For a new and different perception of pivotal Soviet events, read on...
The ENORMOUS Kleenex Box - The Soviets Steal the Atomic Secrets
he atomic bomb, "fat boy" that blew up the Japanese city Nagasaki also blew away the sense of security developed by the Soviet Union in hard won victories over Nazi Germany. Soviet scientists, spies, slave laborers sweating in uranium mines under Stalin's orders, all worked triple time for five years to catch up.
Espionage, notably that performed by an American relay team anchored by a 19 year old Harvard student inside America's most top secret weapon's lab, gave Stalin's scientists an essential shortcut. An innocent looking American courier smuggled secrets that had been snatched up by the young scientists at the Los Alamos nuclear weapons lab. Under the noses of the FBI and War Department security she carried A bomb plans across the U.S. hidden in a Kleenex box.
The whole story from all the Soviet spies inside The Manhattan Project still has not been revealed. Key moles managed to keep their secrets identities secret until today. Indeed, more than a few may have already gone to their graves with their codenames still unidentified. But recently real spies have been exposed. The people who gave away America's atomic secrets were NOT those long ago convicted and executed for the crime. Researchers now know about the Atomic mystery-man code-named "Mlad" (the youngster) and why he participated in the greatest espionage based technology transfer of all time. 'MLAD' came to understand the power unleashed by splitting atoms in a bomb. The teenage American-born Soviet spy wanted to redress the 'balance of terror' by giving his country's then ally, the Soviet Union (and his personal vision of a place where a socialist vision of a just society might be realized) the secret of atomic annihilation.
Victory over Hitler's Fascist Empire in World War II cost the Soviet Union some 27 million lives. Russians and other peoples of the world's then only socialist state paid in blood to repel German aggression and undo the idiotic blunder of their own murderous leaders. During the long war Soviet leader Joseph Stalin had come to depend on his allies, the United States and Great Britain, for many things in their common battle against the totalitarian maniac Adolph Hitler. By the time an American bomber incinerated Hiroshima with a single bomb, and then followed up by nuking another city, Nagasaki. the American President he respected, Franklin Roosevelt was dead. And unexpectedly the British electorate had driven the other man with whom he planned the post-war world, Winston Churchill from office. Stalin's "default drive"-- raging paranoia, obsessive preoccupation with foreign-based enemies plotting to destroy the technologically backward single socialist fatherland began spinning furiously. Always worried that west wanted to crush his country, Stalin was near hysteria. When he met his atomic experts as the "fat boy's" radioactive fallout was still settling to earth, Stalin told them, "Hiroshima has shaken the whole world. The balance has been broken. Build the bomb-it will remove a great danger from us."
Even before Roosevelt's successor, Vice-President Harry Truman, Stalin had known that the British and United States were conspiring, without informing their Soviet ally, to build a new kind of super weapon, a nuclear bomb at a secret site in New Mexico. Stalin's spy network alerted him to the Manhattan Project as early as winter 1942. The idea of a chain reaction seemed fantastic. This was especially true in the 1940's when few of the concepts had been explained in laymen's terms and it was doubly baffling to Stalin whose formal education ended early at a Georgian seminary that included no physics in its traditional 19th century curriculum. Stalin, the unquestioned Kremlin boss, summoned four top Russian scientists to his office and inquired if indeed it was scientifically feasible to build an atomic bomb. His own experts assured him that the nightmare weapon was not a pipe dream or a saboteur's cunning act of disinformation. In fact, the Georgian born dictator learned that the top minds of the Soviet Academy of Science-at least those he had not ordered shot or exiled to the Gulag-such as A.I. Kurchatov (1903-1960) and P.I.Kapitsa (1894-1984) had been holding explicit discussions about such weapons since 1940. Indeed, as members of the world scientific community they had been involved in the theoretical talk about splitting the atom for a long time. But there was no place for experimental work or long range research in the early forties. With Nazi armies occupying much of the country, with the enemy just outside
Moscow, Leningrad and Stalingrad simple survival dictated focusing resources on the most immediate problems. Stalin may have known of the Manhattan project goals early on, but he understood the horrific destructive power the new weapon as well as how it would change the world's balance of political power only after Hiroshima. "The Soviet government interpreted [Hiroshima] as atomic blackmail against the USSR," one Soviet atomic bomb insider explained, "as a threat to unleash a new, even more terrible and devastating [nuclear] war."
Stalin also knew that the Americans and their British partners could blackmail them, but the Soviet dictator also knew that they had not produce enough atomic weaponry to bomb the Soviets into the stone age...at least in 1945.
Stalin made construction of a Soviet atomic bomb his country's top priority. Secretly Stalin ordered: build the bomb 'on a Russian scale. Intensive work with no resources spared, even for a war ravaged country was one thing, but making up for lost time was quite another. Nuclear physics is no simple undertaking, even for an Einstein. Yes, the Soviet Union had some world class physicists, but until Hiroshima shook the Kremlin they lacked the wherewithal. An early CIA report predicted a Soviet A-bomb test probably in 1953, certainly no sooner than 1951.
Yet President Truman stunned Cold War America in September 1949 when he announced, "We have evidence that within recent weeks an atomic explosion occurred in the USSR" Tabloid headlines scream: RED A-bomb. Stalin exploded the U.S. four year old nuclear monopoly (16 July 1945-29 August 1949) and he nuked the notion widespread in America that it could maintain the secret of the bomb's construction. Soviet scientists evened the balance of terror thanks to an enormous shortcut delivered by espionage agents engaged in Operation ENORMOUS-the complete Soviet penetration of The Manhattan Project.
ENORMOUS is that rare case where real spy histories, even as we know only parts of the whole, complicated operation, are more amazing than any spy fiction. The results paid greater dividend than all the royalties earned by all the James Bond movies and all the other spy movies of all times. The tradecraft employed by volunteer Soviet agents may have at times appeared inept, at times it bordered on Keystone Kops hilarious. However, the information smuggled out of Los Alamos gave Kurchatov (referred to by insiders, for obvious reasons, as "the beard") and his Russian physicists ideas and designs that amounted to ENORMOUS SHORT-CUTS down the road of scientific creation.
Of course, given the theory, trial and error experimental nature of the scientific method information smuggled out of Los Alamos sometimes also steered Soviet researchers down blind alleys. The very accomplished professional Soviet spies who 'handled' the agents and messengers, such as Lona Cohen who traveled cross-country to collect the world's then most secret documents, understood next to nothing of nuclear physics. Once the raw intelligence reached Russia it required an enormous amount of work on a grand scale by the Communist physicists before the information could be put to use. (And of course, there were real problems obtaining enough actual materials-raw high-grade uranium ores, carbon for control rods, weapons-grade plutonium etc. But in this under Stalin orders the Soviet Union had a cruel advantage. The Soviets could ruthlessly exploit Gulag labor as well as plunder the resources of the countries that had just come into the socialist fold: Behind the Iron Curtain, Stalin put his viciously efficient 'First Lieutenant' NKVD boss, Lavrenty Beria in charge of the Special Committee on the Atom bomb at its creation in August 1945). ENORMOUS began accumulating secret data, Kurchatov himself evaluated the NKVD, (NKGB) derived treasure trove. One example of purloined papers that assisted and accelerated Kurchatov's bomb building work in Secret Laboratory No.2 comes from coded report No.1103/M. It described how the American battlefield atomic explosive would work, including notes that one way the bomb could be set off would be by implosion. Kurchatov, frequently called 'the father of the Soviet atomic world' excitedly praised the report as interesting. He singled out the importance of a new idea, "explosion towards the inside" for activating the bomb. Kurchatov resorted to that awkward phrasing because at that time the Russian langua ge had NO word for "implosion."!
Under tight wartime conditions the FBI and the Manhattan Project's security officers thought that they had created a tightly controlled super-secret scientific world. In fact, Los Alamos was so riddled with Soviet spies that it leaked like a sieve. NKVD agents claimed upward of two dozen assets inside "Box 1663" -the code name for the Manhattan Project's New Mexico campus. Cold War passions, prosecutions, persecutions, manias, hysterias, haunted discussions of stolen atomic secrets until very recently. Moreover, policies on protecting sources, information, dis-information, non-information and plain old ordinary lies made fact gathering nearly impossible. Ideological compulsiveness kept truth in a virtual witness protection program-safe perhaps, but far away from the public.
Sober analysis of who spied, who betrayed whom as well as super obsessive secrecy prohibited fair-minded accounts of the great Los Alamos robbery. The most important espionage heist in twentieth century history remained impossible to unravel during the Cold War. Some early truths, such as the preeminent role Klaus Fuchs played in transmitting theoretical information have held up well over decades. Although the identify of another agent who worked beside him in Oak Ridge, Tenn. research station is still not known, except by a code-name. Most of what we can now piece together about the history of ENORMOUS comes from archive accesses that started with glasnost in the Soviet Union. The end of the Cold War, the Soviet Union's collapse and a sea change in a sense of America's of its place in the world created new openings for researchers. In addition, the passage of time, and the urging of scholar Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D-NY) prodded the U.S. National Security Archives to declassify and to make public at least some of its Intelligence coup-"The Venona documents". The Venona project was the code used for the U.S. singals intelligence effort to collect and decrypt Soviet NKVD and GRU messages transmitted in the 1940's. These long secret marvels of cryptography include intercepted, decoded Soviet espionage cables. The most important code breaking took place after World War II. Prominent among the stunning Venona intercepts are Soviet spymaster reports to Moscow concerning ENORMOUS. The Yeltsin revolution in Russia too pushed retired spies to speak out for the first time. Some sought to clear their consciences before they died. Others felt compelled to reveal information so as to let history judge. Still, others perhaps to be charitable, with mixed motives wanted to sell their stories, to make a little money to help them get through their country's troubled economic times. Some sensationalized to grab attention. Some authors remembered events of fifty plus years ago badly-especially when they tried to make sense of complex issues of nuclear physics that they never understood in the first place. Some had their memories infected by decades of dis-information and propaganda. And a few revealed stunning new information.
The well-named "Bombshell" revelation revolves around the brilliant young physics prodigy who spilled the Los Alamos secrets into Lona Cohen's Kleenex box and then disappeared into a quiet life as cell researcher, now retired in Cambridge, England. Sergei Pavlovich Korolev, the mastermind behind the Soviet race into outer space may be the most important mystery man of twentieth century because his work shocked the world, several times. Theodore Alvin Hall, who volunteered to funnel the secrets to the making the atomic bomb to couriers, like Lona Cohen for transmission to Moscow, is certainly America's most significant mystery man. Ted Hall recently explained to the intrepid journalist-sleuths who put the pieces of the puzzle palace together of what motivated him as the Soviet asset code-named "MLAD" (youngster) to pass Atomic secrets. Hall worried that an American monopoly of nuclear weapons endangered the world, in a post-war world beset by economic and ideological problems. In 1944 the then 19 year old Harvard physics student believed in helping the Soviet Union, an ally at the time-an ally who fought the Nazis at tremendous human costs, and may, he believed, have saved the Allies from defeat. 'Mlad' felt his bold self-started action, taking information from the Los Alamos lab where he was a youngster privileged to work may have well prevented a third world war, a nuclear holocaust. Operation Enormous kept the United States and the Soviet Union wrapped in an unbreakable embrace of mutual reinforced insecurity. For fifty years the two superpowers terrorized each other with vision of nuclear and thermonuclear total destruction. Yet, the specter of a Hiroshima writ large across North America and Eurasia may well have scared Washington and Moscow into NOT starting World War III. That WWIII as a nonstarter, too, may be a legacy of the Manhattan Project and ENORMOUS---a stabilizing instability that forced a Cold War to be a long frozen peace.
The Venona Documents together with glasnost era revelations from Soviet archives and retired spies show how little the world knew about project Enormous. The new windows on the past blew in winds that swept away deeply held beliefs. For the left it was long an article of faith that the Rosenbergs, Julius and Ethel were victims of McCarthyism, the anti-Communist hysteria that rose up in Truman-era America. [insert quote in Margin: Longtime Soviet Ambassador to Washington, Anatoly Dobrynin, remembered his first trip to the U.S. in September 1952: "I arrived at the very height of the Cold War, too close indeed to a hot war. Stalin was still alive and many in the United States blamed him for the war that was under way in Korea and the Cold War in general.... As for the United States, it was at the moment of my arrival in the midst of a presidential campaign in which the eventual winner General Dwight D. Eisenhower, was said to be thinking about using nuclear weapons in Korea and the entire country was going through a period of anti-Communist and anti-Soviet hysteria." Anatoly Dobrynin, In Confidence (New York: Random House, 1995) p.25]
The FBI arrested the two, both members of the American Communist Party in the summer of 1950. It was less than a year since Kurchatov triggered the first Soviet A-bomb; less than three week after the United States joined in the Korean war, an effort to repel an invasion by the Communist North Koreans of the American allied South Korea. In what was termed "the spy trial of the century" the Rosenbergs were tried in New York found guilty of conspiring to commit espionage by passing atomic secrets to the Soviet Union. Both testified that they were innocent. Julius and Ethel swore that they were not Soviet spies; they refused to discuss their Communist beliefs. The judge sentenced them both to die in the electric chair. Judge Irving Kaufman fanned the anti-Communist, anti-Soviet mood in his sentencing statement. He blamed Julius and Ethel for the Korean War! ("I consider your crime worse than murder. Plain deliberate contemplated murder is dwarfed in magnitude by comparison with crime you have committed.... I believe your conduct in putting into the hands of the Russians the A-bomb years before our best scientists predicted Russia would perfect the bomb has already caused, in my opinion, the Communist aggression in Korea, with the resultant casualties exceeding 50,000 and who knows but that millions more of innocent people may pay the price of your treason.") As thousands marched across the world to protest the impending sentence, Federal officials offered to commute the sentence if the Rosenbergs would confess. They both refused. The U.S. Government electrocuted them in Sing Sing Prison on June 19, 1953 after President Dwight D. Eisenhower turned down a clemency appeal. Many, especially those on the left saw them as martyrs, victims of American insecurities and imperial ambitions.
We now know Julius lied. Julius was NOT innocent as he claimed at trial. He was a spy, it fact Julius (code-named first ATENNA, then LIBERAL) headed up a spy ring. But, he stole not atomic secrets but design secrets for radar, sonar, and electronics. Nothing in the newly revealed record confirms the evidence put forward at the sensational trial that proved that Julius committed treason in passing atomic secrets. Involvement in atomic spying played a peripheral role in Julius spying career. He knew a few of the Los Alamos minor spies, including his brother-in-law, David Greenglass, he may have even recruited them into the world of American communism, but he himself was NOT directly involved in steal the American secret of how to make a deadly chain reaction. In other words, the bumper sticker for Julius Rosenberg should read: Julius Rosenberg-Soviet spy YES; Atomic Spy? NO!!!
As a spy Julius had close ties to the Soviet embassy in New York and its intelligence operatives. The Rosenbergs both were believing Communists. The NKVD awarded cash bonuses to members of the Rosenberg ring. The Soviet agent who acted as Julius' controller, Aleksander Feklisov met "LIBERAL" (or "LIBI" as he affectionately referred to him reminiscing) more than 50 times between1943-1946. He received a Christmas present from Julius (even though the Rosenbergs were Jewish) and in return Feklisov bought Julius a stainless steel Omega watch, Ethel a purse and a toy for their son Michael (all purchased at Gimbel's). The Venona documents show that Ethel was not a Soviet spy. She did know what her husband was doing. The then ultra-secret Venona program did not receive as much as a whisper of mention at the trial. However, declassified documents now show that decrypted information reporting that Ethel was NOT involved in Soviet spy work was passed to the FBI before the mother of two young boys died for a crime the government knew she did not commit.
The Cold War atmosphere prompted another government's callous treatment of the Rosenbergs-the Soviet Union willingly let them be sacrificed. Julius and Ethel were less valuable to the Kremlin's cause than Lona and Morris Cohen. Stalin's agents put a priority on getting the Cohens out of New York ahead of the spycatchers. By 1950 the Rosenbergs were inactive, the Cohen's careers showed promise, as active agents (they went on to run a very successful operation as 'the Krogers' outside London) and as teachers who could instruct future illegals of how to speak and act like Americans. Once arrested, Moscow refused requests from some of their own intelligence operative that a statement be issued that Rosenbergs had spied as a way of encouraging them to admit to being Communist and spies, but not nuclear spies destined to die. Old KGB hands, like Feklisov say the Rosenbergs were abandoned by their Soviet spymasters. Just abandoned may have been cruel, but it was not necessarily deadly. Moscow's silence proved deadly. In the electric chair, their bodies performed a final service for the Communist cause. The decidedly anti-Communist French newspaper Le Monde understood: "A measure of clemency," it editorialized on page one, "would not have endangered American security. The execution will not frighten Communist fanatics, who consider they have a holy mission to perform. It will only give them an extra theme of propaganda to exploit." America's most respected broadcaster in those days, Edward R. Murrow put it more bluntly, "Most people familiar with Communist tactics of political warfare would probably agree that the Rosenbergs dead will be of more use to the Russians than they would alive. Dead they can be made a symbol; alive they might one day talk." Today, the only ones who can talk are retired spies, such as Feklisov, and agents who got away. One whose testimony is still awaited is Ethel's brother, David Greenglass, the man who fingered Julius and Ethe l in return for some kind of immunity. Greenglass who saved his own neck by helping to send his sister and brother-in-law to the electric chair is said to be living out his old age in New York under a witness protection program. ..America's own retired Pavlik Morozov.
© 1999 Abamedia, unless otherwise indicated.