Cindy Kelly: I’m Cindy Kelly. It is Monday, February 6, 2017. We’re in Santa Fe. I’m interviewing the historian John Earl Haynes. My first question is for you to say your full name and spell it.
John Earl Haynes: John Earl Haynes. Haynes is spelled H-A-Y-N-E-S.
Kelly: What was going on in the ‘30s and ‘40s with respect to the Soviet infiltration of the United States, and how they happened to fasten on the atomic project?
Haynes: Soviet espionage in the United States started—oh, there was some in the 1920s, but it was quite episodic. Because the Soviets did not have diplomatic relations with the United States, so there was no embassy or consulate they could operate out of. Soviet intelligence agencies, both their military intelligence arm, GRU, and the predecessor to the KGB, at that time it was the Cheka, occasionally sent an agent over for a special project. But that was just in and out, nothing of real significance. Most of their interest was in keeping tabs on anti-Soviet exiles. They didn’t really have that much interest in the United States as a target.
In the 1930s, however, things changed. We established diplomatic relations with the Soviets in 1933, and they established a very large consulate in New York and an embassy in Washington. As soon as those were established, both GRU, the military intelligence arm, and at this time—I’ll just call it the KGB, because they kept changing the name and the initials changed. It’s easier if you just use KGB, at least in my opinion. They established a very large station in New York, operating out of the consulate, and a smaller one operating out of the embassy in Washington.
Most of their interest was initially in industrial espionage, not in military espionage or political or governmental or military, but industrial espionage. The Soviet Union was undergoing a major attempt to industrialize. They felt very keenly that Soviet industry was technically very far behind the West. They wanted to leap forward by essentially stealing industrial secrets, so that they would not have to reinvent something that had already been developed in the West.
Over a period of years in the ‘30s, they developed a fairly robust industrial espionage apparatus. They also developed some sources in the U.S. government. They had some in the State Department, some in the Treasury Department, and some other agencies, though those really were not a particularly high priority.
However, with the coming of World War II, obviously, priorities changed. There was a shift towards military espionage. But even that was quite slow in 1939, ’40 and early ’41 because the Soviets felt, accurately, that while the United States was one of the world’s great industrial and technical powers, its military technology was frankly not as advanced as what you found in Germany and England, for example.
However, once we entered the war at the end of 1941, all of that changed, because American resources went into a very rapid military industrialization. Our technical talents and abilities in industrial and scientific areas were shifted over toward military ends. With that, military espionage became an extremely high priority to the Soviets.
Very early, atomic questions came to the fore. The Soviet Union’s first knowledge of atomic bomb projects probably came from England. They established sources in the British atomic program, which started more than a year before the American program, quite early.
One of their biggest sources was a man named John Cairncross. He was a secret member of the British [Communist] party, who had been a Soviet spy since the mid-1930s. In 1940, he was the personal secretary to Lord Hankey, a member of the British cabinet, who chaired a committee which supervised the British atomic program. Cairncross, as Hankey’s secretary, had access to all the reports that were coming to Hankey’s office, which he then passed on to the Soviets.
In late 1941, the New York KGB station sent to Moscow a report. It didn’t really quite know what to do with it, but of course, it reported it. Which was that a medical doctor in New York who was a communist had reported to them that a physicist he knew at Columbia University had mentioned to him—the source was not a Soviet spy, he was just some guy gossiping with his friend, the doctor.
This scientist at Columbia mentioned that Harold Urey, one of the leading scientists in the United States, a former Nobel Prize winner, was going to leave shortly for London with a small delegation of senior American scientists, to consult with British scientists over what the physicist at Columbia told the doctor, who told the KGB, was a project involving the development of an explosive of truly enormous power. Of course, the doctor didn’t know what that was about. The KGB office in New York didn’t have any idea what that was about, but it passed on the information to Moscow. By the way, Cairncross confirmed to Moscow that indeed Urey was coming, to meet with senior scientists of the British atomic program.
A few months later, the KGB station in New York received a message from Moscow saying that the British and the Americans and the Germans were rushing to develop an enormously powerful bomb, based upon the substance uranium, U-235, and that this should become a leading priority of the American station in its espionage efforts in the United States. That was the beginning of it.
It also laid out with orders to the American station the names of scientists that it had learned from Cairncross about the delegation that had come over. It mentioned a number of the leading names of American scientists involved with what became the Manhattan Project, and ordered the New York station to try to develop contact with them and see if any could be developed as agents.
Then proceeded several very frustrating years for the KGB, because of all the people that Moscow had initially named, they never successfully made contact with any of them. Attempts to contact them were either brushed off or ignored, or came to nothing in the end.
During this period, the KGB did develop more sources within the British atomic program. For a couple of years, the chief Moscow source, knowledge about the Manhattan Project came from Britain. Because FDR and Churchill had partially merged the two programs, and they exchanged information. The British eventually sent a very high-level delegation of their scientists to work in the United States, including at Los Alamos as well as other facilities.
For a couple of years, most of the successes of Soviet atomic espionage weren’t in the United States, it was in England. There were, however, a few, and let me mention them. Clarence Hiskey, who was a secret communist and a chemist, was working at the Manhattan Project facility at Columbia, initially for Harold Urey, working on gaseous diffusion. He had some contact with the KGB, and they for several years tried to develop him as a source. He kept brushing them off, which they didn’t understand, because he was known to them as a very ardent communist.
What they didn’t know was that the GRU had gotten to him first. In accordance with Moscow GRU’s instruction, he had brushed off any other contacts. This is not unusual in the intelligence world. The GRU and the KGB didn’t actually exchange that much information. KGB had no idea they were trying to recruit someone who had already been recruited by their sister and rival agency.
Hiskey, we’re not quite sure when he was recruited as source. Certainly he was by 1943. He worked initially, as I said, at Columbia. Then he was transferred to the Manhattan Project facility at the University of Chicago and worked there. However, the FBI had many of the scientists at Chicago under surveillance. They observed Hiskey meeting with Arthur Adams, which is the name this fellow used in the United States. He was a GRU officer, known to the FBI as a GRU officer. The FBI, of course, thought there was no particular benign reason for Hiskey to be meeting with a covert GRU officer. They informed Army security, which oversaw the Manhattan Project.
Army security reacted by—this is something that people often don’t understand about counterintelligence operations. Counterintelligence people are not really interested in arresting and prosecuting people. I mean, they do that, but they’re chiefly interested in trying to stop secrets from being lost. Their highest priority is not waiting until they have enough evidence for a criminal case. As soon as they have serious suspicions, they get rid of the person, so that if we’re losing secrets, this will stop it.
Hiskey, as an undergraduate at the University of Wisconsin, I believe, had actually gone through ROTC and had a reserve commission. The Army had not mobilized him when the war came, because he was working on the Manhattan Project and that had a higher priority.
Once the Army was informed by the FBI that he was meeting with a GRU officer, they changed their mind. His commission was activated. He became an American Army officer and was assigned to an Army station in rural Canada, where he stayed for the rest of the war. That eliminated that particular problem.
Now, another unsuccessful approach that happened in this period, 1943. Robert Oppenheimer in Berkeley had a number of graduate students who were communists. When he entered the Manhattan Project, he at some point called them together and urged them all to drop ties with the Communist Party, and stay away from him. Some of his graduate students took that advice. One of them, Joseph Weinberg, did not. Weinberg was working on the Manhattan Project, which was then in the early stages, at Berkeley.
He not only stayed in the party, but once he realized what he was working on, he went to see Steve Nelson, who was the chief Communist Party organizer for the Bay Area. He described what he was working on and handed over some notes, and said he wanted to assist the Soviet Union. Unfortunately for Joseph Weinberg, the FBI had bugged Steve Nelson’s house. With that, he was relieved of his duties with the Manhattan Project. Oppenheimer told him he would never be employed by the Manhattan Project. Instead, he taught Oppenheimer’s classes while Oppenheimer was in Los Alamos. That was another attempt to get into the project that failed.
Another 1943 attempt to get into the Manhattan Project that also failed was a physicist named Boris Podolsky. Podolsky was a very senior theoretical physicist. He was a co-author with [Albert] Einstein and [Nathan] Rosen of a very famous article in the early ‘30s on quantum mechanics. By the early 1940s, he had shifted his work to the University of Cincinnati, and he remained very active in theoretical physics. He went to the Soviet Embassy in Washington, asked for an appointment with the ambassador. Actually, the ambassador wasn’t there at the time. He talked to the assistant ambassador, who immediately called in the KGB officers to talk to the fellow. Podolsky handed over a memorandum on gaseous diffusion, and indicated that he wished to assist.
The KGB followed up on this with several meetings, but it didn’t work out well. Podolsky was not in the Manhattan Project, he just knew about it from colleagues of his. He’s a very senior physicist. He knew about it from colleagues, but he wasn’t interested in joining the project or providing information. He wanted the Soviets to arrange for him to go back to the Soviet Union—he had been born in Russia—and he wanted a position as a leading Soviet scientist.
The KGB’s attitude was, “We in Russia have plenty of very good theoretical physicists. What we want are people working on the practicalities of how you turn the theory into an actual working bomb. Unless you’re going to join the Manhattan Project, you’re not for us.” Podolsky wasn’t interested in practical, experimental physics, only in theoretical physics. So, that came to nothing.
The KGB continued to be frustrated, but the GRU didn’t. They had luck there. George Koval, who was American-born, but his parents were communists, as he was. In 1932 or 1933, I forget which, the family moved to Birobidzhan, which was an autonomous area that Stalin had set up in Siberia as a homeland for Jews. It was an awful place, but that’s another story. Koval, though, maybe because it was an awful place, got out as quickly as possible and went to Moscow, where he got an engineering degree from a Soviet technical school and was recruited by GRU as a spy. He’s a perfect one, from their point of view, to be an industrial spy in the United States. He was a native American, spoke native English, no problem.
He was sent back to the United States in the late ‘30s. He didn’t have a false identity. He just reacquired his real identity. He had to fill in some false stories to explain why he wasn’t in the United States from ’33 to ’38 or so. We don’t know very many of the details here, but it’s likely simply worked as an industrial spy for GRU during this period.
Then came World War II and Pearl Harbor and the draft. He was drafted. He was very technically proficient. Now, he didn’t have on the things he filled out for the Army that he had an engineering from Moscow. That was not talked about. But he scored very high on Army technical exams, and the Army developed people who had those kind of skills into special training programs.
The Army sent him for wartime emergency engineering training. I suspect it was all quite easy for him, because he had already studied it in Moscow. He did very well, and was assigned to the Special Engineering Detachment. This is just luck. He was assigned as one of the SED technicians to work with the Manhattan Project. Sheer luck.
He was eventually sent to work on radiation safety at Oak Ridge and then at a facility in Ohio, near Cincinnati, I think, to work on radiation safety. He became an active source for GRU all that time. He was at the Manhattan Project facilities until 1946, when he was demobilized. Eventually, the GRU decided that he was vulnerable in the United States, and they withdrew him sometime in the mid-‘40s to Moscow. It was only years later that the FBI had any idea that he had been a Soviet spy.
The KGB made numerous attempts to approach Robert Oppenheimer, really from 1941 on, and he brushed all the attempts off. What they didn’t know is the GRU has also been attempting to approach him.
GRU’s attempt was far more blatant. Eventually, for whatever his reasons—Oppenheimer was never very candid about this—Oppenheimer went to Army security and told them that he had been approached. One of his troubles was, he kept changing the story a bit as time went on. That’s one of the reasons why he would later lose his security clearance. When you tell three stories about the same thing, people start to wonder which story is true.
In any event, Oppenheimer did go to the Army security and say that a good friend of his, Haakon Chevalier, a French professor at Berkeley, had essentially urged him to meet with a communist engineer to arrange transfer of information to the Soviets about the Manhattan Project. Oppenheimer rejected the approach. There may be other approaches we don’t know about, but as far as we know, he brushed off all of them.
While the GRU had actually developed a few active sources in the American project—Hiskey, until he got sent to rural Canada, and Koval—but otherwise ’41, ’42, and ’43 were just barren years, as far as the KGB was concerned. Then, in ’44, finally, they started to have some success. It came very rapidly.
One of the first successes was the arrival of the British delegation. Klaus Fuchs, a senior physicist, a German exile and a secret member of the Communist Party. Fuchs, when he was recruited to work on the British program in 1943, had immediately then contacted, through the Communist Party, Soviet intelligence and was recruited as a source inside the British project.
In late ’43, the Brits transferred Fuchs to the United States. He was recruited by GRU in England, not by KGB. But when he was transferred to the United States, for reasons which we don’t know about, GRU transferred Fuchs to KGB control. Initially, Fuchs was working at Columbia University on the Manhattan Project there, on gaseous diffusion, among other things. In February, he met with a KGB agent, Harry Gold.
In the history of Soviet intelligence, there are all kinds of stories, including some that are amusing. This is one of them that’s amusing. The KGB was furious when GRU said, “Fuchs is going to the U.S. We’re turning him over to you.” They loved that part. “And here’s the meeting protocol.” Because when some agent winds up at some new place, he has to be approached by a new agent. How does he know he’s the right guy? You set up some kind of protocol, so each can recognize the other and be assured that the other person is who they’re supposed to be.
What the GRU had set up was that Fuchs was supposed to be at a certain address in New York City on certain dates, and be carrying a book in one hand and a tennis ball in the other. The KGB agent who was to approach him was to be wearing gloves, with a third glove in one of his hands. The KGB in its own internal communications said, “We can’t think of a dumber protocol for a meeting. We’re supposed to have a protocol that no one’s going to notice. Who’s going to be carrying a book and a tennis ball, and the other guy has three gloves?”
But it came off all right. Harry Gold and Klaus Fuchs met, and then Fuchs became a regular source on Manhattan Project research that was going on at Columbia. Then, difficulties did develop because the KGB was using Harry Gold, who was an American chemist, as their liaison agent with a number of sources in the industrial espionage. Well, he was quite overworked, and he had to miss a couple of contacts with Fuchs. He finally was able to make a couple, and Fuchs didn’t show up. They didn’t know where he was. What they didn’t know is that Fuchs had been transferred to Los Alamos, but there proceeded a number of months of lack of contact.
Fuchs didn’t know who to talk to at Los Alamos, and the KGB didn’t know where he was. Finally, they were able to reestablish contact when Fuchs visited his sister, who lived in New York, and they were able to reestablish contact. Harry Gold would make a number of trips to New Mexico to meet with Fuchs. Of course, Fuchs was a senior scientist working in the theoretical division on the plutonium bomb. He was a very high-placed and very useful source.
To go back a little bit, almost as soon as Fuchs was handed over by the GRU, the KGB got its first really active American source, an engineer named Russell McNutt in New York. Russell McNutt, who was from Kansas, his father was one of the founders of the Kansas Communist Party. Russell was a communist, like his dad. He went to engineering school in New York City, became a civil engineer, construction, that kind of thing.
During the time of his engineering education, he got to know Julius Rosenberg, who was also an engineering student, doing electrical engineering, not civil engineering. They were fellow engineer communists, young students, and they got to know each other.
Julius Rosenberg ran a very large industrial and scientific espionage network for the Soviets. He had been briefed by the KGB about the Manhattan Project and urged to find sources if he could. Rosenberg talked to McNutt and urged him to try to get a job with Kellex, who was one of the big contractors for facilities at Oak Ridge. He was hired, and was part of the Kellex design team for building many of the major facilities at Oak Ridge, including the massive K-25 facility, which worked mostly on gaseous diffusion, but other things as well.
For the most part, McNutt worked out of the Kellex design bureau, which was in New York City. But he made a number of trips to Oak Ridge as they were overseeing and dealing with problems that developed in the actual construction. KGB wanted him to move to Oak Ridge, because Kellex wanted him to move out there.
But he didn’t want to move. He had been investing in a summer resort in upstate New York. He had a family with children. Oak Ridge was a pretty barren place in those days. He didn’t want to risk losing his investment in this upstate resort, and he sure didn’t want to live in Oak Ridge. He just stayed at the design bureau in New York. The KGB was not happy about that, but nothing they could do about it.
Also in 1944, the KGB thought it was about to make a breakthrough at Berkeley. There was a chemist who was working on the Manhattan Project named Martin Kamen, who was also a friend of Ernest Lawrence, who was a senior figure in the Manhattan Project. Kamen wasn’t a communist, but he was very sympathetic. The KGB officers operating out of the Soviet consulate in San Francisco cultivated Kamen, and made an approach to him.
Unfortunately for Kamen, he was under the surveillance of both the FBI and Army counterintelligence at the same time. Neither knew that the other was also watching them. When Kamen met a guy named Grigory Kheifets, who was a Soviet diplomat, who was really a KGB officer, for lunch. Again, this is kind of one those comic things. The FBI and the Army counterintelligence surveillance teams tried to get through the door to the restaurant at the same time. They recognized each other, and realized they were both after the same meeting. One set went to one side of the room, the other set went to the other side of the room.
They saw that Kamen was meeting with this guy, and after that he was promptly fired from the Manhattan Project. Kamen was actually later asked to testify about this, and he did. He said he met with Kheifets. He thought he was a Soviet diplomat, and he just talked about some advances in nuclear medicine, nothing to do with the Manhattan Project. For all we know, that’s true. The Army weren’t going to take any chances, so he was out of the project.
In October, another source fell into the KGB’s lap. Theodore Hall was a young physicist. He graduated from Harvard at age eighteen—not entered Harvard, graduated at age 18. He was clearly a physics prodigy. His professors at Harvard recommended him to the Manhattan Project. The physicists there were familiar with it, even if it was secret, but they knew about it. Hall was recruited to go to Los Alamos, which he did. Once he was there—he didn’t know what the project was about until he got there. Once he was there—or in this case, once he was here—he realized what it was.
He was also a young communist. When he went back in the fall of 1944 to visit family on leave, he contacted Soviet intelligence. He had to go to a lot of trouble to find them, because you just can’t walk into the embassy and say, “Take me to your intelligence officer.” Eventually, he got through, and agreed to work for the Soviets. In a sense, he’s a walk-in, he’s volunteering his efforts. He agreed to furnish information from Los Alamos. His college roommate, who was also a communist, made the initial trip to Los Alamos to pick up information from him.
Hall was also part of the plutonium part of the project, so the Soviets had two sources there working on the plutonium bomb. Fuchs, a senior scientist, Hall, a junior scientist. And then another chance occurred that gave the Soviets a third source. Again, it goes back to Julius Rosenberg. He had actually recruited the first Soviet source on the Manhattan Project, Russell McNutt.
Julius had a brother-in-law, David Greenglass, his wife’s brother, who had had some technical training. He wasn’t that good at it, and dropped out of engineering school and became a machinist. Well, the war came, he was drafted. The Army personnel system, functioning properly in this case, assigned someone who had experience as a machinist to an engineering detachment as a machinist. There’s where the luck comes in. By sheer luck, this engineering detachment was sent to Los Alamos. David Greenglass winds up machining models of the trigger for the plutonium bomb, for the implosion lens that sets off the plutonium.
David Greenglass, like Julius, was a communist. He probably had some vague idea that his brother was involved with Soviet intelligence, but probably didn’t know any details. Anyway, he let his wife, Ruth, know he was involved with some big project in New Mexico. She told Ethel Rosenberg and Julius that David was working on this big secret project in New Mexico. Julius knew from the briefings he had gotten from the KGB that this must be the atomic project.
Julius couldn’t go to Los Alamos to meet with his brother, because he had already been identified to Army counterintelligence as a member of the Communist Party. He had gotten fired from one electronics firm job, which was working on military matters, because of his party membership. His showing up in Santa Fe would have been noticed and not have worked out well.
Ethel and Julius first had to recruit Ruth, David Greenglass’s wife, because she could go to New Mexico and meet with her husband without Army counterintelligence thinking, “There’s something unusual here.” They recruited Ruth. Ruth came to Santa Fe and met with her husband, and he agreed to work for the Soviets. When he got leave in late ’44 to go back to New York, then the recruitment was completed and Greenglass became a source at Los Alamos.
From the Soviet intelligence point of view, for the plutonium bomb, they had a perfect combination: senior scientist Fuchs, junior scientist Hall, practical machinist Greenglass. One of the problems in intelligence if you only have one source is: is this source actually providing accurate information? Is he exaggerating what he really knows? Possibly he could be a double agent feeding you false stuff. You want to have more than one source. Here they had three different sources from three different perspectives. It was ideal. That worked out extremely well for the Soviets.
One of the things to remember about Soviet atomic espionage, though, is: there are some areas of it we know very well, either from information that has come out from Soviet archives, or from American security investigations and trials, such as the trials of Greenglass and Julius Rosenberg, or in the case of Fuchs, of the trial in England when he was revealed. We know some elements of the story from decoded messages, cables between the KGB stations in the United States and Moscow, which were later decoded by American cryptographers in what was called the Venona Project. We know some things from documents that came out of KGB archives a few years ago.
But we know almost nothing about GRU operations, except for a couple of snippets—for instance, the story of George Koval. A lot of that, we’re not sure how much is reliable. Far less has leaked out of the GRU than has leaked out of the KGB. We do know from Venona messages that have been decrypted, there are cover names, which we have never been able to associate to a real name. We don’t know who they are, and we don’t know exactly what they did. There may be people we just know absolutely nothing about. But roughly, that is what we do know about Soviet atomic espionage in the United States on the Manhattan Project.
One of the things I might mention is one of the KGB’s, as one looks back on it, terrible mistakes. I mentioned Harry Gold, one of their chief liaisons with technical sources, because of his own background as a chemist. The KGB figured accurately that a liaison with their technical sources, who was himself a technical person, would allow a greater rapport than if they sent a poet or someone like that. Harry Gold was a very effective liaison for them.
But the KGB got overworked, and they were sending Gold to meet with Fuchs. I think it was the second—maybe it was the third, I can’t remember exactly—but it wasn’t his first trip out here, but his second or third to meet with Fuchs. At the last moment, the KGB ordered Gold that, “Well, as long as you’re going to meet with Fuchs, we want you to meet with another agent we have there,” which turned out to be Greenglass.
If you do your espionage work according to kind of theoretical parameters, you don’t have one liaison agent knowing two people who are working at the same place. It’s crossing wires that, there are risks there, and it’s better not to do it. The KGB apparently just didn’t have anybody else available to go meet with Greenglass at this time, so they thought they would have Gold take care of both of them, which he did.
He met with Fuchs, collected information from him, and then he met with Greenglass. Actually, he met with him in Albuquerque. Ruth had moved out to Albuquerque and gotten a job here and had an apartment, so that David could meet her on weekends. The Army was willing to give him weekend passes, so he would take the train down the Albuquerque, stay the weekend with his wife, and then go back to work. Gold met him at their apartment and picked up information from him and took it back to the KGB. Everything worked out fine in the short run.
In the long run, it was a disaster. Because in 1947, or maybe it was ’48, I can’t remember exactly anymore, as the American cryptographers—well, it was Army Signals Intelligence then, or they may have even changed their name to something different, but it’s what is now the National Security Agency. Its Venona project had started to decode a number of cables between Soviet intelligence stations in the U.S. and Moscow, and Fuchs shows up under his various cover names.
The FBI quickly established that it was Fuchs, because there were only so many senior scientists working on X, Y and Z who was first at Columbia and then at Los Alamos. That pulls down the number of possibilities really quick. They identified that source as Klaus Fuchs.
By this point, he’s back in England. At the end of the war, the joint American/British project was dissolved, and the British project on atomic energy and weaponry proceeded independently of the American one. Fuchs becomes a senior scientist in the British program, and continues to spy for the Soviets in England.
The FBI turns over to MI-5, British counterintelligence, the information on Fuchs from the Venona messages, because American intelligence and British intelligence have always had a very close relationship. American cryptographers and British cryptographers have also had a very close relationship. In fact, at a certain point, the NSA brought in British cryptographers from their program to assist in the Venona project. You can actually read it in some of the decryptions of the messages, because they’re decrypted and translated into British English rather than American English. You can see the distinction quite clearly as to whose translator was doing it.
MI-5 took the information, and decided to confront Fuchs and see if they could break him. One of their leading agents met with Fuchs and pressed him very hard. Fuchs initially denied everything, but after a couple of meetings, he broke and confessed. We now know he didn’t confess everything. He minimized certain areas. But nonetheless, it was a confession, particularly of his Manhattan Project stuff. He was less forthcoming on what he was still doing for the Soviets in England, perhaps because he thought that would encourage the British to be more harsh in their sentencing.
He did confess about his Manhattan Project work, and he didn’t know Harry Gold’s name. He knew him as the—I don’t remember exactly what name Harry Gold used when he met Fuchs. It might have just been “John,” something like that. I just don’t remember at this point. But he described him physically, and he described fairly accurately the dates when he met him. He described something of his liaison’s technical background.
Harry Gold had come to the FBI’s attention from other industrial espionage cases, and had actually interviewed him several times. Nothing to do with atomic espionage, but with some other areas. They never found enough evidence to try him or charge him with anything. He was on their list of, “This guy’s a Soviet espionage agent. We know he probably worked with this person, he probably worked with that person.” When Fuchs provided the information on his liaison, the FBI quickly decided, “This is probably Harry Gold.” They confronted him again with information about Fuchs. We’re now talking 1950.
Gold is by this point rather disillusioned about his Soviet loyalties. After denying things for a day or so, then he agreed the FBI could search his residence. They did and found—this is Harry Gold not being a good agent here—a map of Santa Fe. “What were you doing in Santa Fe?” Well, Gold couldn’t really find a good reason, and finally just broke and confessed. Among the things he confessed to, of course, was, “Not only did I meet with Fuchs, I met with this Army sergeant down in Albuquerque. I don’t really know his name, but, his apartment was at this address, and so forth.”
That didn’t take much work on the FBI’s part to establish that apartment had been rented by Ruth Greenglass, and her husband was an Army sergeant working at Los Alamos. The FBI then confronts Greenglass and, again, just took a day or two and he broke and confessed. He identified his recruiter as his brother-in-law, Julius Rosenberg.
Greenglass realized quite quickly—I mean, we’re talking about 1950 now, the Cold War was at its height. The Soviets have detonated their own atomic bomb years before we expected them to. Now that Fuchs had confessed, the popular view was—with some accuracy—that the Soviets had gotten the bomb much faster than they otherwise would have because of espionage.
We couldn’t take it out on Fuchs, because the British were trying him, but here’s David Greenglass. He actually was a spy at Los Alamos, and he’s confessed. Well, that didn’t look very good. The question just really was whether he was going to be executed or just get an extremely long prison sentence, and whether his wife was going to go to prison as well, because she had essentially been his recruiter. Which would mean they would be leaving their children abandoned if both of them went to prison, unless both of them fully cooperated, which they did. Which led to Julius and Ethel Rosenberg.
If the KGB had not made that mistake of having Harry Gold meet with two of their spies here, particularly not with David Greenglass, there never would have been a Rosenberg case. Then, the Rosenberg espionage apparatus would never have been exposed. That’s one story.
Just to follow up a bit on Oppenheimer: as I said, the KGB was approaching him really from 1941 on and getting brushed off. They kept trying all the way to 1945, and they just couldn’t believe they couldn’t get through. Moscow kept berating its American station with, “Why haven’t you gotten through?”
Finally, we had messages from the New York station back to Moscow that Weinberg was telling them, “It’s worthless to try to approach Oppenheimer. He’s no longer friendly to our cause. He’s not helpful. He has in fact become hostile to us.” They didn’t believe it until then, but finally they did believe it.
I guess one other point I would make is, sometimes I’ve been asked, “Was the atomic bomb that much of a secret?” The theory wasn’t, and the Soviets had plenty of theoretical physicists. They had a project underway. Theoretically, they knew as much as German and British scientists, and American scientists, about the theoretical possibilities of a bomb. What they gained from espionage is not the theory. What they gained from espionage was how to put it into practice.
The Manhattan Project was in many ways a massive engineering project. It explored all kinds of engineering ways of doing the things they did. For instance, with separating U-235 and U-238. Now, they worked with gaseous diffusion, they worked with centrifuges, they worked with several other techniques of how to do it. Each of those ways of doing it, some of them worked, some didn’t, some turned out to be massively expensive, others were cheaper. The same thing with the plutonium bomb about how to breed plutonium, or separate it, or create it in a cyclotron, or breed it in a reactor.
All the different ways you could possibly do it, we did it first. The Soviets learned from espionage what worked and what didn’t work. All of the blind alleys that we went down, they didn’t have to go down. They were able to carry out their project at only a fraction of the cost, and a fraction of the time, and a fraction of the manpower that ours had. If there had been no espionage, certainly, the Soviets would have developed a bomb in time. But because of espionage, they developed it much faster and much cheaper.
Particularly, the cheaper part’s extremely important from the Soviet point of view, because Stalin wanted to develop the bomb as quickly as possible after the war to catch up with the United States. But large parts of the Soviet Union were devastated by the war. Their ability to throw the massive technical manpower and engineering resources into the bomb project would have been an overwhelmingly expensive project, from the point of the view of Soviet resources. Espionage allowed them to do it at a fraction of that cost. It was still enormously expensive to the Soviet economy, but much more affordable than if they had had to it all by themselves.
Also, timing is important here, in terms of the tension and vigor of the Cold War. It’s one thing for the Soviet Union to have gotten the atomic bomb when Joseph Stalin is the head of the Soviet Union, and, another if they had gotten it under one of his successors. Stalin was for very good reasons a demonic figure, and for him to get the bomb was an extremely destabilizing aspect.
It also played a role in bringing about the Korean War, because of the timing. The North Korean regime had been requesting permission to attack South Korea for several years. Stalin had rejected the request, and North Koreans could not invade the South without massive Soviet military support. Stalin had said, “This is premature. We can’t do it at this time.
Finally, in 1950, he gave Kim Il-sung, the head of the communist regime in North Korea, permission to attack the South and began a massive military supply operation so that they could. Stalin, in his message to the North Koreans, giving them permission, cites three things that have changed his decision. One, he cites the success of the Chinese communists in taking over China in 1949. The second is that the Secretary of State of the United States in a speech which outlined American policies in the Pacific had not included South Korea in the areas that were under direct American protection.
The third thing he cited was the atomic bomb. “Now that the Soviet Union had the atomic bomb, we need not be concerned that Truman would respond to the North Korean attack by leveling North Korea with atomic bombs.” Because, remember, Truman had used the bomb twice. The possibility of him using it again is quite a realistic one. Stalin getting the bomb was a contributing factor to the Korean War.
Kelly: [General Leslie R.] Groves prided himself with his counterintelligence service that he put together. What were they looking at? How did they miss all of this?
Haynes: American counterintelligence for this period and specifically for the Manhattan Project, chiefly Army counterintelligence was in charge of that. It took the FBI a couple of years to figure out there was a Manhattan Project, because the Army wasn’t telling them about it.
Eventually, they figured out there was one and that it was something they should concern themselves with. They were not pleased that the Army was not keeping them fully informed about it. Which is why you had “Keystone cops” things, such as when Army counterintelligence and the FBI agents are running into each other at the door as they’re trying to surveil the same meeting between a Manhattan Project scientist and a Soviet diplomat.
Do keep in mind that, as I mentioned, there were counterintelligence successes such as Clarence Hiskey, who had been spying for the GRU for at least a year or more, was finally spotted by the FBI—not by the Army in this case, but by the FBI. Because they had been following the GRU officer and saw him meeting with someone, found out who that someone was, which was Clarence Hiskey working at the Manhattan Project facility at the University of Chicago. They informed the Army, and off he went to Canada.
Whether Martin Kamen would have ever spied for the Soviets after that meeting in San Francisco, we don’t know. But he was under surveillance, and as soon as he was seen meeting with a Soviet officer, he was out of the project. Joseph Weinberg offered to spy for the Soviets. The FBI overhead it, and he was out of the project. So, there are those successes.
Also, as far as we know, one of the chief objects of all of this security was actually not Soviet espionage. They were concerned about German espionage. After all, we were at war with Germany. Germany had an atomic program. Both we and the British were extremely concerned about how far it was along. We had visions that it was very far along. It was only after the war we found out they really hadn’t gotten very far at all. But we didn’t know that.
There was very legitimate concern that if any German agents were able to get into the project, they could very quickly speed up the German program and London would have the fate of Hiroshima. That fear was misplaced. In any case, we don’t know of any successful German penetrations. In a sense, that nothing happened is a kind of counterintelligence success.
Actually, the history of German espionage in World War II in the United States is a history of extremely inept operations. For instance, there was a German-American who went back to Germany at the end of the 1930s. German military intelligence recruited and trained him as a radio operator to be—they had a shortwave radio station through which their American agents would send messages back to Germany.
He was identified by the FBI almost as soon as he arrived back in the United States, turned into a double agent, and essentially everything German agents were providing to Germany went through his radio station. The FBI decided what could and couldn’t be sent. Of course, they identified the sources. German espionage in World War II in the United States was extremely unsuccessful. Now, from the point of view of counterintelligence, that’s a big success.
Soviet espionage was really not high on the radar of either Army counterintelligence or the FBI at this point, because they simply did not regard the Soviets as a principle enemy at this point. German espionage was their number one priority, followed then in a kind of a tie between Japanese and Italian. The Soviets were in fourth place.
It was only at the end of the war that the massive counterintelligence operation that the FBI had put together during the war was shifted from the German—principally the German, but also the Japanese and Italian targets. The whole thing was shifted toward the Soviet target, particularly when the FBI realized in 1945 that Soviet espionage—it had been aware of some going on, there’s no doubt about that. But it had not realized how extensive it had been. They had only seen little bits of it.
One of the KGB’s principal liaison agents, Elizabeth Bentley, defected in late 1945. She had been the liaison between KGB officers and quite literally scores of sources inside the American government. The reason for that is—to go back to the history of Soviet intelligence, in the 1930s, when the KGB was initially establishing its operations in the United States, it avoided using communists as sources. It believed, mistakenly, but it believed that the communists, the American Communist Party was probably infiltrated by the FBI. It wasn’t at that time.
Also, it believed-and this is certainly true—that if someone’s an active communist and they become a spy for us, if the FBI ever gets any hint, one of the first people they’re going to be looking at are communists. Better to get someone who’s not a communist as an agent than someone who’s a communist.
Until the early 1940s, the KGB would occasionally use communists for certain tasks, but they avoided recruiting them as sources. They had regular liaisons with the American Communist Party and the American Communist Party was happy to cooperate, particularly with providing false passports, which Soviet agents could use, and providing safe houses that is, the various communists would provide an apartment or a house, where Soviet agents could meet with a source. But they avoided using them as sources in their own right, unless something was really terrific. Then they might use it. But it was not something they liked to do.
The trouble was, in the late 1930s, Soviet espionage in the United States was devastated. It was ruined—not by anything American counterintelligence did. Stalin ruined it. This was part of his internal purges. Starting in 1937 but continuing early until 1940, the KGB—or back then they had different nomenclature, NKVD and other things—but the KGB was purged. A great many of its senior officers were arrested and shot, or sent to the Gulag. Most of its senior officers in the United States who had developed this fairly robust industrial espionage apparatus were recalled to the Soviet Union and shot.
It got to the point that in early 1941, there was only one experienced officer left. He had actually been about third or fourth in the hierarchy. He was now chief of the station, because there was nobody else left. All of his bosses had been recalled and shot. He had a few junior officers working for him. They had just arrived, and they barely spoke English.
The number two guy in the KGB station was actually part of the KGB’s, originally as part of their—the Soviets do things differently from us. The equivalent of the KGB of that era, it ran both internal Soviet security, which was a huge apparatus, external intelligence, and also border guard operations. The guy who was number two in the KGB station in 1941 was actually a border guard officer, who had been sent over to direct security at the 1939 World’s Fair. The Soviets had an exhibit there, and they had security, and he was sent over to manage that. Then they kept him on as number two in the KGB station, because there wasn’t anybody else.
He was a border guard knuckle-dragger. He wasn’t a trained foreign intelligence officer. One of his chief instructions were to convince his boss to go back to Moscow so that they could shoot him. Things were at a low ebb at this point. Then, luckily for the chief of station, the FBI intervened. The FBI arrested him. They had spotted him as an intelligence officer. He worked for Amtorg, that was his cover, the Soviet trading agency. They figured he wasn’t covered by diplomatic immunity, so they arrested him.
Moscow internally and reluctantly decided, “Well, if the FBI is going to try to try him as a spy, he’s probably not a traitor.” Then the Japanese attack, and we become Soviet allies. Even though he has been sitting in an American jail, we exchange him for some people in the Soviet Union, wives of Americans, who had returned to the Soviet Union. The Soviets wouldn’t let out the Russian wives. He went back to Moscow and had a nice career in the KGB.
That still left the American station with, as an acting chief of station, a border guard knuckle-dragger, and a few junior officers. The Soviets, now that we were in the war and Stalin establishes the United States as a major target because they’re allies. “We [the USSR] had big opportunities. They’re going to be one of the big industrial sources of military stuff for the whole Allied Forces, and they’re going to be a big deal after the war. So we need to have a robust espionage apparatus at work.”
The KGB at that point had a choice. They sent over a number of senior officers to get things going again. If they had done it the way they would like to do, they would start to develop some sources, bring in junior officers, train them, assimilate them to the American environment. In four or five years, they would have, again, a really good espionage operation.
This is 1942. The Germans are at the gates of Moscow. The Kremlin and Stalin aren’t going to put up with, “We’ll give you good intelligence in four or five years.” He wants information now. All right. How are you going to find a whole bunch of willing American sources really, really quickly? People who know other sources and so forth.
They decided to violate their previous policy. They turned wholesale to the American Communist Party. There were a number of party members who were mid-levels, a few high-level positions in the American government. As we discussed, a number of scientists who wound up and engineers wound up working in various military projects who were communists. To contact them, the KGB had to work through the Communist Party. The party furnished high-level officials who would work with them.
There was a guy named Jacob Golos, who has an assistant, Elizabeth Bentley. Golos was actually a Russian, but he had lived in the United States most of his life. He was a good liaison with the KGB, because they trusted a fellow Russian, who was a communist. Elizabeth Bentley was totally American, but she was Golos’ chief assistant, also his lover. Golos used Bentley as sort of his liaison with a number of these communists, whom he was familiar with and whom he had then brought into espionage through the Communist Party. Golos died of a heart attack, pretty natural causes, and Bentley took over as running all this apparatus.
We’re now into 1945. The KGB station has finally built up its own officer network of good, trained KGB officers who now spoke good English, knew American customs, could get along with Americans without scaring them or anything like that. They wanted to now professionalize things and eliminate amateurs like Elizabeth Bentley.
They were very grateful for what Golos had done and for Bentley for taking over the liaison and running the network that Golos had originally established, again, with scores of communists in the government and elsewhere. They were very grateful to her, but they wanted her out. She wasn’t Russian, and she was an amateur. Essentially, they thanked her and told her to go have a very long vacation, and they paid for it: “Thanks, Elizabeth, but you’re out.”
She didn’t take it well. Also, she started to develop a drinking problem. First, she was very angry about being shoved out, and she started to think the FBI was closing in on her. They weren’t, but the guilty flee when no man pursueth. She started to think the FBI was closing in, so she decided to strike first.
She went to the FBI and said, “Here I am,” and confessed to being a major Soviet spy. It took them about a month or so to figure out whether this was a loon, or a real Soviet spy. Eventually, they decided, after they did some checking, that her story made sense and they started to follow up on it.
[J. Edgar] Hoover and FBI realized they had missed Soviet espionage that included dozens of American government officials, which was a bit of an embarrassment. It’s one of the reasons why the FBI, when the war was over, changed its focus on the Soviet target.