History Unplugged Podcast

History Unplugged Podcast

Scott Rank

The Iowa Boy Who Loved Baseball, Leaked Atomic Secrets to the USSR, and Jump Started the Cold War

October 26, 2021   ●   52 min

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Of all the WW2 spies who stole atomic secrets from the Manhattan Project, none were as successfully, or as unassuming as George Koval. He was a kid from Iowa who played baseball, and loved Walt Whitman’s poetry. But he was also from a family of Russian immigrants who spent years in the Soviet Union in the 1930s and was trained as a spy for the proto-KGB.

A gifted science student, he enrolled at Columbia University, and befriended the scientists soon to join the Manhattan Project. After being drafted into the US Army, George used his scientific background and connections to secure assignments at the most secret sites of the Manhattan Project—where plutonium and uranium were produced to fuel the atom bomb.

Unbeknownst to his friends and colleagues, for years George passed top-secret information on the atomic bomb to his handlers in Moscow. The intelligence he provided made its way to the Soviet atomic program, which produced a bomb identical to America’s years earlier than U.S. experts had expected. No one ever suspected George.

George eventually returned to the Soviet Union—his secret identity was known only to top intelligence officials and his story was only brought to light after the fall of the USSR. He escaped without a scratch, was never caught, and the story remains little known to this day.

To get into this story is today’s guest Ann Hagedorn, author of SLEEPER AGENT: The Atomic Spy in America Who Got Away We delve into his psychologyshowing the hopes, fears, and beliefs that spurred Koval’s decisions, and how he was able to integrate himself so completely into the ideology and culture of the United States.
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