Monday, January 5, 2009

George Koval...Soviet spy

George Koval
December 25th, 1913 to January 31st, 2006

I wonder how many moles we had infiltrating the Soviet science programs?

"New Evidence of a Soviet Spy in the U.S. Nuclear Program"


Justin Ewers

January 2nd, 2009

In a new book, two former nuclear weapons scientists make the case that Soviet spies didn't just steal atomic secrets from the Manhattan Project in the 1940s—something historians have known for years—but say a previously unknown spy also helped the Soviets design their first hydrogen bomb. The Soviet Union detonated its first thermonuclear bomb in 1955, only a year after the first American H-bomb was tested, ending the period of nuclear supremacy the U.S. military enjoyed after World War II.

A giant column of smoke rises more than 60,000 feet into the air, after the second atomic bomb ever used in warfare explodes over the Japanese port town of Nagasaki, on August 9, 1945.

In The Nuclear Express: A Political History of the Bomb and Its Proliferation, published this month, Danny Stillman and Thomas Reed, two longtime veterans of the U.S. nuclear weapons program, do not provide the name of the spy they say took hydrogen bomb secrets out of the Los Alamos, N.M., weapons lab. But they do offer some of his biography, saying he was born in the United States, raised abroad, came under the sway of the Communist Party in the 1930s, and took a job at Los Alamos during World War II.

Stillman and Reed say in the book that they have refused to reveal the name of the suspected spy, who is now dead, because he "can neither defend his family name nor refute our arguments." They say his name doesn't really matter, anyway: "His fingerprints are what count."

Stillman, a physicist who worked at Los Alamos from 1965 until 2000, says he tried to make a case against the scientist in the 1990s, going to the FBI after he noticed the man's apparent wealth. The local Santa Fe office bungled the investigation, the authors say, and the inquiry was "botched beyond recognition." The FBI eventually became distracted by the modern-day spy scandal surrounding Wen Ho Lee, another scientist working at Los Alamos, and stopped pursuing the case, the authors say.

As the Cold War faded into memory, the authors say they began to get their first real confirmation that the Soviet H-bomb effort had help from someone inside the American nuclear program. In particular, they say Russian scientists told them at a meeting in the late 1990s that the Soviet bomb designer, Andrei Sakharov, had privately refused to take full credit for the hydrogen bomb. The Russians hinted that Sakharov knew he'd gotten a boost from someone in the American program.

Former Soviet weapons experts have also said they were given a copy of an early design drawing of a "radiation implosion," the technology used in hydrogen bombs, that appeared to have been sketched in the early 1950s by an American H-bomb designer. The document was apparently stolen or copied and found its way to the Soviets. Stillman and Reed say there is only one way this kind of information could have ended up in Soviet hands: a spy.

Most historians seem to be leery of Stillman's and Reed's conclusions, barring more hard evidence. But they say the notion of a Soviet spy inside the early American atomic program isn't so far-fetched. There is little doubt, in fact, that the Soviets' first nuclear weapon—a plutonium bomb like the one dropped on Nagasaki, Japan—was the result of espionage. "We know now that their first design was a carbon-copy of the 'Fat-Man,' " Robert Norris, a researcher at the Natural Resources Defense Council and the author of Racing for the Bomb: General Leslie Groves, the Manhattan Project's Indispensable Man, said in an interview earlier this year.

Nearly a dozen Soviet spies—including Julius and Ethel Rosenberg and Klaus Fuchs—were executed or imprisoned after World War II for passing atomic secrets to the Soviets, including information about the plutonium bomb and the early work on the hydrogen bomb. Last year, Vladimir Putin, then Russia's president, shocked American historians and government officials alike when he announced that an undetected spy, George Koval, had also penetrated the Manhattan Project.

Putin said Koval, an Iowa-born son of Russian Jewish immigrants, had provided the Soviets with information about American atomic production levels while working at nuclear facilities in Oak Ridge, Tenn., and Dayton, Ohio. Koval moved back to Russia in the 1950s and died in 2006. He was posthumously awarded the Hero of Russia medal.

There was widespread paranoia in the United States throughout the 1950s about the possibility of Soviet espionage, and these new revelations certainly seem to indicate that not all of it was unjustified. There is little doubt, of course, that the Red Scare—with the prodding of Sen. Joseph McCarthy—cast its net too wide in its frantic attempts to find communist sympathizers. No atomic bomb secrets leaked from blacklisted movie stars, after all. There is also no evidence that Robert Oppenheimer, the director of the Manhattan Project, ever provided assistance to the Soviets, though he was controversially stripped of his security clearance while overseeing the development of the hydrogen bomb.

If Stillman and Reed are right, though, there were some who did aid the Soviets. And it may have taken only one man in the right place to help them build their bomb.

The Nuclear Express: A Political History of the Bomb and Its Proliferation


Thomas C. Reed

ISBN-10: 0760335028
ISBN-13: 978-0760335024

"A Spy’s Path: Iowa to A-Bomb to Kremlin Honor"


William Broad

November 12th, 2007

The New York Times

He had all-American cover: born in Iowa, college in Manhattan, Army buddies with whom he played baseball.

George Koval also had a secret. During World War II, he was a top Soviet spy, code named Delmar and trained by Stalin's ruthless bureau of military intelligence.

Atomic spies are old stuff. But historians say Dr. Koval, who died in his 90s last year in Moscow and whose name is just coming to light publicly, was probably one of the most important spies of the 20th century.

On Nov. 2, the Kremlin startled Western scholars by announcing that President Vladimir V. Putin had posthumously given the highest Russian award to a Soviet agent who penetrated the Manhattan Project to build the atom bomb.

The announcement hailed Dr. Koval as "the only Soviet intelligence officer" to infiltrate the project's secret plants, saying his work "helped speed up considerably the time it took for the Soviet Union to develop an atomic bomb of its own."

Since then, historians, scientists, federal officials and old friends have raced to tell Dr. Koval's story — the athlete, the guy everyone liked, the genius at technical studies. American intelligence agencies have known of his betrayal at least since the early 1950s, when investigators interviewed his fellow scientists and swore them to secrecy.

The spy's success hinged on an unusual family history of migration from Russia to Iowa and back. That gave him a strong commitment to Communism, a relaxed familiarity with American mores and no foreign accent.

"He was very friendly, compassionate and very smart," said Arnold Kramish, a retired physicist who studied with Dr. Koval at City College and later worked with him on the bomb project. "He never did homework."

Stewart D. Bloom, a senior physicist at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California, who also studied with Dr. Koval, called him a regular guy.

"He played baseball and played it well," usually as shortstop, Dr. Bloom recalled. "He didn’t have a Russian accent. He spoke fluent English, American English. His credentials were perfect."

Once, Dr. Bloom added, "I saw him staring off in the distance and thinking about something else. Now I think I know what it was."

Over the years, scholars and federal agents have identified a half-dozen individuals who spied on the bomb project for the Soviets, especially at Los Alamos in New Mexico. All were "walk ins," spies by impulse and sympathetic leaning rather than rigorous training.

By contrast, Dr. Koval was a mole groomed in the Soviet Union by the feared G.R.U., the military intelligence agency. Moreover, he gained wide access to America’s atomic plants, a feat unknown for any other Soviet spy. Nuclear experts say the secrets of bomb manufacturing can be more important than those of design.

Los Alamos devised the bomb, while its parts and fuel were made at secret plants in such places as Oak Ridge, Tenn., and Dayton, Ohio — sites Dr. Koval not only penetrated, but also assessed as an Army sergeant with wide responsibilities and authority.

"He had access to everything," said Dr. Kramish, who worked with Dr. Koval at Oak Ridge and now lives in Reston, Va. "He had his own Jeep. Very few of us had our own Jeeps. He was clever. He was a trained G.R.U. spy." That status, he added, made Dr. Koval unique in the history of atomic espionage, a judgment historians echo.

Washington has known about Dr. Koval's spying since he fled the United States shortly after the war but kept it secret.

"It would have been highly embarrassing for the U.S. government to have had this divulged," said Robert S. Norris, author of "Racing for the Bomb," a biography of the project's military leader.

Historians say Mr. Putin may have cited Dr. Koval's accomplishments as a way to rekindle Russian pride. As shown by a New York Public Library database search, the announcement has prompted detailed reports in the Russian press about Dr. Koval and his clandestine feats.

"It's very exciting to get this kind of break," said John Earl Haynes, a Library of Congress historian and an authority on atomic spying. "We know very little about G.R.U. operations in the United States."

George Koval was born in 1913 to Abraham and Ethel Koval in Sioux City, Iowa, which had a large Jewish community and a half-dozen synagogues. In 1932, during the Great Depression, his family emigrated to Birobidzhan, a Siberian city that Stalin promoted as a secular Jewish homeland.

Henry Srebrnik, a Canadian historian at the University of Prince Edward Island who is studying the Kovals for a project on American Jewish Communists, said the family belonged to a popular front organization, as did most American Jews who emigrated to Birobidzhan.

The organization, he said, was ICOR, a Yiddish acronym for the Association for Jewish Colonization in the Soviet Union. He added that Dr. Koval's father served its Sioux City branch as secretary.

By 1934, Dr. Koval was in Moscow, excelling in difficult studies at the Mendeleev Institute of Chemical Technology. Upon graduating with honors, he was recruited and trained by the G.R.U. and was sent back to the United States for nearly a decade of scientific espionage, from roughly 1940 to 1948.

How he communicated with his controllers is unknown, as is what specifically he gave the Soviets in terms of atomic secrets. However, it is clear that Moscow mastered the atom very quickly compared with all subsequent nuclear powers.

In the United States under a false name, Dr. Koval initially gathered information about new toxins that might find use in chemical arms. Then his G.R.U. controllers took a gamble and had him work under his own name. Dr. Koval was drafted into the Army, and by chance found himself moving toward the bomb project, then in its infancy.

The Army judged him smart and by 1943 sent him for special wartime training at City College in Manhattan. Considered a Harvard for the poor, it was famous for brilliant students, Communists and, after the war, Julius Rosenberg, who was executed for conspiring to steal atomic secrets for the Soviets.

But Dr. Koval steered clear of all debate on socialism and Russia, Dr. Bloom said. "He discussed no politics that I can recall. Never. He never talked about the Soviet Union, never ever, not a word."

At City College, Dr. Koval and a dozen or so of his Army peers studied electrical engineering.

Dr. Kramish said the Army unit lived in the Hebrew Orphan Asylum, across from City College, adding that Dr. Koval called himself an orphan. Something else about him stood out, Dr. Kramish said — he was a decade older than his peers, making everybody wonder "why he was in this program."

Meanwhile, the Manhattan Project was suffering severe manpower shortages and asked the Army for technically adept recruits. In 1944, Dr. Koval and Dr. Kramish headed to Oak Ridge, where the main job was to make bomb fuel, considered the hardest part of the atomic endeavor.

Dr. Koval gained wide access to the sprawling complex, Dr. Kramish said, because "he was assigned to health safety" and drove from building to building making sure no stray radiation harmed workers.

In June 1945, Dr. Koval's duties expanded to include top-secret plants near Dayton, said John C. Shewairy, an Oak Ridge spokesman. The factories refined polonium 210, a highly radioactive material used in initiators to help start the bomb’s chain reaction.

In July 1945, the United States tested its first atomic device, and a month later it dropped two bombs on Japan.

After the war, Dr. Koval fled the United States when American counterintelligence agents found Soviet literature hailing the Koval family as happy immigrants from the United States, said a Nov. 3 article in Rossiiskaia Gazeta, a Russian publication.

In 1949, Moscow detonated its first bomb, surprising Washington at the quick loss of what had been an atomic monopoly.

In the early 1950s, Dr. Kramish said, the F.B.I. interviewed him and anyone else who had known Dr. Koval, asking that the matter be kept confidential.

Dr. Bloom was working at the Brookhaven National Laboratory on Long Island at the time. "I was pretty amazed," he recalled. "I didn't figure George to be like that."

In Russia, Dr. Koval returned to the Mendeleev Institute, earning his doctorate and teaching there for many years, Rossiiskaia Gazeta said. It added that he was a soccer fanatic even in old age and that people at the stadium who knew of his secret past would quietly point him out.

Dr. Koval's spy role began to emerge publicly in Russia in 2002 with the publication of "The G.R.U. and the Atomic Bomb," a book that referred to Dr. Koval only by his code name. The book offered few biographical details but said he was one of the very few spies who managed to elude "the net of the counterintelligence agencies."

Dr. Koval died on Jan. 31, 2006, according to Russian accounts. The cause was not made public. By American reckoning, he would have been 92, though the Kremlin’s statement put his age at 94 and some Russian news reports put it at 93.

Posthumously, Dr. Koval was made a Hero of the Russian Federation, the highest honorary title that can be bestowed on a Russian citizen. The Kremlin statement cited "his courage and heroism while carrying out special missions."

Dr. Kramish surmised that he was "the biggest" of the atomic spies. "You don't get a medal from the president of Russia for nothing," he said.

George Koval

Deceased--Robert Furman

Los Alamos staff

No comments: