A self shooting observational documentary producer/director making engaging, thought-provoking films about real people, often filming over extended timeframes.

Atomic Espionage : Clips

Executive Producer
Kuniaki Tsuruya
Keimei Yamazaki
UK Recon Producer
Lucinda Van Rie
Malachite Films
Reconstructions written and directed by
Stephen Bennett

In December 2014 I was approached to write and direct short scenes for NHK’s first ever dramatised documentary for the 70th anniversary of the Hiroshima. Keimei Yamazaki was the Producer/ Director.

In February 2015 we filmed twenty plus scenes, most with their bespoke set, over the course of three days.

The premise of the film was to document the race for the science of the Atomic Bomb. It was a time where every country seemed to think others were ahead. In America the ALSOS Mission emerged from the shadows, and Atomic Espionage began.

see http://www.atomicheritage.org/history/alsos-mission

The resulting NHK 60 minute documentary mixed dramatised sequences with first person testimonies from key players, witnesses and those close to the inner circle.

The following are low resolution rushes. They are short assemblies of the footage to convey the various scenes. No music, effects or interviews are contained.

The dialogue is all based on oral testimonies and subsequent interviews.

  • Belgium Warehouse Raid by ALSOS

    American ALSOS mission to look for Uranium stockpiles take them to Union Miniére du Haut Katanga

    Warehouse in Olen, near Antwerp Belgium. 25 year old Major Furman, US Army, has heard about a consignment of uranium that might be hidden there, but it is denied vehemently by the owner of the warehouse.

    In the words of Major Furman himself, www.manhattanprojectvoices.org

    "I picked up a report—one of my intelligence sources sent me a report that an old lady in France had seen a trainload go by with barrels of chemicals marked “Uranium Oxide.” And they were going past her and she got this intelligence report out and it reached America. I got it. So uranium oxide is uranium, that’s what it is. It’s one of the first products out of a mine; you take it to a factory and they make this oxide. And it came out of France and it seemed to me that Belgian—you know the Belgians had the refineries for it, because the uranium was being mined in the Belgian Congo. So I took it to Groves and I said, “I’m on to something.”

    So he said, “Go up to see [Edgar] Sengier, he’s head of the Belgian Minière, which is a big mining company. See what he says.”

    So I went up to see him and said, “No, this doesn’t mean anything, nothing at all.” His words were, “An elephant could come through that door before I would believe that this had any value.” So I went back and after talking with Groves, I decided I’d go to Europe and organize a search.

    So we went up there, Pash and a couple of loads of Jeeps—that was the only time I was right up on the firing lines—and there in the warehouse we found this big warehouse full of this U3O8: three parts uranium, eight parts oxygen. And we arranged—the British were with us, we took some British with us—and with the British, we arranged for about twenty airplanes and a convoy of trucks and we took the stuff out of the factory—out of the warehouse. The Germans were right there, I mean they fired at us once, twice maybe"

  • Russian Scientists develop their WMD

    September 1944. A Russian secret lab has begun expanding at a huge rate, and has not long moved into new premises. New staff are joining and the place is a jumbled mess of people moving about and equipment being moved – almost finding their place to research and carry out experiments. Stalin demands practical results from the States financial investment or face the consequences – a thought not lost on every person here.

    According to journalist Vladimir Gubarev the first Soviet bomb was entirely based on the stolen knowledge and out of three different teams, Kurchatov's team got there first.  His genius was that he was good at getting talented scientists to work for him.  Another source says Kurchatov was decisive and had a clear aim but also gentle like a 'teddy bear' and never scolded his juniors.  Many say he was open and warm, serious and self-disciplined.  Others say he liked to joke and sometimes guarded himself behind sarcasm about himself and others and used that as a kind of shield.  In his fifties he tended to become introverted, showing the other side to his character, which was ideally suited to do covert work.  He liked to be the leader and to order people around, who called him 'General'.   His favourite expression was to set a task.  He was also energetic and competitive.

    Letters written by Kurchatov

    As evidence of the fear of Russians getting their hands on scientific and technical knowledge -see redacted copy of Foreign Intelligence Supplement No 1 to Manhattan District History – Book 1 – General. Vol 14 – Intel and Security (157 pages – see p marked as 4.17) . In the Heidelberg Operation during the interview by ALSOS members and Prof Bothe, prof Kuhn called one of the ALSOS members aside and gave info concerning the technical and scientific library of the Deutche Chemische Gesellschaft. As custodian of this library, which ‘was represented to him as the best in the world on the subjects covered’. Two yrs previously during heavy bombing in Berlin these were moved and concealed in caves, then a saltmine (Kalischemie Salsdethfurt, nr Hattdorf. Should it be captured it was preferred to be taken by the Americans and not the Russians

  • Manhattan Project Scientist meets a Russian Spy

    Oct 1944, New York. The youngest scientist to work at the $2bn Manhattan Project is about to turn spy and give away America’s atomic secrets to the Russians.

    For nearly half a century Fuchs was thought to have been the most significant spy at Los Alamos, but the secrets Ted Hall divulged to the Soviets preceded Fuchs and were also very critical. A Harvard graduate at age 18, Hall, at 19, was the youngest scientist on the Manhattan project in 1944. Unlike Fuchs and the Rosenbergs, he got away with his misdeeds. Hall worked on experiments for the bomb that was dropped on Nagasaki, the same type that the Soviet detonated in 1949.

    In December 1944 Hall delivered what was probably the first atomic secret from Los Alamos, an update on the creation of the plutonium bomb. In the fall of 1946 he enrolled in University of Chicago, and was working on his PhD in 1950 when the FBI turned its spotlight on him. His real name had surfaced in a decrypted message. But Fuch's courier, Harry Gold who was already in prison, could not identify him as the man, other than Fuchs, that he had collected secrets from. Hall never went to trial. After a career in radiobiology, he moved to Great Britain and worked as a biophysicist until his retirement. When the 1995 Venona declassifications confirmed his spying from five decades earlier, he explained his motivations in a written statement: "It seemed to me that an American monopoly was dangerous and should be prevented. I was not the only scientist to take that view." He died in 1999 at age 74.

  • American Forces raid Strasbourg University

    25th Nov 1944. Advance military members of Alsos Mission join the T Force in Strasbourg. Labs of the University of Strasbourg, offices and residencies of all personnel are searched, with guards placed at all locations to prevent looting/ destruction of facilities, records and documents. The initial effort to locate the personnel was not successful and an intensive search for individuals began. Then on 29th Nov, seven Strasbourg physicists and chemists were apprehended all of whom were German

    Samples of the Strasbourg docs found by Goudsmit et al appear in a preliminary report by Goudsmit, 8 Dec 1944 in the US National Archives, Records Group, No 227, folder 6 S-I Intelligence, as quoted in book ‘British intelligence in the Second World War, Vol 3, Issue ,2, p591 (Cambridge Uni Press)

    see redacted copy of Foreign Intelligence Supplement No 1 to Manhattan District History – Book 1 – General. Vol 14 – Intel and Security (p118) – here it is commented on that Fritz has a cooperative attitude, a thoroughness of English but has only superficial knowledge of nuclear physics. However he tries to get others to help

  • American spy goes to Switzerland

    Afternoon 18th Dec, 1944 – former American baseball player turned OSS spy, Moe Berg is in Zurich tasked with either assassinating a top German Physicist – Werner Heisenberg – or letting him go free. Heisenberg is delivering a key note speech on S-Matrix Theory. Berg’s cover is as a Swiss student who is curious to hear a lecture by the scientist.

    For his actual Zurich lecture see Werner Heisenberg, collected works, vol A II

    If you want to see what the actor, Charlie Hindley, had to learn see:

    Die »beobachtbaren GrSl~en« in der Theorie der Elementarteilchen Von W. Heisenberg in Berlin, Max Planck-Institut der Kaiser Wilhelm-Gesellsehaft.

  • Samuel Goudsmit Interviews Werner Heisenberg

    Samuel Goudsmit questions Heisenberg in an ALSOS HQ Heidelberg. Previously in Strasbourg and later in Haigerloch raid the Americans had discovered the reality of the German atomic programme. His interview with Heisenberg was very short. It was rather like a quick chat with an old friend, although their 20-year relationship was a complex one.

    Previously Goudsmit had asked his friend Heisenberg if he could help his parents whom had been sent to Auschwitz . It appears that Heisenberg did write one letter, although nothing else. However perhaps due to the situation, and resulting slow postal system he only sent his letter five days after Goudsmit’s parents were gassed in Auschwitz. It is uncertain whether Goudsmit knew of this letter at time of interrogation


    Goudsmit papers

    Research paper on Heisenberg (1901-1976) Ivan Todorov // Institut für Theoretische Physik, Universität Göttingen, Friedrich-Hund-Platz 1 D-37077 Göttingen, Germany

  • Major Furman, USA Army, visits Japan after Hiroshima

    5th Sept 1945 Major Robert Furman travels to Japan - landing at Atsugi airfield then travels to Yokohma, about 30 mins away from Tokyo. He visits many places including the Institute of Physical and Chemical Research to see Dr Yoshio Nishina. At the heart of everything – the question: why did USA use the atomic bomb? Was it to end the war or really to demonstrate to the Russians of their scientific might and military willingness, with which they were increasingly nervous about?


    Atomic Bomb Mission, recently declassified, written by Major Furman ‘Final Report: Scientific and Mineralogical Investigation’ 28 Sept 1945 – present in the Group are Major Robert Furman, Capt Jim McFall, Capt. Louis Schaffer, 1st Lt Irving Y Munch, 1st Lt Robert Nininger, Lt John Congleton and Bert Cerow, Dr Phillip Morrison, Ens. Mastick and O’Keefe and Sgt John Sato

    Furman Papers US Congress Lib Selected – diary note 5 Sept 1945

    www.history.co.uk/study-topics/history-of-ww2/atomic-bomb - “the shocking human effects soon led many to cast doubts upon the use of this weapon. The first western scientists, servicemen and journalists to arrive on the scene produced vivid and heartrending reports describing a charred landscape populated by hideously burnt people, coughing up and urinating blood and waiting to die. As questions regarding the ethical implications of the attacks grew, the US Air Force and Navy both published reports which claimed (respectively) that the conventional bombing and submarine war against Japan would have soon forced her to surrender. Joseph Grew, America’s last ambassador to Japan before the war started, also publicly alleged that the Truman administration knew about (and ignored) Japanese attempts to open surrender negotiations with the US using the USSR as a mediator. At this time, another interpretation - most famously espoused in 1965 by political economist Gar Alperovitz in his book Atomic Diplomacy - emerged: the atomic bombing of Japan had been motivated by a desire to demonstrate the US’s military might to the Soviet Union, about whom the Americans were increasingly nervous”

    manhattanprojectvoices.org/oral-histories/robert-furmans-interview - inconclusive - Kelly: You had mentioned earlier that Japan was worried about Russia, about the Soviet Union entering the war.

    Furman: It’s often discussed just what would have happened if the war had been continued and the Russians were allowed to come into the war against Japan. And everybody feared that, including most of the Americans. We didn’t want to have an endless war in the Pacific. We wanted it over. All we can say is that, by ending the war, the Russians didn’t have that choice. They got all they could that’s—they didn’t actually enter the fight and get more territory.  

    Furman Papers US Congress Lib Selected – diary note 5 Sept 1945