From the Seattle Times:
Historians Root Out Fourth Atomic Spy in the Manhattan Project
Nov. 23, 2019 at 9:41 am Updated Nov. 23, 2019 at 12:23 pm
By WIlliam J. Broad
The New York Times
The world’s first atomic bomb was detonated on July 16, 1945, in the New Mexican desert — a result of a highly secretive effort code-named the Manhattan Project, whose nerve center lay nearby in Los Alamos. Just 49 months later, the Soviets detonated a nearly identical device in Central Asia, and Washington’s monopoly on nuclear arms abruptly ended.
How Moscow managed to make such quick progress has long fascinated scientists, federal agents and historians. The work of three spies eventually came to light. Now atomic sleuths have found a fourth. Oscar Seborer, like the other spies, worked at wartime Los Alamos, a remote site ringed by tall fences and armed guards. Seborer nonetheless managed to pass sensitive information about the design of the U.S. weapon to Soviet agents.
The spy fled to the Soviet Union some years later; the FBI eventually learned of his defection and the espionage, but kept the information secret.
His role “has remained hidden for 70 years,” write Harvey Klehr and John Earl Haynes in the current issue of Studies in Intelligence, the CIA’s in-house journal; their article is titled “On the Trail of a Fourth Soviet Spy at Los Alamos.” In separate interviews, the sleuths said they were still gathering clues regarding the exact character of Seborer’s atomic thefts.
Klehr is an emeritus professor of politics and history at Emory University, and Haynes is a former historian for the Library of Congress. Both have written books on Soviet spies and American communism, often together. Their tale has an eerie resonance at a time when Russian intelligence agencies are again at the center of American life.
I thought the latest New York Times line was that 1619 was at the center of American life, while we’re supposed to forget about RussiaGate and go gaga over UkraineGate?
Seborer was born in New York City in 1921, the youngest child of Jewish immigrants from Poland, according to the study by Klehr and Haynes and a CIA document they cited. He attended City College of New York, studied electrical engineering and worked at Los Alamos from 1944 to 1946.
In July 1945, the study reported, he was “part of a unit monitoring seismological effects” of the first detonation of the atomic device. His Soviet code name was Godsend, and he came to Los Alamos from a family of spies.
In 1951, Seborer fled the United States with his older brother Stuart, as well as his brother’s wife and mother-in-law, and defected to the Soviet Union, where, in 1964, he received the Order of the Red Star, a prestigious military award.
The identities of the other three Los Alamos spies have long been known. Klaus Fuchs, a physicist, was arrested in early 1950, shortly after the first Soviet detonation.
Klaus Fuchs was the son of a Lutheran theologian at the U. of Leipzig. He joined the Communist Party in Germany in 1932. He was a close friend at Los Alamos of Richard Feynman. He served 9 years in a British prison. Some of the spying on the American bomb project he did was for Britain as well as the Soviet Union, so maybe they weren’t all that mad at him?
His testimony led to a second spy, David Greenglass, a machinist, who was also taken into custody.
David Greenglass was the brother of Ethel Rosenberg. The Rosenbergs were the most notorious atomic spies, but they seem like blue collar nobodies compared to Fuchs and Ted Hall.
Not until 1995 was the third spy, Theodore Hall, the youngest physicist at Los Alamos, identified publicly. By then he had moved to England and was never convicted of espionage.
Seborer sounds like he fell between Fuchs/Hall and Greenglass in technical expertise, but his story is murky. This article says the FBI questioned him in 1951 but didn’t want to put him on trial and have to reveal the Venona transcripts.
Seborer, Hall, and Greenglass were of Jewish ancestry, Fuchs of Protestant ancestry.
But this Seborer story seems a little fishy to me. There’s a market for Los Alamos stories, but this spy story stayed hushed up for 75 years. Maybe somebody on the US side blundered badly (e.g., thought, say, they’d turned Seborer into a double agent) and then covered it up?
The success of Soviet espionage correlated with the level of toleration of the Communist Party USA. The CPUSA was an excellent recruiting tool for Soviet espionage until the beginning of the Red Scare, after which Soviet espionage efforts fell off. The KGB’s New York spymaster Rudolf Abel, played by Mark Rylance in Spielberg’s Bridge of Spies, was busy running his network in the 1940s, but spent much of the McCarthyite 1950s instead getting pretty good at his cover story of being a painter.