The Greatest Theft in History: Soviet Penetration of the Manhattan Project
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Ethel Rosenberg was guilty. And so were a lot of other folks working in and around the American effort to build nuclear weaponry.

“The sheer scale of hostile penetration of the Manhattan Project, at virtually every level, was quite comprehensive.” So writes former British intelligence officer and Conservative MP West (Molehunt, 1989), who knows a good spy story when he sees one. British research into nuclear weaponry had been well penetrated by Soviet operatives early on in WWII, he tells us, thanks to Kim Philby and the like; the Manhattan Project suffered its share of leaks, and not of the radioactive kind, as British scientists who went to work on atomic projects in the US—among them Klaus Fuchs, Donald Maclean, and John Cairncross—delivered information to Soviet intelligence agents. Drawing on transcripts from the federal government’s now declassified VENONA investigations, West observes that, surprisingly, Manhattan was compromised early and effectively; the Soviets established a special section in New York in 1943 to handle scientific and technical intelligence, work known only to a handful of Soviet officials outside of the NKVD. Remarked one later KGB officer of the NKVD’s efforts: “In the USA we obtained information on how the bomb was made and in Britain of what it was made, so that together they covered the whole problem”—covered it so effectively, in fact, that the Soviets had their bomb much sooner than Western scientists thought possible. There are smoking guns aplenty in West’s pages, and they bear the fingerprints of Fuchs, Ted Hall, Steve Nelson, Vivian Glassman, and other figures well known and unknown alike—along with Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, whose martyrs’ cloth West rends into tatters.

Capably written and well researched, especially considering its large cast of characters.

Pub Date: June 1st, 2004
ISBN: 1-929631-21-9
Page count: 325pp
Publisher: Enigma Books
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1st, 2004