Decision and Opinions of the United States Atomic Energy Commission in the Matter of Dr. J. Robert Oppenheimer

- Statement by the Atomic Energy Comission, June 29, 1954

UNITED STATES ATOMIC ENERGY COMMISSION,
Washington 25, D. C., June 29, 1954.

The issue before the Commission is whether the security of the United States warrants Dr. J. Robert Oppenheimer's continued access to restricted data of the Atomic Energy Commission. The data to which Dr. Oppenheimer has had until recently full access include some of the most vital secrets in the possession. of the United States.

Having carefully studied the pertinent documents--the transcript of the hearings before the Personnel Security Board (Gray Board), the findings and recommendation of the Board, the briefs of Dr. Oppenheimer's counsel, and the findings and recommendation of the General Manager-we have concluded that Dr. Oppenheimer's clearance for access to restricted data should not be reinstated.

The Atomic Energy Act of 1946 lays upon the Commissioners the duty to reach a determination as to "the character, associations, and loyalty" of the individuals engaged in the work of the Commission. Thus, disloyalty would be one basis for disqualification, but it is only one. Substantial defects of character and imprudent and dangerous associations, particularly with known subversives who place the interests of foreign powers above those of the United States, are also reasons for disqualification.

On the basis of the record before the Commission, comprising the transcript of the hearing before the Gray Board as well as reports of Military Intelligence and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, we find Dr. Oppenheimer is not entitled to the continued confidence of the Government and of this Commission because of the proof of fundamental defects in his "character."

In respect to the criterion of "associations," we find that his associations with persons known to him to be Communists have extended far beyond the tolerable limits of prudence and self-restraint which are to be expected of one holding the high positions that the Government has continuously entrusted to him since 1942. These associations have lasted too long to be justified as merely the intermittent and accidental revival of earlier friendships.

Neither in the deliberations by the full Commission nor in the review of the Gray Board was importance attached to the opinions of Dr. Oppenheimer as they bore upon the 1949 debate within the Government on the question of whether the United States should proceed with the thermonuclear weapon program. In this debate, Dr. Oppenheimer was, of course, entitled to his opinion.

The fundamental issues here are apart from and beyond this episode. The history of their development is follows :

On December 23, 1953, Dr. Oppenheimer was notified that his security clearance had been suspended, and he was provided with the allegations which had brought his trustworthiness into question. He was also furnished with a copy of the Atomic Energy Commission's security clearance procedures, and was informed of his right to a hearing under those procedures. By telegram dated January 29, 1954, Dr. Oppenheimer requested a hearing. On March 4, 1954, after requesting and receiving three extensions of time, he submitted his answer to the letter of December 23, 1953. On March 15, 1954, Dr. Oppenheimer was informed that Mr. Gordon Gray, Mr. Thomas A. Morgan, and Dr. Ward V. Evans would conduct the hearing.

The hearing before the Gray Board commenced on April 12, 1954, and continued through May 6, 1954. Dr. Oppenheimer was represented by four lawyers. He was present to confront all witnesses; he had the opportunity to cross-examine all witnesses; his counsel made both oral and written argument to the Board.

The Board submitted its findings and recommendation to the General Manager of the Commission on May 27,1954. A majority of the Board recommended against reinstatement of clearance, Dr. Evans dissenting.

Dr. Oppenheimer had full advantage of the security procedures of the Commission. In our opinion he had a just hearing.

On May 28, l954, the General Manager notified Dr. Oppenheimer of the adverse recommendation of the Personnel Security Board and forwarded to him a copy of the Board's findings and recommendation. The General Manager informed Dr. Oppenheimer of his right to request review of his case by the Personnel Security Review Board. Dr. Oppenheimer was also informed that upon consideration of the record in the case-including the recommendation of the Personnel Security Review Board in the event review by that Board was requested-the General Manager would submit to the Commission his own recommendation as to whether or not clearance should be reinstated and that the Commission would thereafter make the final determination.

By letter of June 1, 1954, Dr. Oppenheimer waived his right to a review of his case by the Personnel Security Review Board. He requested immediate consideration of his case by the Commission. On June 7, 1954, his counsel submitted a written brief to the Commission. The General Manager reviewed the testimony and the findings and recommendation of the Gray Board and the briefs; his conclusion that Dr. Oppenheimer's clearance should not be reinstated was submitted to the Commission on June 12, 1954.

Prior to these proceedings, the derogatory information in Government files concerning Dr. Oppenheimer had never been weighed by any board on the basis of sworn testimony.

The important result of these hearings was to bring out significant information bearing upon Dr. Oppenheimer's character and associations hitherto unknown to the Commission and presumably unknown also to those who testified as character witnesses on his behalf. These hearings additionally established as fact many matters which previously had been only allegations.

In weighing the matter at issue, we have taken into account Dr. Oppenheimer's past contributions to the atomic energy program. At the same time, we have been mindful of the fact that the positions of high trust and responsibility which Dr. Oppenheimer has occupied carried with them a commensurately high obligation of unequivocal character and conduct on his part. A Government official having access to the most sensitive areas of restricted data and to the innermost details of national war plans and weapons must measure up to exemplary standards of reliability, self-discipline, and trustworthiness. Dr. Oppenheimer has fallen far short of acceptable standards.

The record shows that Dr. Oppenheimer has consistently placed himself outside the rules which govern others. He has falsified in matters wherein he was charged with grave responsibilities in the national interest. In his associations he has repeatedly exhibited a willful disregard of the normal and proper obligations of security.

As to "character"

(1) Dr. Oppenheimer has now admitted under oath that while in charge of the Los Alamos Laboratory and working on the most secret weapon development for the Government, he told Colonel Pash a fabrication of lies. Colonel Pash was an officer of Military Intelligence charged with the duty of protecting the atomic-weapons project against spies. Dr. Oppenheimer told Colonel Pash in circumstantial detail of an attempt by a Soviet agent to obtain from him information about the work on the atom bomb. This was the Haakon Chevalier incident. In the hearings recently concluded, Dr. Oppenheimer under oath swears that the story he told Colonel Pash was a "whole fabrication and tissue of lies" (Tr., p. 149).

It is not clear today whether the account Dr. Oppenheimer gave to Colonel Pash in 1943 concerning the Chevalier incident or the story he told the Gray Board last month is the true version.

If Dr. Oppenheimer lied in 1943, as he now says he did, he committed the crime of knowingly making false and material statements to a Federal officer. If he lied to the Board, be committed perjury in 1954.

(2) Dr. Oppenheimer testified to the Gray Board that if he had known Giovanni Rossi Lomanitz was an active Communist or that Lomanitz had disclosed information about the atomic project to an unauthorized person, he would not have written to Colonel Lansdale of the Manhattan District the letter of October 19, 1943, in which Dr. Oppenheimer supported the desire of Lomanitz to return to the atomic project.

The record shows, however, that on August 26, 1943, Dr. Oppenheimer told Colonel Pash that he (Oppenheimer) knew that Lomanitz had revealed information about the project. Furthermore, on September 12, 1943, Dr. Oppenheimer told Colonel Lansdale that he (Oppenheimer) had previously learned for a fact that Lomanitz was a Communist Party member (Tr. pp. 118, 119, 128, 129, 143, 875).

(3) In 1943, Dr. Oppenheimer indicated to Colonel Lansdale that he did not know Rudy Lambert, a Communist Party functionary. In fact, Dr. Oppenheimer asked Colonel Lansdale what Lambert looked like. Now, however, Dr. Oppenheimer under oath has admitted that be knew and had seen Lambert at least half a dozen times prior to 1943; he supplied a detailed description of Lambert; he said that once or twice he had lunch with Lambert and Isaac Folkoff, another Communist Party functionary, to discuss his (Oppenheimer's) contributions to the Communist Party; and that he knew at the time that Lambert was an official in the Communist Party (Tr. pp. 139, 140, 877).

(4) In 1949 Dr. Oppenheimer testified before a closed session of the House Un-American Activities Committee about the Communist Party membership and activities of Dr. Bernard Peters. A summary of Dr. Oppenheimer's testimony subsequently appeared in a newspaper, the Rochester Times Union. Dr. Oppenheimer then wrote a letter to that newspaper. The effect of that letter was to contradict the testimony he had given a congressional committee (Tr. pp. 210-215).

(5) In connection with the meeting of the General Advisory Committee on October 29, 1949, at which the thermonuclear weapon program was considered, Dr. Oppenheimer testified before the Gray Board that the General Advisory Committee was "surprisingly unanimous" in its recommendation that the United States ought not to take the initiative at that time in a thermonuclear program. Now, however, under cross-examination, Dr. Oppenheimer testifies that he did not know how Dr. Seaborg (1 of the 9 members of Dr. Oppenheimer's committee) then felt about the program because Dr. Seaborg "was in Sweden, and there was no communication with him." On being confronted with a letter from Dr. Seaborg to him dated October 14, 1949-a letter which had been in Dr. Oppenheimer's files-Dr. Oppenheimer admitted having received the letter prior to the General Advisory Committee meeting in 1949. In that letter Dr. Seaborg said: "Although I deplore the prospects of our country putting a tremendous effort into this, I must confess that I have been unable to come to the conclusion that we should not." Yet Dr. Seaborg's view was not mentioned in Dr. Oppenheimer's report for the General Advisory Committee to the Commission in October 1949. In fact the existence of this letter remained unknown to the Commission until it was disclosed during the hearings (Tr. pp. 233, 237-241).

(6) In 1950, Dr. Oppenheimer told an agent of the Federal Bureau of Investigation that he had not known Joseph Weinberg to be a member of the Communist Party until that fact become public knowledge. Yet on September 12, 1943, Dr. Oppenheimer told Colonel Lansdale that Weinberg was a Communist Party member (Tr., p. 875).

The catalog does not end with these six examples. The work of Military Intelligence, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the Atomic Energy Commission-all, at one time or another have felt the effect of his falsehoods, evasions, and misrepresentations.

Dr. Oppenheimer's persistent and willful disregard for the obligations of security is evidenced by his obstruction of inquiries by security officials. In the Chevalier incident, Dr. Oppenheimer was questioned in 1943 by Colonel Pash, Colonel Lansdale, and General Groves about the attempt to obtain information from him on the atomic bomb project in the interest of the Soviet Government. He had waited 8 months before mentioning the occurrence to the proper authorities. Thereafter for almost 4 months Dr. Oppenheimer refused to name the individual who had approached him. Under oath he now admits that his refusal to name the individual impeded the Government's investigation of espionage. The record shows other instances where Dr. Oppenheimer has refused to answer inquiries of Federal officials on security matters or has been deliberately misleading.

As to "associations"

"Associations" is a factor which, under the law, must be considered by the Commission. Dr. Oppenheimer's close association with Communists is another part of the pattern of his disregard of the obligations of security.

Dr. Oppenheimer, under oath, admitted to the Gray Board that from 1937 to at least 1942 he made regular and substantial contributions in cash to the Communist Party. He has admitted that he was a "fellow traveler" at least until 1942. He admits that he attended small evening meetings at private homes at which most, if not all, of the others present were Communist Party members. He was in contact with officials of the Communist Party, some of whom had been engaged in espionage. His activities were of such a nature that these Communists looked upon him as one of their number.

However, Dr. Oppenheimer's early Communist associations are not in themselves a controlling reason for our decision.

They take on importance in the context of his persistent and continuing association with Communists, including his admitted meetings with Haakon Chevalier in Paris as recently as last December-the same individual who had been intermediary for the Soviet Consulate in 1943.

On February 25, 1950, Dr. Oppenheimer wrote a letter to Chevalier attempting "to clear the record with regard to your alleged involvement in the atom business." Chevalier used this letter in connection with his application to the State Department for a United States passport. Later that year Chevalier came and stayed with Dr. Oppenheimer for several days at the latter's home. In December 1953, Dr. Oppenheimer visited with Chevalier privately on two occasions in Paris, and lent his name to Chevalier's dealings with the United States Embassy in Paris on a problem which, according to Dr. Oppenheimer, involved Chevalier's clearance. Dr. Oppenheimer admitted that today he has only a "strong guess" that Chevalier is not active in Communist Party affairs.

These episodes separately and together present a serious picture. It is clear that for one who has had access for so long to the most vital defense secrets of the Government and who would retain such access if his clearance were continued, Dr. Oppenheimer has defaulted not once but many times upon the obligations that should and must be willingly borne by citizens in the national service.

Concern for the defense and security of the United States requires that Dr. Oppenheimer's clearance should not be reinstated.

Dr. J. Robert Oppenheimer is hereby denied access to restricted data.

LEWIS L. STRAUSS, Chairman.
EUGENE M. ZUCKERT,* Commissioner.
JOSEPH CAMPBELL,* Commissioner

Company Logo About Us | | Support | Privacy | Site Map | Weblog | Support Our Site

© Copyright 1998-2015 AJ Software & Multimedia All Rights Reserved

National Science FoundationNational Science Digital LibraryNuclear Pathways Member SiteThis project is part of the National Science Digital Library and was funded by the Division of Undergraduate Education, National Science Foundation Grant 0434253