From a Jell-O box to a chewing gum wrapper — or maybe a peanut butter sandwich…

You may have been following recent news stories about the arrest of two Americans for espionage in a scheme to pass nuclear submarine secrets to the Russians. The plan might have worked except that the “Russian agents” turned out to be American counter-intelligence officers. 

I found this interesting because the oddball method used to transfer the top secrets was not unlike one which played out almost 75 years ago in New Mexico.

In the most recent case, secrets were passed to the faux Russian agents in the form of a memory chip enclosed in a chewing gum wrapper. There was also a report that another set of documents in a memory chip were inserted in a peanut butter sandwich and passed to the agents.

Be careful, the chips you have with this peanut butter sandwich might not be from potatoes

On June 2, 1945, Klaus Fuchs, a German physicist turned Russian spy who had been working in Los Alamos on the Manhattan Project, met with his Russian contact, Harry Gold. The two met at a small bridge over the Santa Fe River where Fuchs passed the first set of atomic bomb secrets to Gold.  The bridge was torn down long ago for construction of the Paseo de Peralta loop around downtown Santa Fe. It was similar in design to the still existing Delgado Street bridge in Santa Fe, shown in the photograph below. (For many years, I was told this was the bridge where the secrets were passed.) Fuchs went on to pass more secrets to Gold, including some regarding development of the hydrogen bomb. Fuchs eventually confessed to espionage in 1950 and was convicted and served nine years in prison before he was released, whereupon he relocated in the German Democratic Republic, then part of the Soviet Union. 

Delgado Street bridge in Santa Fe, similar in design to the Castillo Street Bridge where atomic secrets were passed

Fuchs’ handler, Gold, also acquired secrets from a machinist on the Manhattan Project, David Greenglass. Greenglass’s sister was Ethel Rosenberg, who along with her husband Julius Rosenberg, were also Soviet Union spies and the first American citizens to be executed for espionage for the passing of atomic bomb secrets to the USSR.

When the Rosenbergs were on trial, it was revealed that a pre-arranged code involving two raggedly cut parts of a Jell-O box was used to verify identities of the agents, Greenglass and Gold. The transfer of the documents occurred in the Albuquerque home of Greenglass. 

Jello-O box used at Julian and Ethel Rosenburg trial, now in the National Archives

So before you try that coconut Bavarian cream Jello-O recipe, make sure there’s nothing “chippy” inside the box. 

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