'Sleeper Agent: The Atomic Spy In America Who Got Away' On Thursday's Access Utah

Aug 12, 2021

Credit Simon and Schuster

“Sleeper Agent” is the story of the only Soviet military spy to have full security clearance in America’s top-secret project to build the first atomic bomb. He was a U.S. soldier born and raised in Iowa who charmed everyone he met, loved baseball and Walt Whitman, and all the while he was sending atomic secrets to Moscow to help build their own atomic bomb. He was never caught.

George Koval was born in Iowa. In 1932, his parents, Russian Jews who had emigrated because of anti-Semitism, decided to return home to live out their socialist ideals. George, who was as committed to socialism as they were, went with them. It was there that he was recruited by the Soviet Army as a spy and returned to the US in 1940. A gifted science student, he enrolled at Columbia University, where he knew scientists soon to join the Manhattan Project, America’s atom bomb program. After being drafted into the US Army, George used his scientific background and connections to secure an assignment at a site where plutonium and uranium were produced to fuel the atom bomb. There, and later in a second top-secret location, he had full access to all facilities and he passed highly sensitive information to Moscow.

There were hundreds of spies in the US during World War II but Koval was the only Soviet military spy with security clearances in the atomic-bomb project. The ultimate sleeper agent, he was an all-American boy who had played baseball, loved Walt Whitman’s poetry, and mingled freely with fellow Americans. After the war got away without a scratch. It is indisputable that his information landed in the right hands in Moscow. In 1949 Soviet scientists produced a bomb identical to America’s years earlier than US experts expected.

Ann Hagedorn is a former staff writer for the Wall Street Journal and Special Projects Editor at the New York Daily News, and an award-winning author of five previous nonfiction books, including Beyond the River and Savage Peace. She has taught writing at Columbia University, Northwestern, Xavier University, and Miami University, and holds an M.S. in journalism from Columbia University and an Honorary Doctorate in Humane Letters from Denison University. She lives in Ripley, Ohio, a town she first visited while researching her book Beyond the River.