Only in the past half a dozen years have the American people learned the extent to which our World War II ally the Soviet Union was engaged in espionage against the U.S. even as the war proceeded. This knowledge became available to the U.S. government in the late 1940s, when encrypted messages to Moscow were deciphered in a project known as Venona (a meaningless code name), but was withheld from the public long after there was any excuse for secrecy. Apparently, not even Senator Joseph McCarthy knew of the decryptions during his 1950s witchhunt for Communist spies.
The central themes of this Nova program--the breaking of the Soviet codes and Los Alamos physicist Theodore (Ted) Hall's betrayal of atomic secrets to the Soviets--have been described in books by John Earl Haynes and Harvey Klehr (Venona: Decoding Soviet Espionage in America, 1999) and by Joseph Albright and Marcia Kunstel (Bombshell: The Secret Story of America's Unknown Atomic Spy Conspiracy, 1997). Now, with its usual flair, Nova has pulled all the pieces together into a fascinating documentary.
This article was originally published with the title Treasonous Idealism.