An American Scientist, the Soviets and the H-Bomb

01/30/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

The New York Times today published an article by William J. Broad that discusses how the Soviet Union may have obtained the key H-bomb secret ("radiation implosion") through espionage from an American spy at Los Alamos laboratory in the 1950s. The article is based on a forthcoming book, The Nuclear Express (Zenith Press) co-authored by Danny B. Stillman, a former head of intelligence at Los Alamos National Laboratory, and Thomas C. Reed, a weapon designer at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory who later became Secretary of the Air Force.

Neither the book nor the Times article names the alleged spy. Stillman and Reed supply no hard and fast evidence to support their claim of espionage and their case appears to be largely circumstantial, but nonetheless it is certainly compelling. It is important to state upfront that I have no information or evidence to know whether the person they describe committed espionage or not. But I do know with high certainty the identity of the person they describe.

Stillman and Reed provided a dozen or so facts about the individual's life and career in their book. I've followed up on these clues using my knowledge of the history, organization, and personnel at Los Alamos in the 1940s and 50s and have deduced whom they are talking about. Others could do the same.

The person whom Stillman and Reed describe is Darol Kenneth Froman, an important figure at Los Alamos in the 1940s and 50s who, for more than a decade, was the Deputy Director of the laboratory. The known facts of Froman's life and career match the description presented by Stillman and Reed (see below for more details).

The allegation that Froman was a spy is likely to come as surprise to his colleagues and to many others. If the claim is proven to be true it will have wide ramifications on how we think about espionage during the Manhattan Project and even more significantly during the race for the hydrogen bomb, the course of the Cold War and the provenance of the Soviet H-bomb.

Froman was born on 23 October 1906 in Harrington, Washington and moved with his parents to Alberta, Canada when he was four. He attended the University of Alberta in Edmonton and received a B.Sc. (1926) and M.Sc. (1927) and was a Lecturer there in 1930-31. From 1931-39 he taught at Macdonald College, McGill University in Montreal. He returned to the United States to work at the U.S. Navy's Radio and Sound Laboratory at San Diego and to teach physics at the University of Denver in 1941-42.

In 1942 he was recruited to work at the Metallurgical Laboratory at the University of Chicago, where work on the atomic bomb was already underway, and witnessed the famous CP-1 "pile" (reactor) that went critical on 2 December 1942. Soon after he was tapped to go to Los Alamos, New Mexico and was among the early arrivals and served as a group leader from 1943-45.

Unlike most of the Manhattan Project scientists he stayed at Los Alamos after the War and rose up the ranks, eventually becoming the Deputy Director (then called Associate Technical Director) from 1951-62 second only to Director Norris E. Bradbury. As Division head (1945-48), Scientific Director of the Sandstone tests (1948), Assistant Director for Weapons Development (1949-51), and in his final position as Deputy Director before retiring in 1962 he no doubt knew virtually everything that went on in the Laboratory. He was in the middle of the U.S. search for its H-bomb in the period 1949-54 and was closely involved with Edward Teller, Stan Ulam, Carson Mark and the other scientists.

He retired early at age 55 or 56, and later served on the General Advisory Committee of the Atomic Energy Commission from April 1964 to August 1966. He was chairman of the board of the First National Bank of Rio Arriba from 1971-78. He died 11 September 1997 at age 90 in Santa Fe.

Following are the facts as described by the authors of Nuclear Express and my research:

From The Nuclear Express:
The alleged spy was "born in the U.S., but his parents soon emigrated and he spent his younger years out of the country."
What we know about Darol Froman: He was born in Harrington, Washington on 23 October 1906 and at the age of four moved with his parents to Alberta, Canada.

From the Nuclear Express:
He "returned to the U.S to attend university and then again left--to continue his academic life elsewhere."
What we know about Darol Froman: After receiving a B.Sc. and M.Sc. at the University of Alberta he went to the University of Chicago to be an assistant in physics and then returned to Canada to teach at the University of Alberta and McGill University.

From the Nuclear Express:
"During those difficult depression years, as a contemporary of the Rosenbergs, he fell in with the young academic/intellectual crowd that saw communism as the most promising cure for society's ills."
What we know about Darol Froman: Unknown.

From the Nuclear Express:
"As World War II broke out," he "--too old for the draft--returned to the eastern [sic] U.S. to start work at a U.S. Navy facility."
What we know about Darol Froman: In 1941 he would have been 34 or 35. For some unknown period of time he worked at the U.S. Navy's Radio and Sound Laboratory in San Diego.

From the Nuclear Express:
"He soon joined one of the leading physics institutes in the U.S. and then, as Robert Oppenheimer was organizing the Los Alamos Laboratory, he was recruited to serve there." He "joined at its inception."
What we know about Darol Froman: Sometime in 1942 he became a Research Associate at the Metallurgical laboratory at the University of Chicago and was recruited to go to Los Alamos probably arriving there in the spring or early summer of 1943.

From the Nuclear Express:
He volunteered his services to Soviet recruiter Morris Cohen.
What we know about Darol Froman:

From the Nuclear Express:
He worked and built an excellent reputation at wartime Los Alamos as a leader in the field of experimental physics."
What we know about Darol Froman: During the War years he was initially leader of P-4 Electronic Group under Physics Division leader Robert Bacher. After a major reorganization of the laboratory in 1944 he was leader of G-4 Electric Method in G-Division, Weapon Physics.

From the Nuclear Express:
He "stayed at Los Alamos as others returned to academia. He assumed significant responsibilities while his political loyalties remained murky." He "remained there for decades until his retirement."
What we know about Darol Froman: Froman stayed at Los Alamos until his retirement in 1962. His position within the lab from 1949-51 was Assistant Director for Weapons Development; in other words, he oversaw all weapon developments. His political loyalties are unknown.

From the Nuclear Express:
The spy scandals of 1948-51 may have given him pause and he "suspended his Soviet connections" and "turned his attention inward instead, to the new frontier of thermonuclear physics."
What we know about Darol Froman: No evidence of a pause. In late-1949 or early-1950 Director Norris Bradbury selected Froman to head the "Family Committee" the purpose of which was to sort out the competing ideas for an H-bomb. Edward Teller served as chairman but reported to Froman. Soon after Teller and Ulam make their breakthrough (in February and March 1951) an important conference was held at the Institute of Advanced Study in Princeton. Froman drew up the laboratory plans for the June 16-17 conference and with Bradbury and Mark was only one of three full time staff members from Los Alamos.

From the Nuclear Express:
He was "deeply involved in the hunt for ideas within the Los Alamos community. He exchanged memoranda and held discussions with Edward Teller, Stanislaus Ulam, Lab Director Bradley and other heavy hitters of the thermonuclear world as those ideas took shape."
What we know about Darol Froman:
A passage from Stan Ulam's autobiography about exchanging memoranda: "Psychologically it was perhaps precipitated by a memorandum from Darol Froman, an associate director of the laboratory, who asked various people what should be done with the whole 'super' program. While expressing doubts about the validity of Teller's insistence on his own particular scheme, I wrote to Froman that one should continue at all costs the theoretical work, that a way had to be found to extract great amounts of energy from thermonuclear reactions."

From the Nuclear Express:
"Prior to October '52 Mike event," he "was appointed to a senior position within Los Alamos. From that roost he would be privy to every detail of the Mike event as well as the details of the subsequent Castle test series. He remained in place for years thereafter."
What we know about Darol Froman:
In 1951 he was made Deputy Director (then called Associate Technical Director), the number two position under Director Norris E. Bradbury. Froman served in that position for eleven years until his retirement in 1962.

From the Nuclear Express:
"We [Stillman and Reed] believe a KGB asset made contact with" him "during late March 1954." The authors imply that information about the H-bomb was forced out of him because 1) he wanted some credit for helping to discover the H-bomb; 2) of a threat to reveal his past espionage; or 3) payment of money. He "appears to have died a wealthy man: money may have been the clinching inducement to return (briefly) to the world of espionage."
What we know about Darol Froman: Unknown.

From the Nuclear Express:
He is now deceased.
What we know about Darol Froman: Darol K. Froman died on 11 September 1997 in Santa Fe.


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