Busy, busy, busy, hence the lack of posting. On the side I’ve worked through a fascinating detailed history, “The Nuclear Spies: America’s Atomic Intelligence Operation against Hitler and Stalin,” by Vince Houghton, curator of the International Spy Museum in Washington. I’ve never been to that museum, and espionage plays only a small part in my history over the first decade or two, so the book is more background material than essential, but I can highly recommend it.
“The Nuclear Spies” essentially explores two issues: how much the Americans knew of the Nazis’ attempts to make an atomic bomb, and why they were so taken by surprise when the Soviets tested one in 1949. On the former, a special “atomic espionage” unit named ALSOS was formed in 1943 by the head of the Manhattan Project, General Groves, and came into its own with a daring in-field operation in 1945. I found this anecdote from Houghton amusing:
Despite these precautions, Groves worried that the primary goals of the mission would be discovered by the enemy. Part of this fear stemmed from the name of the mission itself. The unnamed individual or individuals in G-2 who were tasked with assigning code names to operations decided to name the scientific intelligence mission “Alsos.” Although it sounded innocuous enough, and in many cases it was assumed to be an obscure acronym, alsos is actually the Greek word for “grove” or “a grove of trees.” Someone at G-2 with a misplaced sense of humor thought it would serve as an homage to the MED director. Terrified that the mission’s secrecy would be compromised even before the mission began, Groves briefly contemplated ordering the name to be changed, but in the end decided that to change the name would only bring attention to the operation.