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New role for CIA sub-snatcher?

By Leon LindsayStaff correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor / July 29, 1981

San Francisco

She's probably the most expensive "operative" the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) ever had. Certainly she's the biggest and strongest. She's the Hughes Glomar Explorer, famed for scraping a Soviet submarine -- or at least part of it -- off the bottom of the Pacific Ocean for the CIA in 1974.

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Today the Explorer floats quietly in Suisun Bay, northeast of San Francisco, like a huge mother duck watching over a brood of much smaller vessels -- mothballed US Navy warships of World War II vintage.

But unlike the scores of cruisers and destroyers huddled together just a mile or so from her lonely anchorage, the Glomar Explorer is almost certain to see action again.

If present planning comes to fruition sometime in 1984, the only ship capable of lifting another from the ocean deep and storing it in her hold will become the platform and floating research center for the National Science Foundation's Ocean Margin Drilling Program.

The program will involve drilling at some 20 sites in the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, the Caribbean Sea, the Gulf of Mexico, and the Weddell Sea off Antarctica.

Joint Oceanographic Institutions Inc. (JOI), a nonprofit consortium of 10 US oceanographic institutions, will coordinate the research program. The oceanographic consortium was formed in 1964 and since 1968 has provided guidance and support for the Deep-Sea Drilling Project -- a program that utilizes the drill ship Glomar Challenger and has produced "remarkable scientific achievements," according to the JOI.

The Deep-Sea Drilling Project provided "a framework for understanding the shape and structure of the continents and ocean basins, the location of earthquake belts, the nature of volcanic systems, the . . . distribution of petroleum and other mineral deposits, and the timing and causes of climatic change," says JOI.

The new drilling program will carry that research into deeper waters and drill deeper into Earth's crust. It will, as the term "ocean margin" indicates, involved drilling deep into the oceanic crust in "the slope and rise province between the continental shelf and the deep sea."

Glomar Challenger was worked in a maximum water depth of 12,796 feet and the deepest hole it has drilled in the ocean floor extended 5,709 feet. The Explorer, after being refitted for drilling, will be capable of working in water depths up to 13,200 feet and drilling to 20,000 feet below the ocean floor.

Scientists involved say the ocean-margin program is expected to fill a large gap in geologic and climatological knowledge; extend understanding of the movement of Earth's tectonic plates -- which affect volcanic action and continental drift; and, as stated in a 1980 JOI outline of the program, provide "specific information of direct benefit in developing the scientific basis for extension of the search for oil and gas in regions adjacent to the United States."

Santa Fe Engineering Services Company of Orange, Calif., was contracted by the National Science Foundation to provide "systems support" for the ocean-margin project. On a recent day, Ralph P. Jacob's, a senior design engineer with Santa Fe and manager of liaison activities for the program, guided some 30 scientists and oil company representative, plus one reporter, on an exhaustive and exhausting tour of the huge Glomar Explorer.