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A Spy Within Popular Novel in Atomic City

By Ian Hoffman
Albuquerque Journal

In Santa Fe, bedside tables are laden with Harry Potter, New Age dieting manuals and Southwest gardening material, the real City Different is 26 miles away and aswirl in intrigue. Yes, Virginia, Harry Potter reigns supreme in Los Alamos as elsewhere, trailed by tomes on cosmology, hydrodynamics and programming with Linux and Perl.

Yet in private from their computers in New Mexico's Atomic City, readers of a darker, more paranoid bent also stalk the aisles of the Internet's virtual bookstore; they are folks interested in FBI polygraphs and spies.

According to, the books selling especially well in Los Alamos relative to the rest of the nation are topped by a novel called A Spy Within.

The title might sound like a quote from a prosecution brief in the federal government's case against former Los Alamos National Laboratory scientist Wen Ho Lee, charged with mishandling nuclear- weapons data.

But it's really local author Lynnette Baughman's tale of the hunt for a World War II Los Alamos spy code-named Perseus.

Next up on the Web bookseller's list of titles unusually popular in Los Alamos is A Tremor in the Blood, David Lykken's critique of polygraph testing, complete with hints for beating the machine handy information for lab weaponeers who may have to take lie assorted security scandals of the past two years.

In January, Congress ordered expanded polygraph testing of employees of the nation's nuclear weapons programs at LANL and elsewhere in response to allegations of Chinese espionage and some lab workers recently have been hauled in for polygraphs after sensitive computer hard drives turned up missing and then were found behind a copying machine.

Speaking of China and nuclear weapons, a book called Fire in the East: The Rise of Asian Military Power and the Second Nuclear Age is third on Amazon's list of books most popular in Los Alamos compared to the rest of the U.S.A.

At Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque, scientists are snapping up computer programming books and Biohazard: The Chilling True Story of the Largest Covert Biological Weapons Program in the World Told from the Inside by the Man Who Ran It.

Things are plainly mellower in Livermore, Calif., home to Los Alamos' sister weapons design lab. After subtracting the national best-sellers, Livermore likes Sharing the Vineyard Table, about a local winery, according to

Last month's No. 2 at Livermore, A Tremor in the Blood, has vanished from the list, supplanted by Bay Area Backroads. But all is not sunshine and wine in Livermore: Ranking 4th and 5th are Biohazard and How to Do Your Own Divorce in California: A Complete Kit.

Los Alamos' local bookstores are largely past their brief fling with spy fever. In February, a lab speaker sparked a run.

"We sold dozens of them," said R Books manager Melissa Mackey. Otowi Bookstore owner Colleen Olinger reports steadier if unremarkable sales on the espionage front.

But spy-book demand remains hot on the Infobahn, if not on Los Alamos' Central Avenue.

"I could guess that maybe does provide some degree of personal anonymity," Mackey said.

Los Alamos Study Group • 2901 Summit Place NE • Albuquerque, NM 87106 • ph 505-265-1200

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