July 10, 2012

Sibling rivalry: Ed Hall and Ted Hall

While researching my new Taki's column, I read Steve Blank's blog series "The Secret History of Silicon Valley" about the region's debt to the Cold War military-industrial complex. (Here's an hour-long lecture by Blank.) This digression doesn't have too much to do with Silicon Valley, but it is another good Cold War story:
One of the most interesting (declassified) stories of cryptography is the deciphering of Soviet communications to their diplomatic missions in the U.S during World War II. ... 
I had dinner last week with someone involved in the VENONA project (now retired.) We talked about one of the spies unearthed in the decoded messages; Ted Hall, a 19-year-old scientist at Los Alamos working on the Manhattan Project.  For lots of complicated reasons Hall was never arrested nor charged with a crime. Hall’s interest in Communism came from literature his older brother Ed brought home from college. 
When Ted Hall went to work on the Atomic Bomb during World War II his older brother Ed joined the Air Force. 
During the Cold War, when Ted Hall was under suspicion of being a Soviet spy, his brother Ed Hall, stayed in the Air Force and worked on every U.S. military missile program in the 1950′s (Atlas, Thor, etc.) 
Ed Hall eventually became the father of the Minuteman missile project, our land-based ICBM carrying nuclear weapons to destroy the Soviet Union. 
Surely the KGB, who ran Ted Hall as a spy, knew about his brother?  Perhaps even first…? 
My dinner companion, (who had a hand in his agency's counterintelligence group,) “acted” surprised about the connection between the two… 
Oh, what a wilderness of mirrors we live in.

26 comments:

Anonymous said...

Surely the KGB, who ran Ted Hall as a spy, knew about his brother? Perhaps even first…?

My dinner companion, (who had a hand in his agency's counterintelligence group,) “acted” surprised about the connection between the two…

Oh, what a wilderness of mirrors we live in.


I don't get it. What's the punchline? Who was doing what? Who was the real spy? Double agents?

Anonymous said...

CIA clubbable material tends to be the same type of guys who think dictatorship of the proletariat would be a nifty idea. Chuck Yeageresque farmhands they ain't.

Lugash said...

I am Lugash.

I don't get it. What's the punchline? Who was doing what? Who was the real spy? Double agents?

It's hard to say. Ed Hall might have been a spy due to his commie leanings, and brought his younger brother Ted in.

If you want to get more complicated, they were both double agents. Ted Hall was probably too junior to pass anything of value on to the commies from the Manhattan project, and he was never arrested. That would indicate he's a double agent.

Even more complicated, Ed was a single agent. Ted offered to act as a cutout for his brother, and then maybe a double agent for the Manhattan Project.

Weird synchronicity on this post. I was reading all of the Wiki pages for the various Cold War spies. I thought it would be interesting to probe their siblings and children to see what they were up to as well.

I am Lugash.

beowulf said...

"I don't get it. What's the punchline? Who was doing what? Who was the real spy? Double agents?"

The Aristocrats!

Anonymous said...

"someone involved in the VENONA project "

Did a bit of reading about Mccarthy recently, and this kept coming up, especially when talking of Evans' book.

Pretty amazing that how many of these were there.

Anonymous said...

Pavel Sudoplatov, one of two leaders of Soviet Atomic spy network, in his book
"Special tasks"
does not mention Hall at all,
but discusses in details Claus Fuchs.

http://www.amazon.com/Special-Tasks-Anatoli-Sudoplatov/dp/0316821152/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1342004743&sr=1-1&keywords=Sudoplatov

in Columbus said...

A little bit more circumstantial evidence for the Moldbug Thesis?

Fake Svigor said...

Hall doesn't sound like a Jewish name

AMac said...

An excellent source for VENONA is the university press book "Venona: Decoding Soviet Espionage in America" by John Earl Haynes and Harvey Klehr (amazon). It was published in 2000, only 5 years after the project was declassified, so it's likely dated. However, in general, Haynes & Klehr's works age well.

Inscrutoroku Japamoto said...

[I think blogger at my post of a few minutes ago]

@ Lugash who is Lugash

It's hard to say. Ed Hall might have been a spy due to his commie leanings, and brought his younger brother Ted in.

I think it's more likely Ted was acting on his own, and there was not involvement from Ed. If Ed had brought Ted aboard, they would have shared the same controller. Ed and Ted would be exposed simultaneously.

The idea that one or both brothers might have been run as doubles by the FBI is... possible, I guess. But it's difficult for me to see the value in that operation, compared to atomic secrets. The career of his controller, Lena Cohen, doesn't suggest to me that she was working for anyone other than the Soviets, either.

This topic is more interesting to me as a study of sibling rivalry. Steve wrote about that here. The older brother gets interested in communist ideas, to the point of bringing home pamphlets, while the younger brother just has to push the matter that much farther....

(Actually, the sabermetric blogger Phil Birnbaum later confirmed the stolen bases study when he became sufficiently familiar with their methodology.)

Anonymous said...

My father in law worked his whole life on the Minuteman project. The Boeing guys and their families moved every six months or so to fix what the Airforce's kids would monkey up in between. Civilian families that lived like gypsies kept our deterent credible. And most of them were not the big money union guys nor were they on the 'engineer' pay scale. They esentially worked for an average salary.

We're still using weapons designed when the Ratpack was a going concern as our 'big guns'.

Anonymous said...

This Ted Hall mustve been pretty smart to work on the atom bomb when he was 19.What would he have added to the iPhone?

Anonymous said...

How do you know that the brother was the father of the missile system?

The second brother could have been a spy as well....and just program hopped from program to program....

Program hopped not because he was needed on the programs, but because he was such a worthless loser that they shifted him from program to program.

That happens all the time in aerospace...a worthless guy goes from program to program, but keeps telling everyone how great he is, and after while people believe it.

I dunnos though.....

pat said...

Steve if you need a subject for a book you might look into Venona. There are two major accounts of this story and both are unreadable.

Most interested readers know about the British-American connection in WWII because they have all read A Man Called Intrepid. But almost no one knows about Venona.

Ann Coulter wrote an excelent but short account in one of her recent books, but we need a good book length account.

There's a best seller in a well written Venona book.

Albertosaurus

Anonymous said...

The Secret in Building 26.

Anonymous said...

We're still using weapons designed when the Ratpack was a going concern as our 'big guns'.

The military is known for waste yet many weapons have incredibly long lifespans. The 0.5 cal machine gun has almost 90 years in service and there is no sign of its being phased out. The basic M16 design is around 50 years old now. The B-52 bomber has been flying for 60 years. The British Bren light machine gun was first in service around 1938-39 and was definitely still in use at the time of the Falklands war over 40 years later. And so on....

Anonymous said...

Ed Hall wasn't introduced to missiles until 1945, when he was assigned to exploit captured German equipment. He worked on some early missiles before starting the Atlas project in 1951.

Ted Hall made his offer to the Soviets in late 1944. He was apparently burned by at latest 1951, when he was questioned by the FBI.

Klaus Fuchs was passing information to the Soviets from 1941 and was working at Los Alamos from at least August 1944 until about mid-1949. He was questioned and admitted spying in late 1949/early 1950.

I don't see any obvious plays for double agents here.

John Foster Dulles and his brother Johnny said...

Wait, what? These parents called their sons Ed and Ted? Sounds like something too stupid even for Joseph Heller.

Anonymous said...

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theodore_Hall

"Theodore Alvin Holtzberg was born.... father changed both his and Theodore's last name to Hall in an effort to avoid anti-Semitic hiring practices"

Whiskey said...

Walker Family spy ring anyone? There is a long history in the US of families working as spies for foreign intelligence, mostly Russian/Soviet.

FWIW, there was a book by a former KGB handler for IIRC, FBI Agent Robert Hannsen. His view was that both the US and the USSR constantly penetrated each other with technical operations (where the US had an advantage) and human operations (where the USSR had a slight edge). He felt that basic tradecraft was simply better (shaking tails, meets, etc) on the Soviet side. And that more traitors existed on the US side because of lesser downside and more social freedom to express resentment at various wrongs within a career.

And that most of the traitors on both sides betrayed their countries not for money or ideology but personal grudges and the desire to be "better" than superiors who in their view wronged them.

Anonymous said...

"Hall doesn't sound like a Jewish name."

Ted Hall was born Theodore Alvin Holtzberg, his father changed his name. He was Jewish. Hall was the youngest scientist at Los Alamos. He gave away the store (although others were giving away the store as well):


"... presented a detailed sketch of the "Fat Man" nuclear device to the official, who transmitted the information to the NKVD from New York using a one-time pad cipher. Hall's code-name was MLAD, a Slavic root meaning "young"."


In case this seems McCarthy-esque, he admitted it in 1998 (he died in 1999):


"I decided to give atomic secrets to the Russians because it seemed to me that it was important that there should be no monopoly..."


It appears some in the US knew as early as 1950, but couldn't let on because the entire Venona program was kept secret (including at first even from the office of the president; it had originally been started by an Army Signals colonel who did not trust the Soviets).

An obit:

http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/obituary-theodore-hall-1125267.html

Anonymous said...

Theodore Alvin Holtzberg was born.... father changed both his and Theodore's last name to Hall in an effort to avoid anti-Semitic hiring practices...

Ted Hall was born Theodore Alvin Holtzberg, his father changed his name. He was Jewish.



***************
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Weird: Gus Hall (born Arvo Kustaa Halberg; October 8, 1910 – October 13, 2000) was a leader and Chairman of the Communist Party USA (CPUSA) and its four-time U.S. presidential candidate. As a labor leader, Hall was closely associated with the so-called "Little Steel" Strike of 1937, an effort to unionize the nation's smaller, regional steel manufacturers. During the Second Red Scare, Hall was indicted under the Smith Act and was sentenced to eight years in prison. After his release, Hall led the CPUSA for over 40 years, often taking an orthodox Marxist-Leninist stance.

Hall was born Arvo Kustaa Halberg in 1910 to Matt (Matti) and Susan (Susanna) Halberg in Cherry, a rural community on Northern Minnesota's Mesabi Iron Range. Hall's parents were Finnish immigrants from the Lapua region, and were politically radical: they were involved in the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) and were early members of the Communist Party USA (CPUSA) in 1919. The Mesabi Range was one of the most important immigration settlements for Finns, who were often active in labor militancy and political activism. Hall's home language was Finnish, and he conversed with his nine siblings in that language for the rest of his life. He did not know political terminology in Finnish and used mostly English when meeting with visiting Finnish Communists...


I wonder what the Halbergs thought of Marxism-Leninism when Stalin invaded Finland about 30 years later?

Beecher Asbury said...


"I decided to give atomic secrets to the Russians because it seemed to me that it was important that there should be no monopoly..."


Too bad he died in 1999. I would love to get Ted Hall's take on whether or not there should be a nuclear monopoly in the Middle East.

Anonymous said...

Gettiing rid of the military industrical complex in Ca shitfed it completely to the dems.

Anonymous said...

It seems there were numerous spies at Los Alamos and in other parts of the US nuclear program. One of the best stories is about George Koval, a classic professional "infiltration" sleeper agent (a real spy, not an idealist/ideologue/ethnic/cash motivated amateur). He was never spotted by the US and remained unknown until he died in 2007.

He apparently also pretty much got the entire store, and not just from a single site. He was able to do this because he had managed to get hired as a radiation health officer, with full access and security clearance.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Koval

"Koval's infiltration of the Manhattan Project as a ... (GRU) agent "drastically reduced the amount of time it took for Russia to develop nuclear weapons."

The initiator for the plutonium bomb was, according to Russian military officials, "prepared to the 'recipe' provided by military intelligence agent Delmar [Koval]".


Koval's personal story is amazing. Born in the US, he also went to high school and did 2-3 years of college studying EE (starting it seems at age 15) in the US. His father became secretary of the Organization for Jewish Colonization in the Soviet Union so in 1932 the family went to the Soviet Union and settled in the Jewish Autonomous Region (Jewish Autonomous Oblast), near Manchuria in the Soviet Far East (FWIW, there was a substantial war between the Soviet Union and Japan not all that far from there between 1932-1939, the one with the famous Khalkhin Gol battle in 1939.) All this was the exact opposite of secret, in particular given his father's prominence. George spent 5 years at college (a physics or ee ugrad, I believe) and then was apparently drafted by the GRU (the military intelligence spies).

In 1940 he was infiltrated into the US as a GRU cell commander. He worked under his real name. Drafted into the US Army, he served in New York in some sort of engineering training capacity and studied EE at CCNY at night (by this time he had about 9 years of mostly secret EE ed..). When the Manhatten project came calling, he was perfectly positioned to become a radiation health officer. The guys with the geiger counters and film badges. Your radiation health officer needs to inspect everything, go everywhere... Well, he did.

Numerous refs, for instance:

http://www.smithsonianmag.com/history-archaeology/Iowa-Born-Soviet-Trained.html

"Western scholars have been revising the narrative of cold war espionage to account for his activities during the two years he worked at top-secret nuclear laboratories... "


Also:

http://www.nytimes.com/2007/11/12/us/12koval.html?pagewanted=all

"A Spy’s Path: Iowa to A-Bomb to Kremlin Honor"


Someone had a sense of humor: discharged from the Soviet Army as an "untrained rifleman" with the rank of private.

Anonymous said...

(a real spy, not an idealist/ideologue/ethnic/cash motivated amateur)...

His father became secretary of the Organization for Jewish Colonization in the Soviet Union so in 1932 the family went to the Soviet Union and settled in the Jewish Autonomous Region (Jewish Autonomous Oblast)...


Uhh.

Uhhh..

Uhhhh...