Wednesday, April 29, 2009

International Spy Museum

I went to the International Spy Museum recently. I recommend it. However, there were two things I spotted that I know were incorrect. This makes their credibility as a source of information suspect. This is too bad--- as we'll see later.
  1. The museum has the story of Nathan Hale. He was a spy for the Americans during the Revolutionary War. He was hanged and his last words were I regret that I have but one life to give for my country. In reality his last words were probably AAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHH. Actually they were never recorded, though some serious historians think he was the kind of guy who would say I regret ... . Not the same as saying it.
  2. The museums had an exhibit of the Enigma machine. They were trying to make the (true) point that the story of cracking the Enigma was a secret for many years, and hence Turing didn't get credit until later. They phrased this as
    If the story of cracking the Enigma was known earlier then Turing would have won a Nobel Prize.
    A Nobel Prize? In what? Chemistry? Physics? Literature? Medicine? Peace? Economics? Peace (maybe its shortened the war)? The statement is clearly false. What they should have said was
    If the story of cracking the Enigma was known earlier, and if the Turing Award had been established, then Turing would have likely won a Turing Award.
Having gotten these two items wrong I now turn to a question for which I do not know the truth.
Did the Nuclear Secrets that Julius Rosenberg gave to the USSR speed up the building of the USSR's nuclear bomb?

I have read YES and NO for this question. The NO that I have read says that the biggest nuclear secret that the USSR ever got was the fact that the bomb could be built. Hence the person who leaked our biggest nuclear secret was... President Harry Truman. The YES that the Spy museum said was that the USSR bomb design was very close to the American one. What is the truth? That's just it- I don't know! If the spy museum had not made those other mistakes I would believe them on this. (My believe may still have been wrong.)

Wikipedia says the secrets were not valuable. Are they more credible?


  1. Even if the secrets contained no technical information that said specifically how to build it, it might have yielded important information about what the Americans weren't doing, which might be almost as useful.


    "I draw your attention to the curious incident of the dog in the night-time..."

    "But the dog did nothing in the nighttime."

    "That is the curious incident."

    A.C. Doyle

  2. Please do not speak of the credibility of Wikipedia... that's a wrong question to ask, the wrong way to use Wikipedia. In this case, the statement in Wikipedia is sourced to a New York Times article, which says:
    Echoing a consensus among scientists, Mr. Sobell also maintained that the sketches and other atomic bomb details that the government said were passed along to Julius Rosenberg by Ethel’s brother, David Greenglass, were of little value to the Soviets, except to corroborate what they had already gleaned from other moles.So the question is only of the credibility of the NYT.

  3. I believe Klaus Fuchs was more useful to the USSR than the Rosenbergs.

  4. Hence the person who leaked our biggest nuclear secret was... President Harry Truman.This is incorrect. By the time Truman told the Soviets, Klaus Fuchs had already passed along that information and a lot more.

  5. If the story of cracking the Enigma was known earlier then Turing would have won a Nobel Prize. How about the Fields Medal? And if not, because he didn't deserve it or because mathematicians didn't have the depth to understand the importance of his contributions?

  6. The Bletchley Park Museum claims the work done there by Turing and company shortened the war by at least 2 years, so the Peace Prize might have been the intent of the Spy Museum statement.

  7. I agree as well, this is a fantastic museum, I went a few years ago. They make good spy glasses (aviators).

  8. This story is only marginally related, but entertaining.

  9. The New York Times is not at all a credible newspaper. Remember Jayson Blair?