America is the land of the free and home of the brave. It is a country whose government is founded on the hypocrisy of being “for the people,” yet it has a long history of corruption and deception that has kept citizens in the dark through most military and political scandals. Based on the non-fiction book by David H. Sharp, first-time director Phillip Carter’s documentary, Neither Confirm Nor Deny, speaks to this unavoidable truth.
The documentary tells the story of a top-secret CIA mission to recover a nuclear-armed, sunken Soviet submarine from the Pacific Ocean and the coverup that surrounded the entire project. Under the cover of a Howard Hughes-sponsored mining project, a team of engineers worked to build the massive equipment in plain sight of a public unaware of the actual mission. As the recovery process began, the six-year-long uber-classified quest to retrieve the sub was known as Project Azorian and was surrounded by the tightest “security.”
Neither Confirm Nor Deny captures the political corruption of the era by exploring then-President Richard Nixon’s deception regarding his public diplomacy and how the investigation into the infamous Watergate affair exposed and endangered the entirety of Project Azorian. Carter’s engrossing film features candid interviews with the high-ranking players from the time. Former CIA agents David Sharp and Walter Lloyd give first-hand accounts regarding their involvement in the project. The late Curtis Cooke’s company played a big part in the mission.
“…a top-secret CIA mission to recover a nuclear-armed, sunken Soviet submarine…”
The interviews expose the many skeletons in the closet of the covert operation, finding the men “behind the curtain” and unmasking the secrets withheld from the country’s citizens. With the public in complete darkness, the harrowing mission commenced. The most dangerous aspect is that if the Soviets had discovered it, the project could have caused World War III.
The cloak-and-dagger aspects of the true story keep Neither Confirm Nor Deny fascinating. At the time, New York Times reporter Seymour Hersch wielded the power of the freedom of the press to shine a light on the CIA’s shady procedures. While continually interesting, there are times when it becomes unclear whether the film commends or condemns the secretive manner in which the government agencies executed Project Azorian. K Krishna Kumar’s score might be trying to guide the audience’s ethical judgments, but this is the only area where the filmmaker loses focus.
The most important takeaway is how Carter and his interview subjects are dedicated to the public’s right to know. The escalating Soviet tensions of the time severely stifled this grand idea. While there are certainly more profound questions to be asked, the director unfolds this story of dangerous deception in a gripping manner.
Neither Confirm Nor Deny plays like a Tom Clancy thriller and opens a little-known door in American history. Through this absorbing true story, Phillip Carter shows how the U.S. government manipulates the flow of information to its people, not for the good of the country, but to cover their dubious actions.
"…plays like a Tom Clancy thriller..."