Recently declassified CIA documents indicated the vessel really was tasked in 1971 by the agency to covertly recover a film canister jettisoned by a spy spacecraft known as Hexagon, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported Monday.
The Air Force had recovered two similar film canisters that had images of Soviet missile sites and other sensitive military assets during the Cold War as they fell to earth with parachutes. But the third canister was ripped from its parachute and plunged into the Pacific Ocean, settling at a depth of 16,400 feet.
"Recovery of the film would be most desirable since the imagery recorded was from a particularly productive portion of the mission," John L. McLucas, then-director of the National Reconnaissance Office, said in a 1971 memo.
Documents declassified during the summer detailed the recovery mission, proving information on a series of satellite spy programs called Corona, Gambit and Hexagon that used Hickam Air Force Base equipment and personnel to recover surveillance footage shot from space.
The naval ship De Steiger found the canister in October, 1971, but bad weather and issues with the submersible vessel delayed the recovery until 1972. Crew members were told the cover story that the submersible needed to retrieve Scripps Marine Physical Laboratory equipment that was light-sensitive.