David Lindorff, The Nation - One of the greatest spy stories never told

David Lindorff, The Nation
One of the greatest spy stories never told


When the history of our times is written, President Donald Trump’s assassination of the Iranian Military kingpin Gen. Qasem Soleimani will mark the end of an era, the 30 years or so when the United States could think of itself as the sole superpower.

Lacking any immediate predicate for killing Soleimani beyond the fact that he was a significant enemy of America, the reason Trump ordered up a drone to put a missile into the Iranian’s car was, because he could.

That scenario, an All-Powerful America, unrestrained by any nation of comparable strength, turned into a violent, reckless bully, was something frequently discussed by some of the top scientists on the Manhattan Project. Up at Los Alamos, they were building the world’s first atomic bomb, a weapon far more destructive than any previously known.

Could it be entrusted to any single country, even the United States most of them dearly loved?  Neils Bohr, the Danish physicist who was one of the biggest of the A-bomb projects big brains, and one of the most respected, actually contact President Franklin Roosevelt and urged him to share the secret of nuclear weapons with the Soviet Union.

FDR blew him off and Bohr grew an FBI tail that lasted years.

Bohr was no spy, nor was he a fan of the Soviet Union.  There were spies within the Manhattan Project, but it took years to build cases against them.  One key for FBI investigators and Justice Department prosecutors were the Venona cables — secret Soviet messages intercepted and decrypted by the U.S. Army’s Signal Intelligence Service.

The first Los Alamos spy to be identified by the Venona investigators was Ted Hall, the youngest scientist on the Manhattan Project, 19 years-old, when he and his former Harvard roommate delivered A-bomb plans to the Soviets. He was 23, in graduate school and newly married when FBI agents rousted him for questioning.  And then what?  Well, thereby hangs a tale…



Dave Lindorff, a frequent contributor to The Nation, is an independent journalist who writes on Cold War, climate change and other issues. He spent six years as a correspondent in China, Hong Kong and Taiwan for Business Week and was the winner of a 2019 Izzy Award for Outstanding Independent Journalism.




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