The Taking of K-129

The Taking of K-129

How the CIA Used Howard Hughes to Steal A Russian Sub in the Most Daring Covert Operation in History

Book - 2017
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An incredible true tale of espionage and engineering set at the height of the Cold War--a mix between The Hunt for Red October and Argo-- about how the CIA, the U.S. Navy, and America's most eccentric mogul spent six years and nearly a billion dollars to steal the nuclear-armed Soviet submarine K-129 after it had sunk to the bottom of the Pacific Ocean; all while the Russians were watching.

In the early hours of February 25, 1968, a Russian submarine armed with three nuclear ballistic missiles set sail from its base in Siberia on a routine combat patrol to Hawaii. Then it vanished.

As the Soviet Navy searched in vain for the lost vessel, a small, highly classified American operation using sophisticated deep-sea spy equipment found it--wrecked on the sea floor at a depth of 16,800 feet, far beyond the capabilities of any salvage that existed. But the potential intelligence assets onboard the ship--the nuclear warheads, battle orders, and cryptological machines--justified going to extreme lengths to find a way to raise the submarine.

So began Project Azorian, a top-secret mission that took six years, cost an estimated $800 million, and would become the largest and most daring covert operation in CIA history.

After the U.S. Navy declared retrieving the sub "impossible," the mission fell to the CIA's burgeoning Directorate of Science and Technology, the little-known division responsible for the legendary U-2 and SR-71 Blackbird spy planes. Working with Global Marine Systems, the country's foremost maker of exotic, deep-sea drilling vessels, the CIA commissioned the most expensive ship ever built and told the world that it belonged to the reclusive billionaire Howard Hughes, who would use the mammoth ship to mine rare minerals from the ocean floor. In reality, a complex network of spies, scientists, and politicians attempted a project even crazier than Hughes's reputation: raising the sub directly under the watchful eyes of the Russians.

The Taking of K-129 is a riveting, almost unbelievable true-life tale of military history, engineering genius, and high-stakes spy-craft set during the height of the Cold War, when nuclear annihilation was a constant fear, and the opportunity to gain even the slightest advantage over your enemy was worth massive risk.
Publisher: Dutton :, New York,, [2017]
Copyright Date: ©2017
ISBN: 9781101984437
Branch Call Number: 910.91649 DEA


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Apr 11, 2021

This is a fascinating story, very detailed and well read.

Apr 02, 2020

loved this book - going to recommend it for our local book club. can't tell if this print book is in Pima county's collection.

May 23, 2018

I found the book to be very interesting as a description of the solution to a mammoth engineering problem. The specifics given of the technology implemented was minimal but enough was described to let a little imagination fill in the blanks to suggest just how exotic the ship and the job was. The description of the management of the multiple companies involved and the lies that supported the deception was mindbending. As well, the cast of characters was epic, with many described with high praise for their personality and leadership skills. The timeline of the story also never slowed as hurdles were encountered with equipment, people, or politics, then overcome by someone injecting innovative thinking into the situation. I would think that building the ship and trying to raise the Soviet sub was worth all the effort just for the new technologies developed. To have brought up even a small section of the sub from three miles under the surface of the sea is just icing on the cake. I found the story far more exciting than any adventure novel. It would be very difficult for an author to manage to invent such a complex and exciting story. I just wish there were pictures and drawings of the ship, but it is a spy story, so clearly I cannot expect these.

Mar 13, 2018

Sure it was risky for US government & CIA to use untested technology to get a sub out of ocean floor at insane timeframe from only one company who could do it or mission may not be successful. US navy say no way. Soviet Union didn't even to a rescue mission.
However, the potential intelligence was too irresistible. How the submarine was made. See an actual nuclear warhead (Soviet used dummy warhead in tests to save money). How nuclear torpedo worked. Did the crew inadvertently left any intelligence nuggets (oh, yes). What types of isotopes within ballistic missiles. How cryptography gear were made & read. In theory NSA could read all the chatter.
Soviet Union lost a massive face because they were fooled for five years by CIA despite having access to naval cables thanks to one traitorous John Walker.
CIA biggest problem was settling wrongful death from alcohol fueled party & one persistent investigative reporter on sniffing at "deep sea mining" cover story.
Yes, event caused CIA to start saying "we cannot confirm or deny"
How the Soviet Navy treated the widows & families on their deceased naval crew was shameful & a huge black mark.
Funny how Detente forced both sides to stay quiet until end of cold war...
Not totally surprised US Navy covertly killed Matador (second attempt to get rest of submarine) by alleged leak to media because Navy brass saw how CIA took over A-12 program from the air-force or that CIA taking over their turf.

The Soviets knew the alleged Hughes ship was hanging around where they suspected their wreck might be. You can be sure it didn't take them long to change their plans and codes aboard the ship. And we already knew how to build superior missiles and bombs. So it's hard to see what we might have gained from this expensive venture.

Dec 30, 2017

Disregard review by "wolfman", great book throughout---was an operation by the CIA so a reference glossary would be foolish. Explains the great engineering that went into the project without becoming dull. Great read

Dec 06, 2017

Title misleading--sub never recovered; only pieces. Major flaw in book is that the costs of project had to be unreal but at no time is there a ledger showing costs for government agencies or contractors of which there were many.

Book would benefit from a glossary of people's names and initials used to reference various organizations.

Richard Milbrodt

Oct 10, 2017

I found this to be a very enjoyable non-fiction read. Josh Dean turns a real-life event into a thriller. He gives a good description of management styles in a vast government/private industry project. He goes into a little of history to develop the relationships between managers who had worked together on previous projects and how that benefited their current challenge. It also goes into depth about security measures in a project highly critical during the cold war.

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