The world's largest group of physicists has opened a campaign to discredit a new book that asserts that the main architects of the nuclear era betrayed the United States by spying for Moscow.
The physicists are calling for a federal investigation of the accusations, which it disparages as unsubstantiated and flawed by serious discrepancies.The book, "Special Tasks: The Memoirs of an Unwanted Witness - a Soviet Spymaster," was written by Pavel Sudoplatov and recently published by Little, Brown & Co. During the Stalin era, Sudoplatov was the Soviet Union's deputy director of foreign intelligence and director of atomic intelligence.
The book asserts that the scientists who founded the nuclear era and developed the atomic bomb during World War II knowingly gave the weapon's secrets to Moscow. Among those the author accused were Niels Bohr, Enrico Fermi, George Gamow, J. Robert Oppenheimer and Leo Szilard, all of whom are dead.
The physicists' group, the American Physical Society, a 43,000-member organization based in College Park, Md., held a news conference on Tuesday in Washington in which five experts denounced the book's nuclear aspects as wildly inaccurate and probably fictitious. The group's council, a 40-member elected body, also issued a statement of condemnation.
The council expressed "profound dismay at unsubstantiated allegations" against "some of the most eminent scientists of this century." The accusations, the council said, "are made by a man who has characterized himself as a master of deception and deceit." The council went on to say that while none of the accused was alive to defend himself, "surviving colleagues point to serious discrepancies in the published account."
For instance, Hans A. Bethe, who ran the theory division at Los Alamos, N.M., the birthplace of the bomb, denounced one of the book's central allegations about Oppenheimer, the scientific head of the secret laboratory. The book asserts that Oppenheimer took special steps to bring in a British scientist, Klaus Fuchs, who then spied for Moscow. After the war, Fuchs confessed and was sentenced to prison.
Bethe dismissed the accusation against Oppenheimer. "Fuchs was simply part of the British mission," he said in an interview. "We didn't choose among them." Bethe added that the book's allegations about Oppenheimer in general appeared to be "a web of lies."