The Dark Lives of Klaus Fuchs – The Spy Who Handed America’s Nuclear Secrets to the Soviets.
Klaus Fuchs (1911-88) is well known The physicist as well as know as the atomic spy who gave details of everything he worked on at the Manhattan Project to the Soviet Union. In this enthralling and riveting account, Nancy Thorndike Greenspan, the author of a biography of the physicist Max Born, has brought together new material that rounds out Fuchs’s life, from his college days in Weimar Germany to his move to Communist East Germany in June 1959 following his release from prison in Britain. He had served nine years of a 30-year sentence for espionage.
There have been several previous books on Fuchs and also on the other spies stories working on the atomic bomb. What makes “Atomic Spy” different from these other stories is that, it is particularly thorough and revealing is when it deals with Fuchs’s youth in Germany. Greenspan shows him becoming a militant and dedicated Communist once he perceived the threat to democracy posed by Adolf Hitler and his storm troopers. Fuchs had originally been a member of the Socialist Party, but by 1932 he had come to believe that the harsh reality of the Nazis demanded a more militant stance. As a Communist he became a leader of many of the party’s youth organizations, including the Red Spark, an agitprop theater group.
The story emphasises on the part of Hitler taking power in 1933, and just hours before the Gestapo planned to arrest Fuchs, he fled, first to France and then to Britain. He graduated three short years later from the University of Bristol, and began work in theoretical physics at the University of Edinburgh. Unfortunately for Fuchs, the British government, fearing Nazi infiltration, rounded up all German refugees, and in 1940 sent them first to an internment camp in Britain and then to a freshly built camp in Quebec.
When he was released in January 1941, Fuchs started working on Britain’s atomic bomb project — innocently called Tube Alloys. By August of that year, he began to hand over the data he was working on to one “Alexander,” the code name for Simon Kremer, a Soviet agent. Although Fuchs signed the Official Secrets Act, he violated its terms and decided to aid the Soviet Union in whatever manner he could.
Because of his valuable work he was sent in 1943 to the secret American project at Los Alamos to help create an atomic bomb. It was during this time that Fuchs was able to hand over some of the Manhattan Project’s most important and detailed data to another Soviet contact, Harry Gold. Greenspan accurately calls the information “the mother lode, the design of the plutonium bomb.”
At war’s end, Fuchs returned to Britain, where he continued work on Britain’s A-bomb project. He also continued giving material to Soviet agents. But after a long surveillance and a lengthy interrogation, Fuchs was finally arrested on Feb. 2, 1950, and confessed his guilt. Greenspan’s pages on the interrogation and the decision about what to do with Fuchs are the most complete account available, and read like a detective novel. Her prodigious research is based on many important archives located in Britain, Germany and the United States, on Fuchs family papers and the papers of major scientists.
Greenspan speculates that Moscow’s atomic stockpile, to which Fuchs had contributed so much, “might have kept the United States from dropping an atomic bomb in North Korea.” There is no evidence for this. Historians commonly believe, however, that the Soviet arsenal allowed Stalin to give Kim Il-Sung permission to invade South Korea in 1950, a request he had previously vetoed.
Greenspan tries to explain Fuchs’s activities by saying that Fuchs sought “the betterment of mankind” — he gave atomic secrets to Moscow because “his goal became to balance world power and to prevent nuclear blackmail.” To some, that might make him a hero. But her own material shows this was a post facto justification. The reason Fuchs spied was simply that he was a Communist and a true believer in Stalin and the Soviet Union.