To and From Russia with Love: Atomic Spies and Cold War Implications

Compiled by Yannai Shmerer, Spring 2013.


The focus of this research guide will be Soviet spies who infiltrated the Manhattan Project: a research and development program created during World War II by the United States and United Kingdom in an effort to create an atomic weapon.  The most prominently known of these spies is Klaus Fuchs, a brilliant British physicist who was originally from Germany.  For several years, Fuchs transferred all of his notes from the Manhattan Project to the government of the USSR.  Fuchs would eventually be caught by the United States government, and his confession led to the arrest of several other spies within the Manhattan Project.  Atomic spies would ultimately be the very beginning of Cold War espionage and also spark what would become the arms race in later decades.

The number of resources available regarding the Manhattan Project, atomic spies, and the Cold War is seemingly infinite, and includes everything from declassified government files to biographies to splendidly charming instructional videos for schoolchildren in case of a nuclear attack.  This guide will be organized into two sections: Primary Sources and Secondary Sources. Within these categories, there will be topic-specific subsections for further organizational purposes.


Secondary Sources:

I’m beginning this guide with secondary sources because that is how I have started the vast majority of my research projects at BU. I like to begin by searching through BU’s library website and finding readily available books in Mugar or the Law Library.  From there I do some preliminary reading/research, and once I have become comfortable with the general topic, I begin to look for primary sources.

The Manhattan Project, Robert Oppenheimer, and Leslie Groves:

The following books are all available on BU’s campus in one of its many libraries and provide a wealth of information on the creation of the atomic bomb within The Manhattan Project at Los Alamos National Laboratory.  Leslie Groves and Robert Oppenheimer were the two men at the forefront of The Manhattan Project.  Groves was a Lieutenant General in the U.S. Army and Oppenheimer was a professor at the University of California-Berkeley. They each ran their respective sides of the project, Oppenheimer in control of the laboratories and testing, and Groves in control of security oversight and military implications.

Norris, Robert S. Racing for the Bomb: General Leslie R. Groves, the Manhattan Project’s Indispensable Man. Vermont: Steerforth, 2002.

Kelly, Cynthia C. Remembering the Manhattan Project: Perspectives on the Making of the Atomic Bomb and its Legacy. New Jersey: World Scientific, 2004.

Michelmore, Peter. The Swift Years: The Robert Oppenheimer Story. New York: Dodd, 1969.

Klaus Fuchs, Harry Gold, and Other Atomic Spies:

The majority of the information stolen by the Soviet government from Los Alamos was funneled through Klaus Fuchs, a brilliant physicist whose knowledge of the bomb was exceeded by few, and Harry Gold, Fuchs’s unknown contact within the project.  Fuchs would pass information along to Gold, whom Fuchs knew only as “Raymond,” and in this manner, the Soviet Union was kept up-to-date on America’s atomic progress from 1944 until 1949.

Moss, Norman. Klaus Fuchs: The Man Who Stole the Atom Bomb. New York: St. Martin’s, 1987.

Williams, Robert Chadwell. Klaus Fuchs, Atom Spy. Cambridge: Harvard University, 1987.

Hornblum, Alan M. The Invisible Harry Gold: the Man Who Gave the Soviets the Atom Bomb. New Haven: Yale University, 2010.

Goodman, Michael S. Spying on the Nuclear Bear: Anglo-American Intelligence and the Soviet Bomb. Stanford: Stanford University, 2007.

The FBI website also has a page that tells the story of the “Atom Spy Case.”

The NKVD, NKGB, MGB and MVD (or Russia’s State Security Alphabet Soup):

These books provide some great insight into the function of Soviet state security and foreign intelligence.  Included is Anthony Glees’s book,which specifically looks at Soviet subversion of MI-5, which is roughly the British equivalent of the FBI.  Glees is very critical of how much success Soviet spies actually had within MI-5, and thwarts another accusation that there were Soviet “superspies” at the head of MI-5.

Parrish, Michael. The Lesser Terror: Soviet State Security, 1939-1953. Westport, CT: Praeger, 1996.

Andrew, Christopher M. The Sword and the Shield: The Secret history of the KGB. New York: Basic Books, 1999.

Glees, Anthony. The Secrets of the Service: A Story of Soviet Subversion of Western Intelligence. New York: Carroll and Graf, 1987.


Primary Sources:

Now that we have a broader knowledge of the subject matter from outside narrative, we can begin to look at primary sources that are both relevant and readily available to us as students.  The vast majority of primary sources are online, in the form of correspondences, declassified case files, and executive orders.  However there are also things such as memoirs, photos, and videos, which provide a much different type of insight into the inner workings of an international atomic project.

The Manhattan Project and Leslie Groves:

One of the very few primary sources I found in book format is Leslie Groves’s memoirs, entitled Now It Can Be Told: The Story of the Manhattan Project. In it, Groves discusses his and Oppenheimer’s roles within the project, his day to day duties and the struggle of keeping such a large project so well hidden, all while racing against other international super powers to create an atomic weapon.

Groves, Leslie R. Now It Can Be Told: The Story of the Manhattan Project. New York: Harper, 1962.

On an administrative note, this document includes an organizational chart for the Atomic Energy Commission, which lays out exactly who reports to whom on certain matters of atomic energy news.

FBI Involvement and Fuchs’s Testimony:

Among the many declassified FBI documents available on their website is the entire case file for Klaus Fuchs.

The link to the file can be found here.

Fuchs would ultimately confess to espionage to MI-5 on his own will in 1950. His statement can be here.

As part of a NOVA program, PBS has put up multiple examples of VENONA transcripts between various spies.  VENONA was the program jointly created by the United States and United Kingdom in an effort to intercept and decipher Soviet transmissions.

Thee VENONA transcripts can be found here.

Pictures and Videos: has several pictures of nuclear reactors and plants at Los Alamos.

However, has an even better collection of nuclear test photos.

Last, but most certainly not least is a video of one of the nuclear tests at the Bikini Atoll in 1946. Here it is.