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Nuclear Spies: America's Atomic Intelligence Operation against Hitler and Stalin

by Vince Houghton Cornell University Press
Pub Date:
Hbk 248 pages
AU$64.99 NZ$65.21
Product Status: In Stock Now
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Why did the US intelligence services fail so spectacularly to know about the Soviet Union's nuclear capabilities following World War II? As Vince Houghton, historian and curator of the International Spy Museum in Washington, DC, shows us, that disastrous failure came just a few years after the Manhattan Project's intelligence team had penetrated the Third Reich and knew every detail of the Nazi's plan for an atomic bomb. What changed and what went wrong?


Houghton's delightful retelling of this fascinating case of American spy ineffectiveness in the then new field of scientific intelligence provides us with a new look at the early years of the Cold War. During that time, scientific intelligence quickly grew to become a significant portion of the CIA budget as it struggled to contend with the incredible advance in weapons and other scientific discoveries immediately after World War II. As Houghton shows, the abilities of the Soviet Union's scientists, its research facilities and laboratories, and its educational system became a key consideration for the CIA in assessing the threat level of its most potent foe. Sadly, for the CIA scientific intelligence was extremely difficult to do well. For when the Soviet Union detonated its first atomic bomb in 1949, no one in the American intelligence services saw it coming.

Introduction: The Principal Uncertainty1. A Reasonable Fear: The U.S. (Mis)Perception of the German Nuclear Program2. Making Something out of Nothing: The Creation of U.S. Nuclear Intelligence3. Alsos: The Mission to Solve the Mystery of the German Bomb4. Transitions: From the German Threat to the Soviet Menace5. Regression: The Postwar Devolution of U.S. Nuclear Intelligence6. Whistling in the Dark: The U.S. (Mis)Perception of the Soviet Nuclear ProgramConclusion: Credit Where Credit Is DueNotesSelected BibliographyIndex

"The Nuclear Spies deftly navigates the decisions made, for better or worse, by World War II–era American intelligence agencies. This book [adds to our] understanding of scientific intelligence as a tool for national security."-Valerie Plame, former covert CIA Operations Office


"The Nuclear Spies is a valuable contribution to the history of science and, in particular, the emergence of scientific intelligence as a national security tool. It delineates the successes and failures of American intelligence organizations during and after WWII, and is critical for our current and future scientific intelligence programs."-John C. Browne, Los Alamos National Laboratory


"The Nuclear Spies makes a significant contribution to intelligence studies by filling a gap in the literature: the importance of individual and institutional threat perceptions and cultural preconceptions when it comes to the development of strategic policy."-Genevieve Lester, US Army War College, author of When Should State Secrets Stay Secret?


"Vince Houghton is exceptionally well-versed in the history of the intelligence challenges. The Nuclear Spies is an illuminating and valuable book describing the terrifying dawn, at the turn from World War II to the Cold War, of scientific intelligence."-Richard Immerman, Temple University, author of The Hidden Hand
Dr. Vince Houghton is the Historian and Curator of the International Spy Museum in Washington, DC. He has a PhD in Diplomatic and Military History from the University of Maryland, where his research centered on US scientific and technological intelligence (nuclear intelligence) in the Second World War and early Cold War. Vince is a veteran of the United States Army, and served in the Balkans, where he worked closely with both civilian and military intelligence agencies in several capacities.