Countdown of Spies

Posted by Gary Kern on May 29, 1998 at 07:43:42: Looking again at the film POLVEKA TAIN ("A Half-Century of Secrets"), a KGB production of 1990-1991, I was surprised to find one of the earliest and most detailed breakdowns of ENORMOZ, the Soviet atomic espionage operation in America. Former spymaster Anatoly Yatskov, filmed at home in an old red-checkered shirt, related almost casually:

"Well, you ask what kind of company it was, how many persons took part in this atomic business-let's call it that. It... let us start with the sources of information: I had five persons on line-that is, five persons with a supportive spy apparatus. So... two recruiters: they took no part in supporting the line... so, and three persons who travelled there in order to receive materials. Here you get five persons. So then, ten persons, that was the team involved in this business." (my translation)

Yatskov made similar statements later, notably in his article "Atom i razvedka" ("The Atom and Intelligence Work"), which introduced the famous collection of espionage documents published in VOPROSY ISTORII ESTESTVOZNANIYA I TEKHNIKI No.3, 1992, and in his interview with Michael Dobbs for The Washington Post of 10/4/92, but none with such precision. In the article, for example, he stressed that no other intelligence agency in the world had succeeded in penetrating the super-secret installation at Los Alamos, while in the interview he claimed that the FBI had uncovered "only half, perhaps less than half" of his atomic-spy network, but he gave no exact numbers. Now the film, article and interview all preceded the National Security Agency's release of VENONA documents, the exposure of Theodore Hall and the publication of BOMBSHELL, so that our ability to interpret Yatskov's statements then was not as great as today. But since it is today, let us go back and examine this most precise statement in detail.

Yatskov says that he had five source-agents and five support-agents. Two of the latter were recruiters. We know from the VENONA files that Sergei Kurnakov was approached by Theodore Hall and Saville Sax in 1944 and ran them through the formal recruitment, so he must be one. And since the film, the article and the interview all make the claim that Morris Cohen recruited PERSEUS in 1942, he must be the other. Yatskov says that the recruiters played no part in sustaining ENORMOZ, and indeed Kurnakov appears to have been a chance participant and Cohen went into the US military for the duration of the war. So the two recruiters are known: Kurnakov and Cohen.

Known, that is, as well as anything can be known in the wilderness of mirrors. VENONA telegrams of 11/14/44 & 12/16/44 (release #1) demonstrate that Ruth Greenglass, code-named OSA ("Wasp"), acting under the direction of Julius Rosenberg, code-named LIBERAL, went to Santa Fe and recruited her brother, David Greenglass, code-named KALIBR ("Calibre"), who was working as a machinist at Los Alamos. So we have an extra recruiter, unless Morris Cohen never recruited an atomic spy at all, in which case we are back to two known recruiters. On the other hand, Ronald Radosh reports a source close to Yatskov who has Cohen recruiting Julius Rosenberg. This report is repudiated by Aleksandr Feklisov, Rosenberg's control officer, who is still alive in Moscow, so things get complicated. But possibly Yatskov didn't count Ruth Greenglass as a recruiter, since she wasn't a professional like Kurnakov and Cohen, or he didn't count Kurnakov as an agent, since he was a Soviet, not American citizen. Therefore, two recruiters: Sergei Kurnakov (or Ruth Greenglass) and Morris Cohen.

Let us move on to the couriers, the three persons who "travelled there in order to receive materials." From the trials of the 1950's we know that Harry Gold picked up materials from Klaus Fuchs in Santa Fe and from David Greenglass in Albuquerque. From Vladimir Chikov's book and VENONA we know that the facetiously named STAR ("Oldtimer"), identified as Saville Sax, was the first courier for MLAD, while from a variety of sources we know that LESLI, Leontina or Lona Cohen, was the second. Three couriers, count 'em, all known: Gold, Sax, Lona Cohen.

The filmed interview of Yatskov was used later for a joint Russian-British television production, HUNT FOR THE ATOM BOMB SPIES (Anthony Potter & Columbia House, 1992), shown on A & E cable channel in the USA. Here portions of the interview not shown in POLVEKA TAIN appeared, including the following passage:

"Our liaison agents-two people-went to one source, and to another source, and they brought us complete descriptions of the bomb." (dubbed-in translation)

The two people going to one source-that could be Lona and Saville going to Hall, but the other source-could it be Fuchs, whom Lona contacted, according to the KGB CD-ROM, the short title of which is VNESHNYAYA RAZVEDKA ROSSII ("Russian Foreign Intelligence," 1996)? Or could it be someone whom Lona visited in 1943, before Fuchs arrived at Los Alamos? Hard to say, but the arithmetic here argues the latter. Let us turn to the sources.

We know that Soviet intelligence had more than a mere ten spies in its overall atomic-espionage operation: the Canadian spies exposed in 1945-1946 by Igor Gouzenko, the British spies watching the Uranium Committee, their sources and contacts-they add up to more than ten. From the general context and the phrase "who travelled there in order to pick up materials," it is clear that Yatskov is talking about five source-agents in Los Alamos. We know three of them: Klaus Fuchs, Theodore Hall and David Greenglass. So we know eight of the ten spies indicated by Yatskov.

In 1990-1992 we knew only Fuchs, Greenglass and Gold, so Yatskov was being truthful when he told Dobbs that the FBI had uncovered "only half, perhaps less than half" of the Los Alamos spy ring. Back then we would have included the Rosenbergs, Sobell and possibly others in the atomic spy operation, but today we consider them more peripheral to purely atomic espionage, even though the Rosenbergs were certainly connected to Greenglass. Consequently, from an analysis of Yatskov's statement, it appears that we have two spies to uncover.

VENONA offers a prime candidate for one: the unidentified agent with the code name FOGEL/VOGEL ("Bird"), changed in late 1944 to PERS ("the Persian"). He provides Soviet intelligence with plans of the Manhattan Project and perhaps information on Oak Ridge. BOMBSHELL has a good account of him (p. 363). I say "him," because the noun is masculine, and the Soviet code clerks consistently used masculine nouns for men and feminine nouns for women. I suspect that he is a very famous scientist.

VENONA also recommends KVANT, who shows up at the Soviet Embassy in Washington, D.C. with information on the hex method of obtaining heavy uranium and wants money for his goods. Obviously he has secret data from the atomic project, but is he the last man in Yatskov's list? The three VENONA memos belong to 1943 and center on that stop in D.C. He might not have been a long-distance runner.

H.B. Laes has been presenting the case on this forum that Morris Cohen's recruitment of 1942 was J. Robert Oppenheimer prior to the latter assuming the prestigeous command of Los Alamos. Once Oppenheimer assumed that command, of course, he could not run off to secret meetings and figure in the VENONA traffic like the other agents. He would be an agent of a different order, as Pavel Sudoplatov contended and Laes seems to be developing. As yet, it is not possible to include him in or exclude him from Yatskov's list.

So then, eight spies down and two to go: PERS, KVANT and/or Mr. X. In espionage, 2 + 2 = 4 (or 5).