On a cold February morning in 1959, a 37-year-old American engineer fled Prague aboard an Air India flight. For the two years before that, Morton Nadler was suspected of being a spy by opposing sides in the Cold War—by the FBI in his country of birth, the United States, and by the government in his country of adopted citizenship, Czechoslovakia. Upon landing in Calcutta, he was driven to the Indian Statistical Institute, or ISI, where he would spend the next two years working with India’s first computers.
Nadler had joined the Communist Party in 1936 and subsequently was on the watch list of intelligence agencies in the United States. Chafing from an incident in which he lost a job as a radio engineer in Chicago due to his political sympathies and committed to furthering socialist ideals, Nadler decided to leave America. In 1948, he told his parents he was going to Paris to pursue a PhD. Instead he left for Prague and lived in the Soviet Union for over a decade. In the meantime, the United States Department of Defense asked J Edgar Hoover, the FBI director, to investigate whether Nadler was leaking classified information to Czechoslovakian authorities. In 1950, the American embassy in Prague seized Nadler’s passport on the charge that he was betraying American radar secrets and “inventing weapons for a potential enemy.” Outraged, Nadler renounced American citizenship and began working at the foremost computer institute in Czechoslovakia—the Institute of Mathematical Machines.
However, he would soon grow disillusioned with communism. The final straw, he recalled in his autobiography, came when the Soviets crushed the Hungarian Uprising in October 1956. By then, Nadler was searching for a way out of the country, but the Czechoslovak government believed he possessed information too sensitive to depart with, and the American Embassy refused him a return visa, suspecting he would conduct espionage for the communists.