Cold War Spy Game; The Curious Mystery Of The Hollow Nickel

When 14-year-old Jimmy Bozart of Brooklyn, New York, collected money for his paper route, one coin felt suspiciously light. Bozart discovered the nickel housed microfilm when he dropped it on the ground.

Bozart told the daughter of New York police officer, who told her dad/ That man told a detective who enlisted the FBI, a man named Luis Hahn, to investigate.

The FBI knew they had something, but there was only one problem. They didn’t know what that something was.

The FBI worked tirelessly to break the code of the message in the microfilm, but it would take four years of investigation and the defecting of one KGB agent before they could make sense of Bozart’s nickel.

KGB in NYC

Soviet Spy | en.wikipedia.org

The KGB were Russia’s spy organization. It should come as no surprise that the Russians had spies in New York during the Cold War. They had them in many large cities, blow-over from WWII nuclear espionage.

Because the value of information, knowing what were the enemy’s plans, was better than gold, players on both sides engaged in espionage. Some would argue this modus operandi still exists today.

One could also argue that this network of spies is why the Cold War never left the newspaper headlines in a full out war.

From the crazy Mexican stalemate of nukes aimed over the sea down to the espionage on the streets, the two powers held each other in a dare neither wanted to see take shape.

We needed KGB in New York the same way Russia needed American spies in Moscow. We were keeping each other honest with liars.

Feds believed that interrupting the message hidden in Bozart’s nickel could give the American espionage program an edge in the game.

Luis Hahn

FBI headquarters NY | fbi.gov

The first thing Hahn did was try to find out where the nickel came from.

By analyzing the metal he was able to figure out it was the combination of two coins. The head-side was from 1948, based on the nickel-copper composition. The back of the coin was older.

Interesting enough, but this information did not prove helpful.

The microfilm contained over 200 sets of five digit numbers, a code only the received could break, as there was no key in the coin.

For four years the feds tried to break the code or find someone who could tell them what it meant. Their break came when Reino Häyhänen, a KGB agent from Paris wanted to defect.

Reino Häyhänen

When KGB man, Reino Häyhänen stated his intentions to defect, he was en route to Moscow. The Soviets were pulling him from service.

Apparently Häyhänen didn’t trust their intentions so he stopped in Paris to talk to the U.S. Embassy. He asked to defect in exchange for information.

With Häyhänen’s help, Hahn connected the nickel to two other KGB agents, one of whom who’d been working for the United Nations.

The message of the film was for Häyhänen, a welcome to the United States. There were five messages, a congratulations for his safe arrival, instructions to receive money, and other boring but pertinent mission instructions.

After four years of suspense, the decode might have been for naught, but Häyhänen also revealed the names of other KGB agents to the FBI. One worked in the Soviet embassy in Ottawa and another who was a sergeant in the U.S. Army.

Häyhänen’s assistance allowed the Americans to prosecute one of the contacts involved with creating the coin. Häyhänen lived in the United States until a car accident ended his life in ’61.

Whatever happened to little Jimmy Bozart? They pinned a medal on him. One private citizen gave him an Oldsmobile, which he sold and put the money into a mining investment. The investment was a success. By age 18 Bozart was swimming in cash.