Atomic Angst and the Teenage Spy

How did a brilliant teenage physicist working on the Manhattan Project get away with spying for the Soviets? And why did he do it?

Listen 48:54

In 1944, a brilliant, young Harvard physics student named Ted Hall was recruited to work on the super-secret mission that had already assembled the country’s top scientists: the Manhattan Project. Soon, Hall was on his way to Los Alamos, where he worked on the implosion mechanism for the nuclear bomb. As the project started to succeed, Hall became increasingly concerned that it would spell disaster for the world, especially if the U.S. were the only country to have nuclear capacity. So, at the age of 18, Hall decided that he needed to do something, and he became a spy for the Soviets. Hall may have been an incredible physicist, but he was not the stealthiest of spies. Still, he was never officially caught or charged. On this episode, investigative journalist Dave Lindorff details why Ted chose this path and how he managed to evade intelligence agencies. Lindorff’s new book is called, “Spy for No Country: The Story of Ted Hall, the Teenage Atomic Spy Who May Have Saved the World.” We’ll also hear about the state of America’s nuclear arsenal today and find out why some experts argue it needs a big upgrade.


  • Dave Lindorff also co-produced a documentary called “A Compassionate Spy.” It draws on Lindorff’s investigation, as well as previous reporting and interviews by journalists Marcia Kunstel and Joseph Albright, who wrote “Bombshell: The Secret Story of America’s Unknown Atomic Spy Conspiracy.”
  • Science journalist Sarah Scoles joins us to talk about her new book “Countdown: The Blinding Future of Nuclear Weapons.” Scoles spoke to nuclear scientists about their work in detecting potential attacks and their push to upgrade America’s current arsenal.

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