|Theodore Alvin Hall|
Hall's ID badge photo from Los Alamos
|Born||Theodore Alvin Holtzberg
October 20, 1925
New York City, USA
|Died||November 1, 1999
Cause of death
University of Chicago
|Known for||Atomic spy|
Theodore Alvin Hall (October 20, 1925 – November 1, 1999) was an American physicist and an atomic spy for the Soviet Union, who, during his work on US efforts to develop the first and second atomic bombs during World War II (the Manhattan Project), gave a detailed description of the "Fat Man" plutonium bomb, and of several processes for purifying plutonium, to Soviet intelligence. His brother, Edward Hall, was a rocket scientist who worked on ICBMs for the United States government.
At the age of 19, Hall was the youngest scientist to be recruited to work on the Manhattan Project at Los Alamos. While on a vacation in his hometown, New York City, he entered the Soviet consulate and volunteered to pass information on the Manhattan Project to the Soviet government. (After his death, Hall's wife Joan said that he had begun to adopt strong feelings, current at the time, against the possibility of a militarized United States having a nuclear monopoly very early in his time working at Los Alamos.)
Unbeknown to Hall, Klaus Fuchs, a Los Alamos colleague, and others still unidentified were also spying for the USSR; none seems to have known of the others. Harvard friend Saville Sax and Lona Cohen acted as Hall's couriers. Igor Kurchatov, a brilliant scientist and the head of the Soviet atomic bomb effort, probably used information provided by Klaus Fuchs to confirm corresponding information provided earlier by Hall.
Hall, with the help of Sax (who had open communist sympathies), visited New York, where, after some searching, arranged a meeting with a Soviet diplomat. He presented a detailed sketch of the "Fat Man" atomic device to the official, who later transmitted the information to the NKVD using a one-time pad cipher. Hall's code-name was MLAD, a Slavic root meaning "young".
Until the release of the Venona decrypts in 1980, nearly all of the espionage regarding the Los Alamos nuclear weapons program was attributed to Klaus Fuchs. Hall was questioned by the Federal Bureau of Investigation in March 1951 but wasn't charged. Alan H. Belmont, the number-three man in the FBI, decided that information coming out of the Venona project would be inadmissible in court, as hearsay evidence, and so its value in the case was not worth compromising the program.
Hall left Los Alamos for the University of Chicago, where he switched to biology. There he pioneered important techniques in X-ray microanalysis. He went to work at Cambridge University in England in 1962. Hall later became active in obtaining signatures for the Stockholm Peace Pledge.
Statements in 1990s
The Venona project became public knowledge in 1995.
In a written statement published in 1997, Hall came very close to admitting that the accusations against him were true, although obliquely, saying that in the immediate postwar years, he felt strongly that "an American monopoly" on nuclear weapons "was dangerous and should be avoided":
- To help prevent that monopoly I contemplated a brief encounter with a Soviet agent, just to inform them of the existence of the A-bomb project. I anticipated a very limited contact. With any luck, it might easily have turned out that way, but it was not to be.
- I decided to give atomic secrets to the Russians because it seemed to me that it was important that there should be no monopoly, which could turn one nation into a menace and turn it loose on the world as ... as Nazi Germany developed. There seemed to be only one answer to what one should do. The right thing to do was to act to break the American monopoly.
On November 1, 1999, Theodore Hall died at the age of 74, in Cambridge, England. Although he had suffered from Parkinson's disease, it was not what ultimately killed him, succumbing instead to renal cancer.
- Read Venona Intercepts
- Albright, Joseph; Marcia Kunstel (1997). Bombshell: The Secret Story of America's Unknown American Spy Conspiracy. Crown Publishing Group. ISBN 0-8129-2861-X.
- Alan S. Cowell (November 10, 1999). "Theodore Hall, Prodigy and Atomic Spy, Dies at 74". New York Times. Retrieved 2008-06-26. "Theodore Alvin Hall, who was the youngest physicist to work on the atomic bomb project at Los Alamos during World War II and was later identified as a Soviet spy, died on Nov. 1 in Cambridge, England, where he had become a respected, if not a truly leading, pioneer in biological research. He was 74."
- Harold Jackson (November 16, 1999). "Theodore Hall. US scientist-spy who escaped prosecution and spent 30 years in biological research at Cambridge". The Guardian. Retrieved 2010-12-19. "Theodore Hall, who has died at the age of 74, was the American atomic scientist discovered by the United States authorities to have been a wartime Soviet spy – but who was never prosecuted. The information he gave Moscow was at least as sensitive as that which sent Julius and Ethel Rosenberg to the electric chair. But the Americans decided not to charge Hall because of the security and legal difficulties of disclosing that they had penetrated some of the Soviet Union's most secure diplomatic codes. Subsequently, and with the tacit consent of the British security authorities, Hall spent more than 30 years as a respected researcher at Cambridge University until he retired in 1984, aged 59."
- FBI: Memo Prosecution: Disadvantages (1 February 1956)
- "A Memoir of Ted Hall" (by Joan Hall, wife)
- Los Alamos National Laboratory: History: Spies
- Alsos Digital Library for Nuclear Issues: Annotated bibliography for Theodore Hall