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tv   Ann Hagedorn Sleeper Agent  CSPAN  August 11, 2022 11:15pm-12:15am EDT

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his book unsettled. >> i am amanda director of adult education here in washington d.c. at the >> i'm director of adult education here in washington dc at the international spy museum i'm really glad you are here with us today. andrew will talk about the new book sleeper agent the atomic spices got away. andrew is excited to ask about
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the spy as as a former staff writer for "the wall street journal" and special projects editor at the new york daily news. in award-winning author of five previous nonfiction books including beyond the river teaching at western xavier and miami. and also to that exciting international to mention that andrew has decided to go home to scotland in russia. so thank you for joining us from vacation. >> you are welcome. [laughter] >> technology seems to be supporting us. and will do a brief
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presentation then andrew will ask some expert questions and then we will turn to your questions from the audience. so i will disappear and y handed over. >> thank you amanda and andrew and everyone for coming. i shall begin by just saying it is my job as a narrative nonfiction writer to use the art of storytelling to engage general readers about meaningful issues and then to confine on —- that find that decompelling narrative those individuals at the core of the book so for that criteria choosing the topics and then
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research wise with that literary potential so first choose the topic then find the narrative. but this time i discovered a remarkable story that grabs me from the start and it all started with a 93 -year-old gentleman i was interviewing in 2016. he knew i had grown up in day in ohio and he suddenly asked if i knew about the secret site tied to the manhattan project during the war. a while ago he said someone had told him a soviet spy worked there during world war ii and in the community where i spent my childhood for a week. after the a interview i continued my pursuit but i was
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brimming with curiosity and cannot stop thinking about the possibility it was by a skepticism and i thought it must be a rumor and then i found him by name of george in a new york times article about putin giving an award to us by ten years before. then i evaluated what seemed to be known and it was unknown and i had to find out if i were to dive into this and where there would be archives and primary sources. i had to do a flight plan anded schedule the research and then gaining some wisdom for freedom of the press working
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on foia request and then began the many trips to archives and college park maryland. i barely took a day off. it is a process finding journals and postcards and yearbook photos, ship manifest, passports and arrestst records and applications and inscriptions in books and thousands of pages of fbi reports. also reading thosef secondary sources in the numerous domain
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research from the 20th century anti-semitism to the soviet espionage tactics in the 1930s and 19 forties america. and even to understand among many others the timeline of the making of the atomic bomb with the united states and the soviet union. all in the pursuit of putting together they pieces of the life of a soviet military intelligence officer who as a u.s. army corporal have full security clearance and top secret world war ii project to build thend first atomic bomb. confident about the challenges but with a true
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biography the why and the white in the house has been uncovered. indeed sleeper agent is a biography of a soviet spy. born and raised in iowa and known for charming everyone he met. he love space bar, a skilled shortstop and could wheel off the history the history of every picture. a fan of walt whitman and could recite them. and by several accounts, quite the ladies man. winding into the american culture to speed up the creation of their own atomic
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bomb with the most fascinating detail the fact that he was never caught. it gives readers the expected intrigue of the codenames the various cover shots where the handler himself with the suspicious routine had quite an adventure finding the addresses and visiting the premises even interviewing current owners. and to m measure distances. from the main on west 23rd street in manhattan where the meetings had taken place, it
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took seven minutes by the way. but the book goes beyond that. for the biography delving into the psychology of the spy showing the hopes and fears and the lease. everyone's life must have meaning and to unveil to shape the meaning and then to immerse the reader into the historical context of a typical spy story and then to the first paragraph of the book. sometimes the clues that should have been warning are lost in the blurb it seen in
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hindsight into the terrain that they thought they knew so far man and a woman one evening in 1948 in grand central palace each wearing the clues. i always read the first paragraph and the prologue in the new york public library it's a tradition after reading an early copy i was told that the biography takes the reader beyond the typical spy story because for him it brought alive and personified the cold war battle of the american dream versus the communist workers paradise. one of the russian scholars knowledgeable about george wrote to me to say "his life
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journey through the 20th century american destiny and his work as an intelligence agent has an impact on world history as a study of russia and in the united states. so it shows the expertise and the determination and in the russian capabilities of technologies in general. as james lessons are said at the time it must have been 1985 and in his testimony the complacency to assume that the russians are technically
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inferior the best building ever built. it exposes the backlash of bigotry and the persistence throughout history. basically the human cost of oppression and then a true trader also a dedicated scientist and a resilient survivor of anti-semitism in russia and america. someone in human oppression and this is also a spy story that transcends the debates of some of espionage and then have that for division of all
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that is happening regarding the soviet spy network that all members of the communist party usa but then look at george, he belonged to a bowling league not communist party usa. and he was bowling with his scientific peers not with his fellow travelers as his espionage peers were called. the blood cancers long lingering questions aboutnd george's life and details that talk about why he was undetected and that there was no coincidence. five years ago at "the wall street journal" a former prosecutor in new york
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actually told me when i asked him the best way to investigate, he said he used timelines and chronology to don't accept coincidences. his enrollment at columbia university shortly after he returned to america as a red army trained spy. and to keep aligned with any context. it is a great example of what could appear to be a detail of little significance that mainly a timeline of nuclear physics far more important than a chemistry course in the ivy league school or wanted to make friends and his new house in new york city.
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by the time george's enrollment in 1941 at columbia was a magnet for the most highly regarded physicist and chemist in the world some played roles in the upcoming production of the first atomic bomb. very detailed front page article of "the new york times" may 1940 about what was happening at columbia in physics. in an article, we dig further and establish timelines. another example of that george's job as a physicist it was known he was assigned to oak bridge and exactly what did hew do their? what was his daily routine? and how did that affect access
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to information? i had to find out. i learned from the oak ridge akarchives from the health and physics department and george was a health physicist. what theyy did was measure levels of radiation contamination that required routine access to confidential and secret information. in fact most if not all continue to help physics during george's tenure was classified. physicists had to learn the basic chemical properties of the radioactive materials. they had to be present when return work was done on the equipment. no shipment currently the site without the approval of the health physics department also the health physicist would
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give routine surveys of all offices and labs and checked for signs of contamination. it was always noted in training materials, no all operations in your area and be alert to changes. make a thorough survey. those training materials are in the hands of a soviet spy. there are numerous moments and examples in the process of keeping his life together at the national archives actually shouted aha when p i found a 250 page file the archivist had found she remembers that. i must've been humming walking in the bronx to map out where
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george and his fellow travelers had worked and lived. i could go on but i must close. i will close simply for my hopes of the book i hope the readers of the understanding of the psychology of the timeless cost of oppression and that it will be helpful to future researchers and contribute to the step-by-step process of prying open and close chapters in this soviet espionage in america. we are all in this together. as researchers and writers to help each other and that's why you will find very detailed notes. please read my notes in the introduction in my
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acknowledgments. i think that is all for today. thank you very much. host: thank you so much. i really enjoyed your book and presentation. my first question is more at the macro level. one of the things you did interestingly in the book was put george's story into the experience in america and the jewish experience in the 20th century. so let westerners know a little more about george and his place in the story. >> that is one of the underlying themes interwoven throughout.
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it was pointed out that his life the moment he was born all the way through he was facing anti-semitism. to the extent of research at the center for jewish history in new york and learned many things. for example the movement which is under the fastening one —- fascinating which is the ellis island of the west. i could spend another 20 minutes talking about that and in the end up in sioux city iowa because they come through galveston texas it is an
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interwoven narrative a subtext that runs to the story. and with the first paragraph when he escapes in 1948 and he returns to the soviet union and in answer to your question. for eight years george had lived after escaping he may have hoped for a new start. but when he returned to moscow
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november 48 was only a twisted fearful culture steeped in propaganda and prejudice against jews and americans. new york times foreign correspondent road at the time anyone coming to russia at this time must always bear in mind the paradox that country has now become the most reactionary power honors". on —- on earth"so now walking on egg shells in terms of anti-semitism and anti- communism and then when he returns to russia it was a horrifying period of anti-semitism that he walked right into november 1948 and the chapter goes into that in the book.
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i could go on and on about that. it is fascinating. it is an important theme in the book because it goes into the ultimate question why did he do it? host: i thought that was fascinating.t. >> i'm sorry it happened and i'm sorry it is true but i'm that you liked it. host: q so outlining the ideologicalog conflict to the 2h century in iowa and the midwest. you speak about the american
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intelligence federation and speak about a bunch of other things. so let's talk about more that ideological construct. >> those were great details you have to realize in 1929 and he went to study engineering and he got very involved at that point was chosen to be the representative for the state of iowa for the young communist organization. he went to a chicago
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convention. this is also part of what is fascinating about him not being detected. in this teenage they would have been because there was a record of him representing the communist league in chicago 1930. 1931 he was part of the unemployed council and protested poverty, arrested. he was following the ideology his parents had taught him. his parents had written in 19 oh five they had come to the country in 1910, got married
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than the russian revolution in 1917. so i share in the book the timeline of his childhood. he was on the debate team and national honor society, beloved by classmates but at the same time this politics and prejudice in his dilife and in the book i show the rise of the kkk in the 1920s it is the great plains and iowa was one of the states included. it wasn't anti- catholic anti- somatic. so he was surrounded by that.
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and then returning to russia in 1932 because he believed communism iss the onlyism that word and world oppression. i assume they did not believe caanymore that capitalism was the key. is just likee i said in my talk which i thought was brilliant that i pointed out that george's life represented a tug-of-war between thewe american dream and america's paradise. and then as to why he was recruited in 19395 red army
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intelligence. and whether or not if he knew what stalin was doing. if i could interview george. that would have been one of outhe questions i would have asked him if he still believed in those ideals when he went into the red army military training to be a spy and then return to the nation. >> i am wondering as well. so help us to understand child did george do this and what is a the psychological reasoning? how did hens make sense someone like jack or the kgb or undercover in the west?
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he said he realized and he made sense of all of this and was with the all-american boy. how did this all fit together in his head? >> not to sound like a representative of simon & schuster that you have to read the book. [laughter] but in truth we don't know unless we can ask. what were his motives? he obviously was not paid. why do people become spies?
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you know there are four or five reasons. it's hard for me to believe in 1939 when he was recruited. then came back in the autumn of 1942 the united states. what did he know what colin was doing? we don't d know. - - what stalin was doing? we don't know. so what is is ideology or was that crashed when he came back? we don't know. one of the motives and one of the reasons he probably did
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this being a part of the g.i. you would be benefits for his family. 1939. think about it. the beginning of several years several war. he did not know that at the time. but he did know his family could be in jeopardy and the way they lived. so what were his motives? anything toward the end of the book there is a comment from one of his colleagues that began a correspondence in the late 1990s. and he said george told him
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that i have no regrets. he knew by the end of the 1990s or the beginning of the century and the history what he had lived through so he had no regrets. that tells you had to be partly the ideals. but also had to be the protection of his family and also about science here was a guy who was loyal to his ideology but very loyal to his family and science. he was a scientist. mein the book to show some of the articles he published working with the manhattan project. in his lifetime and say professor he published over 100 scholarly articles.
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that is where his devotions were those he was devoted to. but we won't know unless he suddenly sends us a message. host: [inaudible] i recommend that listeners to buy the book from the spy museum store. but on that note how consequential do you think the intelligence was to be passed
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on? some people said it was the nuclear program was changed by seven years and that george recently handed the soviets the bomb. other people think it is not that clear-cut. what is your take? how consequential with the information he passed on quick. >> what is in the book is exactly what can be proven. we don't know beyond the reports in the book. we do know the information about polonium and how to manufacture polonium and i could get into an hour lecture having spent much time studying that but then you have the details about
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polonium and safety and health eaand physics and that was unique to george because he worked at the plant where one of the methods of creating the polonium was done. and he sent the layout of the sites and the plants at oak ridge fuel, volumes. and they had a graphite reactor creating plutonium also he sent information about plutonium. and what he sent confirmed what was already sent from
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lost alamo's. so that confirmation is very important because that eliminated a lot of the questions and suspicions of what sent was misinformation. they needed confirmation. whenever they got the information from the intelligence sources here. so there is quite a list. i think if you look at the amount of time in this country to figure out exactly how to sympathize and manufacture polonium that information was sent and george sent it back
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to speed up the production in the soviet union. and i can talk about the sources of the reports that we don't have time. plant structures and fuel production and work numbers from los alamos to oak ridge radiation safety development in the polonium. host: one of the things you discuss in the book is the college of new york. bit is creating an interesting time. so what is your take of what is going on there quick. >> the city college of new
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york? that was very interesting. after george was drafted and inducted in the army, the u.s. army february 1943 he goes to fort dix in new jersey then the citadel and had the army classification test. he scored 152 so that put them in a ranking of the army specialized training program. this was a program to advance the scientific capability of some draftees with all kinds
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of war projects. we needed scientists. so to keep in mind but the very important places there were a stp numbers and george was one of them. and he was there for one year. and then he was chosen to be in another group. a detachment where it meant he would be a scientist who would go togr one of the manhattan project sites tont be an assistant project to a
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scientist. so cc and why was an interesting place and has been. so then after the war he returns and gets his degree and completes his study. and he means fascinating people whilele he is they are. some of them are connected with the manhattan project. it's a question i have to answer with read the book. it does play a role in here and interesting role there are dynamic people at ccny including a man who was still alive now, 90 years old who i - - 98 years old who was a
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colleague at oak ridge. very interesting. host: and all the people were there with espionage. but now i will hand it over to amanda so we have a list of questions coming through so i will close out to say it is interesting that george went back to russia on a ship called the uss america. back to amanda. host. >> thank you for picking up on that i almost did not include that also a woman who came from oregon in the painting from new york. very much the symbol of new york one —- of america. i'm glad i kept that in.
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host: that is where fact comes through fiction nobody would believe it ift you made it up. here is a question that i myself wondered having a personal sense of aggravation for him to betray his birth country? >> what an interesting question. i would say frustration. mixed with curiosity. of course. i don't know.
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i think he loved america. think he was protecting his family like a professor at my neck columbia years ago said the only way to write the story have to put yourself on the shelf and put your feet in the shoes of the people and understand the context and the timeline of when he did this. aggravated is not the word but frustrated. he was so bright. of course you want to and i lwwas always watching for a hinf of regret. i suppose when i shift the
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frustration moments, it would have been when i found out that he had no regrets. i would have thought he was family, his his science, his students. his students loved him. that he knew by the early part of the new century what was happening when he did that. i suppose my aggravation would be surrounded by the fact that after many years he has no regrets. that is aggravating. host: how much training did he get to be a spy? was he trained on tradecraft?
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>> of course i try to nail down exactly where and when and what but i did not. i could not nailed down exactly where in moscow or outside moscow he would've gottenou his training. a sleeper agent by definition is someone that is blending into the target country, and normally it takes a much longer time than george's training because you have to learn the language andng the habits culturally. but he had an american accent
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and is russian in the research one of the greatest moments where the discovery of letters with the help of my russian translator. he was having problems. so when he came to america to blend in first of all he didn't have to come over with extensive training to pick up where he left off. and he had no russian accent there was no touch of it in his english because he grew up in iowa. >> very briefly talking in the book half of the historical context and then the soviet
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intelligence of the 1930s and then the second world war comes along and then there is a huge demand so by the book. [laughter] >> we can be starting our next book and ever clones can be up there talking about it. beyond that there is some serious relevant themes but we could learn a lot. perhaps we could learn a lot because soviet trained military intelligence officer
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and then had the target four of the american dream and the workers paradise. >> how did he get clearance with his background? >> that is an excellent question. b because of the sequence of events, inducted into the army, the city now and then is selected. and by the way that is one of the reasons after he goes to date - - dayton where the polonium was purified in june
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of 1945 it would have been september 1945 after nagasaki and hiroshima in august, he was offered a job to continue his work at the end of the war. he did not take it. and is one of the details that proved he knew what he was doing. some of those details like the arrest record from 1931. i traced his attendance at the young communist league event
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in 1930 those could've been found. he knew there were details that had not been discovered of his gaining security as a much needed scientists in the manhattan project. he was needed and we were looking for not see spies. he was a star and everything. why would there w be more digging? however when he lost his cover in the u.s. army and he mobilized, then he knew he was in danger. if it happened now we have computers. it is a different story now.
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host: there was a tiny question you answered in the midst of that that when was he in dayton? >> june 271945 through the closing weeks of january 1946. i continue exactly when he got there and left. he was back in the bronx by february 1946. host: the bronx comes up. was the russian complex and embassy officials active in riverdale during this time period they resided in the bronx? >> good question. i don't know. i don't know.
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i don't know about riverdale. i know a lot about the consulate on east 60th street which is utterly fascinating because michaela who worked with george's handler at the consulate handle the information sent to moscow. but i do not know about riverdale. that is fascinating. but this is my hope future researchers we're all in this together. host: touching on his time at the university of iowa, he believes when they were involved in computer technology and he wondered if any of the studies from the classes that he took they are
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provide insight into his scientific journey? was there anything interesting in that time that his university of iowa? >> a interesting question. i have a list of courses he took. i did not include them because too much detail. quite frankly i i cannot remember the courses. sorry about that. but universityt of iowa one of the best writing programs in the country. host: here is a great clarifying question. was the soviet penetration or that gr you military ops? >> he was gr you red army
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trained military intelligence officer. somebody really knows their history there. host: during his life and ussr of 1940 did he ever revisit the jewish autonomous region? where he and his parents initially immigrated? >> i cannot tell you i have the proof of that but if his parents were still there and they died there and one died in the 19 fifties and his father early sixties. they lived out their lives
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there. i do believe one brother was killed during the war 1943. i think the rest of the family continued living there. host: has this led you to your next book? all this talk about polonium it's very interesting to me. and i'm just curious if this had any new research direction. >> it's interesting you shed ask that because at the very
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beginning of my talk deciding the process exactly where i was in 2016 that i have two topics. one is a very important issue it's a very great story to bring alive the issue in just a fabulous story and actually arthur's messenger on —- lesson juror told me a few details at lunch one day 2005 and i wrote it in a journal. was not ready for it yet but i am now. but i think it came up in a conversation. you may want to pursue this. xyz.
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sometimes we have to develop our skills to a level before we are ready to see the greatness of the story and sometimes able to pursue it. i'm sorry arthur has passed away i think he would be happy to know this. sending out a clone to do some work on that. thank you for asking. going for the story about versus searching for the constant narrative. the significance was surface that my editor kept telling me what happened with the george story and you'll see the more significance. i was fascinated by the story
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so i had to follow it as far as i f could. host: do you have any final thoughts quick. >> no, she has done a very good job. host: a fantastic conversation. thank you even andrew coming in from scotland to be with us. we will make him do it again later this week. the next program is thursday evening 5:30 p.m. at the happy hour. with the spy who can tell us what he did. sure he can't tell us everything but that is on igthursday evening. you can sign up for that on
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the website. if you appreciate what we do you are always free to donate. it helps us to do these programs and talk to very cool people like and then work on their dissertation like andrew. [laughter] thank you for being here.


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