The information [Atomic spy Klaus] Fuchs gave us in 1948 coincided with [British diplomate and Soviet agent Donald] Maclean's reports from Washington on America's limited nuclear potential, not sufficient to wage an all-out and prolonged war. Maclean had become first secretary and acting head of chancery at the British Embassy in 1944.
Looking back, one may say that in every scientific team, both in the Soviet Union and in the United States, there were politically motivated figures, Kurchatov in the Soviet Union, Edward Teller in America. Kurchatov always kept the interests of the state first in his mind. He was less stubborn and less independent than men like Kapitsa or loffe. Beria, Pervukhin, and Stalin immediately sensed that he was different from the scientists of the older generation; they saw that he was young, ambitious, and fully prepared to subordinate academic traditions to the interests of the state. When the government wanted to speed up the test of our first atomic bomb in 1949, Kurchatov went along with copying the American design. However, parallel work continued on the Soviet-designed bomb, which was exploded in 1951. In the United States, Edward Teller assumed a similar role later, when he was put in charge of the hydrogen bomb project.
Oppenheimer reminded me very much of our classic scientists who tried to maintain their own identity, their own world, and their total internal independence. It was a peculiar independence and an illusion, because both Kurchatov and Oppenheimer were destined to be not only scientists but also directors of huge government-sponsored projects. The conflict was inevitable; we cannot judge them, because the bomb marked the opening of a new era in science, when for the first time in history scientists were required to act as statesmen. Initially neither Oppenheimer nor Kurchatov was surrounded by the scientific bureaucracies that later emerged in the 1950s. In the 1940s, neither government was in a position to control and influence scientific progress, because there was no way to progress except to rely on a group of geniuses and adjust to their needs, demands, and extravagant behavior. Nowadays no new development in science can be compared to the breakthrough into atomic energy in the 1940s. Atomic espionage was almost as valuable to us in the political and diplomatic spheres as it was in the military. When Fuchs reported the unpublished design of the bomb, he also provided key data on the production of uranium 235. Fuchs revealed that American production was one hundred kilograms of U-235 a month and twenty kilos of plutonium per month. This was of the highest importance, because from this information we could calculate the number of atomic hombs possessed by the Americans. Thus, we were able to determine that the United States was not prepared for a nuclear war with us at the end of the 1940s or even in the early 1950s. This information might be compared with Colonel Oleg Penkovsky's information to the Americans during the early 1960s on the size of the Soviet ICBM (intercontinental ballistic missile) arsenal. Just as Fuchs enabled us to determine that the United States was not ready for nuclear war against the Soviet Union, Penkovsky told the United States that Khrushchev was not prepared for nuclear war against the United States.
Stalin pursued a tough policy of confrontation against the United States when the Cold War started; he knew he did not have to be afraid of the American nuclear threat, at least until the end of the 1940s. Only by 1955 did we estimate the stockpile of American and British nuclear weapons to be sufficient to destroy the Soviet Union.
That information helped to assure a Communist victory in China's civil war in 1947-1948. We were aware that President Harry Truman was seriously considering the use of nuclear weapons to prevent a Chinese Communist victory. Then Stalin initiated the Berlin crisis, blockading the Western-controlled sectors of the city in 1948. Western press reports indicated that Truman and Clement Attlee, the British prime minister, were prepared to use nuclear weapons to prevent Berlin's fall to communism, but we knew that the Americans did not have enough nuclear weapons to deal with both Berlin and China. The American government overestimated our threat in Berlin and lost the opportunity to use the nuclear threat to support the Chinese nationalists.
Stalin provoked the Berlin crisis deliberately to divert attention from the crucial struggle for power in China. In 1951, when we were discussing plans for military operations against American bases, Molotov told me that our position in Berlin helped the Chinese Communists. For Stalin, the Chinese Communist victory supported his policy of confrontation with America. He was preoccupied with the idea of a Sino-Soviet axis against the Western world. Stalin's view of Mao Tse-tung, of course, was that he was a junior partner. I remember that when Mao came to Moscow in 1950 Stalin treated him with respect, but as a junior partner.
In August 1949 the Soviet Union exploded its first atomic device. This event, for which we had worked a decade, was not announced in the Soviet press; therefore, when the American media announced our explosion on September 23, Stalin and the Soviet security establishment were shocked. Our immediate reaction was that there had been an American agent penetration of our test; but in a week our scientists reported that nuclear explosions in the atmosphere could be easily detected by planes sampling air around Soviet borders. This scientific explanation relieved us of the burden of proving there was no mole among us.
Kurchatov and Beria were honored by the government for outstanding contributions and services in strengthening the might of the country. They received medals, monetary awards, and certificates granting them lifetime status as honored citizens. Free travel, dachas, and the right of their children to enter higher education establishments without exams were granted for life to all key scientific personnel on the project.
In assessing all the materials that were processed by Department S, we must take into account the views of Academician Yuli Khariton and Academician Anatoli P. Aleksandrov, president of the Academy of Sciences, who said that Kurchatov (1903-1960) was a genius who had made no major mistakes in the design of our first atomic bomb. They made their comments on the eighty-fifth anniversary of Kurchatov's ~birthday, in 1988. They noted that Kurchatov, having in his possession only several micrograms of artificially produced plutonium, was brave knough to suggest the immediate construction of major facilities to refine plutonium. The Soviet bomb was constructed in three years. Without the intelligence contribution, there could have been no Soviet atomic bomb that quickly. For me, Kurchatov remains a genius, the Russian Oppenheimer, but not a scientific giant like Bohr or Fermi. He was certainly helped by the intelligence we supplied, and his efforts would have been for naught without Beria's talent in mobilizing the nation's resources.
Tuesday, September 7, 2010
The Berlin blockage of 1948-1949 was a diversion from the communist takeover of China
According to Former Soviet deputy spy-chief Pavel Sudoplatov
Posted by Spyridon at 2:25 PM