The late 1960s and early 70s featured some of the most heightened tensions of the Cold War. Neither Confirm Nor Deny scratches the surface about one of the lesser known and memorialized events during this era. In 1968 a Soviet nuclear sub sunk and came to rest 3 miles down on the ocean floor. A loss of communication occurred before it sank causing the Soviet Union to not know the ship’s location. However, the United States did and immediately went into action. Finding a Soviet ship like this could provide extremely valuable information on their technology and capabilities.
Coming up with a plan to lift a submarine from the ocean floor that was 3 miles down was not an easy feat. David Sharp was a CIA operative who was put in command of a task force to lead the effort. The plan was to build a surface ship which guised as an ocean mining operation. The ship would be equipped with a giant mechanism to lift the submarine and store it inside the ship. Secrecy was imperative and with all the moving parts, almost impossible as well. The CIA had to work closely with Curtis Crooke and his off-shore drilling business, Global Marine to build the ship. Another CIA agent, Walter Lloyd, created a cover story – convincing everyone that billionaire Howard Hughes was breaking into ocean mining. The Soviets getting wind of this operation could lead to World War 3, so the stakes could not have been higher.
Philip Carter directed the film. Carter has directed factual content pieces in the past and brought this experience to Neither Confirm Nor Deny. The film is based on David Sharp’s book “The CIA’s Greatest Covert Operation: Inside The Daring Mission To Recover a Nuclear-Armed Soviet Sub.” Many of the key figures involved in this story have since passed, but having David Sharp as a resource was invaluable. Not only did he write the book, but he was involved in the project since the beginning. His views and insights provide a new level of detail and scope to the mission that strengthened the documentary.
Neither Confirm Nor Deny’s subject matter is truly shocking and quite the story. Yet the film doesn’t do it justice. There is a sense of excitement and gravitas that seems to be missing. An operation like this is unbelievably daring by the CIA. It’s hard to fathom something like this occurring, and yet the documentary can’t fully capture that. The mission itself seems straight out of a sci-fi novel. Couple that with involving an eccentric billionaire like Howard Hughes in an elaborate coverup only adds to the mystique. There is inherent value in the documentary shedding light on such an unknown, yet monumental mission. For those documentary lovers simply interested in learning more, it is worth a watch. However, Neither Confirm Nor Deny is missing that extra magic and may not be for the casual documentary viewer.
Streaming now on Apple TV and Prime Video.