Russell McNutt (1914-2008) was a civil engineer for the Kellex Corporation and Soviet atomic spy.
Both studying engineering in New York, McNutt befriended Julius Rosenberg, one of the most well-known Soviet spies and recruiters. It was at Rosenberg’s suggestion that McNutt decided to begin working at Kellex in November 1943. Kellex was one of the main contractors for the facilities being built at the Manhattan Project’s Oak Ridge, Tennessee location.
In February 1944, Rosenberg connected McNutt to the KGB. At that point in time, the KGB did not have any agents or sources within the Manhattan Project, so McNutt was a crucial source for learning about the atomic bomb and Manhattan Project.
According to his interview on the Atomic Heritage Foundation’s Voices of the Manhattan Project website, historian Haynes notes that McNutt was “part of the Kellex design team for building many of the major facilities at Oak Ridge, including the massive K-25 facility, which worked mostly on gaseous diffusion.” While McNutt visited Oak Ridge during construction, he mostly worked at the Kellex design bureau in Manhattan.
Although McNutt’s position allowed him to pass structural designs and blueprints of the Oak Ridge facility to the KGB, it did not allow him to get first-hand access to the scientific data gathered at Oak Ridge. This reality was why the KGB strongly urged McNutt to take Kellex’s offer to permanently move to Oak Ridge. McNutt, however, decided against the move for two reasons.
The first reason was that he did not want his wife and child living in the “barren” and isolated area of Oak Ridge. The second reason was that “he didn’t want to risk losing his investment in his upstate resort.”
In 1945, McNutt was transferred from Rosenberg to another Soviet spy handler, Anatoly Yatskov. The two first met on March 11, 1945. The KGB soon lost touch with McNutt, though, because of Elizabeth Bentley’s defection in late 1945, which caused the KGB to withdraw a number of its officers.
In 1914, Russell McNutt was born in La Cygne, Kansas. His father, Ernest McNutt, was the owners of a few local newspapers and a political radical. He was the founder and secretary of the Communist Labor Party in Kansas in 1919. Ernest was also acquaintances with Earl Browder, the chief of the Communist Party USA (CPUSA) until the middle of 1945. Russell McNutt and his brother, Waldo, were also secret members of the Communist Party.
Russell McNutt studied civil engineering at Kansas State University for a year before transferring to the Brooklyn Polytechnic Institute. While attending the Brooklyn Polytechnic Institute in the evenings, he also worked for the Works Progress Administration (WPA) during the day. After three years of studies, he graduated in 1940.
Following graduation, McNutt worked as an assistant engineer for the Borough of Manhattan until 1942. He then was employed by Republic Steel and the Chemical Construction Corporation. In November of 1943, he began to work at the Kellex Corporation, the Manhattan Project arm of the M.W. Kellogg Company.
In 1946, David Greenglass met McNutt when he and Julius Rosenberg discussed the possibility of McNutt becoming the South American representative of their relatives small machine parts business. The following year, McNutt moved to Caracas and he got a job with Gulf Oil, which he stayed with until 1949.
After Rosenberg was arrested on July 17, 1950, McNutt was investigated by the FBI. The FBI was only able to conclude that McNutt was a Communist sympathizer and a possible party member; it was unable to show that he was a part of Rosenberg’s espionage network. Without this evidence, McNutt was able to live out the rest of his life without further investigation or prosecution.
In 1974, McNutt became the Vice President of Gulf-Reston, a Gulf oil subsidiary in charge of developing a planned community in Reston, VA. Later, he became a chief engineer of Gulf Oil and was able to work and travel around the world.
By 2007, he was retired and living in Blue Ridge Country Club, a resort that he helped develop and build in North Carolina. As the last surviving Soviet spy in the Manhattan Project, McNutt continued to live at the Club until he died in February 2008 at the age of ninety-four.
For more information about Russell McNutt, see the references below:
- Spies: The Rise and Fall of the KGB in America by John Earl Haynes, Harvey Klehr, and Alexander Vassiliev