Project Jennifer

Project Jennifer

"Jennifer" was the code name for the United States Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) project to recover the sunken Soviet submarine K-129, one of the Soviet Union's strategic ballistic missile submarines, from the Pacific Ocean floor in the summer of 1974, using the purpose-built ship "Glomar Explorer".Wiegley, Roger D., LT (JAG) USN "The Recovered Sunken Warship: Raising a Legal Question" "United States Naval Institute Proceedings" January 1979 p.30] The 1968 sinking of the K-129 occurred approximately 750 miles north and west of Hawaii,Wiegley, Roger D., LT (JAG) USN "The Recovered Sunken Warship: Raising a Legal Question" "United States Naval Institute Proceedings" January 1979 p.29] at a location still (2007) held highly classified by U.S. intelligence agencies. Project Jennifer was one of the most complex, expensive and secretive intelligence operations of the Cold War.

The Target - K-129 Wreck

In April 1968, Soviet Pacific Fleet surface and air assets were observed conducting a surge deployment and involved in unusual operations in the North Pacific, which were evaluated by U.S. Navy Intelligence as possibly reactions to the loss of a Soviet submarine. Soviet surface ship searches were centered on a location associated with Soviet strategic ballistic missile diesel submarines. The American SOSUS (Sea Spider) hydrophone network in the northern Pacific was tasked with reviewing its recordings in the hopes of detecting an implosion (or explosion) related to such a loss. NavFac Point Sur, south of Monterey California, was able to isolate a sonic signature on its LOFAR recordings of an implosion event which had occurred on March 8, 1968 (for which they received a Meritorious Unit Commendation in 1969). Using NavFac Pt. Sur's date and time of the event, NavFac Adak and the U.S. west coast NavFacs were also able to isolate the acoustic event. With five SOSUS lines-of-bearing, Navy Intelligence was able to localize the site of the K-129 wreck as the vicinity of 40N-180W/E. []

After weeks of search the Soviets were unable to locate their sunken boat, and Soviet Pacific Fleet operations gradually returned to a normal level. In July 1968, the U.S. Navy initiated "Operation Sand Dollar" with the deployment of USS|Halibut|SSGN-587|6 from Pearl Harbor to the wreck site. Sand Dollar's objective was to find and photograph the K-129. In 1965, USS Halibut had been configured to use deep submergence search equipment, the only such specially-equipped submarine then in U.S. inventory. Despite a SOSUS-provided locus containing over convert|1200|sqmi|km2 of search area, and a wreck located over convert|3|mi|km in depth, "Halibut" almost miraculously located the wreck after only three weeks of at-depth visual search utilizing robotic remote-controlled cameras. (Compare this to almost 5 months of open and unrestricted search required to locate the wreck of the U.S. nuclear-powered submarine USS|Scorpion|SSN-589|2 in the Atlantic, also in 1968). "Halibut" is reported as having spent the next several weeks taking over 20,000 closeup photos of every aspect of the K-129 wreck, a feat for which "Halibut" received a special classified Presidential Unit Citation signed by Lyndon Johnson in 1968.

In 1970, based upon this photography, Defense Secretary Melvin Laird and Henry Kissinger, then National Security Advisor, proposed a clandestine plan to recover the wreckage so that the U.S. could study Soviet nuclear missile technology, as well as possibly recover cryptographic materials. The proposal was accepted by President Nixon and the CIA was tasked to attempt the recovery.

Building the Glomar Explorer, and its cover story

Billionaire businessman Howard Hughes—whose companies were already contractors on numerous classified US military weapons, aircraft and satellite contracts—was secretly contracted by the CIA to design and build a massive special-purpose ship that would be used to salvage the sunken Soviet submarine from the ocean floor. The K-129 was photographed at a depth of over convert|16000|ft|m, and thus the salvage operation would be well beyond the depth of any ship salvage operation ever before attempted. On November 1, 1972, work began on the 63,000 ton (57,152,639 kg), 619-foot (189 m) long "Hughes Glomar Explorer" (HGE). To hide the true mission of the ship, a cover story was concocted, asserting that the "Hughes Glomar Explorer" was being constructed for the Summa Corporation to mine for underwater manganese nodules.


The "Hughes Glomar Explorer" "HGE" employed a large mechanical claw, which Lockheed officially titled the "Capture Vehicle" (CV) but affectionately called "Clementine", that was designed to be lowered down to the ocean floor, grasp around the targeted submarine section, and then lift that section up through convert|16500|ft|m of water. One benefit of this technology was the ability to keep a floating base stable and in position over a fixed point convert|16000|ft|m below the ocean surface. It worked by attaching steel piping together in a manner similar to oil drilling rigs, and lowering the claw through a hole in the middle of the ship, convert|60|ft|m|sing=on section of pipe by convert|60|ft|m|sing=on section. This configuration was designed by Western Gear Corp. of Everett, Washington. Upon a successful capture by the claw, the lift reversed the process -- convert|60|ft|m|sing=on sections drawn up and removed one at a time. "The K-129 had broken into two major pieces, probably on impact since the sections were so close together. The forward section was approximately convert|136|ft|m in length and designated the Target Object (TO). The CV was configured to only recover the TO in its specific attitude on the ocean floor. There was no intention to make more than one round trip, nor would it have been possible due to the strain on the heavy lift system and its frequent breakdown." [] The salvaged "Target Object" was thus to be drawn into a huge compartment in the middle of the ship, called the "Moon Pool" by its crew, and the outer doors of the Moon Pool closed to form a floor for the salvaged section. This allowed for the entire salvage process to take place underwater, away from the view of other ships, aircraft, or spy satellites.

Sailing from Long Beach, California on June 19, 1974, "Hughes Glomar Explorer" arrived at the recovery site July 4 and conducted salvage operations for over a month. During this period, at least two Soviet intelligence-gathering ships visited the Glomar Explorer's worksite, the ocean going tug "SB-10", and the Soviet Missile Range Instrumentation Ship (SMRIS) "Chazma". Published reports indicate that during operations on August 12, 1974, "Clementine" suffered a catastrophic failure when the Target Object was over half way up to the surface, causing the already damaged section to split in half, with all but the forward convert|38|ft|m or so of the bow section sinking back to the ocean floor. According to a Lockheed engineer on site, the recovered section did not contain nuclear missiles nor the cryptographic equipment or codebooks that would have been of such extraordinary value for U.S. military intelligence. [] Thus many have characterized Project Jennifer as an intelligence failure. However, the recovered section did include two nuclear torpedoes, and thus Project Jennifer is not considered a complete failure. The bodies of six crewmen were also recovered, and were subsequently given a memorial service and buried at sea with military honors.

While a disappointing intelligence operation, Project Jennifer remains a technological milestone, as the deepest salvage operation ever conducted.

Public disclosure

"The New York Times" suppresses its story

In early 1974, investigative reporter and former Timesman Seymour Hersh had planned to publish a story on Project Jennifer. Bill Kovach, the "New York Times" Washington bureau chief at the time, said in 2005 that the government offered a convincing argument to delay publication in early 1974—exposure at that time, while the project was ongoing, "would have caused an international incident." "The Times" eventually published its account in 1975, after a story appeared in the "Los Angeles Times", and included a five-paragraph explanation of the many twists and turns in the path to publication. [ [ Prying open the Times - ] ] It is unclear what, if any, action was taken by the Soviet Union after learning of the story.

Burglary and press reports

On June 5, 1974, Howard Hughes' headquarters in Los Angeles was burgled, and secret documents about the operation were taken. Ten days prior to that time Special Assistant AUSA William Turner had subpoenaed these documents located at 7040 Romaine Street for a Federal Grand Jury in Nevada conducting an investigation of Hughes and his takeover of airWest Airlines and possible connections between that and the Watergate break-in. Turner, with assistance from the Los Angeles Police Department and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, conducted an investigation with the Assistant DA in Los Angeles Michael Brenner and found links to organized crime but also to certain safe houses in Vancouver, Canada, where several of the burglars went.

One of the individuals traced to the burglary appeared to have radiation poisoning and was linked to a Special British Forces Underwater Demolition World War II Association through a checking account. The actual documents were never recovered, though some have claimed to have seen them. There is speculation that the theft of the documents was part of a cover-up related to political corruption at all levels as documented by Hughes over a period of 40 years. Howard Hughes kept a written copy of all his actions and directions, including detailed records of his dealings with political figures and government agencies. These papers would become the foundation of the story on Project Jennifer in the "Los Angeles Times" on February 7, 1975. After it appeared, the CIA attempted to convince news media not to publish further stories on the project. But by March 1975, numerous news stories had linked the "Hughes Glomar Explorer", a ship publicly listed as a research vessel owned and operated by Summa Corporation, to the secret U.S. government operation.

FOIA and the Glomar response

After stories had been published about the CIA's attempts to stop publication of information about Project Jennifer, Harriet Ann Phillippi, a journalist, filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the CIA for any records about the CIA’s attempts. The CIA refused to either confirm or deny the existence of such documents. [Philippi v. CIA (Turner et al.), U.S. Court of Appeals, 211 U.S. App. D.D. 95, June 25, 1981] This type of evasive reply has since come to be known as the "Glomar response" or "Glomarization."

2003 release of video

A video showing the 1974 memorial services for the six Soviet seamen whose bodies were recovered by Project Jennifer was forwarded by the U.S. to Russia in the early 1990s. In 2003, portions of this video were shown on television documentaries concerning Project Jennifer, including a Cold War submarine episode of "NOVA". [ [ 'Burial at Sea' video] recorded on September 4, 1974 obtained from the CIA by Freedom Of Information Act Request, in multiple video formats]

Conspiracy theory

Kenneth Sewell, in "Red Star Rogue" (2005), offers additional theories and speculation. The book makes the case that K-129 was hijacked by an 11-man special forces team placed aboard and directed by a cabal of KGB hardliners, with full involvement of KGB director Yuri Andropov, that the submarine was successfully commandeered, and that the KGB team actually attempted to launch a nuclear missile targeted against Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. Sewell's thesis is that the attack was designed in a manner to implicate the Chinese and point away from any Soviet involvement in an effort to provoke a nuclear confrontation between China and the United States. At that time, relations between Moscow and Beijing had deteriorated to the point that many believed open war was inevitable (see the Sino-Soviet Split), while relations between Beijing and the U.S., though cool in 1968, drastically improved by 1970 (culminating in the Sino-American rapprochement and 1972 Nixon visit to China). The theory is that the Soviets feared a U.S.-China detente which would disadvantage Soviet interests around the world. The author's hypothesis is that the missile's fail-safe devices were inadequately circumvented, and an explosion resulted which sank the submarine. "Red Star Rogue" has been criticized as conspiracy theory with little or no supporting evidence. [ [ CONTEXT - This Week in Arts and Ideas from The Moscow Times ] ] This book also claims that Project Jennifer was almost a total success and recovered all of its targeted material, including a nuclear missile warhead and cryptographic equipment and codebooks.



* [] Presidential Unit Citation - USS "Halibut" - 1968

External links

* [ Project Jennifer and the Hughes Glomar Explorer]
* [ Extensive bibliography]
* [ Site with several rare pictures of 'Clementine']
* [ Personal account by a Lockheed Engineer of the K-129 salvage effort while aboard Glomar Explorer]

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