The CIA Plot Howard Hughes Was A Part Of

American businessman Howard Hughes was someone who held many titles throughout his life. The billionaire inherited a million dollar oil tool company when he was only 18 years old. But he had no interest in being a tool tycoon. Instead, a young Hughes left his native Houston, Texas and decided to invest his fortune in the film industry, says Biography. That is where he made even more money. He put his finances behind classic films such as "Hell's Angels" and "Scarface" — the former film, which he directed as well as produced, being one of the most expensive films of its times (History). By the early 1930s, Hughes was a successful film producer, and his pull continued to expand well beyond the big screen.

Hughes was deeply interested in flight, setting records himself as well as (per Britannica) establishing an aviation company. With the Hughes Aircraft Company, Hughes found himself manufacturing planes and other aircraft for the US during World War II.

The CIA recruits Howard Hughes for secret mission

At that point in his life he was a very established businessman and entrepreneur. He'd invested his fortune in airlines, casinos, and aerospace engineering. His company's Surveyor 1, a robotic spacecraft, was the first American spacecraft to make a soft landing on the moon in 1966, per NASA, where it gathered information in preparation for the manned Apollo moon landings to come. Hughes had shown that he could be of help to the US government, and they would seek his help again in a covert mission.

The US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) would seek Hughes' assistance when they wanted to recover a Soviet submarine that was discovered near American territory. The sub sank in 1968 and the Soviets were unsuccessful in finding their lost undersea vessel. American intelligence ended up finding the lost sub near Hawaii, but they wanted to keep that discovery under wraps. Besides being an enemy vessel, the sub apparently had nuclear missiles aboard, says History. The CIA then hatched a plan to recover the sub and its contents, and asked for Hughes' help.

Hughes engineering met CIA secrecy

The result was a ship, the Hughes Glomar Explorer (pictured in 1977). The cover story, says NPR, was that the ship was built for underwater mining. In reality, it was equipped with a claw that would help the Navy recover this Soviet submarine some three miles below the surface. Nothing like it had ever been accomplished before. And to the public, it was simply a ship being built for Hughes.

It would take two recovery missions in the summer of 1974 for the sub's contents to be revealed, says Maritime Executive. As the sub was being raised, about two-thirds of it broke away and returned to the ocean floor. Plans were being made to return and recover the rest, but after a robbery at Hughes offices, at least part of the story leaked. Some of it's still classified information, says Smithsonian Magazine. The media exploded with the story of this secret CIA operation, including catching the attention of Soviet ambassador Anatoly Dobrynin. The CIA hasn't revealed additional details of the mission or what they discovered, but the agency did coin and use the term "neither confirm nor deny" as a result, per NPR.