Book Review: The Taking of K-129: How the CIA Used Howard Hughes to Steal a Russian Sub in the Most Daring Covert Operation in History


by Josh Dean

New York: Random House Dutton, 2017. Pp. x, 440. Illus., maps, notes, biblio., index. $17.00 paper. ISBN: 1101984457

Howard Hughes, the K-129, and “Project Azorian”

Josh Dean provides the latest installment of the story behind the development, construction, deployment and legacy of “Project Azorian”, the CIA mission to salvage the Soviet Golf Class ballistic missile submarine K-129 from the ocean floor 16,400 feet below sea level.

This is a story that has been chronicled several times since the late 1970s. Some works, like A Matter of Risk: The Incredible Inside Story of the CIA's Hughes Glomar Explorer Mission to Raise a Russian Submarine, by Roy Varner and Wayne Collier (1978), have been fairly straightforward. Others, like Red Star Rogue: The Untold Story of a Soviet Submarine's Nuclear Strike Attempt on the U.S., by Kenneth Sewell (2005) lay claim to darker tales, like a KGB plot to start W.W. III by making it look like the Chinese planned to nuke Pearl Harbor.

One would ask, is there anything new to this story to warrant another book? Yes. This book focuses primarily on the construction of a 60,000 ton vessel of extraordinary capabilities and the equally impressive story of how the construction and deployment of the ship and her mission was kept a secret for almost five years. In the book you meet Mr. P (John Parangosky) of the CIA who was responsible for shepherding the program, just as he had the programs that developed the U-2, Corona (spy satellite), and SR-71 programs. Also we meet other key people from Global Marine (the company that designed, built and crewed the Glomar Explorer), Sun Shipbuilding, and the CIA who brought the program to life.

The book also gives a brief account of the actual salvage of K-129, along with the efforts of the Soviets to determine just what was going on north of Midway Island. The Soviets actually sent two ships to monitor activities and harass the operation while salvage was taking place. Finally the author walks you through the post-mission activities inside the U.S. government, how the secrecy of the mission unraveled and the CIA’s attempt to prevent its compromise.

This book is well written, taking you through events chronologically. The author also presents an afterward, where he speculates on issues such as who leaked the story and why. It is well worth a read by anyone with more than a passing interest in intelligence operations during the Cold War.


Note: The Taking of K-129 is also available in audio- and e-editions.


Our Reviewer: Chuck Wohlrab is a retired Army armor officer who spent 25 years in the Middle East as a Contractor. He currently works as a Tech Writer.
Reviewer: Chuck Wohlrab    

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