February 2010 Bookshelf

A Matter of Risk: The Incredible Story of the CIA’s Hughes Glomar Explorer Mission to Raise a Russian Submarine (1978) by Roy Varner and Wayne Collier

Howard Hughes. Central Intelligence. A sunken nuclear submarine in water three miles deep.  It may or may not have gone rogue in an effort to obliterate the 50th state prior to its sinking. Layers and layers of secrecy.  One of the largest ships ever constructed designed specifically to lift roughly 4 million pounds out of a patch of rough north Pacific Ocean. Those are just some of the plot elements to this nearly unbelievable and totally true account.  The Hughes Glomar Explorer was designed for one purpose:  to be able to successfully retrieve, lift and then fit, an entire 138 ft long Russian nuclear submarine into its moon pool.  This was no easy task and the ship itself set the standard for deep sea exploration for years to come, even if its real purpose came to an untimely light thanks to a first-rate burglary of mission headquarters located near LAX.

No one really knows what the CIA got out of the mission.  According to the book, they only recovered about 20% of the sub because of a significant technical malfunction during the lifting process.  Other sources claim that story, in and of itself, was nothing more than a clever ruse to throw the Russians off the true story.  Either way, at a cost of more than $550 million to American taxpayers – much of which the CIA openly lied about – I walked away unconvinced that the mission was worthwhile, whether they got the entire sub or not.  But, that doesn’t really matter because the book is impossible to put down.

Interesting note: Not to be an Oliver Stone about it, but, there was one passage that made the hairs on the back of my neck stand upright…While flying all over the country to screen roughnecks for the job, author Wayne Collier (CIA contract hire) reports that CIA brass told him to fly only American or United airlines because those are the only two “secure” airlines in the country.  You might recall that of the 4 planes hijacked on September 11th, two were American and two were United, no other companies were involved.  You might also recall that, rather suspiciously, there was a verifiable surge in put options placed on both companies in the days leading up to the attacks.  Now, I know all of it is conjecture, but it did make me wonder…

More stuff:

– The bodies (or, to put it bluntly, what was left of the bodies) of Russian sailors were recovered.  Out of respect, the CIA and the recovery crew staged proper burial-at-sea proceedings.  All of it was videotaped

The Smoking Cupcake, February 2010


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