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Capsule Review

The Nuclear Spies: America’s Atomic Intelligence Operation Against Hitler and Stalin

In This Review

The Nuclear Spies: America’s Atomic Intelligence Operation Against Hitler and Stalin
The Nuclear Spies: America’s Atomic Intelligence Operation Against Hitler and Stalin
By Vince Houghton
Cornell University Press, 2019, 248 pp. Purchase

The atom bomb was never a high priority for the Nazis, at least when compared with their development of long-range cruise and ballistic missiles. A major U.S. intelligence operation during World War II confirmed that the German nuclear threat was not as great as had been feared. Specialist teams followed the Allied armies into Italy and Germany, gathering information on the German atomic project but also trying to secure the relevant scientists, materials, and papers before they could fall into Soviet hands. Intriguingly, U.S. intelligence officials also hoped to keep the French at a distance because of the feared communist sympathies of France’s leading nuclear scientists. In this neat, enthralling study, Houghton wonders why this successful intelligence operation was followed by the failure to anticipate the first Soviet nuclear test in August 1949. He points to the incoherence of the U.S. intelligence system after the war and the complacent underestimation of the capacities of a communist government. 

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