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The Secret Story of America's
Unknown Atomic Spy Conspiracy

Theodore Hall Speaks


By Joseph Albright and Marcia Kunstel
Authors, "Bombshell"

Dear readers, this is a review. This is a review. This is a review.

This has to be a review, or we couldn't post anything. We had wanted to post a full transcript of the May 1998 BBC radio documentary on the Venona codebreaking project. But a BBC representative informed us that under copyright rules, we cannot publish the full transcript. All we can do, the BBC person told us, is to write a review of the documentary.

Forgive us if you feel our review is too simplistic. But read on -- you will get the full picture about what Ted Hall said to the BBC in his first public statement since our book was published last fall.

Dear readers, no one can help but admire the insightfulness of the BBC in getting Ted Hall to say the following about his motivations:

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"There are certain things that I say which are perfectly accurate, factual, statements, and they just cannot seem to be absorbed. Antagonists persist in the view that if I did something of this sort, it was to help the Soviet Union. It wasn't. Any action of that sort was, was, well, pardon the grandiose term, but I cannot think of another, was to help the world."

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No dutiful reviewer could refrain from praising the deftness with which the BBC interviewer obtained the following description by Hall of what he felt about the American depression of the 1930s:

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"There was this picture of a country that was not experiencing the world depression where, unemployment didn't go up. All of a sudden in the United States you couldn't have a job, there was enormous unemployment. But in Russia, they didn't experience that unemployment. That made people stop and think. But I remember that there was a New York World's Fair. The Russian Pavilion was so damn good that there was a move afoot to have them prohibited from the fair because they made everything else look sort of feeble."

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Every reviewer would also feel obligated to admire the BBC's good judgment in including the following passage of Hall's recollections about how he was recruited to Los Alamos when he was a Harvard student in 1944:

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"A man came along, a recruiting agent I guess you might call him, who went to the Physics Department head, and asked if he would draw up a list of names of people who might be suitable for the project. And as a result of this, four of us were invited to join the project. Without being told what it was, we were told that it was important. And if you agree, we'll tell you more when you get there."

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No reviewers' responsibility would be complete without praising the BBC for its perspicacity in obtaining the following quotations from Hall recounting his interrogation by Chicago FBI agents in March 1951:

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"They (his FBI interrogators) were really quite provokable. I really got them provoked at one point. I said I wasn't very happy talking to them because I had read a lot about their friends, people playing various nasty tricks, and this really got their hackles up. Then they said, the FBI doesn't frame people. Then they calmed down and went ahead in a nice pedestrian way. ... and they pulled out pictures of various people and said, do I recognize this person, do I recognize that person. That is, and that is, and that is. I didn't recognize anybody from the pictures they showed me. Julius Rosenberg, and his relative David Greenglass. They wanted to know if I recognized David Greenglass, who was also at Los Alamos, although I had not known him there.

"They said, we know what you did, we know what you did. And it occurred to me that there seemed to be a compound sentence in which the second half seemed to be left out. That is, we know what you did but we don't know who did it. A big point that came early into my mind is that there is a pretty good chance that they don't really know who did what they are talking about.

"I reached for my coat, I think, and I just got up and walked out. And step by step, waiting for the handcuffs to be put on before I walked into the elevator, expecting to be collared before I got on the elevator. But I called for the lift, and it came, and I went in, and I got in and went downstairs, and walked out onto the street. And they didn't come."

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Dear readers, we end our review of the valuable BBC documentary here because that is the extent of the Ted Hall quotations on which we could present our humble opinions.

P.S.: Those who can find the tape will also heard interesting stuff from others quoted in our book: former codebreakers Meredith Gardner and Cecil Phillips; former FBI agent Robert McQueen, and former CIA official Cleveland Cram.


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I have occasionally been asked to explain what motivated me in 1944. Thinking back to the rather arrogant 19-year-old I then was, I can recall quite well what was in my mind at the time.

My decision about contacting the Soviets was a gradual one, and it was entirely my own. It was entirely voluntary, not influenced by any other individual or by any organization such as the Communist Party or the Young Communist League. I was never "recruited" by anyone. Nor was I prompted by any personal problems. I had grown up in a very loving family and had a successful and happy life.

During World War II, I shared the general sympathy for our allies, the Soviet Union. After they were attacked, everybody knew that they were bearing the main load in the fight against Nazi Germany. Their propaganda was characterized by a craving for peace far deeper than was apparent in the Western countries. I think this came about partly because the Soviet Union suffered devastation far greater than anything experienced in the West.

My political views had been shaped by the economic depression of the 1930s. With the New Deal Roosevelt had tried to restore prosperity, but this was only partly successful and it was not until the war that the depression really ended. What would happen when the war was over?

At nineteen I shared a common belief that the horrors of war would bring our various leaders to their senses and usher in a period of peace and harmony. But I had been thinking and reading about politics since an early age, and had seen that in a capitalist society economic depression could lead to fascism, aggression and war - as actually happened in Italy and Germany. So as I worked at Los Alamos and understood the destructive power of the atomic bomb, I asked myself what might happen if World War II was followed by a depression in the United States while it had an atomic monopoly?

In fact I was very optimistic. I didn't believe that there would necessarily be a depression or that a depression would necessarily lead to war. But it seemed to me that an American monopoly was dangerous and should be prevented. I was not the only scientist to take that view: for example Einstein and Bohr both felt keenly that the best political policy was to reach an understanding - the opposite of the Cold War. I remember reading that Bohr tried to persuade Roosevelt to send him to Stalin to work out a peace-directed alliance and policy.

I did not have an uncritical view of the Soviet Union. I believed the Soviet Union was a mixture of good and bad things, and hoped it would evolve favourably. But in any case there was no question of the Soviet Union ever having an atomic monopoly.

Of course the situation was far more complicated than I understood at the time, and if confronted with the same problem today I would respond quite differently.


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I am grateful to the authors and publishers of this book for giving me the opportunity to express my present views.

During 1944 I was worried about the dangers of an American monopoly of atomic weapons if there should be a postwar depression. To prevent that monopoly I contemplated a brief encounter with a Soviet agent, just to inform them of the existence of the A-bomb project. I anticipated a very limited contact. With any luck it might easily have turned out that way, but it was not to be. Now I am castigated in some quarters as a traitor, although the Soviet Union at the time was not the enemy but the ally of the United States; the Soviet people fought the Nazis heroically, at tremendous human cost, and this may well have saved the Western Allies from defeat.

It has even been alleged that I "changed the course of history." Maybe the "course of history," if unchanged, would have led to atomic war in the past fifty years - for example the bomb might have been dropped on China in 1949 or the early fifties. Well, if I helped to prevent that, I accept the charge. But such talk is purely hypothetical. If we look at the real world we see that it passed through a very perilous period of imbalance, to reach the existing slightly less perilous phase of "MAD" (mutually assured destruction).

My fears of a severe postwar economic depression were not justified at the time. I might have realised that at the end of World War II, pent-up demand would keep the factories humming for several years at least. But the dangers have not really abated: automation and economic globalization are generating an intractable world-wide crisis of unemployment, and this has led to an unholy alliance between the weapons industry and the military, some of whom have been quite prepared to blow up the world in their Messianic zeal (General Thomas Power, former head of the U.S. Strategic Air Command, has been quoted as saying that he would regard it as victory if two Americans and one Russian survived World War III).

There is now persuasive evidence that until 1956, and during the Cuban missile crisis of 1962, military flights over the Soviet Union were ordered without the knowledge of the President or any civilian agency of the nation's elected government, and against their stated policies. The Strategic Air Command circulated a "Joint Strategic Capabilities Plan" for all-out nuclear war, with explicit instructions to conceal the very existence of this plan from all civilian authorities. All this was not merely an illegal usurpation of power, it was horrifically dangerous - the overflights were a provocation which put the fate of the world potentially in the hands of any Rambo on either side of the Cold War. Presumably through some quirk in the application of the rule of law, the perpetrators of this program were not punished but were awarded medals and retired with honor. I refrain from spelling out comparisons and conclusions which are all too obvious.

In 1944 I was nineteen years old - immature, inexperienced and far too sure of myself. I recognize that I could easily have been wrong in my judgement of what was necessary, and that I was indeed mistaken about some things, in particular my view of the Soviet state. The world has moved on a lot since then, and certainly so have I. But in essence, from the perspective of my 71 years, I still think that brash youth had the right end of the stick. I am no longer that person; but I am by no means ashamed of him.

I would like to add one strongly felt point about the fallout from the Venona documents. Those who have used revelations of espionage to support their view that McCarthy was right present a real threat to American democracy. In McCarthy's time the damning label of "Red" was applied not only to Communists but to all progressives and their organizations - to all political activity in support of trade unions, minority rights, academic freedom, secure medical care and in fact the whole apparatus of the Welfare State. All this was condemned as part of a sinister plot inspired by foreign devils -- exactly the kind of claim that dictators use to suppress dissent. The truth is that while spies no doubt existed, they were never an integral part of American progressive movements. It would be terrible if that cycle of repression happened all over again.

(Signed) Theodore Hall, March 24, 1997

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Hall's sourcing: Information about unauthorized spy overflights is taken from a BBC documentary in the "Timewatch" series (a Brook Associates Production for BBC/A&E Network co-production) broadcast in Great Britain on 8 Oct. 1996. The specific points cited were mentioned by Robert Bowie (State Dept. 1953-7), Daniel Ellsberg (Pentagon analyst 1959-71), Gen. Andrew Goodpaster, (White House Defense Liaison Officer, 1954-60), and Prof. William Kaufmann (Rand Corp. 1954-70). Unauthorized flights during the Cuban missile crisis are described in Raymond L. Garthoff, Reflections on the Cuban Missile Crisis, Washington, the Brookings Institution, 1989, page 62.

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