Spies Who Spilled Atomic Bomb Secrets

As part of the Soviet Union's spy ring, these Americans and Britons leveraged their access to military secrets to help Russia become a nuclear power

In the 1940s, the Soviet Union launched an all-out espionage effort to uncover military and defense secrets from the US and Britain (Klaus Fuchs, left, and David Greenglass, right). (Associated Press, Bettmann / Corbis)

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In addition to Fuchs and Hall, Greenglass was the third mole at the Manhattan Project, although they did not know of each other's covert work. In 1950 as the atomic spy network unraveled, Gold, who had picked up material from Greenglass in New Mexico, positively identified Greenglass as his contact. That identification turned the investigation away from Ted Hall, who initially was a suspect. Greenglass confessed, implicating his wife, his sister and his brother-in law. To lessen their punishment, his wife came forward, providing details of her husband and her in-laws' involvement. She and Greenglass had given Julius Rosenberg handwritten documents and drawings of the bomb, and Rosenberg had devised a cut-up Jell-O box as a signal. The Venona decryptions also corroborated the extent of Julius Rosenberg's spy ring, though they were not made public. The Rosenbergs, however, denied everything and adamantly refused to name names or answer many questions. They were found guilty, sentenced to death in 1951 and despite pleas for clemency, executed on June 19, 1953 in the electric chair at Sing-Sing prison in New York. Because they chose to cooperate, Greenglass received 15 years and his wife was never formally charged.

Lona Cohen
Lona Cohen and her husband Morris were American communists who made a career of industrial espionage for the Soviets. But in August 1945, she picked up some Manhattan Project secrets from Ted Hall and smuggled them past security in a tissue box. Soon after the United States dropped the atomic bombs on Japan, authorities ramped up security for the scientists in the Los Alamos region. After rendezvousing with Hall in Albuquerque and stuffing Hall's sketch and documents under the tissues, Lona discovered that agents were searching and questioning train passengers. Posing as a hapless woman who had misplaced her ticket, she successfully distracted police, who handed her the "forgotten" box of tissues, whose secret papers she spirited to her Soviet handlers.

When the investigations and trials of the early 1950s got scorchingly close, the Cohens fled to Moscow. In 1961 the couple, under aliases, resurfaced in a London suburb, living as Canadian antiquarian booksellers, a cover for their continued spying. Their spy paraphernalia included a radio transmitter stashed under the refrigerator, fake passports, and antique books concealing stolen information. At their trial the Cohens refused to spill their secrets, once again thwarting any lead to Ted Hall's spying. They received 20 years, but in 1969 were released in exchange for Britons incarcerated in the Soviet Union. Both received that country's highest hero award before their deaths in the 1990s.


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