Alfred Dean Slack was born in 1906. In the 1930s he worked for the Eastman Kodak Company in Rochester. During this period he sold some of this commercial information to Harry Gold, a member of a Soviet spy network. (1)
During the Second World War Slack was employed by a Eastman subsidiary at Kingsport, Tennessee, that manufactured the military explosive RDX. It was later claimed that Gold demanded "that Slack furnish him a technical write-up on the methods and process of producing this potent military explosive". At first Slack refused but eventually agreed after "Gold threatened... public exposure of Slack's past activities unless Slack cooperated on this last occasion." (2)
On 12th September 1949, MI5 was sent documents that had been uncovered by the Venona Project that suggested that Klaus Fuchs was a Soviet spy. Fuchs was interviewed by MI5 officers but he denied any involvement in espionage and the intelligence services did not have enough evidence to have him arrested and charged with spying. Jim Skardon later recalled: "He (Klaus Fuchs) was obviously under considerable mental stress. I suggested that he should unburden his mind and clear his conscience by telling me the full story." Fuchs replied "I will never be persuaded by you to talk." The two men then went to lunch: "During the meal he seemed to be resolving the matter and to be considerably abstracted... He suggested that we should hurry back to his house. On arrival he said that he had decided it would be in his best interests to answer my questions. I then put certain questions to him and in reply he told me that he was engaged in espionage from mid 1942 until about a year ago. He said there was a continuous passing of information relating to atomic energy at irregular but frequent meetings." (3)
A few days later J. Edgar Hoover informed President Harry S. Truman that "we have just gotten word from England that we have gotten a full confession from one of the top scientists, who worked over here, that he gave the complete know-how of the atom bomb to the Russians." (4) As Christopher Andrew, the author of The Defence of the Realm: The Authorized History of MI5 (2009) pointed out: "What Fuchs had failed to realize was that, but for his confession, there would have been no case against him, Skardon's knowledge of his espionage, which had so impressed him, derived from... Verona... and unusable in court." (5)
The FBI arrested Harry Gold and interviewed him about Klaus Fuchs. At first he denied knowing him. However, he suddenly broke down and made a full confession. On 23rd May, 1950, Gold appeared in court and was charged with conspiring with others to obtain secret information for the Soviet Union from Klaus Fuchs. Bail was set at $100,000 and a hearing scheduled for 12th June. The following day the newspapers reported that Gold had been arrested on evidence provided by Fuchs. (6)
As a result of information provided by Gold, Alfred Dean Slack was arrested on 15th June, 1950. According to the newspapers he had been detained by FBI agents "in connection with the international atomic spying case." It was reported that he was a 44 year old, $75-a-week assistant production superintentendent at a Syracuse paint factory. He told journalists that "I am not now and never was a member of the Communist Party - and never will be." Slack was held in $100,000 bail. As he was taken away to prison he stated: "I believe the charges ultimately will be understood. Any charge against me with reference to the Manhattan project has no foundation. I am completely innocent of anything wrong." (7)
Based on evidence provided by Harry Gold, the FBI arrested Julius Rosenberg and David Greenglass. The Department of Justice issued a press release quoting J. Edgar Hoover as saying "that Rosenberg is another important link in the Soviet espionage apparatus which includes Dr. Klaus Fuchs, Harry Gold, David Greenglass and Alfred Dean Slack. Mr. Hoover revealed that Rosenberg recruited Greenglass... Rosenberg, in early 1945, made available to Greenglass while on furlough in New York City one half of an irregularly cut jello box top, the other half of which was given to Greenglass by Harry Gold in Albuquerque, New Mexico as a means of identifying Gold to Greenglass." The statement went onto say that Anatoli Yatskov, Vice Consul of the Soviet Consulate in New York City, paid money to the men. Hoover referred to "the gravity of Rosenberg's offense" and stated that Rosenberg had "aggressively sought ways and means to secretly conspire with the Soviet Government to the detriment of his own country." (8)
On 1st September, 1950, Alfred Dean Slack was indicted in Knoxville, Tennessee, charged with conspiring with Gold and a Soviet agent, Semyon Semyonov, to obtain for the Soviet Union information "relating to the manufacture of explosive material." Slack was alleged to have met with Gold in Kingsport, in 1943 and to have turned over information to Gold there in the spring of 1944. The New York Times reported that Slack was linked "with the Klaus Fuchs spy ring that passed atomic secrets to Soviet Russia." (9)
At his trial Alfred Dean Slack "freely confessed that he did furnish to Harry Gold a technical write-up on the production process" of RDX. (10) At the suggestion of the Department of Justice and the Attorney General, the prosecutor recommended a sentence for Slack of ten years. He said the justice department had "pointed out that Slack's violation was a single, isolated violation," committed reluctantly.
As Walter Schneir and Miriam Schneir, the authors of Invitation to an Inquest (1983), had pointed out: "From the prosecutor's presentation of the government's case, a number of rather startling facts emerge: Newspaper publicity to the contrary, Slack was neither an atom spy nor a member of the Klaus Fuchs spy ring nor, in point of fact, a member of any spy ring. He was a man whose dealings with Harry Gold, to whom he had apparently sold commercial data, were - by the admission of the prosecutor-entirely legal, with one exception." (10)
Judge Robert L. Taylor pointed out that when Alfred Dean Slack gave this information to Harry Gold, the Soviet Union was an ally of the United States: "It is ironical... from the standpoint of this defendant that he committed his crime at a time when the United States and Soviet Russia were allies, but stands before the bar of justice to receive his punishment at a time when the United States and Soviet Russia are stirred by mutual distrust, torn by the clash of opposing ideologies and face each other across the world under the threat of devastating war. The human mind changes with the winds of passion. It is a quality of justice that it does not permit itself to be swayed unduly by the shifting tides." (11) Despite these comments, Taylor sentenced Slack to a term of fifteen years in prison.
At the suggestion of the Department of Justice and the Attorney General, the prosecutor recommended a sentence for Slack of ten years. He said the justice Department had "pointed out that Slack's violation was a single, isolated violation," committed reluctantly.
From the prosecutor's presentation of the government's case, a number of rather startling facts emerge: Newspaper publicity to the contrary, Slack was neither an atom spy nor a member of the Mans Fuchs spy ring nor, in point of fact, a member of any spy ring. He was a man whose dealings with Harry Gold, to whom he had apparently sold commercial data, were - by the admission of the prosecutor-entirely legal, with one exception. This exception, of course, was the "single, isolated violation" committed six years before.
Though Slack had worked for a time on the atomic project at Oak Ridge after leaving the RDX plant, he had never seen Gold during this period and had never passed any information on atomic energy.
Slack's court-appointed attorney was Ray Jenkins (later known for his role as special counsel to the Senate subcommittee in the Army-McCarthy hearings). Addressing the court for only about ten minutes, defense attorney Jenkins pleaded for consideration for his client in view of the crime having been committed when Russia was an ally and friendly feelings toward the Soviet Union were at a high point. He noted that Slack had cooperated fully with the FBI and that most of the information narrated by the prosecutor "is bound to have come from the lips of this very defendant."
Four days later, on September 22, Slack appeared for sentencing. Presented to the judge by Jenkins were a number of letters written on Slack's behalf, including one from his pastor and one - signed by seventy-nine of his neighbors and friends - declaring him to be "a man of good character and a loyal citizen." Added Jenkins: "they appear to be unanimously good American names." Slack himself offered no statement.
It is ironical... from the standpoint of this defendant that he committed his crime at a time when the United States and Soviet Russia were allies, but stands before the bar of justice to receive his punishment at a time when the United States and Soviet Russia are stirred by mutual distrust, torn by the clash of opposing ideologies and face each other across the world under the threat of devastating war. The human mind changes with the winds of passion. It is a quality of justice that it does not permit itself to be swayed unduly by the shifting tides.
The second person to be caught was Alfred Dean Slack, arrested in Syracuse, New York, on June 15. He was a foreman in a paint factory and accused of passing secret information on explosives manufacturing to Harry Gold in 1943-1944. His case had nothing to do with atomic espionage or the Rosenberg case. I personally had never heard of that agent and, in spite of his cooperation with the FBI, Slack was sentenced to fifteen years on September 22, 1950.
(1) Walter Schneir and Miriam Schneir, Invitation to an Inquest (1983) page 86
(2) Quoted at the trial of Alfred Dean Slack (September, 1950)
(2) William Skardon, report on Klaus Fuchs (31st January, 1950)
(3) J. Edgar Hoover, message to President Harry S. Truman (1st November, 1950)
(4) Christopher Andrew, The Defence of the Realm: The Authorized History of MI5 (2009) page 388
(5) New York Times (24th May, 1950)
(6) Walter Schneir and Miriam Schneir, Invitation to an Inquest (1983) page 77
(7) Department of Justice, press release (17th July, 1950)
(8) New York Times (2nd September, 1950)
(9) Statement in court (22nd September, 1950)
(10) Walter Schneir and Miriam Schneir, Invitation to an Inquest (1983) page 86
(11) Judge Robert L. Taylor, statement (22nd September, 1950)