(NY Times) Fourth Spy Unearthed in U.S. Atomic Bomb Project

The CIA research article has no paywall: (PDF) On the Trail of a Fourth Soviet Spy at Los Alamos. The central figure, with Soviet code name “Godsend”, is Oscar Soberer, who attended the City College of New York, studied electrical engineering and worked at Los Alamos from 1944 to 1946. Quoting the Times,

“The bureau’s information about the defector had come from infiltrators of the Communist Party of the United States, and the bureau worried about their possible exposure. The name of the undercover operation was Solo.”

Coauthor Haynes of the CIA paper remarks (NY Times),

“In an interview, Mr. Haynes, who lives in Santa Fe, N.M., near Los Alamos, said he hoped that new files released in the future under FOIA to the scholars would ‘fill in a whole bunch of gaps.” The F.B.I., he added, “takes its own good time in these matters.'”

This is the background of the historians’ efforts, hindered by incomplete documentation, withheld to protect informants who may be still alive. This spy revelation is in the class of curiosities. It’s unlikely to affect the future, yet it’s an opportunity to compare how different systems of thought can apply to the same problem.

As a “mystery”, it resembles “Who killed Dag Hammarskjöld ?”  Whether you consider it a mystery depends upon the criteria for a solution. It’s very clear  who killed him;  accomplices vary from clear to vague; the problem of legal proof is bundling all the dead witnesses into the hearing room to depose in their final repose.

The solution to a mystery borrows from the legal tradition of courtroom truth: So-and-so saw it, so-and-so says it to the court. This is so fundamentally stringent, even one additional link in this short chain is excluded as hearsay.

Change was forced in the form of “technological hearsay”, the admission of  forms of indirect, technology based evidence,  with the testimony of the expert who is not an actual witness to the crime. Fingerprinting was used 1892 and 1897, followed by all manners of technology and pathology  for crime reconstruction.   DNA profiling, admitted to court in 1988, recently advanced to a new level of indirect evidence with family tree forensics.

We can apply  indirect, technical analysis to the  main question of historians Klehr and  Haynes, which is, what information did Godsend give the Soviets?  Though our hypothesis does not satisfy legal norms,  it approaches admissible circumstantial evidence, on which murder convictions have been obtained.

Our functional, technological approach is hard for non-techies, i.e. historians, to execute.  It could sharpen the attention while sifting voluminous, musty archives. So let’s do it.

The next post will develop a coherent picture of what Godsend could do, the history of his employment with the Manhattan Project, and what he probably was doing at both Oak Ridge and Los Alamos. The search space is much smaller than you might imagine, and it’s all open source.

You’ve got some reading to do: On the Trail of a Fourth Soviet Spy at Los Alamos. Read as much as you like about mass spectrometers. I’ll provide the easy explanation.

To be continued shortly.