KGB Notebooks Online Reveal the Thoughts of Science Spies

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If you like retro-futuristic spy tales, you will be intrigued by this collection of KGB spy notebooks, translated online, created during the height of the Cold War. They're all about stealing science secrets.


Posted by the Cold War International History Project, there are several notebooks that have been translated in their entirety, and it gives you a weird and intriguing glimpse of the spy mentality at the time. Here is one entry, from the so-called Yellow Notebook, kept by a spy in the early 1940s. He was trying to cozy up to nuclear scientists:

Report on a c/t dated 7.12.42. Charon reports that a certain Al. Marshak from Bransten's circle of acquaintance might be of interest: 37 years old, Jewish, works in the Genetics Dept. at the U. of California. He is described as being devoted to us and honest. M. believes he is related to the writer Marshak and is proud of this. M's parents lived in the south of Russia. He has professional ties to Lawrence's laboratory and to the physicist Oppenheimer. M. is supposedly in the know with regard to work on the cyclotron.

p.54 25.1.43 we replied to Charon that we are interested in Marshak, but that his family connection to the writer was not borne out. The neighbors have been cultivating Robert Oppenheimer since June 1942 Ë his recruitment does not seem possible.

So basically KGB spies were trying to recruit Oppehnheimer back in the early 40s. Wonder if he knew?

Check out more of the notebooks at the Cold War International History Project (thanks, Erin!)


He was quite the lefty and some of Oppenheimer's friends and his brother Frank were Party members. The Soviets probably thought he would be easy pickings, I'd imagine their approaches were pretty obvious especially to a man as sharp as Oppie. I can imagine a Sunday BBQ...

"Say Bob, Al and I were going to this meeting tomorrow and..."

"Oh this again? Listen fellas, I can't get mixed up with this. If it ever got out I'd never be let near a lab again. Sorry, but I can't play spies with you boys."

I wonder if that Marshak mentioned in the journal is related to Robert Marshak, another big player in theoretical physics at Los Alamos?