How the Secret of the Atomic Bomb was Stolen

      “The first 100 pages of this book are devoted to a description of the theory and actual practices employed in securing the ‘secret city’ of Los Alamos during the development of the atomic bomb. Eight pages are devoted to the three Manhattan Project employees who passed top-secret information to Soviet contacts. Photos of personnel and places central to the development, protection and sharing of the secret of the bomb, a chronology of security at the site and endnotes are included in this book, which is the first time the story of the elaborate security measures taken at Los Alamos has been told from an internal viewpoint.
            “Originally, in 1943, the project’s scientific leader, Robert Oppenheimer, believed that 70 scientists and 60 support staff could create the bomb in about a year. Two years later there were 2,500 scientists and other staff working fervidly on ‘the gadget,’ the best-kept secret of World War II. There were serious breaches and flaws in the security at Los Alamos, some humorous, some pathetic, in the haste to get the job done.
            “Oppenheimer and the military leader for the project, Brigadier General Leslie Groves, were at loggerheads as to whether the scientists working on ‘the gadget’ should be compartmentalized into four divisions, not knowing what scientists in the other divisions were doing, or whether there should be a free-flow of ideas between all scientists working on the project.
            “In the end Oppenheimer prevailed, and there were even weekly colloquia attended by all scientists with white-badge security clearances where research information was freely shared. Although the colloquia are thought to have helped rather than hindered the project, the lack of compartmentalization made life easier for the spies.
            “This new book is a very interesting behind-the-scenes look at the Manhattan Project.”
      —New Mexico magazine, July 2000
            “In the light of recent allegations at the Los Alamos Laboratory, this book is very timely. Melzer, a professor of history at the University of New Mexico-Valencia, is a specialist in twentieth century New Mexico history. Certainly the most important and dramatic event of that time was the Manhattan Project, when Los Alamos was a key site in the development of the world’s first atomic bomb.
            “Much of the supposedly tight security at Los Alamos was, in reality, an illusion. Melzer shows how communist spies gained access to top-secret information. His research is based on personal interviews, memoirs and recently declassified files. The illustrations are of people associated with the project and scenes in the book. The bibliography may surprise readers with the number of books that have been published about the early days in Los Alamos and the making of the bomb. There is also an index.”
      —Enchantment, April 2000
            “Breakdown provides a brief but engaging history of how Soviet agents stole the secrets of the atomic bomb. Written in three chapters with the terse titles of ‘Theory,’ ‘Practice,’ and ‘Proof,’ the book relates the breakdown of security surrounding the supersecret atomic bomb project.
            “In chapter one, Melzer skillfully lays out the various means the Army established to ensure the integrity and loyalty of personnel assigned to the Manhattan Project. In theory, these methods—background checks, security clearances, document classification, and compartmentalization—appeared to establish a ‘leakproof’ barrier around the atomic bomb project.
            “As Melzer shows in chapter two, however, security practices often failed to meet theoretical ideals of security. The breakdown of security at Los Alamos occurred as the result of decisions made by both J. Robert Oppenheimer, the director of the laboratory, and General Leslie Groves, the military head of the Manhattan Project. In order to ensure successful completion of the project in the shortest time, Oppenheimer and Groves allowed relaxation of rules in three key areas: security clearances, access to information, and travel restrictions. In turn, Soviet moles on ‘The Hill’ exploited these weaknesses through espionage. Melzer illustrates how the brilliant mathematician Richard Feynman pursued a side career of exposing failures within the security network, although his warnings repeatedly fell on deaf ears.
            “In chapter three, Melzer briefly sketches how the three identified Soviet agents—Klaus Fuchs, Theodore Hall, and David Greenglass—managed to become Project Y members, gain access to vital materials, and travel offsite to meet with contacts who transferred the secret information to the Soviet Union. With these secrets, Soviet scientists successfully built and detonated an atomic bomb, a copycat version of the Trinity/Nagasaki device in late August 1949.
            “Anyone interested in the history of the atomic bomb will gain much from Melzer’s fine treatment of the failure of wartime security and the loss of atomic secrets. In light of recent allegations about Chinese espionage directed against Los Alamos, readers will gain an appreciation for the deep roots and causes of such activities. This is a highly readable and recommended book.”
      —Scott D. Hughes, New Mexico Historical Review, April 2001, Volume 76, Number 2