In This Review

Spying on the Bomb: American Nuclear Intelligence From Nazi Germany to Iran and North Korea
Spying on the Bomb: American Nuclear Intelligence From Nazi Germany to Iran and North Korea
By Jeffrey T. Richelson
Norton, 2006, 704 pp.

Richelson demonstrates the craft of intelligence as he studies it. He has a gift for following clues and picking up disparate pieces of information from a variety of sources and pulling them together to form an account that makes sense even while acknowledging what remains unknown. Here he takes the formative stages of the nuclear programs of the world's current and prospective nuclear powers (other than the United Kingdom) and assesses the performance of the U.S. intelligence community in analyzing them. He begins with the wartime attempt to work out how close Nazi Germany was to getting the bomb and concludes with U.S. intelligence on Iran and North Korea. His book is extraordinarily rich in detail, and it provides the best available information on numerous controversies, including the recent mistakes over Iraq, and old mysteries, such as the curious explosion in the Indian Ocean picked up by a Vela satellite in 1979 (which might, or might not, have had something to do with the Israelis). Other than a sentence insisting that it is necessary to continue to collect and analyze information on nuclear programs, Richelson comes to no conclusions, as if, after hundreds of tightly packed pages, he were exhausted by the effort.