I was just reading something by Freeman Dyson, a review of a biography of Bruno Pontecorvo. He explains that technical spies, like Pontecorvo or Klaus Fuchs or Ted Hall, are unimportant because the Soviet Union had plenty of first-rate scientists already, people like Yuri Khariton and Zeldovich and Sakharov, and would have eventually gotten to the same place anyhow.
He thinks that people like Hall only accelerated the Soviet bomb program by two or three years. But tactical spies, people like Aldrich Ames or Kim Philby , who burned fellow agents and got them killed – they’re quite naughty.
So I guess being a atomic spy in the service of the Soviet Union was almost a peccadillo. Right-thinking people certainly want to think that, since so many of them were sympathetic to Uncle Joe (‘ he rolls the executions on his tongue like berries’ ) and his antics. Of course, right-thinking people are always wrong.
Gee, what happened in those two or three years? Anything bad? Anything that wouldn’t have happened if Stalin was Bombless? The Korean War, certainly. Heard of it?
Moreover, those technical spies saved the Soviets money as well as time – we explored all the possible approaches to manufacturing fissionables in the Manhattan Project, most of which were expensive failures, but the Soviets didn’t have to. Their resources were limited: this helped. Their first bomb was made from Los Alamos engineering blueprints (thanks, Ted Hall !)…