MOSCOW -- Newly published documents confirm that Soviet spies successfully penetrated the U.S. atomic-bomb program during World War II and obtained information that was of great use to Soviet scientists in their drive to produce a nuclear weapon.
The documents, which were published yesterday in the latest edition of the weekly newspaper Moscow News, make no mention of the identities of the Soviet agents.
They therefore shed no light on the greatest unresolved controversy of that period: the guilt or innocence of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, two American Communists who were convicted in 1950 of passing atomic secrets to the Soviets during the war and executed.
But the documents do contain one reference to an unidentified woman who served as a courier in June 1945, for information obtained from a source inside the main U.S. nuclear research facility in Los Alamos, N.M., about the design of the first atomic bomb and its impending test the following month.
While the woman was on her way to New York City to deliver this material to the Soviet "resident spy post" in the United States, the documents state, she was questioned by U.S. security agents but was able to avoid suspicion and complete her mission.
The documents indicate that information obtained from Soviet agents in England about early British atomic research played a major role in the Soviet government's original decision in March 1942 to initiate its own nuclear program.
I.V. Kurchatov, head of the Soviet nuclear program, wrote that the material obtained by the spies provided "an extremely important reference point for our scientific research" and would allow Soviet scientists to "bypass . . . many extremely labor-intensive phases" in their work.