Spy Glossary — On the Origin of “GLOMAR Response” [March 18 1975]

“We can neither confirm nor deny the existence of the information requested but, hypothetically, if such data were to exist, the subject matter would be classified, and could not be disclosed.”

CIA — March 18 1975

“45 years ago, a syndicated report by Jack Anderson was broadcast nationally, fully exposing a classified mission to extract a wrecked Soviet submarine from the Pacific Ocean.”

CIA Tweet — March 18 2020

March 18 2020 — American spies don’t just talk American English. They have their own spy lingo. Did you ever wonder what a “GLOMAR” answer is? On March 18, 1975, one of CIA’s greatest intelligence coups, Project AZORIAN, was fully exposed through a nationally broadcast syndicated report. Jack Anderson’s syndicated television report revealed the truth about the Glomar Explorer and its connection to a secret intelligence operation. Follow us on Twitter: @INTEL_TODAY

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When the Central Intelligence Agency joined Twitter on June 6 2014, folks at the Agency chose the phrase “can neither confirm nor deny” as their first tweet. This is known as a “GLOMAR” answer.

Recent “GLOMAR” answer (February 2020)

Crypto AG was a Swiss company specializing in communications and information security.

It was secretly jointly owned by the American Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and West German Federal Intelligence Service (BND) from 1970 until about 1993, with the CIA continuing as sole owner until about 2018.

Don’t bother to send FOIA requests…

This is a final response to your 11 February 2020 Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request, received in the office of the Information and Privacy Coordinator on 11 February 2020, for a copy of all documents, electronic or otherwise, that pertain to or mention: Crypto AG [which you advised] is a Swiss company specializing in communications and information security.

In accordance with Section 3.6(a) of Executive Order 13526, the CIA can neither confirm nor deny the existence or nonexistence of records responsive to your request.

The fact of the existence or nonexistence of such records is itself currently and properly classified and is intelligence sources and methods information protected from disclosure by Section 6 of the CIA Act of 1949, as amended, and Section 102A(i)(l) of the National Security Act of 1947, as amended. Therefore, your request is denied pursuant to FOIA exemptions (b)(l) and (b)(3).

On the Origin of the word “GLOMAR”

The so-called “Glomar response” was created by the CIA in reaction to media inquiries about a covert agency program, which created a salvage vessel named the Glomar Explorer to recover a sunken Soviet submarine.

Glomar is a contraction of Global Marine, the company that the CIA commissioned to build the Glomar Explorer.

By stating that the agency could “neither confirm nor deny” the existence of the covert program, the CIA avoided saying the program did not exist, which would have been a lie, and simultaneously it avoided revealing the existence of the program by confirming it, which would have tipped off the Soviet Union.

How the Media found out

Almost immediately after the recovery effort, planning began for a second mission to recover the lost section, but was stopped after a bizarre and unforeseen exposure of Glomar’s true purpose.

In June 1974, just before the Glomar set sail, thieves had broken into the offices of the Summa Corporation and stolen secret documents, one tying Howard Hughes to CIA and the Glomar Explorer. Desperate to recover this document, CIA called in the FBI, which in turn enlisted the Los Angeles Police Department.

The search drew attention, and by the autumn of 1974 the media began to pick up rumors of a sensational story.

Director of Central Intelligence William E. Colby personally appealed to those who had learned about AZORIAN not to disclose the project.

For a while they cooperated, but on February 7, 1975 the Los Angeles Times published an account that made connections between the robbery, Hughes, CIA, and the recovery operation.

Journalists flooded into the Long Beach area where the Glomar was preparing for its second mission.

Jack Anderson’s syndicated television report was broadcast nationally on March 18, fully breaking the truth about the Glomar.

The Ford Administration neither confirmed nor denied any of the stories in circulation, creating the notorious statement that has come to be known as the “Glomar Response.”

By late June, the Soviets were aware of the Glomar’s covert mission and had assigned a ship to monitor and guard the recovery site.

With Glomar’s cover blown, the White House canceled further recovery operations.

REFERENCES

The Exposing of Project AZORIAN — CIA Website (March 17 2020)

CIA GLOMAR Response on Crypto AG Documents [2 Pages, 1MB]

The CIA’s Secret History of the Phrase ‘Can Neither Confirm Nor Deny’ — PAUL H.B. SHIN

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Spy Glossary — On the Origin of “GLOMAR” [March 18 1975]

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