Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

KLAUS FUCHS: ATOM BOMB SPY

A Spy Is Born

Five years before the fateful meeting in Santa Fe in 1940, Klaus Fuchs looked out at a barren Canadian landscape through the chain-link mesh of an internment camp. Britain had decided that German nationals posed a security threat, and Klaus was a victim of these concerns. The ocean crossing from England to Canada had been harrowing; the tiny merchant ship was constantly under the threat of attack from German U-boats. He walked the perimeter of the eight-foot-high fence hour after hour, and then returned to a wooden barracks of unpainted wood to lie on a hard bunk and read. Marx. Engels. Scientific papers of Heisenberg, Einstein and Bohr.

Life consisted of walking and reading, without any contact with the outside world, any knowledge that as he languished in the internment camp for German aliens, his adopted country was engaged in the Battle of Britain. Not far from his University, Birmingham, the city of Coventry was being devastated by the Nazi bombers, its magnificent cathedral reduced to a few skeletal walls.

May slipped into June, and then months followed. If it hadn't been for the gifts of scientific papers from Isaac Halperin, whom he never met, Fuchs would have become suicidal, like some of his fellow internees. The Canadian authorities at least supplied cigarettes, and Fuchs smoked incessantly while he walked and read.

Suddenly, on a bleak December day, Fuchs was released. The German internees would be returned to England. Many of them were too well educated, too well-trained, not to be used by the British in the war effort. After nine months, Klaus Fuchs was finally allowed to return to carry out the work for which he had been so thoroughly prepared theoretical physics.

He stayed with friends in Birmingham. He was a good friend, and one whom his English hosts could rely upon to be cheerful and helpful. His professors had not deserted him, and worked to find him a research position. By May 1941, he had returned to working on theoretical physics. The project had the curious name, "Tube Alloys."

Michael Perrin
Michael Perrin

He was among friends. Rudolph Peierls was his old teacher and Michael Perrin was the assistant director at Tube Alloys. Both would figure prominently in his future. The work was exciting, and the long hours were filled with the satisfaction that they were working together on a new idea, one that had accelerated since Enrico Fermi had split atoms in the United States a year earlier. The idea was the atom bomb. "Tube Alloys" was nothing less than the British atom bomb project.

Fuchs was happy. Here he was a member of a family, where he could relax with a good many whiskies and dance with his colleagues' wives. If only the war had been going a bit better for the allies, including Soviet Russia, life would have been fully wonderful.

What he couldn't understand is why the British, Americans and Canadians shared information on the development of this powerful weapon with each other, but excluded its other ally, the Soviet Union. Surely the British and Americans were not intending for Germany and Russia to kill each other off. Besides, Fuchs knew that the eventual salvation of humankind resided in the success of communism, not in the exploitive system of capitalism. He liked his English friends, but he believed that his unseen Russian comrades were striving for a better world. He had to do something.

Jurgen Kuczynski, 1948 (POLICE)
Jurgen Kuczynski,
1948 (POLICE)

The next morning Fuchs arrived at London's Paddington Station, walked about a half a mile to the Russian Embassy, and asked to see the military attaché. A tall, urbane man met him in the outer office, ushered him into his sanctuary, and asked what he could do for him. The attaché, Jurgen Kuczynski, was precisely the right man in the embassy for what Fuchs had in mind. He was, in effect, the coordinator for spying operations in Great Britain, a member of the Directory for Military Intelligence. He offered Klaus a glass of tea, in the Russian style.

Klaus Fuchs' career as a spy had begun.

The attaché told Fuchs that he would be in touch, that a girl from Banbury would contact him.

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