Spies, Lies and Sunken Subs

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Critical Thinking and the Cold War

Short URL: http://is.gd/sunkensubs PPT Slides (4/14)

Spring 2022 - OLLI Seacoast -- 2 days, May 2 & 9th

  • Spring 2020 - OLLI Seacoast -- 2 day format April 8&22 (virus canceled)

  • Spring 2019, Wed March 20-Apr 17th 10-12 Concord

A series of events from 1968 though 1975, and ongoing disclosures, books, freedom of information act revelations create an interesting opportunity to consider critical thinking, reading between the lines, etc. What we do know is that for many years the facts related to the 1968 loss of the Soviet K129 sub, the effort to raise all or part of it and the relationship, if any, to the 1968 loss of the USS Scorpion involve misinformation, cover stories, and lies from many if not all of the persons with information about these. Evaluating the information available over the years as disclosures emerged, gives us an interesting opportunity to ask key questions such as "what did happen?", "Why", and perhaps most useful "how would we know the real story?"

The Two Day format -- 2.5 hours each day

First class: 2.5 Hours

  • Intro

  • View "Azorian" movie (100 minutes)

  • Raise a few questions (and one sub)

  • Hand out the diverse set of books that relate to the topic(s)

Second Class: 2.5 Hours

  • Discuss the various books -- what "answers" seem to be surfacing?

  • Why are we getting different answers?

  • What might have really happened? -- and How would we know?

====================== 5 Week Format ==================

First Class -- 2 hrs

View "Azorian" movie (100 minutes)

Identify questions to research

Assignments -

read books, Google, Wikipedia etc. information on (See bibliography)

Be aware that some of the information is deliberate lies, other may be misinformed or not well considered.

  • K129 - Soviet Golf class missile sub lost in March 1968

  • Glomar Explorer - CIA/Hughes Project to raise K129 in 1974

  • Loss of USS Scorpion, May 1968

A few critical thinking questions to consider as you research these sources:

  • Does this seem believable?

  • For given "facts", how solid are they? Which are clearly well founded, which need confirmation?

  • How might you confirm specific information?

  • Are there obvious flaws in the source that might indicate other errors as well?

  • (Note: spelling, grammar, and such all affect perception and credibility)

  • What experience does the author/source have that might add credibility?

  • What interest conflicts might the author/source have that might undermine credibility?

  • How would the author/source "know" that?

  • Is the author holding back information or misleading in some area and acknowledging it?

Second Class -- 1.5 Hours -- Full Class Presentation

  • Feedback from research -- what are we finding out?

  • What are the stories about the K129?

  • What are the stories about the Scorpion?

  • What are the "right" questions?

  • Are there some other resources we should use to find answers?

  • Back to the research process .... swap books, pointers, suggestions ....

Third Class -- 1.5 Hours

  • Feedback from research -- what are we finding out?

  • What are the stories about the K129?

  • What are the stories about the Scorpion?

  • What do we think we know now?

Fourth class -- 1.5 Hours

  • Feedback from research -- what are we finding out?

  • Are there more general observations about sub activities and governmental operating models?

  • How has this changed since the "end" of the cold war?

  • also perhaps the background on the Triple Nickel, sub 555 and it's nuke friend(s?) NR-1, and maybe NR-2

  • (see RAND Nr-2 reports for example)

Fifth class -- 1.5 Hours

Another sub story .... The Cuban Missile crisis

The Man Who Saved The World; Oct. 23, 2012 Secrets of the Dead -- Subs and the Cuban Missile Crisis

Research these --for Cuban Crisis - who knew what when and how did it affect the outcome?

Questions -- for Jim Isaak's "Spies, Lies and Sunken Subs" class (http://is.gd/sunkensubs)

  1. Why did the Soviet Diesel Nuke carrying K129 Sub sink?

  2. Where did it sink? Google Map with various reference points.

  3. Was it on the surface when it sank, and if so, why?

  4. What was it doing when it sunk?

  5. Who has taken pictures of the K129 debris field, and when?

  6. What artifacts were recovered? (Number of bodies, ships bell, missiles, ...)

  7. Was the USS Scorpion sunk in retaliation?

  8. What was the Glomar Challenger doing during the Glomar Explorer exercise?

  9. What would/should the Soviets/Russians know about these two subs and when?

  10. What would/should the US know about these?

  11. Why might the Soviets and/or US wish to maintain secrecy "forever"?

  12. How might "compartmentalization" of information as a security practice have affected events at the time? And our understanding now?


  1. Clyde W. Burleson, The Jennifer Project ; Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1977

  2. Roy Varner and Wayne Collier, A Matter of Risk ; New York: Random House, 1977

  3. Seymour Hersh, "C.I.A. Salvage Ship Brought Up Part of Soviet Sub Lost in 1968, Failed to Raise Atom Missiles”, The New York Times, March 19, 1975;

  4. "The Great Submarine Snatch," Time, March 31, 1975, pp. 20-27;

  5. Seymour Hersh, "Human Error Is Cited in '74 Glomar Failure," The New York Times, December 9, 1976, pp. 1, 55.

  6. CIA's review of Clyde Burleson's book in John Milligan, "The Jennifer Project," Studies in Intelligence, Vol. 23, No. 1, Spring 1979, p. 45.

  7. Sherry Sontag and Christopher Drew, Blind Man's Bluff: The Untold Story of American Submarine Espionage; New York: Public Affairs, 1998, 83-84, 180, 198.

  8. Jeffrey T. Richelson, A Century of Spies: Intelligence in the Twentieth Century; NY: Oxford University Press, 1995, p. 352n, citing William J. Broad, "Russia Says U.S. Got Sub's Atom Arms," The New York Times, June 20, 1993, p. 4;

  9. "CIA Raising USSR Sub Raises Questions," FBIS-SOV-92-145, July 28, 1992, pp. 15-16.

  10. John Pina Craven; The Silent War; New York: Touchstone; 2001(John was a principle, Chief Scientist for the Navy Special Projects office)Craven suggests that K129 might have been involved in a missile launch.

  11. Kenneth Sewell and Clint Richmond; Red Star Rogue; New York: Pocket Star Books; 2005(This book suggests a highly controversial theory - a spoofed Chinese nuclear attack on Hawaii)

  12. Ed Offley; Scorpion Down; New York: Basic Books; 2007

  13. Craig Reed; Red November; NewYork: Harper; 2010(Craig was not directly involved in K129 related activities, but was active in the US Silent Service)This book has well presented information on the Cuban Missile Crisis (Reed's father was involved, as was Sanders Associates)It suggests the Soviets took out the USS Scorpion, then backtracks on that as a mid-2010 revision, Reed also suggests that the CIA got all of the sub portion being raised, and did not lose most of it.

  14. Norman Polmar and Michael White, Project Azorian – the CIA and the Raising of the K-129; MD: Naval Institute Press, 2010

  15. Azorian: The Raising of the K-129, Michael White documentary, maybe available from Netflixshows text which indicates long/lat; shows the 5 US Air Force timestamps of the two sinking events for K129, and many "authentic" pictures

  16. David Sharp; The CIA’s Greatest Covert Operation; Kansas: University of Kansas Press; 2012(David was a CIA project manager for the Glomar Explorer project)Sharp disclaims knowledge of why K129 sunk, and says he does not want to know, and an interesting appendix on mis-information.

  17. Dean, Josh; The Taking of K-129; 2017

  18. http://www.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/nukevault/ebb305/index.htm - George Washington University methodically pursues FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) release of information on various historical subjects. This site outlines what they obtained early in 2010 about Project Azorian -- References 1-9 are from this site (why they leave out references 10 to 12 is unclear, the others were published later)

  19. ongoing news: Aug. 2012: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2185831/Declassified-170million-Cold-War-Stealth-boat-snapped-2-5million-condition-scrap-parts.html documents the sale of the Hughes Barge (used to transfer the "claw") and the Sea Shadow - a stealth navy ship.

  20. Cuban Missile Crisis (somewhat of a sideline, but 4 Soviet subs involved-- see Red November)

  21. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=19b0A7sBR4U Panel discusses how close we were to Nuclear war in 2010

  22. http://www.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/NSAEBB/NSAEBB75/index2.htm GWU FOIA evaluation "Submarines of October"

  23. Robert McNamara describes 1992 conference with Castro in Havana where the US learned there were 170 Nukes in Cuba as part of a presentation to the World Affairs Council in 2005. (Audio)

  24. The Missiles of October, docu-drama from 1974 available online via Youtube and other sites

  25. Thirteen Days; docu-drama from 2000 on the Cuban missile crisis

  26. Rule, Bruce; Livingston, Eric; Why the USS Scorpion (SSN 589) Was Lost: The Death of a Submarine in the North Atlantic; 2011

  27. PBS Oct. 2012 The Man Who Saved The World; Oct. 23, 2012 Secrets of the Dead -- Subs and the Cuban Missile Crisis

  28. Documentary on Cuban Crisis ...Three Men Go to War

  29. Sewell, Kenneth; All Hands Down; 2008

  30. Vyborny, Lee & Davis, Don; Dark Waters; (NR1) 2003see Youtube short for some NR1 description/images: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dH8eI-XjqvE

  31. Dunham, Roger; Spy Sub; 1996 ("Viperfish" = SSN Halibut)

  32. Seir, Gary & Boyne, Walter; Rising Tide: the untold story of the Russian submarines that fought in the cold war; 2003

  33. 2014 information http://io9.com/that-time-the-cia-and-howard-hughes-tried-to-steal-a-so-1561583789

  34. Nixon State Dept History Info at http://history.state.gov/historicaldocuments/nixon-ford -- Includes National Security Policy with info on Glomar Explorer

  35. CIA's Studies in Intelligence 1978 story (reads more like a story than a real report)

  36. The Glomar Explorer in Film and Print (2012)

  37. Official 2010 CIA story is online

2018 postings

  1. Prof Simon -- claims to have more info Youtube posting asserts Hijack story, attack Hawaii -stopped by code that exploded missile

  2. 2016 "Rogue" video on youtube -- hijack again, lots of little errors in this story

  3. 2013 movie "The Phantom" based on rogue theory

  4. May 2019 - Smithsonian Article

For current context, this 30 minute documentary on an Ohio class boomer is interesting.