Friday, September 8, 2023

Klaus Fuchs: Soviet Spy in the Manhattan Project (Part 2)

by Martha Hutchens

Bridge over the Santa Fe River, 
Image by Martha Hutchens
The picture seems so innocent. However, as near as we can determine, this is the very place where the Cold War began.

But first, let’s back up a bit. In Part 1 of this post, I talked about Klaus Fuchs’ early life before he joined the British nuclear program in Spring of 1941. He would work with Rudolf Peierls, another German immigrant who was a theoretical physicist.

Also during this time, Fuchs connected with his Soviet contact, Ursula Kuczynski, code named Sonya. For possibly the first time, Fuchs passed work on to the Soviet Union. On June 18, 1942, Fuchs signed the Official Secrets Act, well after he began sharing information with the USSR. He was then given access to all the material in the British nuclear program.

Before this could happen, MI5 did a background check. The German report that Fuchs was a “notorious communist” raised concern, but was overshadowed by the fact that it was reported by the Gestapo, not exactly a reliable source.

In August of 1943, the British and Americans signed a pact to work together on the atomic bomb project. The die was cast.
270 Broadway, New York, New York
New York offices of the Manhattan Project
Also the source of the project's name
Image by Martha Hutchens
On December 3, 1943, Fuchs arrived in the US along with the rest of the “British Mission.” These British scientists worked on the Manhattan Project from an office building in New York City. They were not subjected to the same background check that American scientists faced, because they had already passed a similar check in England.

If the Americans were to see Fuchs’ background check, they might have been concerned. It included entries such as: 

 “[Fuchs is] rather safer in America than in this country . . . away from his English friends. It would not be so easy for Fuchs to make contact with Communists in America, and that in any case he would probably be more roughly handled were he found out.”
Image by Wirestock on Deposit Photos
While Fuchs was in New York, he visited his sister for Christmas. Later, in February, he made contact with his second Soviet handler, code named Raymond. They met monthly, and Fuchs passed on many handwritten documents. When his work in New York was completed, Fuchs was first assigned to return to England. At the last minute, he was assigned to a different station, Los Alamos, NM.

As this was a last-minute assignment, Fuchs could not alert his handler about his trip. He left leave his sister instructions in case his handler, Raymond, contacted her. Of course, he gave the man a different name and didn’t mention his position.

Author Stokkete, Deposit Photos
In Los Alamos, Oppenheimer had early on made one critical decision. Any of the senior scientists could have access to any information on the project. If two men wore white badges, they could freely discuss anything together. Oppenheimer argued that scientific progress required this free exchange of ideas. He was right.

General Groves, the military leader of the project, argued that allowing every man to have access to all data gave much more opportunity for spying. He was also right, as Klaus Fuchs would prove. Fuchs attended most of the weekly symposiums, and collected information to pass on to his Russian handlers, if he could ever reconnect with them.

In February 1945, six months after Fuchs arrived in Los Alamos, he was allowed to visit his sister in Cambridge. She gave him Raymond’s contact information. He and Raymond met, and Fuchs described much about what was happening in Los Alamos. He also passed on documents that he wrote from memory while at his sister’s.

Spitz clock, Santa Fe, NM
Image by Martha Hutchens
He arranged for Raymond to meet him in Santa Fe, explaining that they should both set their watches by the large clock on San Francisco Street, then meet at the Castillo Bridge. They set the date and time as June 2, at 4 pm. On that day, Fuchs passed on detailed plans of the Fat Man bomb.

Fuchs and Raymond met again in September, but by this time the bombs were hardly secret.

Fuchs returned to England after the war, where he continued to work in the British atomic program.

However, in 1949, American codebreakers had broken enough of Soviet transmissions (Project Venona) to become aware of a spy among the British scientists in Los Alamos. Ironically, the information that would doom Fuchs passed through the hands of Kim Philby, a senior member of British counterintelligence, and another Soviet spy. Philby warned his KGB handlers that Fuchs was about to be identified, but the KGB did not warn Fuchs because they did not want to put Philby in danger.

Fuchs was arrested in 1950. Given the choice between cooperation and execution, Fuchs named his handler, Harry Gold. Gold was given the same choice, and he named David Greenglass as a second spy he dealt with. When interrogated, Greenglass named his sister and brother-in-law, Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, who were executed without ever revealing any further spies.

The Russians detonated their first atomic bomb in 1949. It was an exact duplicate of the plans Fuchs delivered to them.

Author stockasso, Deposit Photos
Fuchs was generally respected by his colleagues in both Britain and America. However, Eleanor Jette has the following memory of Fuchs at Los Alamos:

“Fuchs was a cipher to me, a faceless nonentity despite all the occasions we were in his company. When the light of day was turned on his treachery, I realized he was perfect in his fole. Some years before I had discussed secret service work with a woman who was retired from it; I remarked that I always had a yen for it. She appraised me critically and shook her head.

‘You would never do, my dear. Your eyes are too blue, and your hair has too much red in it. Secret service work requires the operator to fade into the background.’

I didn’t recall her words the day Marge Schreiber and I specifically discussed Fuchs.

‘That guy baffles me,’ I said. ‘I can’t remember what he looks like until the next time I see him.’

Marge shivered slightly. ‘He gives me the creeps. He sits in the corners at parties and never says a word. I’ve never heard him laugh. He has a high-pitched giggle, and it gives me chills.’ “ Quote from Inside Box 1663 by Eleanor Jette.

These words would prove prophetic.

Martha Hutchens is a transplanted southerner who lives in Los Alamos, NM where she is surrounded by history so unbelievable it can only be true. She won the 2019 Golden Heart for Romance with Religious and Spiritual Elements. A former analytical chemist and retired homeschool mom, Martha is frequently found working on her latest knitting project when she isn’t writing.

Martha’s current novella is set in southeast Missouri during World War II. It is free to her newsletter subscribers. You can subscribe to my newsletter at my website,

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