‘Spy Ops’ Episode 8 Recap: What Is Project Azorian? What Happened To K-129?

Spy Ops Episode 7 ended with the CIA gathering up Taliban fighters to offer them jobs with Afghan intelligence and the military. Gary, the CIA case officer, did everything he could to make sure ex-Taliban fighters were given a chance to be reintroduced into society. The final episode of Spy Ops Season 1 is about a Russian submarine that sank off the western coast of America and how American officials were intrigued by its presence. Will America get a hold of this war machine and unearth some secrets about Russian intelligence?


What Is Project Azorian?

This spy operation is set in 1968 in the Pacific Ocean. It was the Cold War era, and the Americans and Soviets were constantly in competition with each other in every possible aspect. Arms, ideology, and the space race were the three elements on which they competed for almost four decades. The Cold War led both the Soviets and the Americans to deploy many submarines with ballistic missiles to keep their enemies in check. The Americans had their own arsenal of weapons, and so did Soviet Russia. Spy Ops Episode 8 takes us through the case of a Russian submarine that caused a frenzy among the CIA.

K-129 is a state-of-the-art Russian submarine that sank a little away from the western coast of America in the Pacific Ocean. Getting their hands on Russian machinery will reveal many secrets about their intelligence and the kind of work they do to design such brilliant weapons of mass destruction. The K-129 had ballistic missiles as well, which created concern for the Americans. They were worried that the submarine carried a nuclear ballistic missile and that it had been deliberately sunk near the American coast. The CIA had a lot of questions regarding the location of the submarine.


It is not clear why this project was named Azorian. The makers did not clarify the name, but the speakers on Spy Ops Episode 8 were excited to speak about this incident, which occurred several decades ago. The reason for their excitement could stem from a bygone era where nobody could be trusted as an ally. The spy network was at its peak, and the submarine could very well be a Soviet plot. Despite all the apprehensions, K-129 was a remarkable treasure that the US discovered.

The CIA wanted to cover up the story because they did not want Russians to come across this news and attempt to retrieve their property. The Russians wouldn’t want the Americans to get hold of this submarine. If the Russians attempt to recover this debris, it will mean there was something this submarine had that they did not want America to get their hands on. We assume the CIA was as paranoid as the KGB at this juncture.


How Did The Americans Plan To Recover The Submarine?

In a bid to make sure the world does not come across this story of a sunken Russian submarine, the CIA came up with a cover story to salvage the submarine using an elaborate plan that would hardly create any noise or attract attention. The CIA approached the eccentric businessman Howard Hughes, who could fund the building of a ship meant for deep-sea mining, but the ship would bring up the sunken K-129 submarine.

This submarine was 16000 feet deep in the water, which means this was an ambitious undertaking to be carried out with the utmost secrecy. The speakers in Spy Ops Episode 8 compare this mission to the moon landing. We feel the comparison was an exaggeration because the moon landing was a monumental achievement for all mankind. Meanwhile, the sole purpose of seeking out a sunken K-129 submarine was to beat Russia in the arms race.


The CIA hired the Global Marine Company to build a ship for Howard Hughes, which was to be known as the Hughes Glomar Explorer. The reason for approaching Howard Hughes was because he was known for investing in eccentric projects such as this one. He was rich, and he had a lot of money at his disposal. Howard Hughes was a popular man, and associating his name with this oil drilling created a perfect diversion. The CIA went ahead and built a huge ship. We wonder what the CIA had on Howard Hughes for him to agree to help the intelligence agency. The CIA went to great lengths to make sure this operation was a success. It is implied that they must have spent a good amount of money to retrieve an already-sunk submarine. At this point, the CIA is still not sure if this war machine will be of any use once it is retrieved.

What Is K-129?

K-129 was a Russian warship submarine, and it would have been illegal for the Americans to touch it, let alone retrieve it. It goes against the laws of warfare. Since the submarine had three missiles attached to it, there was a worry that it could pose a threat to the Americans. The Americans had plenty of questions regarding this sub. K-129 started from Petropavlovsk towards the western coast of the USA. The submarine suddenly went radio silent when it was supposed to send reports. Sadly, the deaths of 98 crew members were reported when news of the sinking reached them.


The Americans wanted to track the missiles, and they wanted data about the K-129 and the intelligence it was carrying. The photograph of a perished ship from the bottom of the sea proves that K-129 was worth salvaging. There is more to the submarine than the US and Russian intelligence let on. The obsession with retrieving data was typical during the Cold War era. Both superpowers wanted to one-up each other during this time.

Was Russia Able To Get Its Submarine Back?

The Russians did get information about the Americans trying to retrieve their K-129 submarine. Once the work on the oil drilling began from the outside, Henry Kissinger, on the other hand, wanted the nuclear warheads on the three missiles. The whole idea of Project Azorian was to raise the targeted portions of K-129 to ascertain what was in it. A Russian ship, the Chazma, suddenly stationed itself in the waters. Chazma was not a warship, but the Americans could not trust Soviet Russia. They were worried that the Russian ship could ram their ship into the Hughes Glomar Explorer.


The issue with the Hughes Glomar Explorer was that a portion added to the bottom of the ship to latch onto the sunken submarine was not functioning properly. This was bound to happen, keeping in mind that this was experimental machinery constructed in the 1970s. It was obvious that something on the mission would go wrong. Despite some setbacks, the Americans managed to get close to acquiring this submarine. While lifting the submarine, they realized the machinery of the ship malfunctioned, and half of the parts of the submarine fell back into the water. Thankfully, they could recover some of the debris. It is not clear if the debris could provide them with any legitimate information. The Russian ship, though, sailed away without causing any issues. We assume the paranoia was felt due to escalations between America and the Soviet Union caused by ideological differences and both countries having an equal number of arms to destroy each other.


Spy Ops Episode 8 ends with certain information about the K-129 being released. The Americans did find the dead bodies of Russians, but for the time and money America spent on this project, they never managed to find out what led to the K-129 sinking off the west coast. The Americans buried all the soldiers with full honors, but they had to bury the bodies in the sea to avoid radiation contamination. Once Project Azorian was over, the Hughes Glomar Explorer was used again for some time. But surprisingly, the CIA later did not want to discuss the subject of K-129. There is no indication of what they found inside the debris of the submarine. Maybe they found intelligence that served no purpose. Even though this story has been declassified, the information regarding the cause of the sinking and the data found on K-129 was never revealed. There is no clarity on whether Project Azorian was a success or not.


Smriti Kannan
Smriti Kannan
Smriti Kannan is a cinema enthusiast, and a part time film blogger. An ex public relations executive, films has been a major part of her life since the day she watched The Godfather – Part 1. If you ask her, cinema is reality. Cinema is an escape route. Cinema is time traveling. Cinema is entertainment. Smriti enjoys reading about cinema, she loves to know about cinema and finding out trivia of films and television shows, and from time to time indulges in fan theories.


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