Russia’s Atomic Espionage: A New Revelation

In contrast to what Russian commentators imagine, the subject of Soviet spying to obtain the secrets of the atom bomb has never been ignored in the United States; nor, indeed, in Britain, where the role of Klaus Fuchs showed the intimate interconnexion between Soviet espionage cells on both sides of the Atlantic. After all, it was in Britain and from a member of the notorious Cambridge Five, John Cairncross, that Moscow learned of the start of the atomic bomb project; later shipped over to the United States for safety reasons to escape German bombardment.

The list of books published on the subject since the end of the 20th Century alone is impressive, as is the fierce sectarian debate stirred up by the notion that members of the American Communist Party chose to spy for the Russians and thereby jeopardise the security of their own country. The story of the Rosenbergs, Julius and Ethel, have always held centre stage as they were both sent to the electric chair; and the arguments about the degree of Ethel’s complicity is still the subject of polemic, particularly on the left.

The most recent historiography has centred on how they were found out, both through cipher breaking by Meredith Gardner and FBI investigations by Robert Lamphere. The focus has been on the former rather than the latter. Meanwhile historians connected to Russian foreign intelligence have highlighted members of their own team operating as illegals in the United States from the late 1930s, particularly those engaged in scientific intelligence. Much of this was used by me in Near and Distant Neighbours.

But an article which appeared in Vzglyad ru the day before yesterday shines a light on something of great interest. How was it that the Americans were able to round up all the networks, even though they were carefully kept separate from one another? The strict compartmentalisation of espionage cells was a very sensible rule: if one were caught, the others knew that they were safe. But in the heated atmosphere of 1945, when Stalin realised that the atomic bomb was not merely a weapon to wipe out Japanese resistance to end the Pacific War but was also seen as a means of adjusting the postwar balance of power to US advantage, in extremis rules got broken.

When a member of the Rosenberg ring, David Greenglass (Ethel’s brother), notified Moscow that he had obtained details of the security precautions at Los Alamos, where he had been working on the atomic project for a year, a Soviet courier failed to make the meeting for the pick-up. With Moscow’s sanction, and possibly even at Stalin’s insistence, Leonid Kvasnikov, the brains behind the entire spying operation, urgently sent Harry Gold instead to collect this crucial information. Gold had hitherto no connexion with, nor knowledge of, the Rosenberg ring. Thereafter he was in a position to identify Greenglass and therefore lead the authorities to the rest of the ring. It was this key error in tradecraft, now acknowledged by Moscow but obviously uncovered in the operational postmortum, that eventually enabled the Americans to round up the entire chain.

Укравших ядерные секреты Америки выдала лишь случайность

Супруги Розенберг во время суда45  6 марта 2021, 14:00
Фото: Global Look Press
Текст: Евгений Крутиков