Tuesday, November 13, 2007


The NYT has a story about a Soviet spy named George Koval- bred largely in the United States and therefore wholly American in appearance and manners- who passed atomic secrets from Oak Ridge, Tennessee, the place where perhaps the most difficult part of the bomb work, separating and purifying uranium 235, took place.

I would be quite interested in knowing the veracity and value of the information Koval passed along. Suffice it here to say that while spies in the atomic bomb project certainly helped, their importance has been highly inflated in the public imagination. Stalin was a paranoid man, and almost always had his people double-check the information from the spies just to make sure it had not been supplied by double agents.

Moreoever, the most famous spies known to the public, the Rosenbergs, passed information to the Soviets that they obtained through David Greenglass, Ethel Rosenberg's brother who was only a mechanic at Los Alamos. Although he happened to work on an important part of the bomb, the information he could pass was decidedly limited given his low rank. The Rosenbergs are probably more firmly rooted in people's minds because they were the only spies to be executed, and the sentence also seemed excessively harsh because Ethel had two small children. This punishment also seems gratuitous and excessive to many, including myself, given the fact that the main spy Klaus Fuchs got only 14 years in a British prison.

Link through Nanopolitan

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