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K-129: How the CIA Stole a Sunken Soviet Nuclear Sub

It sounds like the plot of a bombastic spy movie, but, as Josh Dean uncovers, Project Azorian required very real, very daring deception

THE AZORIAN JOB: HOW HOWARD HUGHES HELPED THE CIA SNATCH A SOVIET NUCLEAR SUB FROM THE SEA FLOOR

In the Cold War, the US pursued any chance to defeat the Soviets, even devising the most audacious covert operation in history
GETTY X1, NIKOLAI CHERKASHIN X1

One morning in November 1969, Curtis Crooke was in a meeting when three unexpected visitors came into the room and said they needed to talk to him. The 41-year-old Crooke was in charge of all engineering for Global Marine, a deep-ocean drilling company known for innovative shipbuilding, and it was that expertise that the three men, all in dark suits, wanted.

Few in Project Azorian knew mastermind John Parangosky’s name, calling him only “Mr P”

They sat down and the one clearly in charge, John Parangosky, spoke. “We work for the Central Intelligence Agency,” he said. “I assume you know what that is.” Parangosky explained that Global Marine was the only company in the world that could complete a job that interested the CIA. Was it feasible, he wondered, to lift something weighing several thousand tons from the bottom of the ocean, at a depth of 15-20,000ft?

K-129, seen during a military parade in 1965, completed two patrols in 1967

Crooke thought a minute. It sounded like a ridiculous problem, but not necessarily impossible. He said he’d have to get back to them. Once they left, he pulled out his copy of Jane’s Fighting Ships, a reference book to all naval vessels, flipped to the section on Soviet submarines, and smiled. The numbers matched up, more or less.

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About History Revealed

In this month’s issue… Henry VIII’s Six Weddings While every detail of Prince Harry’s wedding to Meghan Markle has been anticipated and analysed, the nuptials of his Tudor namesake Henry VIII are less familiar. Alison Weir peers behind the drapes of the six days that preceded ‘divorced, beheaded, died…’. Plus: the CIA heist of a sunken Soviet nuclear sub during the Cold War; Wounded Knee massacre; female Pharaohs; the 1820 plot to murder the Cabinet; and Lee Miller’s photos of WWII