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National Museum of Nuclear Science & History

Nathan C. Safferstein

Counterintelligence AgentLos Alamos, NM

Tinian Island
Manhattan Project VeteranMilitary Veteran
General Groves awarding Safferstein the Bronze Star. Photo courtesy of the ­National World War II Memorial online registry

Nathan Safferstein (1921-2013) was an American counterintelligence agent during the Manhattan Project.

Safferstein was born in Connecticut. At age 21, he was working as a supermarket manager when he was recruited to become a counterintelligence agent for the Manhattan Project. He was ordered to to join 100 other recruits in New York City’s Grand Central Terminal. As Safferstein later remembered, ‘‘It seemed like a thing out of a Bond movie. We were all dressed in our Adam hats and cover cloth coats. Ten or 12 agents would drop off: Syracuse, Buffalo, Chicago. The train kept ­going west.’’

Safferstein was sent to Los Alamos. He was assigned to eavesdrop on the telephone calls of Manhattan Project scientists and engineers. He was also responsible for the security of top-secret messages. In 1945, Safferstein was sent to Tinian Island. Only hours before the “Little Boy” uranium bomb was set to be dropped on Hiroshima, a scientist approached Safferstein: “He explained the whole function of this bomb. And then he left, and here I am alone with ‘Little Boy.’ And so I walked over to it, saw that there were some initials on it, and added my signature to the bomb.’’

After the war, General Leslie Groves tried to convince Safferstein to stay in counterintelligence. Safferstein, however, chose to return to a civilian life. He became the president of the marketing company Storecast Corporation and later started Supercast and its affiliate, In-Store Distributing. For his service during the war, Groves awarded Safferstein the Bronze Star.

Nathan Safferstein died on March 5, 2013, in New York City.

 

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