Transcript of telephone conversation, August 9, 1991
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THE WHITE HOUSE

WASHINGTON

TRANSCRIPT OF TELEPHONE CONVERSATION

SUBJECT: Telephone Conference to Discuss Transportation of Novaya Zemlya Object

PARTICIPANTS:

  • The President
  • James Baker (Secretary of State)
  • Dick Cheney (Secretary of Defense)
  • John Sununu (White House Chief of Staff)
  • Gen. Colin Powell (Chair, JCS)
  • Col. Gregory Sachs (GOC)
  • Eduard Shevardnadze (Minister of Foreign Affairs, USSR) (via telephone)
  • Boris Pugo (Minister of Interior Affairs, USSR) (via telephone)
  • Translator: G. Valentino (State)
  • Notetaker: S. Morrison (NSC)

DATE, TIME: August 9, 1991, 08:36-08:44 a.m. EST
PLACE: White House Situation Room - The Kremlin

The President initiated the telephone call.

THE PRESIDENT: Eduard? Are you on the line?

SHEVARDNADZE: Yes. I am here. Boris Karlovich stepped out for tea, ah … no, he is here. We are both here, Mr. President.

THE PRESIDENT: Well, I’m glad, we’re glad that we could set this up, my friends. Let me tell you that Colonel Sachs is here in the room with me.

PUGO: [indistinct, in Russian]

SACHS: [replies in Russian]

VALENTINO: [aside to the President] Ah, pleasantries, Mr. President. Minister Pugo inquires about the health of Colonel Sachs’s wife, and so on …

THE PRESIDENT: Ah, at any rate, Colonel Sachs has informed me that the GOC’s evaluation of the situation up in Novaya Zemlya is that Team Zero is no longer capable of…

SUNUNU: [aside to Baker] Team Zero? What is this? I didn’t get briefed …

BAKER: [aside to Sununu] Jesus Christ, John, you were just there last week.

THE PRESIDENT: … continuing, hold it. [conference call muted; aside to Sununu] John, when you and I were in Russia last week for the START I summit? We took the flight up north?

SUNUNU: Um… I’m confused, sir. After Moscow we went straight to Kiev.

THE PRESIDENT: [conference call unmuted] Eduard, now, come on. You didn’t have to go and give my chief of staff the yellow pill.

SHEVARDNADZE: We did not …

SUNUNU: What the … [unintelligible]

SACHS: Mr. President, that was us. In fairness, sir, Mr. Sununu requested the amnestic after the [unintelligible].

SUNUNU: [unintelligible] … what you’re talking about, if … [unintelligible]

THE PRESIDENT: We’ll sort that out on our end. At any rate, Eduard, Colonel Sachs tells me that they can’t hold her down anymore, so we need to coordinate the handoff, so to speak.

SHEVARDNADZE: Yes, that is consistent with the report that we have been given. Thank you.

THE PRESIDENT: Well, don’t thank me. All we’re doing is giving her a ride. Let the folks down there in their igloo, or whatever it is, let them figure out what to do with her, that’s the prudent thing to do at this juncture. Colin, my understanding is that the boat is ready. Would you confirm that?

POWELL: Yes, sir, the USS New Haven will arrive at the Matochkin Strait facility by Sukhoy Nos on August 19, local time, at which point…

THE PRESIDENT: The New Haven, huh? Dick, I know that Yale kicked you out, but you didn’t have to waste a perfectly good attack submarine to get even.

CHENEY: I, well, sir, it was …

POWELL: Mr. President, Secretary Cheney wasn’t involved in that decision, and it was the closest boat on station.

THE PRESIDENT: I’m just pulling your leg, Dick. It’s a Bonesman thing, ha ha.

CHENEY: Yes, sir.

SHEVARDNADZE: George, we are ready on our end. Vladimir Vladimirovich and his team will handle loading the subject onto your vessel.

BAKER: Excuse me, Minister. This is the Lieutenant Colonel from the KGB whom you introduced me to?

SACHS: It’s him, Mr. Secretary. He’s also one of ours. Very effective, very reliable.

THE PRESIDENT: And Eduard, the cover operation on your end?

SHEVARDNADZE: I’m not involved … hold on [unintelligible, in Russian] … Boris says it’s under control.

THE PRESIDENT: It’s under control? I can’t greenlight this operation on my end based on that. Not gonna do it, Eduard. Now, you’ve seen that our people are getting better and better at managing a cover, ah, Desert Storm should be enough to demonstrate that. But it’s critical, critical that we keep the world from paying attention to her, from knowing about the handoff or the transport.

SHEVARDNADZE: Absolutely. [unintelligible, in Russian] Please stand by. [unintelligible, in Russian] … Da. [unintelligible, in Russian] … Boris says there is a plan that is involving KGB Chairman Kryuchkov, Premier Pavlov, Minister Yazov and … a few others.

PUGO: [unintelligible, in Russian]

SHEVARDNADZE: [unintelligible, in Russian]

VALENTINO: [aside to the President] Sir, Minister Shevardnadze said “you what,” you know, with a tone of disbelief. And they’re both talking at once, sir, I can’t sort it out while they’re arguing. Minister Pugo is saying that they’re going to move now that Gorbachev is at his dacha. Sir, they’re talking about an overthrow …

SHEVARDNADZE: It is … not a real coup, Mr. President. It is … distraction.

THE PRESIDENT: Greg, has your team, ah, vetted this plan?

SACHS: Lieutenant Colonel Putin and I have been through it with Minister Pugo and the others. Given the time constraints at play here, we’re satisfied with … [unintelligible]

CHENEY: [unintelligible] … the chain of command here. These cowboys shouldn’t … [unintelligible]

BAKER: [unintelligible] … like the other time, Dick. They need to be able to … [unintelligible]

POWELL: [unintelligible] … when are we going to get our submarine back? If we …[unintelligible]

SACHS: [unintelligible] … General, we’re not taking your submarine away from you, um, that being said, you understand that I can't speak as to the receiving team. At any rate, based on the file, it’s not clear whether the boat is going to be in condition to be returned to service …

THE PRESIDENT: You’re OK with this, Greg?

SACHS: Yes, sir.

CHENEY: … is vitally important for us to understand the situation there, and how it is expected to unfold. It may be good cover, but in the medium term, there are known unknowns and there are unknown unknowns, ah, … it could be bad for business, and that …

THE PRESIDENT: Dick, Greg and I go way back, to when I was at Langley, and I’m telling you that I am prepared to proceed based on the GOC’s assurances …

SHEVARDNADZE: Mr. President, let me assure you that Mikhail Sergeyevich and I will have things, ah, things will be back to normal in a week or two.

THE PRESIDENT: In that case, then, I think we’re all settled. Do you agree, Eduard?

SHEVARDNADZE: Da. Yes, Mr. President. Colonel Sachs, is clear at your side?

SACHS: We’re ready … and let me add on a personal note, Mr. President, Minister Shevardnadze and Minister Pugo, that … that I am truly sorry, on a personal level, that my organization can’t continue to hold the line. It’s just … I’m sorry. We’ve tried everything, really everything since Khruschev turned it over to us, and … I just … Mr. Minister, let me assure you that those Soviet men and women up there over the years did not make those sacrifices in vain.

PUGO: Grigoriy, [in Russian]

VALENTINO: [aside, to the President] He says, “Gregory, you did your best.”

THE PRESIDENT: Greg, we all recognize that it was either this, or call it on Cold Harper, and … uh, none of us wants to go there. And Eduard, please tell Mikhail on behalf of all of us that we will never forget what your people have been doing, up there, on behalf of the world. I’m sure it must be a great relief to all of you, you know, to let the white coats have to deal with it for a change.

SHEVARDNADZE: Yes … thank you, Mr. President. Please … please give my best to your family.

THE PRESIDENT: And Barbara sends her best to Nanuli, Eduard. I’m glad we could have this conversation to set this in motion. Gentlemen, anything else before we let them go? Very well, thank you.

– End of conversation –


EPILOGUE 1:

GROTON, CONNECTICUT

22 AUG 1991 18:36 UTC

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

COMSUBLANT REPORTS LOSS OF USS NEW HAVEN (SSN-746), A LOS ANGELES-CLASS ATTACK SUBMARINE. LAST REPORTED LOCATION WAS APPROXIMATELY 230 NAUTICAL MILES SSW OF ICELAND. THE PENTAGON INDICATED THAT THE NEW HAVEN HAD BEEN DETACHED FROM SUBMARINE SQUADRON TO ASSIST NOAA WITH SEAFLOOR MAPPING IN THE ARCTIC AND NORTH ATLANTIC OCEANS. NO SIGNALLING BUOY HAS YET BEEN LOCATED. A SEARCH AND RESCUE TEAM HAS BEEN DISPATCHED TO THE AREA.


EPILOGUE 2:

Chicago Sun Times, August 22, 1991

Plotter in coup commits suicide

MOSCOW Soviet Interior Minister Boris Pugo, a leader of the coup against President Mikhail S. Gorbachev, killed himself with a shot in the mouth today to avoid arrest, a Soviet KGB spokesman said.

Pugo's wife also shot herself and was in serious condition.

The spokesman for the Soviet intelligence agency said Pugo, who won a reputation as a ruthless hard-liner during his years as KGB chief in Latvia, had been aware a team was on its way to arrest him at his apartment after the collapse of the coup …


EPILOGUE 3:

August 23, 1991

Site 236, Queen Maud Land (71°40′S 02°50′W)

“Captain Richards? Welcome to Antarctica. I’m Dr. Garcia. We’re delighted to have you, we don’t get as many visitors down here in Antarctica as some of us would like, yes, especially this time of year. Goes with the territory when you take the king’s shilling – or the Foundation’s shilling, one might say. Thank you for the delivery, we’ll take it from here. Why am I wearing the gas mask, you ask? Two reasons. The first is that it’s part of our quarantine protocol for acquisitions of this type, and as for the second, if you’d care to turn this way, and step under the gas hood … no need to struggle, sir, it’s just an inhalant amnestic … see, the rest of your crew are just unconscious, they’re fine … and he’s down. Good. Emilio, remember the order that Control sent down? Yeah, get these men suited up in the New Haven’s evac kit, then bring them and the boat’s SEIE equipment back up to Iceland within the next twenty-four hours. No, we’re not recruiting them, we’re going to drop them off and let the Navy pick them up. Uh, yeah, it's a perfectly good sub, of course we'll keep it. As for the thing in the boat’s hold … let’s see … You’re quite the ugly thing, aren’t you, SCP-84787?”



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