FBI searched for Soviet atom bombs in 1950s’ New York, files show

Redacted page from FBI filesBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
American authorities suspected that Soviet intelligence had smuggled atom bombs in New York City and that Moscow was planning to detonate them “at an expedient time”, according to declassified documents. The revelation comes from a set of internal FBI files, which were declassified and released in redacted form in 2010. Copies of the documents, which date from the early 1950s, were posted (.pdf) on The Government Attic, a website specializing in publishing US government files obtained through Freedom of Information Act requests. The documents were then noticed last week by The Village Voice‘s Anna Merlan. The file (.pdf), titled “Atomic Bomb in Unknown Consulate, New York City”, is nearly 80 pages-long. It indicates that the search for a supposed Soviet atomic weapon in New York began shortly after the summer of 1950, when the FBI received a tip from a source in Brazil. The source reportedly told the Bureau that Soviet operatives had “placed an atom bomb in a consulate […] in New York City to be detonated at such time as the Soviets consider expedient”. The problem was that the FBI was not aware of the identity of the consulate, which was presumed to belong to the USSR or to a country politically aligned with it. The Bureau thus actively engaged in searching for the bomb during the years of 1951 and 1952. The search was primarily conducted by the FBI’s informants in various communist-bloc consulates and agencies in New York, including the Soviet mission to the United Nations, located on Park Avenue, as well as the Polish, Hungarian and Czechoslovakian missions, located a few blocks away from their Soviet equivalent, on East 67th Street. The FBI also appears to have mobilized its informants inside the Soviet government-run Amtorg Trading Corporation, which handled the USSR’s trade with foreign countries, as well as the Telegraph Agency of the Soviet Union (TASS) offices at Rockefeller Plaza. A clandestine search was also conducted at the Soviet diplomatic mission’s retreat on Long Island. American customs agents were also notified to keep their eyes open for oddly shaped diplomatic packages “which appear to be suspiciously heavy in proportion to their dimensions”. Eventually, however, as the searches were failing to unearth any relevant evidence, some FBI officials began to suspect that the initial tip from Brazil may have been a deliberate hoax. In September of 1951, the Special Agent in Charge at the FBI’s New York field office wrote to Bureau Director J. Edgar Hoover that the information regarding the possible existence of a Soviet nuclear device in New York “may be false […] having been disseminated from a Communist source for the purpose of producing panic”. By 1955, the investigation had been quietly shelved, as no evidence of an atomic device had been detected by the Bureau’s FBI field office.

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