The Invisible Harry Gold: The Man Who Gave the Soviets the Atom Bomb
By Allen M. Hornblum
Yale University Press, 2010, 464 pp.
Eyes in the Sky: Eisenhower, the CIA and Cold War Aerial Espionage
By Dino A. Brugioni
Naval Institute Press, 2010, 466 pp.
The Invisible Harry Gold and Eyes in the Sky are two very different spy stories, but they share a common theme: the nuclear arms race that was already under way during World War II, as both the United States and the Soviet Union worked on atomic bombs, and then intensified, along with the Cold War, during the 1950s. Having taken a wartime lead, the Americans were initially shocked by the test of the first Soviet atomic device, in August 1949, and then alarmed as it appeared that they were being overtaken by the Soviets in missile technology and production. On the first count, they blamed spies at the heart of the American project; on the second, they looked to American spies to find out about the Soviet projects.
The story of how Klaus Fuchs got the secrets of the Manhattan Project to Moscow has been told before. Hornblum adds to the story by describing the poignant life of Harry Gold, Fuchs’ American handler, who, when challenged by the FBI, made no attempt to hide his role (which was not quite as large as the one suggested by Hornblum’s subtitle). He told his interrogators everything he knew, which was a lot, about Soviet spy networks in the United States. This led to, among other things, the arrest and execution of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg. After being denounced as a traitor, Gold was then branded a pathological liar by those who refused to accept the Rosenbergs’ guilt. Hornblum’s account illuminates the impact of anti-Semitism and the appeal of socialism in turning a well-intentioned man into a spy and reveals how he coped with his infamy. It is a sad story.
Brugioni comes in with a different technique, having analyzed photo imagery during World War II for the Army and after it for the CIA and, at a different level, having briefed presidents on the most sensitive intelligence questions of the day.
Brugioni could have written just an autobiography, which would have been fascinating enough, but instead he also draws on existing literature and the reminiscences of colleagues. This allows him to tell the stories of the U-2 reconnaissance aircraft and the satellite programs that would take over not long after Francis Gary Powers’ fateful flight of May 1960. (Brugioni considers the Corona spy satellite to be one of U.S. President Dwight Eisenhower’s greatest achievements.) Eyes in the Sky is full of extraordinary and rich detail covering well-known episodes such as the discovery of the German V-1 sites and the unraveling of the “missile gap” as the limited nature of the Soviet missile program was revealed. But there are also fascinating segments on how U-2 flights were used to keep Eisenhower informed of what his allies were up to during the 1956 Suez crisis and about the 1959 Chinese takeover of Tibet. One might have wished at times for stronger editing and a clearer sense of chronology, but this is nonetheless an important contribution to the history of intelligence.