 1992, and a Russian TV documentary called “The tragedy of the K-129,” directed by Alex Bystritskii (all of which were translated into English for me). Admiral Dygalo, the K-129’s fleet commander, went into great detail about his involvement in his book, “A Rear Admiral’s Notes.” Ken Sewell, the author of “Red Star Rogue,” struck up a friendship with the widow of the cub’s second-in-command, Zhuravin, and has been the source of most information in English on her quest to bring the K-129 loss and cover-up by Soviet authorities to light. Finally, the role of the USS Barb in observing the Soviet search for the sub comes from Sherry Sontag and Christopher Drew, in their brilliant, groundbreaking Blind Man’s Bluff, the book that first illuminated the vast and fascinating history of Cold War underwater espionage conducted by CIA and Navy, and which included a chapter on the Hughes Glomar Explorer that revealed many never-before-heard details.

One topic I avoided is the cause of the K-129’s sinking. The reason: I don’t know what happened. No one seems to know definitively, or at least if someone does that person (or people) have never gone public with the information. There are several theories, ranging from fairly logical to wildly conspiratorial. The Russian media, and its surviving naval officers who know the story, are convinced that the submarine was sunk in an accidental collision with a US submarine that was stalking it — probably the USS Swordfish, which various reports have asserted showed up at a Japanese port few days later with damage to its sail. The problem there: It seems impossible that the Swordfish could have reached that port in time based on the average cruising speed of subs in its class. Also, while I understand how an accidental collision could happen and why such a thing would be buried by the US Navy at the time, I find it hard to believe that the entire Scorpion crew could have sat on that secret for more than 45 years. That said, a collision with a US sub — perhaps one that wasn't the Swordfish — cannot be ruled out. It would explain discrepancies in the accounts of people who have seen photos of the wreck, or the wreck itself through footage on the ship, and describe the damage differently. It would explain why the US Navy continues to be so cagey about the Azorian story (much more so than the CIA). And it would explain why certain artifacts recovered from the K-129 (allegedly) show that the actual time of the disaster differs from the one publicly shared. To reiterate: this is a murky question. That's why I skipped it.

The wildest theory is that the K-129 sank after a missile malfunction while preparing to fire its nukes at Hawaii on the orders of a rogue KGB faction in an effort to start World War 3. This theory is a) bananas and b) based in some part on information about the sub’s location at the time of sinking that’s flat-out wrong, and easily refuted. If you're curious, or are still skeptical, message me and we can discuss.

Dave Sharp indicates in his book that the CIA knew (or learned) what caused the sinking, and that this information is especially sensitive and may remain a secret forever. That would suggest, to me, further evidence that maybe there's something to the collision story. He seems to hint that he may know this information himself, but that he’d never tell if he did. (I asked; he did not tell me.)

My best guess, based on information that’s publicly available, is that the K-129 caught fire after an accident caused by one of two things — an explosion of hydrogen out-gassed by the sub’s batteries while it was at snorkel depth or, most plausibly, or a malfunction during a routine missile test (but not during an actual missile fire that went haywire).

The biggest proponent of the latter theory is Bruce Rule, a former US Navy acoustic analyst who has spent much of his retirement studying submarine disasters in search of causation. Rule obtained and analyzed the same AFTAC data that the US Navy used during the search for K-129 in 1968 and came to the conclusion that that the “Soviet diesel submarine experienced three explosive events that were contained within the pressure-hull.” The conditions directly mimicked a series of explosions during the sinking of the USS Scorpion “now known to have been produced by the explosion of hydrogen out-gassed by the Scorpion main battery.” Rule thinks the likely cause was an “internal explosive event, which probably occurred near or within the missile section,” allowing a “simulated dual-missile launch training event to become the firing to fuel exhaustion of two R-21 missiles within the pressure hull.” Translation: two missiles caught fire inside their closed launch tubes during a test and burned until they ran out of fuel, causing a fire that ripped through the sub and ultimately breached the hull. You can read Rule's thorough, evidence-based analysis here and here.

Photos of the K-129 reinforced Rule's belief that this is what happened, and that this first internal explosive event “probably killed or functionally incapacitated the entire crew instantly, even those more than 100-feet from the probably site of the explosion.” Why does he think this? Because of the body of the Soviet torpedo officer found in his bunk with the manual. If the officer had time to react to an emergency, there’s no way he would have been reading in bed while a fire raged elsewhere on the sub.

Is This What You Were Looking For?

Jim Bradley’s role in Azorian was first and best told in Christopher Drew and Sherry Sontag's spectacular best-seller Blind Man’s Bluff, which was the first major work to reveal the extent of the US Navy's secret undersea intelligence program. To tell this part of the story, the authors relied heavily on interviews with John Craven, who unfortunately died before I could meet him. There are numerous histories of SOSUS. Three of the best are “SOSUS: The “Secret Weapon” of undersea surveillance,” from Undersea Warfare, 7, No. 2, Winter 2005; The American Sound Surveillance System: Using the Ocean to Hunt Soviet Submarines, 1950-1961, by Gary E. Weir, from the International Journal of Naval History, and “Fixed Sonar Systems: the History and Future of the Underwater Silent Sentinel,” by Lt. John Howard, United States Navy, from the Submarine Review, April 2011. Carl Romney’s life story, and the involvement of AFTAC in the hunt for K-129 comes from his own self-published autobiography, Recollections. I also have copies of memos from a meeting about the AFTAC search results at the Office of Naval Intelligence in Washington on May 20, 1968 that was attended by Romney, Craven, and Joe Kelly. One of these memos cites the precise location of the sound anomalies, putting the sub’s wreck at 40.1 degrees North by 179.9 degrees East in 16,800 feet of water. This was exactly right, and that location was later verified by the Halibut and Glomar Explorer crews.

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Finders Keepers

Colorful histories of August Piccard and William Beebe abound. I relied heavily upon the account in William Broad’s “The Universe Below,” which also gets into the importance of the USS Thresher’s sinking and how that event spurred the rise of John Craven and his deep submergence office. Blind Man’s Bluff is excellent on these matters, too, and the brilliant, enigmatic Craven himself goes into great (and largely self-serving) detail in his book, “The Silent War.” Craven also writes about his relationship with Bradley, and his role in the creation and early deployment of the USS Halibut. It’s clear from his book that Craven never got over the fact that the Pentagon assigned the K-129 recovery to the CIA and not the Navy, under his direction. He is one of this story's most important and polarizing figures and he passed away just as I was beginning this project, before I could get to him. He would have been a fascinating (and surely frustrating) interview.

Enter the Halibut

Craven’s The Silent War goes as far as possible into discussion of the Halibut and its role in finding and photographing the K-129 wreck without Craven, a civilian scientist, violating his oath of secrecy to the Navy. The Halibut’s mission was first reported in Chicago Tribune stories by Chris Drew (stories that led to Blind Man’s Bluff) and the mission has still never been officially declassified. For some inexplicable reason the Navy refuses to talk about Halibut's role and that section of the mission, now widely known in the Navy and intelligence community, is redacted from the CIA history. By far the best and most detailed account of the Halibut’s hunt, then, for the K-129 comes from a work of fiction — well, quasi-fiction. An enlisted reactor technician named Roger Dunham wrote a memoir about the mission, only to have the Navy’s Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) remind him that this would be a violation of his own secrecy oath. The Navy urged Dunham to fictionalize the account, and to remove classified details about the submarine. Thus, the Halibut became the USS Viperfish, and the book, a novel called “Spy Sub.” Dunham politely refused an interview, and told me that he was still unable to say much more than was in his book, but he did confirm some names and facts that were not classified or otherwise sensitive. He also hinted about me “dancing around one of the greatest untold secrets of the Cold War” and that sentence has haunted my thoughts ever since.

Ok, Now What?

Here, I screwed up a fact—and it's not a small one. On page 40, the text states that there were two intact R-21s standing in their launch tubes. That's wrong. The photo collage showed substantial damage to two of the tubes, and no missiles were present in those tubes. There was, however, an R-21, with its warhead intact, clearly visible in the forward launch tube. I actually knew this, and had good sourcing for it, but somehow ended up writing that there were two, and never caught it. 

The best info on Jim Bradley and his interactions with the Pentagon hierarchy and, via intermediaries, the White House, comes from Blind Man’s Bluff. John Craven also recounts parts of this in Silent War. The best account of the USS Pueblo’s capture comes from its commanding officer, Lloyd Bucher, whose “Bucher: My Story,” was published in 1970. Deputy SecDef David Packard’s involvement, and his decision to assign the mission to the CIA, appears in the Agency’s internal history, from Studies in Intelligence.

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America’s Top Secret Hub of Innovation

John Parangosky was, like all great spooks, a cipher. There’s almost nothing about his life in published form. The bulk of what I know from his childhood comes from a three-page biography provided by the CIA on the occasion of his commendation as a “Trailblazer”. Additional details come from Roadrunners Internationale, a group of veterans of the U-2 and A-12 programs at Area 51, which has its own short biography of Mr. P, and from his surviving friends, especially Gene Poteat, Walt Lloyd, and Curtis Crooke. For the backstory of the DDS&T, I used a CIA internal history from Studies in Intelligence, titled “Science and Technology: Origins of a Directorate,” by Donald E. Welzenbach, as well as the excellent and very thorough book, “The Wizards of Langley,” by Jeffrey Richelson, and James Killian’s book, “Sputnik, Scientists, and Eisenhower.” For background on the Lockheed-Martin Skunk Works, and especially Kelly Johnson’s role in the early S&T programs, I relied upon Johnson’s autobiography, “Kelly" More Than My Share of It All,” and “Skunk Works,” by Johnson’s deputy Ben Rich. These guys were awesome.

Faster and More Furious

Again, the books by Kelly Johnson and Ben Rich play a big role here, as does a history of the Blackbird program that Parangosky wrote himself for Studies in Intelligence, using one of his code names, Thomas P. McIninch. It is titled, simply, “The Oxcart Story.” There’s a very detailed CIA history of CORONA, too. Called “CORONA: America’s First Satellite Program,” it’s a collection of accounts compiled by the CIA’s history staff and published as part of the Agency’s “Cold War Records Series.” I also spoke with Walt Lloyd and the retired Lockheed engineer Ray Feldman about CORONA.

Need to Know

The story of Project Rock comes mostly from Walt Lloyd, who several CIA officers confirmed is the individual most responsible for architecting security protocols that became standard procedure for compartmentalized or “black” programs.

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The think tank

The early handling of the nascent sub recovery project at the CIA comes mostly from the Agency’s own internal history. Dave Sharp’s book helped fill in the blanks, and added some critical details, such as who did what on Mr. P’s task force.


Willard Bascom published a long story about the Mohole and its significance for Scientific American in April 1959 and William Broad reconstructed events at the National Science Foundation colorfully in “The Universe Below.” Bascom later expanded upon his story, and his successful mission to penetrate the Mohole — as well as his tangled and controversial dealings with the CIA — in his book, “The Crest of the Wave.” John Steinbeck wrote about his time aboard the CUSS 1 in Life Magazine. Both Dave Sharp and the CIA’s Azorian history confirm that this self-stabilizing deep-sea drilling ship was the inspiration for the Azorian engineering plan that ultimately won out, and led the Agency to choose Global Marine to design the incredible ship this project would require.

The Secret Office of Underwater Spies

The existence of NURO was classified until Sontag and Drew revealed the top-secret office in "Blind Man’s Bluff." Gene Poteat told me the story of helping Parangosky sketch the organization’s structure, and I interviewed both NURO’s founding Director, Dr. Robert Frosch, and his deputy, Ernest “Zeke” Zellmer. The CIA’s Azorian history backs all of this up, and explains how Carl Duckett and the powerful ExCom considered and ultimately decided how the office would function. The history also describes the Jennifer security system, as does Dave Sharp’s book. Curtis Crooke walked me through it, too.

Global Marine to the Rescue

The relationship between the CIA, Global Marine, and Mechanics Research Inc, is laid out in the CIA’s Azorian history, but the meat of this chapter comes a series of interviews with Curtis Crooke, who despite a series of recent health setbacks has kept a ridiculously sharp memory.

Ocean Mining 101

I have piles of papers on deep sea mining, a subject that was very much in the conversation around naval architecture and oceanography when the CIA was going to work on a submarine recovery plan in 1969. John Mero’s “The Mineral Resources of the Sea” is credited with sparking the conversation, and it’ll tell you everything you need to know about manganese nodules. Early efforts by companies like Tenneco were covered in the press and I spoke with numerous former scientists and engineers who worked in that world, including John Halkyard, Steve Bailey, and two major Azorian players, Dave Pasho and Curtis Crooke. Events at the UN are reported well in William Broad’s “The Universe Below.”

Every Great Ship Has An Architect

It’s odd how little is known about John Graham, the chief architect of the Glomar Explorer, but like Parangosky, Graham is a hugely important figure who left a surprisingly small printed record in the world. Thankfully, his daughter Jenny (Graham) Parsons was more than willing to help fill his remarkable life out for me. Curtis Crooke added plenty, including the particulars of Graham’s inability to get cleared, and I got fantastic color from many of Graham’s former engineers, including Sherm Wetmore, Jim McNary, John Parsons, Charlie Canby, Chuck Cannon, Steve Kemp, Vance Bolding, and John Owen. Concerns with the pipe, and the cost and schedule considerations come from the CIA history.

Big Bertha

The proposed design for the ship and its systems, as well as the way the CIA divided up the contracts, is explained in the internal Agency history. Dave Sharp writes about the limitations of early security, and the necessity of using phone booths, in his book. Chuck Cannon remembers the early design work as if it was yesterday and will never forget that trip to deliver the SNAME paper in NYC. It’s virtually certain that any precise dates and deadlines in the book come from the CIA history.

paging howard hughes

How the CIA ended up with Howard Hughes covering for the sub snatch operation is one issue that’s impossible to prove. Dave Sharp recalls it being the Agency’s idea. Curtis Crooke swears that it came from him. That the Hughes hierarchy was happy to help is not in doubt, and has been discussed in published reports by Bill Gay, Chester Davis, and Nadine Henley. I have copies of the original “black” contract between the CIA, Global Marine, and Hughes Tool, as well as the memo from Parangosky to Kissinger about Azorian’s proposed structure, which has been declassified and is now part of the State Department’s searchable online collection “Foreign Relations of the United States 1969-1976.

building a bulletproof lie

Walt Lloyd’s biography and involvement with the Azorian program comes straight from the horse’s very careful mouth. “I’m happy to tell you stories,” Lloyd told me, during my visit to his home near Tucson. “But I won’t say anything about sources and methods.”

the big con

One guy I really wish I had met is Manfred Krutein. Everyone remembers the eccentric German émigré fondly and no man played a bigger role in convincing the world that Global Marine was really mining the ocean than him. Thankfully, he kept a very colorful diary that was submitted to and redacted by the CIA and later included in the lively memoir “Amerika? America,” that he co-wrote with his wife, Eva. Curtis Crooke and Dave Pasho helped confirm much of this, and Pasho, like so many Azorian veterans, recalls his own hiring and work on the program in remarkable detail. 

the program office

I’ve spoken with at least 10 former employees of the Deep Ocean Mining Project about the two offices at the Tishman and Hughes buildings, both within a few blocks of LAX and still standing to this day. Everyone agrees on the basics of the layout of the Program Office — the two floors, the communications room, the Harvey door — but there was debate about which two floors comprised the offices. Some recall 4 and 5. Others 5 and 6. I went with a majority vote, which is why I’m using 5 and 6. Incidentally, those are the floors Dave Sharp cites, which helped push me over the edge. You can also read about the program office in the CIA history, in Polmar and White, and in “A Matter of Risk.” Parangosky’s obsession with secrecy came up repeatedly in interviews, and some of the spooky tradecraft cited here comes from the CIA history and from Dave Sharp — whose book talks about the Flying James Boys and many other now amusing stunts used by CIA officers working undercover. He also talks about Parangosky’s relationship with Nelson, as does Kelly Johnson in his autobiography. A few program veterans recalled Brent Savage’s security tics fondly, and with many laughs — especially as it pertained to harassing the Navy guys who didn’t know how to chill out.

back to the wreck site

This was an early make or break point for the mission, and the engineers remember it, especially Crooke and Jim McNary, the latter being the man John Graham assigned to the task of refitting the Glomar II to go back to the wreck site. Joe Houston was thrilled to recall his mysterious meetings with JP, and of course the Catfish Solution, co-starring his son, Brant, now a professor of investigative journalism at the University of Illinois.

a minor complication

The broad strokes of the Glomar II mission to the wreck site appear in the CIA’s history, but what enabled me to retell it in such detail is Manfred Krutein’s diary, which recalls this Hawaiian adventure in kaleidoscopic color. Krutein clearly relished his times playing secret agent. His son Vern, just a young boy at the time, confirmed what he could. Curtis Crooke helped me identify some of the key Agency figures, including Bob Schieb (“Jim”), and Dave Sharp writes about the almost unbelievable helicopter trip out to the ship, too.

we need a bigger boat

When there was no choice but to tweak the ship’s design, John Graham put Chuck Cannon on the job. Cannon was already aware of the problem, he says, and working on it. He fondly recalls his one and only trip east to visit Parangosky and the Task Force — the only time he met Mr. P.

The mother of all barges

The HMB-1’s story is fairly well documented, because the giant barge was built in the open. That was part of the cover. Its architect, Tom Bringloe, talked me through the design and testing. Nixon's appearance at National Shipbuilding was widely reported in the press. Paul Reeve’s quote appears in official “DOMP” press releases, and in media reports.

Oh My Darling, Clementine

Parangosky’s dealings with Wenzel come from Dave Sharp. Kelly Johnson talks about Henry Combs in his autobiography. Details of Clementine’s construction are now common, though never officially released. The Capture Vehicle was the most closely guarded secret of the entire operation and the sections of the CIA history that describe it are still redacted, for reasons no one understands. The Redwood City location was publicly known – that’s where Lockheed was building a “mining machine,” after all. The Hiller Helicopter site, however, was a secret. Lockheed electrical engineer Ray Feldman worked there, and talked to me about it. Joe Houston recalls it, too. Interviews with retired CIA officers also informed this chapter.

across the airport

The Tishman location was public. In fact, some of the engineers who toiled there had no idea they weren’t actually working on a mining ship. No one ever told Vance Bolding or Steve Kemp. I spoke with many of the former engineers who worked there, including Curtis Crooke, Chuck Cannon, Charlie Canby, Jim McNary, Bolding, and Kemp. Jacques Hadler, a close friend of John Graham’s, told me all about his trips back and forth to LAX when I visited him in his office at Webb, on Long Island, one lovely afternoon. 

accountability matters

I spoke with Hank Van Calcar about Honeywell’s work, and Curtis Crooke about the pipe string. The difficulties in finding the right steel come from the CIA’s history, and Curtis Crooke confirmed many of them.

We Need More Proof

The CIA’s belief in accountability is something surviving officers all want to emphasize, especially since the story is remembered in some circles as a boondoggle. Walt Lloyd takes this especially seriously. It’s something he told me again and again. This story about Chester Davis comes from his memory. As a towering figure in the Howard Hughes’ empire, Davis was fairly public. Some notes about his personality come from Arlo Sederburg’s book, “Hughesworld.” The Sea Scope sailed in the open. There are many news stories about it. Within the Program Office, John Parsons and Dave Pasho worked on it, and are still around to tell the tales. Walt Lloyd’s souvenir nodules survive to this day; I saw several of them, in a few different houses. 

A Ship Rises in Philly

John Graham designed the Glomar Explorer, but it was Sun Shipbuilding that brought it to life as a 3-D steel goliath. Jon Matthews is the guy who helped make that happen. He’s semi-retired now, still lives outside Philly, and is one of three former Sun Ship employees I spoke with who worked on the Explorer project. I heard all about the frequent design changes, which required contract tweaks, from Dave Toy. Chuck Cannon and Jim McNary were both based near Chester for much of the construction period. Dates and ship specs all appear in the CIA’s internal engineering assessment. A few people, including Walt Lloyd and Dave Pasho, told me about Brent Savage and his scolding of the Navy brass. Curtis Crooke told me about Sonny Sonenshein. He hired the guy.

Come One, Come All

I have a photocopy of a flyer from the Glomar Explorer’s launching and the event was public, so there are press accounts about Mrs. Lesch’s misadventures with the champagne bottle. Curtis Crooke was there. So was Dave Pasho. Tom Bringloe told me about Larry Glosten. 

Surprise, Surprise

This is based on interviews with Curtis Crooke and John Hollett, who tells a great story.

Ongoing Resistance

Bureaucracy can be dry stuff, folks: It’s all from the CIA History, and declassified US Government memos, any of which I can share with you if you're interested.

Graham’s Masterpiece

The Hughes Glomar Explorer’s departure from Chester was no secret. The press reported it. John Matthews helped get it off the docks, and was on the ship for trials, as were Chuck Cannon, and Jim McNary. The CIA history recounts these events as well. 

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Bon Voyage

The story of the young crewman’s accidental death by choking first appeared in Wayne Collier’s book, and I was skeptical, but Curtis Crooke says it absolutely happened, and so did Charlie Canby, who was on the plane but can’t remember much, maybe because he was celebrating, too. This is one I'd love to know more about, so if anyone out there reading this knows something, or knows the kid's family, please reach out.

Philly to Long Beach

Chuck Cannon and Charlie Canby were both onboard for the trip around South America. Their memories of weather, thankless grunt work, and Brent Savage nicely supplemented the CIA history, which provides details of this sailing with very few redactions. It’s one of the most compelling sections. 

Paint It Black

The voyage details all appear in the CIA history. The ship’s arrival was a huge event in Long Beach, and the California media lapped it up. Curtis Crooke recalled Goldwater and LeMay and their yachts. I spoke with Wayne Pendleton, who oversaw the electrical work on the ship’s conversion, several times. Ray Feldman and Hank Van Calcar were also helpful.


The strike against Global Marine resulted in a lawsuit, which resulted in depositions that are public. The CIA history talks about how the security team worked around it, and Dave Sharp’s book covers this as well. The thing people mostly remember about Chuck Richelieu was that the Navy Captain never wanted the job, and it was a blessing for everyone that it didn’t work out.

Graham Gets Sick

Every engineer working on the ship was shaken by John Graham’s cancer diagnosis. Steve Kemp was right at his boss’s side, working as Graham’s assistant on the docks. Jenny Graham gave me the view from the family’s side, and her husband John Parsons spanned the two worlds. I have a copy of Graham’s letter to the staff in which he officially resigned.

We Need a Crew

Wayne Collier was the man hired to recruit a crew of roughnecks, and he left behind an invaluable document of his experiences – the book “A Matter of Risk.” This chapter is based primarily on his account, but I heard similar stories about getting cleared by Paul Ito from other program employees, too. Seymour Hersh interviewed Collier shortly after Azorian was exposed in the media, and his New York Times stories reported many of these same details.

So Who’s Going?

The crew breakdown appears in the CIA history. Curtis Crooke told me about his disappointment with the Agency’s decision to put a US Government man in charge, and about Richelieu’s resignation — a story I heard from Walt Lloyd and Bob Frosch, too. Dale Nielsen was a US nuclear program legend, and I found a good abridged history of his role at Livermore, and especially with the famous Z Division, in Livermore’s own Science & Technology Review. Interviews with Sherm Wetmore, Ray Feldman, Charlie Canby and John Parsons also helped with the story of the mission staffing, as did Dave Sharp’s book.

West Coast Sea Trials

The failure of the moon pool gates off Catalina is arguably the most important moment between the ship’s construction and the mission itself. It nearly all went wrong there, in front of Azorian’s top managers. Sherm Wetmore is still shaken by the memory. Curtis Crooke was too focused on distracting his bosses to notice just how hairy things had gotten. Zeke Zellmer only remembers the operation nearly falling apart, causing him to make his one and only trip to Long Beach, with his new boss Dave Potter, who’d taken over NURO after Bob Frosch left the Pentagon.

A Crack in the Façade

Seymour Hersh said he was bored of the subject and wouldn’t talk to me about his predictably impressive work uncovering the Azorian story. Instead, he told me to read the existing accounts, and there’s none better than Blind Man’s Bluff, which was the first to tell Hersh’s story of hearing about and then sitting on the rumors he was hearing. CIA Director Colby tells this story from his perspective, in his biography, “Honorable Men.” The HMB-1 voyage from Redwood City to Catalina appears in many newspaper articles, because that was part of the cover story, and they all inevitably quote Paul Reeve. Tom Bringloe was onboard for the transfer of Clementine from the barge into the Explorer’s belly. Lockheed’s Larry Small and Global Marine’s Charlie Canby were also on hand participating.

Sub School

The first place I read about the CIA’s Redwood City sub school was in Collier’s “A Matter of Risk.” Cotton led several waves of roughnecks up to the Bay Area and through the program. I later heard about it from several operation veterans, including Sherm Wetmore and Dave Pasho. Sy Hersh reported many details about the program and instructors in a series of New York Times articles.

Standing By For Green Light

Nielsen’s report back to JP is quoted in the CIA history, which also references and quotes from the “highly classified” memo to Kissinger that discusses plans to deal with Soviet ship activity and abide by the Geneva Convention should remains be found inside the wreck. That memo is now declassified and part of the online State Department collection, “Foreign Relations of the United States 1969-1976.” The story of Sharp’s appointment as director of recovery comes from his own book. Details of Flickinger’s remarkable life and career come from his official online Air Force bio and from a New York Times obituary published upon his death in March 1997.

Twiddling Thumbs

The behind-the-scenes debate in Washington, as the CIA, State Department, Pentagon, and White House hemmed and hawed over whether to go forward with the mission, are pretty well covered in the CIA history. The actual transcripts of the conversations at ExCom and within the 40 Committee were preserved in memos that are now available online as part of the online State Department collection, “Foreign Relations of the United States 1969-1976.” The story of Buck Dietzen and his insistence that the ship’s security team carry weapons, comes from Dave Sharp’s book, as does the detail about Brent Savage buying the guns and hiding them under Sharp’s bunk. The Ratliff memo has been declassified. Dave Pasho told me about “the book” of contingency plans at the Program Office and Wayne Collier discusses conversations officers had with the crew’s next-of-kin in his book.

Waiting for a Green Light

Further meetings in Washington are covered in the CIA history, which quotes the memos mentioned here. To briefly summarize the SALT talks to-date, I used the State Department’s own online history ( as well as a series of declassified National Security Council memos.

Trouble on Romaine Street

The break-in at the Summa office in Burbank was a big news story at the time, and thus widely covered in the local and national media. I have dozens of newspaper and magazine clips about the incident. I was also given access to Donald Bartlett and James Steele’s voluminous Howard Hughes archive by the authors themselves. It contains boxes and boxes filled with reporting used for their biography of Hughes, including many files on the Romaine Street break-in. I supplemented this research with other Hughes biographies that feature the break-in, especially Michael Drosnin’s Citizen Hughes. The particulars of the CIA and FBI involvement were covered in a series of stories by William Farr in the LA Times, and in more general terms, by the CIA history. Bill Colby discusses his role in the matter in his autobiography, and Mark Riebling’s “Wedge” helps explain how the story ultimately leaked to the media, after FBI agents were forced to brief the LAPD.

Off We Go!

The story of the VIPs flying out to the Explorer upon its departure for the mission came to me from numerous people. Curtis Crooke was one. Walt Lloyd was another. The CIA history names the contractor personnel in attendance. I talked to Lloyd at length about L’Affaire (Phil) Watson, and the nosy tax collector’s dogged pursuit of the Glomar Explorer was widely covered in newspaper reports. It also resulted in a lawsuit, which produced publicly available depositions of Watson, Crooke, the CIA intermediaries, and Dave Toy. The observations of the CIA officer upon departure and Dale Nielsen’s contingency plans for a Soviet boarding come from the CIA history. Charlie Canby told me about the secret onboard safe while Hank Van Calcar talked about the neon green paint and the prank played on Jack Poirier. John and Jenny Parsons both spoke with me about John’s last-minute addition to the crew, and the difficulty of leaving California with John Graham’s health deteriorating.

Hurry Up and Wait

The section that begins here and carries through the chapters about the submarine recovery mission has a common backbone: The CIA history. It provides dates, a listing of major events, and some details about conversations with Washington that transpired during the recovery. But the meat of these chapters comes from interviews with surviving crewmembers from the ship, especially Sherm Wetmore, Hank Van Calcar, Charlie Canby, Jim McNary, John Parsons, Fred Newton, Ray Feldman, John Owen, and some CIA officers who asked not to be named. Curtis Crooke and Dave Pasho helped set the scene of what was happening back at the Program Office. Crooke also told me about the troubles with the LP antenna. Specifics about the station-keeping are covered in the CIA Engineering study. I have a copy of the heavy lift control room logbook, which provides a timeline for all the pipe and CV activity. When in doubt, if I needed to verify anything or fill in a tiny gap, I went to Dave Sharp’s book.

Trouble on the Horizon

Everyone remembers the sick crewman from the M/V Bel Hudson. The event is covered in the CIA history, and in both the Sharp and Polmar books, and nearly all the crewmen I interviewed told me about it. The best account of the true story — the fight that led to the “sick” Brit — comes from an oral history given by Harry Jackson to the Naval Institute in 2002.

Here Comes Trouble

The Chazhma’s arrival is all over existing accounts of Azorian, in the CIA history, and the Sharp and Polmar books. Nielsen’s actions and thoughts come primarily from the CIA. Soviet naval officer Anatoliy Shtyrov wrote about the event from the Soviet side, and his suspicions about the giant boat, in a story he wrote in the late 1990s in reaction to a Soviet TV show on the sub.

Action All Over

Ray Feldman and Hank Van Calcar both spent much of the trip inside the CIA control room. I got excellent accounts of the heavy lift crew work from Sherm Wetmore and Jim McNary.

Meanwhile, Back at LAX

The story of Brent Savage is covered in the CIA history and in Dave Sharp’s book. Wayne Pendleton told me how Steve Schoenbaum also rained on his and Don White’s parade when they suggested moving the haul to Area 51 and I heard from Dave Pasho about “the book” and his adventures on night duty. Jenny Parsons and Chuck Cannon filled me in on John Graham’s move to the hospital, as the cancer worsened.

The Breaking Point

The SB-10’s arrival is discussed in Sharp, Polmar, and the CIA history, which goes into great detail about its erratic movements. I also heard about it from all the crewmen. Ray Feldman and Hank Van Calcar both told me about the aqua lube on the trash. I spoke with Bobby Ray Inman about his assignment to Hawaii to monitor the Soviet ship traffic, unbeknownst to the Explorer’s crew.


The grab and lift was a critical moment, and is something everyone onboard remembers. Hank Van Calcar had the best view of Clementine’s actions, from the control room, but Ray Feldman was there, too. John Owen, Fred Newton, Jim McNary, John Parsons, and Sherm Wetmore saw it all from the outside, working the heavy lift controls. Their control log kept track of all major events.

Tysons, We Have a Problem

John Owen and Fred Newton both recalled the heavy lift controls – and how scary that experience was – in incredible detail that made my job easy. The best account of the exchange between the ship’s control room and the east coast program office (with JP and Carl Duckett) comes from Dave Sharp, who was in the room, and wrote about it in his book. Curtis Crooke gave me the story from his chair, having missed all the excitement while asleep at home. Both Sharp and the CIA history discuss the final interactions with the SB-10 and the surprise appearance of pieces of the K-129 inside the moon pool. The Soviet side, again, comes from Shtyrov’s own writings.

Assessing the Catch

There are long passages, mostly unredacted, about the sub’s appearance in the moon pool and how Dale Nielsen reacted to this huge moment in the CIA history. Jim McNary was the only engineer in the pool when it appeared, and told me about it. Wayne Collier spoke with his brother Billy, a roughneck who saw the sub, and wrote about that in his book. Hank Van Calcar, John Parsons, and Ray Feldman all subsequently dressed up and went into the moon pool to work on the exploitation. The discovery of the journal was written about in media accounts, including in the New York Times.

Down Goes Nixon

Nielsen’s actions come from the CIA history. I learned about Ford’s first days in office, and his involvement in Azorian, from the Barry Werth book, 31 Days and from Ford’s autobiography, “A Time to Heal.” Transcripts of Ford’s meeting with Colby and Kissinger were later declassified and I’m quoting from copies I got from the Ford Presidential Library collection. The Explorer’s return to port in Hawaii was very public – intentionally so. Thus, there are many Hawaiian newspaper clips. Dave Sharp writes about Curtis Crooke and his arrival with John Graham’s ashes, and Crooke told me about the visit, too. I’m quoting directly from a copy of AJ Field’s memorial for John Graham.

Crew Change

People who served on Azorian weren’t supposed to keep diaries. A few did, and I’m very thankful for it. One is R. John Rutten, a Santa Barbara physician who helped hire divers and served as the medical director on the B Crew, once the ship returned to Hawaii and began the exploitation phase. His son later submitted that diary for vetting by the CIA and self-published the approved version as “DOMP.” What you read about Rutten comes from that. Manfred Krutein’s diary tells of his trip to Hawaii to join the B Crew, and his friend/colleague Dave Pasho was there, too, and recalled his time digging into the sub’s filthy, rusty remains. Rutten wrote about JP’s surprise arrival, caused in part by health problems of a key Azorian leader who he calls “Bill Hazelman” (a code name). A contractor with close CIA ties told me who that was: Dave Cummings, JP’s number two.

Burial At Sea

The burial of the Soviet sailors was filmed and that grainy footage can be seen by anyone with YouTube, where it was uploaded a few years back. That’s my primary source for details here. Walt Lloyd assigned some of his team to research and create the ceremony in advance, and a CIA handler who once worked with Nic Shadrin confirmed the famous defector’s involvement in the orchestration.

Goodbye Azorian, Hello Matador

Several crewmen recalled the return to port and appearance of the NoSoCalCo trucks to cart away sub parts. Events back in Washington are from memos of Kissinger and the USIB that were declassified and posted in the online State Department collection, “Foreign Relations of the United States 1969-1976.” Back at the Program Office, all the key engineers went back to work, with Curtis Crooke and Sherm Wetmore in charge again. Crooke made the decision to use Sun Ship to build a stronger version of Clementine’s tines for the follow-up mission. A contractor told me about Leonard Brothers and the complicated working of shipping those huge metal fingers.

The Beginning of the End

Soviet Ambassador Anatoly Dobrynin wrote about the tip slipped under the door of the Russian Embassy in Washington in his biography. Colby wrote about his efforts to stifle media reports in his autobiography, and his movements – and specific conversations with editors – were later declassified when a Rolling Stone reporter named Harriet Philippi and the ACLU sued the Agency for them after her FOIA request was denied. Reporters Farr and Cohen reconstructed the history of the lead in a series of LA Times stories. The view from inside Hughes’ Summa Corp comes from Arlo Sederberg’s book, Hughesworld.

More Legal Troubles

I first heard this story about Philip Watson and his visit from the CIA from Walt Lloyd, and then later from Dave Toy. It’s also told from the perspective of George Kucera and Steve Schoenbaum in depositions given for a subsequent lawsuit. I have these, and many news stories about the CIA’s fight with Watson that appeared after Matador was killed.

What Are We Doing Again?

The Kissinger memo is available, with very limited redactions, as part of the online State Department collection, “Foreign Relations of the United States 1969-1976.”

Stranger Than Fiction

Bill Farr broke the story of locating and interviewing Mike Davis in an LA Times story. What a twist that was.

The SEC Butts In

This wonderful story, which several early readers suggested I cut because it felt extraneous, came from Walt Lloyd, who is still amused by it all these years later. Me too. It remains because I love it. I figured out who the “Young Turk” was, by the way, and found that he was working at a major NYC law firm as recently as the past decade, but the trail went cold there. Because I couldn’t reach him to confirm the events, I felt uncomfortable naming him. Dave Toy confirmed his involvement in the matter, and the SEC-CIA negotiations were reported by the news media at the time.

Damn You, Jack Anderson

There are mountains of stories about this, the single most important event in the Azorian story – when it all came tumbling down. For background on Jack Anderson, I used the official biography attached to his archive at George Washington University (, Mark Feldstein’s incredible biography of Anderson, and obituaries from the Washington Post and New York Times. The way the program’s end played out at the CIA is explained in great detail by Colby himself, in his autobiography. A transcript of the meeting in which Matador was official canceled was declassified and can be accessed via the online collection at the Ford Library. Both Kissinger and Dobrynin confirmed their back channel talks on the matter in their own books — Dobrynin’s wrote about it in his biography, while Kissinger is quoted discussing it in now declassified conversations with the President that are in the Glomar Explorer collection at the Ford Library.

Tumbling Down

Reeve’s account comes from Arlo Sederberg. Kemp and Van Calcar told me their stories. And Harry Jackson’s interaction with his wife comes from his oral history, which is fascinating from start to finish.

The End is the End, Isn’t it?

The media swarmed around Pier E, so there is no shortage of news accounts recalling the Explorer’s days in port after Jack Anderson’s story broke, and its movement out to Catalina for the re-mating with Clementine. Dave Sharp provides an account of how the CIA security clamped down on the crew.

That’s All She Wrote

The Kissinger memo that led to Matador’s end can be found online in the State Department collection, “Foreign Relations of the United States 1969-1976.” Mr. P’s fateful call to the program office comes from Dave Sharp, who answered the phone. Chuck Kenworthy stirred up news that made the papers when he accused the Explorer of stealing treasure that was rightfully his.

All Good Things Come to an End

Crooke spent months trying to find a new purpose for the Glomar Explorer and told me all about it. He’s still bummed that it (mostly) went to waste. Former Lockheed engineer Steve Bailey sent me a copy of promotional video starring the Six Million Dollar Man that Uncle Sam produced. I also have the Jim McNary and Abe Person engineering paper singing the ship’s technological praises. Accounts of Hughes’ death are widespread and in every biography. I’m partial to Bartlett and Steele’s version. Arlo Sederberg printed the hilarious letter from the United Methodist church in Hughesworld. Several memos about President Ford and the Explorer are declassified and in the Ford Library, as are copies of the letters to and from John Wayne. Steve Bailey worked on Lockheed’s short-lived legitimate Glomar Explorer deep sea mining project, and told me all about it. He also worked on the Sea Shadow.

Afterword: The Glomar Response

I distinctly remember this first CIA tweet and heard the story behind it during my first visit to the Agency’s Office of Public Affairs in Langley. The story of the Glomar Response comes from Walt Lloyd, its creator. NPR’s Radiolab did an excellent episode about this — in which Walt goes by his old code name Walt Logan — called, “Neither Confirm Nor Deny.” Listen to it here:


One of my biggest regrets in telling this story is that I wasn’t able to get closer to Mr. P. The man left precious little of himself in the world — intentionally so, I imagine. I was pleased to hear that Walt Lloyd and his wife Monte were able to visit Azorian’s maestro in his final years, giving me some sense of what became of him after retiring from the Agency. Considering the life he led, the obituaries that ran upon Parangosky’s death are frustratingly flimsy. 

You can read about Gates’ trip to Moscow in his book, “From the Shadows.” The best account of the fall-out in Russia, and of the heroic efforts of Irina Zhuravina, come from Ken Sewell, but I also used Russian news accounts here. I’ve got a copy of the ASME ceremony honoring the Glomar Explorer, as well as the official program. It’s incredible to read and hear praise about this ship but I’m not sure any of it truly does justice to what John Graham and his team of engineers did over three years using early 1970s technology. There has not been and probably never will be another ship like it.