cover image Sleeper Agent: The Atomic Spy in America Who Got Away

Sleeper Agent: The Atomic Spy in America Who Got Away

Ann Hagedorn. Simon & Schuster, $28 (272p) ISBN 978-1-5011-7394-3

Journalist Hagedorn (The Invisible Soldiers) unearths the little-known story of Soviet spy George Koval (1913–2006) in this doggedly researched account. Posthumously awarded Russia’s highest civilian honor, Koval flew so far under the radar that Vladimir Putin hadn’t heard of him before attending a Moscow exhibition on Cold War–era spies in 2006. Culling FBI reports, school yearbooks, and immigration forms, Hagedorn details Koval’s early life in Sioux City, Iowa, where he was born to Russian Jewish immigrants, who, in the face of rising American anti-Semitism in the 1930s, returned to their native country to join a collective farm in the Jewish Autonomous Region of Russia’s Far East. After WWII began, Koval, who had been pursuing a chemistry degree, was recruited by military intelligence and sent back to the U.S. in 1940 as a spy. He infiltrated Manhattan Project facilities in Oak Ridge, Tenn., and Dayton, Ohio, supplying his handlers with classified information about the production of enriched uranium, plutonium, and polonium. After fleeing the U.S. in 1948, Koval became a teacher at the Mendeleev Institute in Moscow; Hagedorn suggests that embarrassment over his escape led the FBI to keep his case quiet. Enlivened by its brisk pace and lucid scientific details, this is a rewarding introduction to a noteworthy episode in the history of Soviet espionage. (July)