Rosenberg's network of atomic spies revealed

Autor: Karel Pacner 🕔︎︎ 👁︎ 25.057

Alexander Vasilyev, a journalist and former member of the KGB, published other hitherto unknown names of Soviet spies.

During World War II, the Soviet secret services recruited selected American and British communists to obtain secret political, economic and scientific information for them. Between 1945 and 1953, some of these spies were discovered by the US FBI and the British MI 5. However, some remained unknown - counterintelligence knew their pseudonyms, but did not know who to install for them, or did not have strong evidence to blame the suspects.


Only now did we find out who the Soviets had gained in their networks. John Early Haynes and Harvey Klehr records written by Alexander Vasilyev book Spies - The Rise and Fall of the KGB in America (Spies - The Rise and Fall of the KGB in America).

Alexander Vasilyev, a journalist and former member of the KGB who graduated from the Faculty of Journalism in Moscow, also completed two years of espionage training. However, after the collapse of the USSR, he returned to journalism. At that time, Yuri Kobaladze, head of the KGB's press department, offered him to process certain sections of the intelligence service under an agreement with the American publishing house Random.

Vasilyev had unrestricted access to the archive. However, the information he wanted to publish had to go through a complex declassification process. Based on this, a book on Soviet espionage in the USA, The Haunted Wood, was written, the English version of which was written by Allen Weinstein.

However, Vasilyev realized that many times he came across such data, which he doubted would be declassified. That's why he secretly copied and transcribed them into his laptop. After two years of searching the archives for all the most important information, he left with his family for London - he was afraid that the situation in Russia was leading to an unpleasant change. He sent a laptop with 1,115 pages of data out "in a safe way " - apparently with the help of a friendly Western diplomat. In Britain, he established contact with two American historians of modern history and with them prepared the most open book on the activities of the KGB-NKVD in the USA.

March 1941: 221 agents

During the war, American counterintelligence recorded all telegrams exchanged between the Soviet embassies and trade offices in the West and Moscow. They were encrypted. In 1944, when work on solving German and Japanese codes was completed, American cryptanalysts launched these Soviet traps. They could rely on the NKVD secret service encryption book that the Finns found on the battlefield during the Finnish-Soviet war. Igor Guzenko, a former lieutenant in the GRU's military secret service, became a second aide.

Guzenko during his appearance on television in 1966


This decryption took place under various pseudonyms, most recently as " Venona " - and went down in history under this designation. Some revelations of " Venona " occasionally leaked to the press, but the Americans did not declassify a complete overview of all the work until 1995, after the end of the Cold War. The decipherment of 3,000 telegrams showed how deeply these agents had infiltrated US government offices, secret services, militarily important laboratories and businesses.

Some Soviet spies betrayed FBI secret police Elisabeth Bentley, the mistress of Jacob Golos, a member of the US Communist Party's Central Committee, who acted as a spy link.After Golos' death, at the end of 1945, Bentley reported herself and testified.

Between 1942 and 1949, Soviet agents from England and the United States sent 300 reports of atomic weapons to the Manhattan Project to Moscow, primarily in the Los Alamos laboratories, the Oak Ridge and Hanford factories, as well as the University of Chicago and the some workplaces in Canada.

Nevertheless, many Soviet spies remained untouched. The FBI has exposed " half, perhaps less than half " of my network in the United States, KGB colonel Anatoly Jackov told the Washington Post in 1992. Jackov, as vice-consul Yakovlev- " Alexei " directed Julius Rosenberg and other agents in New York.

According to Vasily Mitrochin, the former head of the KGB's intelligence archive, who fled to London, in March 1941, the Soviet intelligence network in the United States already had 221 members, 41 of whom were technically oriented. Vasilyev estimated their number at more than 500 - partly communists, others left-wing, so they all worked for ideological reasons.

Vasilyev confirmed and clarified the importance of this agency for Soviet scientists, while also bringing some new names. So now it seems that we know the whole network of scientific and technical espionage, which was mostly created and managed by Rosenberg.

Julius and Ethel Rosenberg in an archival film from 1951 during their trial

"Aleca," Guzenko revealed

Guzenko handed over 109 documents to members of the Canadian secret service, in which they discovered traces of several Soviet spies. One telegram specified an appointment with an agent under the pseudonym " Alec ." It was so clear that they immediately knew who it was - the British physicist Dr. Allana Nunn Maye.

Alan Nunn May


This experimental physicist began working on an atomic project in April 1942 at Cavendish's laboratory in Cambridge. He arrived in Canada in January of the following year to join Professor John Cockroft's British-Canadian team.

He was more concerned with a wider range of nuclear research than with the bomb itself. However, he knew little about the methods by which it was designed, knew the production of plutonium and heavy water in the Chalk River, and also worked in the Montreal laboratory. From September 25 to October 30, 1944, he participated with the Americans in the Argon Laboratory in Chicago in a top-secret work, the details of which were not published to the United States until 1960.

The British physicist was recruited by the Soviet illegality of Czech-Hungarian origin Jan Petrovič Čerňak. This spy, born in April 1906 in Chernivtsi, Romania, studied mechanical engineering in Prague and Berlin. Nunn May- " Alec " found it difficult that British and American politicians did not want to transfer their knowledge to Moscow. Therefore, he agreed to this illegal cooperation. He handed over 130 sheets of documentation to his commanding officer in Britain - the first part could be studied by the chief designer of the Soviet bomb, Igor Kurčatov, in October 1942.

When Nunn May left for Montreal to continue working on the bomb, Čerňak followed. There he gave him all the copies of the objects associated with the development of the atomic bomb, reports on uranium processing methods, plutonium recovery and nuclear reactor operation, even samples of uranium 235 and uranium 233. And after the test explosion of the atomic bomb on July 28, he added details.

In the autumn of 1945, the scientist worked again in British laboratories.He was sentenced to ten years in prison after his arrest in London.

First shot: Klaus Fuchs

In August 1949, cryptanalyst Meredith Gardner, who deciphered Soviet telegrams, came to the conclusion: The Russians were gaining information at the end of the war, both directly from Los Alamos and from Washington. The mention that the source " Rest " is a " member of the island mission " means that it is British. And then there is the source directly at the British Embassy.

In early September, FBI members identified two of the most suspicious scientists: Professor Rudolf Peierls and his assistant, Dr. Klause Fuchse . Peter Dwyer, a member of the British intelligence service MI 6, cooperated with the Americans. By brilliantly analyzing their movements, he irrevocably ruled out Peierls' suspicions. Fuchs remained, but they had no evidence against him.

Fuchs now worked at the Atomic Center in Harwell, south of Oxford, as deputy director. They could not arrest him, they only had deciphered telegrams against him. And " Venona " had to stay secret. There was no choice but to obtain other evidence against him.

Eventually, the British counterintelligence MI 5 decided to interrogate Fuchs. He is depressed, he may confess. His case was handled by an experienced investigator, William James Skardon.

Skardon drove to Harwell in late December 1949. Fuchs spoke to him openly - about his sister in the USA, about his brother in Switzerland. However, when he asked him if he had cooperated with the Soviets, he came across - Fuchs refused. Although Skardon told him he had evidence of his espionage activities. It was not until his third visit on January 13, 1950, that he confessed. He worked for the Russians since 1942, the last time he met with his clutch at the beginning of last year. He gave them everything he knew about the atomic bomb.

It sounds unbelievable, but the policeman who had just confessed to one of the most important atomic spies could not make an arresting formula immediately. By law, he still had to leave him free.

Police photography by physicist Klaus Fuchs. In 1933, Fuchs fled from Germany to Britain. During the war, he worked on the Manhattan Project in the United States and later on British nuclear projects. In 1950, he confessed to spying for the Soviets since 1942 and passing on details of British and American nuclear technology
The National Archives UK,

Fuchs was invited to London for another interrogation in two weeks, on Friday 27 January. The physicist there signed his previous statement there. And he could return to Harwell again. It wasn't until Monday, January 30, that he explained to Perrin what he had revealed.

The trial in London with Klaus Fuchs lasted one day - March 1, 1950. He was sentenced to 14 years in prison. He was accused of passing secret information to foreign powers in 1943-1947. British counterintelligence could not prove his espionage activity before leaving for the USA.

Network unraveling

So the British and American secret services found the beginning of a thread they could follow. Fuchs talked about a young American going to Santa Fe for the materials near the laboratories in Los Alamos, where he worked during the war - he called himself " Raymond ." The FBI suspected three communists. When the Fuchs showed their pictures, he recognized Harry Gold.

Police arrested Gold. He had denied for a week that he knew Fuchs, whose picture he had seen in the newspaper. He confessed on Monday, May 22, 1950. And he revealed that he was making a connection to another man who introduced himself as " John ". He got some information from him about the atomic bomb and paid him $ 500 for it. In New York, he handed the envelope to a Soviet resident who worked for Amtorg.

Harry Gold

The investigator was very interested in this "John"." He was a soldier, a non-commissioned officer, married, childless, " Gold recalled. " The man came from Brooklyn and the Bronx in New York, he mentioned it and the accent also betrayed him. He was to go home on vacation early. We never saw each other again. "

The FBI has identified several soldiers who served in Los Alamos. From the pictures presented to Gold, he pointed to David Greenglass.

At the FBI station, Greenglass immediately spoke on Thursday, June 15, 1950. At the request of his brother-in-law, Julius Rosenberg, he obtained some secret information from Los Alamos and sent it to him through Harry Gold. They were intended for the Russians.

David Greenglass, a spy who sent his sister to an electric chair

Although Rosenberg warned Greenglasse a month ago after Gold's arrest and tried to get him to disappear in Mexico, the young man refused. His wife Ruth was expecting a baby. But after his birth, Ruth opposed the escape.

The names "Liberal " and " Antena " often appeared in Soviet telegrams. Detectives suspected engineer Rosenberg. This was also indicated by the mention that his wife Ethel was cooperating with him. After all, he was betrayed by Greenglass on Thursday evening - " Bamblebee " ( Bumblebee ).

The next morning after Greenglass's arrest, undercover officers came to the Rosenbergs. It was part of the knocking - they knew more from the deciphered telegrams than they suggested. What if he gives up? Rosenberg denied everything - he befriended his brother-in-law, but he didn't want any spy information from him.

On Saturday morning, the Rosenbergs and their children went to have their pictures taken - they needed pictures for a passport. They wanted to flee to Mexico, from where the Soviets would secure their way to safety. The FBI was watching them. Rosenberg was arrested that evening. Later, his wife.

The Rosenbergs did not confess to spying for the Soviets. At the same time, the FBI found that " Antena " or " Liberal ", as the pseudonyms of electrical engineer Rosenberg, said, had set up a spy network that had contacts with scientists and engineers in Cleveland, Ohio and four cities in of New York State. He also got several classmates from college: Joel Barr - " Retra ", later " Meter " and " Scout ", Max Elitcher - " Max ", William Perla - "Gnomes", later " Jakov ", Alfred Sarant - " Hughes ", Morton Sobell- " Reley " and finally " Serba ". Michael Sidorowich- " Lens ", who provided Rosenberg with courier communications, brought them reports and documents mainly on electrical engineering, aircraft, radars and missiles.

" He and his five agents-radio engineers who worked for electronic companies were constantly transferring the latest secret technologies from the American military industry to Moscow, " Sergei Chernoprudov wrote on the Russian agency's website. His commanding officer, Alexei Feklisov, recalled that he had been recruited in 1942.

Some of his collaborators disappeared in time across Mexico behind the Iron Curtain, such as Barr and Sarant. Another FBI arrested. She found no evidence against some.

Greenglass was sentenced to 15 years in prison, Gold and Sobell after 30 years. The Rosenbergs were executed in an electric chair on June 19, 1953. Until the last moment, they had the opportunity to confess, they had not done so.Vasilyev confirmed that Ethel Rosenberg was actively involved in espionage - some observers have questioned so far.

Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, separated by a strong wire screen, leave the U.S. courthouse after the jury found them guilty.
Roger Higgins,

Mysterious Pontecorvo

In the search for nuclear spies, US, UK and Canadian counterintelligence agents screened a number of scientists. Dr. also came under suspicion. Bruno Pontecorvo, a physicist of Italian descent who was involved in the development of the bomb in Canada. They found documents about his communist thinking and that both his wife and all his siblings professed communism.

Pontecorvo also worked at Harwell. In the spring of 1950, he felt he had come under suspicion. At the end of July, he went on holiday to his native Italy with his whole family. He never returned home.

When the Western European secret services began looking for him at the end of September, they found that they had all flown to Helsinki. And there their trail disappeared - they probably boarded a Soviet cargo ship moored in the local port. It wasn't until five years later that Pontecorvo emerged - announcing that he had applied for asylum in the Soviet Union. He remained in his field, continued to excel as a physicist, received a state award and was elected an academic.

Scientist, spy, genius: Who was Bruno Pontecorvo?

It was later revealed that he offered his services to a military attaché of the Soviet embassy in Ottawa in 1943. However, it is not clear what he knew and what he revealed. However, he denied cooperation with the Soviet spy until his death.

Pre-death confession

Some Soviet traps are also mentioned by the spies who had the code name "Youth" (Young). The FBI suggested that he might be a brilliant student, Theodor Hall, who was offered a position in Los Alamos by Chief of Staff Robert Oppenheimer in January 1944: " I need you on a team investigating the plutonium implosion. "

At the end of October 1944, a 20-year-old Saville Savoy Sax student in New York sought out journalist Sergei Kurnakov, who wrote for the communist daily Daily Worker. He hit exactly - Kurnakov - " Beck " was an NKGB officer. " I have a friend who works on an atomic bomb in Los Alamos and wants to work with you, " he offered. " Here I brought you a sample of the studies there. "It was a strategic figure from the first laboratory experiments - how much uranium is the so-called critical amount, or how much must be put together for the bomb to explode.

When Rosenberg verified that both young men were members of the League of Young Communists, they accepted them. In the fall of 1949, after the explosion of the first Soviet atomic bomb, Hall decided to end the espionage. " I'm done! You have a bomb! "

According to Russian journalist Nikolai Dolgopolov, "the information passed to Hall allowed the Soviet Union to skip a long and torturous period of American experimental production and quickly move to the production of an atomic bomb in factories ."

In 1962, Hall moved from the United States to Cambridge, UK, where he worked as a biophysicist. Throughout his life, he refused to talk about his activities in Los Alamos. Only shortly before his death did he report that he was a Soviet spy hidden under the name " Mlad ". Two mA even gave the Americans information that enabled them to write a book about him Bombshell (shells).He died in 1998.

"Perseus" - another friend of Rosenberg

The pseudonym "Fogel" and later " Perseus " ( Persian ) appeared in Soviet telegrams. The spy reported to Moscow on the construction of a key uranium processing plant in Oak Ridge. American counterintelligence knew this expert. This was confirmed to me in 1996 by Herbert Rommerstein, an employee of the National Security Agency and then secretary of the House Intelligence Committee: " I believe we know who we are, but we have no clear evidence of him. It would therefore not be right for us to divulge his name. "

Only Alexander Vasilyev published his real name. Rosenberg got another friend to spy on - engineer Russell McNutt. McNutt worked for Kellog in New York, which operates a factory in Oak Ridge. His father, Ernest, was a left-wing Kansas journalist who befriended Communist Party leader Earl Browder. With this revelation, Vasilyev cleansed the well-known theoretical physicist Philip Morrison, whom even his closest friends suspected of hiding under the code name " Perseus ."

McNutt had no connection to the Soviet residency, he met directly with Consul Yakovlev-Jackov - so no one could betray him. They first met on March 11, 1945 and then practically every two weeks. McNutt had the opportunity to move to Oak Ridge, which Moscow would welcome, but he refused. His wife was seriously ill and her condition did not improve. In addition, he persuaded a married couple of physicists from the Hanford nuclear factory to spy.

After the war, Rosenberg helped McNutt financially to establish his company, no doubt from the Soviet treasury. However, the plan failed and McNutt went to Caracas in 1947, where he got a job at Gulf Oil.

The FBI also noticed McNutt after Rosenberg's arrest, but found nothing suspicious of him except sympathy for communism. The engineer continued his career, becoming chief engineer and then vice president of one company. He died in February 2008 in North Carolina.

Over 175 spies not identified

Another hitherto unknown source was " Eric " - Engelbert Broda, a physicist from Austria. He belonged to the French group Hans Halban, which studied heavy water and reactor development in Great Britain and then in Canada. In 1947 he returned to Austria and became a professor of physical chemistry at the University of Vienna.

Boris Podolsky, who emigrated in 1911 at the age of fifteen, offered his services to Moscow in 1942. According to the dispatch, an officer met him directly at the New York consulate on June 14, 1943. They gave him the code name " Quantum ". The next day, the residency broadcast a procedure for the separation of uranium isotopes by gas diffusion. He received $ 300 for this information. But it was one of the possible ways. He was not invited to the Manhattan Project, so he could not provide any further information. The Soviets persuaded him to return to Russia, but he was not interested.

Alfred Dean Slack, a chemical engineer, a Soviet agent who recruited a number of new spies in the 1930s, worked at Oak Ridge. He sent information through Gold, receiving $ 200 for each message. However, when Holston in Kingsport, Tennessee offered him a job in the fall of 1944, he disconnected - he said no reason.

Gold also betrayed his FBI members. However, the information he passed on to him in 1940-1944 had nothing to do with the atomic bomb. However, he was convicted of other collaborations, so the court sent him to prison in September 1950 for 15 years.

Vasilyev also recalled a number of nuclear spies who the American and British counterintelligence managed to find and convict. However, in the United States alone, more than 175 names remain unidentified.

Oppenheimer's full apology

Since the late 1940s, some conservatives have attacked Robert Oppenheimer , the head of the Manhattan Project, as a Soviet spy.William Border, director of the Congressional Joint Atomic Energy Committee, wrote to FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover in 1953 that, according to all the secret reports at his disposal, Oppenheimer could not be a spy. It took another ten years for President John Kennedy to rehabilitate him.

Julius Robert Oppenheimer

Oppenheimer attended late-party intellectuals in California in the late 1930s who could be considered Communist Party meetings. His wife was originally a staunch communist. However, they both sobered up from this seduction. Vasilyev discussed in detail how NKVD and GRU agents tried to approach him in order to persuade him to cooperate - no Russian or their agent spoke to him. Even his brother Frank Oppenheimer, also a physicist, did not win. They also sought in vain for Enrico Fermi, an Italian physicist who launched the first nuclear reactor in Chicago in 1942 and later worked in Los Alamos.

However, NKVD General Pavel Sudoplatov , who dictated his memories to American journalists in the early 1990s, claimed the exact opposite: All these scientists worked for us! Sudoplatov needed his book to sell well in the West, so he deliberately lied. According to Vasilyev and other people who had the opportunity to look into the archives of Soviet intelligence, this is not true.

After all, the data provided to them by previous spies in the USA and Great Britain were enough for Soviet scientists. Vasilyev estimated that the KGB archive hides 10,000 pages of professional studies and technical documentation.

Published in abbreviation in the weekly Reflex 13 August 2009

With the permission of the author taken from

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