Staunton, June 18 – It has long been common knowledge that Soviet espionage efforts directed at the US program that produced the first atomic bomb allowed Moscow to build its own more quickly than would have otherwise been the case. But a Soviet intelligence agent says that in the case of the first atomic bomb, Moscow’s spying did more than just help the Soviet effort.
Instead, according to Col. Vladimir Galkin who died two years ago, the Soviets “copied” what the Americans had done down to the last detail, a statement that elevates the role of Soviet agents, magnifies the guilt of US spies who worked with them, and reduces the importance of the Soviet scientists involved (versia.ru/kak-kgb-poxishhal-za-granicej-texnicheskie-sekrety).
Galkin told Versiya before his death that all this remained secret and very sensitive but he clearly wanted to share a report about something he was very proud of. He was certainly in a position to know: he was an assistant to the Department T (Scientific-Intelligence) of the SVR and worked abroad under the cover of Soviet foreign trade activities in Belgium and Portugal.
Adding to Galkin’s credibility on this point is the following remark he made: “Our first bomb we completely copied from the American one, but this was the first and last time. Subsequently, all our developments were original.” Moreover, an atomic bomb is so complicated that one can’t easily build it with plans alone.
“Therefore,” he argued, “to say that our scholars did nothing and that the intelligence service achieved everything would, I repeat, be a mistake.”
He said that to the best of his knowledge, those Americans like Fuchs and the Rozenbergs who provided information to the Soviet agents did so “exclusively for ideological reasons.” They were members of the American communist party and they believed that it would be wrong for only one country to have such weapons.
“I do not exclude the possibility,” he added, “that at the same time the Soviet intelligence service could have had agents about which it is still not time to speak” who sold the American secrets for money, “but the Rozenbergs and Fuchs did not take a cent from the USSR.”
In other comments, Galkin said that in most cases money played a key role in Soviet recruitment of agents abroad; but he added that sometimes Moscow used false flag operations to do so. Thus, in one case, the Soviets recruited a Jew by telling him that he was working for the Israelis, something the Jew in question felt was entirely appropriate.
The former SVR officer described other aspects of the Soviet intelligence business in the last decades of the USSR. He provides some fresh details but most of what he says is common ground in the intelligence literature of the West and even in the memoirs of Soviet intelligence operatives.
He remarked that he was once arrested in the US during a business trip there. “The FBI,” he said, “tried too accuse me of attempting to engage in espionage against the US, although by that time I had not been in the SVR for four years.” He was told that he could be set up as Oleg Kalugin had been but said that he considered Kalugin a traitor and wasn’t interested.
The most interesting question about Galkin’s comments concerning espionage and the building of the Soviet Union’s first atomic bomb is why is this being published now. The most likely explanation is that at a time when a KGB veteran is Russian president, this emphasis on the role of spies as opposed to scientists is something the Kremlin wants or doesn’t oppose.
And that tilt in Moscow may matter more in terms of what the Russian government is doing now and plans to do in the future than this resuscitation of a case that after all occurred more than 70 years ago.