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tv   Ann Hagedorn Sleeper Agent  CSPAN  October 11, 2021 11:00pm-12:01am EDT

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his book unsettled. >> i am amanda director of adult education here in washington d.c. at the international spy museum, really glad you are here with us today. spy museum historian and curator andrew hammond will be talking with aunt about her new book sleeper agent, the atomic spy in america who got away. pretty awesome book, andrew was excited to ask her questions about george cabal the spy in the name. and as a former staff writer for the wall street journal and special project editor at the new york daily news. she is an award-winning author, of five previous nonfiction books including beyond a river, she is taught
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writing at colombia university at northwestern, xavier university and miami university. and today, for those who frequently come we have an exciting international dimension which is andrew has decided to go home to scotland for a brief break and brush up on his a wonderful brogue. so andrew, thank you for joining us from vacation. >> you are welcome. [laughter] >> technology seems to be supporting us. and will be doing a brief presentation on george koval. that andrew is going to ask her some expert questions and then we are going to turn to your questions from the audience. so without further ado i'm going to disappear and turn it over too audrey. >> thank you amanda, thank you andrew. thank you everyone for coming
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again to say it is my job as a narrative nonfiction writer to use the art of storytelling to engage general readers about meaningful issues. i always find the compelling narrative that will bring alive for the leader all issues and individuals at the core of the book. from the criteria for choosing topics must have significant possibly be in danger of falling through the crooks of history must be doable research wise, must have a literary potential, must have a general reader appeal and must arouse my writing a passion for it first choose and find the best narrative that is always the sequence. this time i discovered a remarkable story first. one that grabbing from the
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start he knew had grown up in dayton ohio and towards the end of the interviewee asked if if i knew about the secret site in dayton tied to the highly secretive manhattan project during the war. a while ago he said someone had told him a soviet spy work there during world war ii and lived in the same community where i spent my childhood. for a week or so after i continued my pursuit of the other topic. i was brimming with curiosity. i could not stop thinking about the possibility. although my curiosity was equaled by skepticism. at that out of respect for the gentleman i thought it must be a rumor. i found the spy's name, george
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koval in a "new york times" article about vladimir putin giving an award to the spy about ten years before. then i evaluated what seemed to be known, what was clearly unknown and i would have to find out if our to dive into this and where they might be archives, much needed primary sources applicable scheduled for the research. gaining some wisdom for freedom of the press. i filed some freedom of information express and begin the many trips to archives. first to the national archive in college park, maryland. from the start i barely took a day off as everybody knows me
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knows. it is a process of getting information was quite an adventure. finding letters, journals, postcards, news clips, yearbook photos, tax wrappers, ship manifest, passports, arrest records, application forms, even inscriptions in books, and thousands of pages of fdr reports. there is a regiment of reading secondary sources of course. : :
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the pieces of the life of a soviet military intelligence officer who as a u.s. army corporal has full security clearance in america's top secret world war ii project. so the who and the when were doable. they must have a list of challenges. i was confident about that but for the book to be a true biography, the what and the how have to be uncovered. sleeper agent is about a spy born and raised in iowa known for charming everyone he met. he loved baseball, was a hotspot
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and he played the bridge and was a fan of walt whitman and cited the poems from several american poets and was by several accounts quite the ladies man. all the while he was helping speed up the creation of their own atomic bomb the most obvious and fascinating is what is in the subtitle and the fact that he was never caught. it gives readers the expected intrigue of espionage details there are many codenames. the various cover shots in
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manhattan. and in his suspicious routines had quite an adventure finding the addresses and then visiting the premises and measuring the distance as for example from the main cover shop in manhattan to the flatiron building where meetings had taken place it took seven minutes by the way. but the book goes beyond that. showing the hopes, fears and beliefs of the decisions and accomplishments. everyone's life must have
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meaning and i wanted to unveil the people and events that shaped the meeting to immerse the reader into the historical context in which the five functioned to basically deepen the themes and significance of the story and speak to the conditions like in the first paragraph. it should have been warnings only to be seen in hindsight caught the people rushed like speeding trains and have to touch into the terrain that they thought they knew so a man and a woman one evening at new york city's grand central palace. by the way the first prologue
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and first chapters in the meeting room it's a tradition. after reading an early copy of sleeper agent, my friend said the biography takes the reader beyond a typical spy story because for him it brought to life and personified the battle of the american dream versus the communist workers and one of those knowledgeable just a few days ago said the life journey through the centuries american and russian destiny and his work as an intelligence agent had such an impact that his personality would lobby the subject in both russia and the united states.
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the story also shows the expectation and determination of the russian military intelligence and how we've underestimated the capabilities in technology and science in general. as the former defense secretary james' lesson juror said at the time of the discovery he and enlisted it in 1985 and in his testimony he said the american complacency. the book also exposes the backlash of the persistence of prejudice throughout history basically the human cause of oppression though the self designed tapestry of truth he
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thinks he was also a dedicated scientist and was a resilient survivor. someone who knew the cause of oppression and an important point to make this is also a story that transcends the scale of soviet espionage and turns the readers to the attention that opportunism and bigotry blurred the vision of all that was happening regarding the soviet spy networks. for example they thought all members of the communist party usa had to be spies. he played a bridging to belong to a bowling league, not the party usa and with his
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scientific peers in electrical engineering, honorary fraternity not with its quote on quote fellow travelers as his espionage was called. he simply wanted in. it answers long questions and brings to light many details that revealed why he was undetected and shows there were no coincidences. as a source five years ago when i was at "the wall street journal," a former prosecutor actually told me when i asked him about the best way to investigate he said use timelines and chronology and never accept coincidences. one example of that here was shortly after he returned.
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that was in one of the files. he got a b by the way. anyhow, it's a great example of what could appear to be a detail of little significance but with some studies it made a timeline about what was happening in nuclear physics and it becomes far more important than someone taking a chemistry course because he loved science or wanted to make friends in new york city. to be sure by the time of the enrollment in 1941, it was a magnet for some of the most highly regarded physicists in the world. some destined to play stellar roles in the upcoming production of the atomic bomb and there had been a very detailed front pagee
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article in "the new york times" in may of 1940 about what was happening at columbia in physics. an article he must have seen. so dig further and establish timelines and begins to surface. another example is the job at oak ridge it was known he was assigned but exactly what did he do their? what was his daily routine and how would that affect his access to top-secret information? i had to find out and i learned from the oak ridge archives about the physics department. george was a health physicist and what they did is leveled
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measures of radiation contamination and it required access to confidential and secret information in fact most if not all during his tenure at oak ridge was classified. physicists had to learn the basic properties of all of the radioactive materials they were monitoring and they were asked to be present when repair work was done on equipment and no shipment could leave the site without the approval of the health physics department. also they conducted routine surveys of all officers and labs that they check for signs of contamination. three important steps were noted in the training materials and no all operations in your area, make thorough surveys and is
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training would have been in the hands of a soviet spy. finding such details of what i call the aha moment and there were numerous moments, numerous examples of them in the process of keeping together of course at the national archives i actually shouted at one point when i discovered a very helpful 250 page file that the archivists found. i must have been humming it as i walked the streets in manhattan and found out where the fellow travelers had worked and lived. i could go on of course but i would like to close today at the promised 20 minutes and i will close with my hopes for the book. i hope it will deepen the
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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 in the story of soviet espionage in america. we are all in this together and we continue to help each other and that's why you will find very detailed notes. please read my notes. the introductions and my acknowledgment. that's all for today. thank you very much. >> i've enjoyed your book and presentation. one of the things that you did
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interestingly in the book is tied the story to the experience so i wondered if you could let the listeners know about the role in that story. a. >> that of course is one of the underlining themes throughout. even in the beginning of part three the moment he was born he was facing anti-semitism. i did extensive research at the center for jewish history in new
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york and learned many new things for example the galveston movement which is utterly fascinating that there was an ellis island of the west and another 20 minutes talking about this movement. it's fascinating his parents came in through ellis island of the left which is galveston texas. it is a narrative that runs through his story and there are many surprises. i don't want to give a lot away.
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the first paragraph of part three when he returns, he escapes in october 1948 and returns to the soviet union and i wrote this which i think maybe is kind of an answer to your question. he's lived a lie about his past and family and work and after escaping the stresses he may have hoped for a new start but when he returned to moscow he found only a twisted fearful culture and propaganda prejudice namely against jews and americans as "the new york times" correspondent wrote anyone coming to russia at this time must bear in mind the paradox that has become the most
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reactionary power on earth. so in america he was walking on egg shells in terms of anti-semitism and anti-communism and then when he returned to russia there was a horrifying period of anti-semitism that he walked right into and in that chapter of the book it goes into that a bit but anyhow, i could go on and on. it's fascinating and important in the book because it goes into the ultimate question of why did he do this.
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>> i thought that it was fascinating through the book. a. >> i'm sorry that it happened and that it's true but i'm glad you liked it. >> this goes to my next question in the book you outline some of the ideological conflicts that they were surrounded with in the early 20th century and could you speak more about that and the decline and about the american intelligence federation and a bunch of other things. help the listeners understand a little bit more about the ideological conflict that they found themselves in.
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>> those were in great details. you have to realize that years ago i graduated and immediately he went to the new york of iowa and was very involved and at that point chosen to be the representative of the state of iowa for the organization. he went to a chicago convention. this is also part of what's fascinating about his not being detected.
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some of the unemployed counsel protested poverty. he was following the ideology his parents had taught him and had witnessed in the early part of the 20th century and they had come to the country in 1910 and got married in 1911. the russian revolution in the book i sort of show the timeline of his childhood. on a debate team in the national honor society but at the same time it was always this real of
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politics and prejudice in his life and in the book it showed again of the ku klux klan in the 1920s, the great plains is the name for it and iowa was one of the states included. he was surrounded by that. they believe that communism is the only that will end world
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oppression. i assume they didn't believe anymore that capitalism was the key. it's like i said in my talk that i thought was brilliant that it presented a tug-of-war between the american dream and the worker's paradise but why he worked on the red army intelligence and whether or not he knew what they were doing. if i could interview george, and we can't have him on the show but it would have been one of the questions i would have asked him of course, did he still believe in those ideals when he went into his red army military
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training to be a spy returning to his nation of birth and betrayal what was the psychological reasoning and how did he make sense of it. the man that had been described to him were not as such he loved
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baseball. how did he mix this all together in his head, do you have any thoughts? >> not to sound like a representative of simon and schuster. that is sort of interwoven of course and we don't know unless we can ask him. you know there are glorified reasons and in this case, it's hard for me to believe that in 1939 and 1940 when he was recruited in 1939 he went to his
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training and what did he know about what stalin was doing? we don't know. he had to have known about the purges, so the ideologies were crushed by the time he came back. we don't know. but one of the reasons that he probably did this they would be benefits for his family. september 1st, 1939, think about it. that's the beginning several years of world war. of course you don't know that at the time, but he knew his family
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could be at jeopardy, at risk, et cetera. so what were his motives for doing what he did? i think towards the end of the book there is a comment from one of his colleagues. part of the new century he said george told him i have no regrets so he knew by the end of the 19 '90s he had no regrets so that told you that it had to be part way the ideal.
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but it also had to be the protection of his family. and it also this was a guy that was loyal in his ideology and family and very loyal to science. he was a scientist. in the book i show some of the articles in the manhattan project and in his lifetime as a professor i think he published over 100 scholarly articles. so those are where his devotions were so what was he most devoted to to figure out what the motives were but we don't know unless you suddenly send us a message. we don't know unless we could interview him, which isn't going to happen obviously.
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i'm trying [inaudible] how consequential do you think the intelligence was some people say it's spread by several years and i've even had someone say that he basically handed them the bomb other people thought it was clear-cut. >> what's in the book is what
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exactly can be proven. we don't know beyond the reports in the book. we do know he passed on some very importantly and how to manufacture. i could get into an hour-long lecture having spent much more time studying it. you have the details about the safety of the health physics. that was unique because he worked at the plant in oak ridge where one of the methods was
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done so also he sensed the layoff at the plants in oak ridge and fueled the volumes and because it had a graphite actor. it confirmed with what they had already sent from los alamos, so that confirmation is important also because that eliminates a lot of the questions and suspicions of what might have been misinformation. anybody that they see that needed confirmation when they
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got the information from the intelligence sources so there is quite a list. if you look at the amount of time it took the country to figure out exactly how to emphasize and manufacture and the fact that information was sent definitely sped up the production. about those reports that we know
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so plant structures and worker numbers. it helps detail the safety development. one of the things you discuss in the book i think plays an interesting role if you can tell your take on what's going on there. >> that was very interesting.
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that put in the ranking of the army specialized training program he was sent and this was a program to advance the scientific capability of some draftees and used in all kinds of projects. george was one of them and then
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he was chosen to be in another group, the special engineer detachment which meant that he would be one of the scientists coming out of the program. as an assistant to one of the scientists, that sort of thing. it was an interesting place but after the war he returned and gets his degree.
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some of whom were connected with the manhattan project so it's one of those questions i must answer by saying read the book. but it does play a role and a very interesting role. there were some dynamic people including 98-year-old whom i interviewed. he was a classmate of ct ny and colleague at oak ridge. i believe we have a lot of questions coming through so i'm
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just going to close out by saying it's quite interesting he left the state to go back to the soviet union. thank you for picking up on that. i almost didn't include that in the book. the symbol of america so i'm glad i jumped in. thanks. >> if you made it out, no one would believe it but it's what happened. here's a question i myself wondered. he wants to know did you ever in researching it get a sense of
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personal aggravation betraying the birth country. i would say frustration mixed with curiosity. i think he loved america but he also loved science and his family. he was protecting his family. i think you have to. it's like a professor of mine at columbia years ago.
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aggravated isn't really the word. he was so bright and when i was doing the research i was always watching for a hint of regret. he had no regrets because he wasn't dedicated to his family
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or science. he knew. after many years, he had no regret. that's aggravating. how much training did he get to be a spy? we understand why, but did he get a lot of training on the tradecraft's?
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he would have gotten his training. i do know that for a sleeper agent which is basically by definition blended into the target country it takes a much longer time and you got to know the language and cultural habits. in the research one of the greatest moments, all the greatest moments were the discoveries with the help of my russian translator and things he wrote he was having problems
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learning russian. he had no russian accent. there was a touch of it in his english because he grew up in iowa. for the soviet intelligence when the second world war comes along. >> we could be starting our next
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book and could be out there talking about it but at any rate, beyond that there's some pretty serious themes in the book and i think we can learn a lot as a soviet trained military intelligence officer. how did he get clearance and how did he get this that's an excellent question because in
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this sequence of events, he goes to fort dix and selected. this is where it was purified and in june after it would have been in september of 1945.
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he continued his work at the end of the war. it's the details that proved he really knew what he was doing because an answer to the question, some of the details like for example the arrest record those could have been found. he knew there were all kinds of details that hadn't been discovered in his gaming security is a much-needed scientist in the manhattan
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project. so he was needed. we were looking for nazi spies. he was a star in everything he did. so why would there be more digging however when he lost his cover in the u.s. army then he knew he was in danger. i think there was a tiny question you answered in the midst of that. you kicked it off and i think you touched on that just now. june 207th, 1945 until the closing weeks of january 1946.
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by february 1946 so it comes up when one of the guests wants to know as the embassy officials acted in river vale during the time period that it resided in the bronx. >> good question, and i don't know i know a lot about the consulate which was utterly fascinating because the advice console is probably through east 60th street and the information was sent to moscow but
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riverdale, that i don't know. that's fascinating. we are all in this together. an interesting question touching on the university of iowa. he said he believes that's one of the first universities to be involved in technology and he wondered did any of the studies from the classes he took provide insight into a scientific journey it's interesting at that time of the university of iowa. i do have a list of the courses he took when he was there and i didn't include them in the book because too much detail, didn't
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want to worry with too much detail. i can't remember what they were. sorry about that but one of the best writing programs in the country. these questions are so intense and good and here is a really great clarifying question he was red army trained u.s. military officer. during his life back in the ussr after 1948 did he ever revisit
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the autonomous region? he and his parents initially emigrated to 1952. >> they died there and i think that his mother died in 1950s and the father in the 1960s. he would try to live out his life there with his parents. one of his brothers was killed during the war in 1943 and the rest of his family continued living there.
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>> i want to know if this has led you to your next book. you may not want to tell us what it is about but i'm wondering in all of this talk it's always interesting to me and i was curious if this is sent to you in any new research direction to work on. >> it's interesting you should ask that because at the beginning of my talk when i was describing the process of the topics exactly where i was in 2016 in the sense that i have two topics and one is a very important issue and i can't find a great story to bring alive that issue and the other one is
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a fabulous story and actually arthur's schlessinger told me a few details at lunch one day in 2005 and i wrote it in a journal and i think i wasn't ready for it yet and i think i am now and it's a fabulous story. it came up in a conversation and he said you might want to pursue this. sometimes we have to develop our skills to a particular level before we are ready to see the greatness of a story and sometimes able to pursue it. i think i will probably go the story route. arthur passed away but sending
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the clone out to do a little work on that soon. searching for the narrative, the story will surface which my editor kept telling me what happened with the story i was fascinated by the story and had to follow it. before i wrap this up, do you have any final thoughts before i close the shop? >> no, i think you've done a very fine job. it was a fantastic conversation.
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we thank you for coming in from scotland. we are going to make him do it again next week. the program is 5:30. volley who is going to tell us about what he did we can interview him now. i'm sure he can't tell us everything we want to know but that is on thursday. you can sign up for that on the website, and if you are appreciating what we do, you can feel free to donate to the spy museum. it helps us to do these programs and talk to cool people and make andrew work on his vacation.
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>> thanks everyone for being office to appear in the near future on booktv. ♪ ♪ ♪

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