Simon & Schuster
July 20th, 2021
Sleeper Agent by Ann Hagedorn brings to life the story of the undetected spy George Koval. His life is used as a backdrop for the historical context surrounding the Manhattan Project.
“I want readers to get the feeling for who he was and why he did what he did. He had an impact on world history. His entire life personified the Cold War battle between the American dream and a worker’s paradise. My goal was to delve into the psychology of a Soviet spy, the beliefs, and values. He was able to blend well into America because he was born in Iowa. He was a charmer, a skilled baseball shortstop, had a great memory, a ladies’ man, a joiner, scientist, and a military man. A resilient survivor who was determined to use his expertise to help the Russian intelligence.”
Koval was born in Iowa, but due to increasing anti-Semitism grew up in Russia after his Jewish parents emigrated there. It was there he was recruited by the Soviet Army as a spy and returned to the US in 1940 to fight in the US Army. He used his scientific background and connections to secure assignments, in which he found out about the production of plutonium and uranium as well as becoming a health physicist. After infiltrating Manhattan Project facilities in Oak Ridge Tennessee and Dayton Ohio and securing information, Koval successfully passed it on enabling the Soviets to shorten the time needed to make their own atomic bomb. Fleeing the US in 1948, Koval became a teacher at the Mendeleev Institute in Moscow.
“Unfortunately, he died in 2006 so I was unable to interview him. Why did he become a spy? He thought the only “ism” to end world oppression was Communism. Since his family lived in Russia, he might not have had a choice to become a spy and did it to protect them. I do not think he ever became disillusioned because I read a friend and colleague’s account. He noted in the late 1990s that Koval said, he had no regrets and was committed to Communism, science, and his family. Maybe he was one of those scientists who believed in parity: no nation should have complete control of a weapon like the atomic bomb. We will never know his motivations.”
Readers will learn how this seemingly All-American guy was able to change history by helping the Russians get the information needed to make an atomic bomb. The story emphasizes the Soviet-American espionage and the FBI’s failure to detect a Soviet spy.