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

STATEMENT BY COMMISSIONER ZUCKERT

1. BASIS OF AGREEING TO DENY ACCESS

In subscribing to the majority decision and the substance of the Commission opinion, I have considered the evidence as a whole and no single factor as decisive. For example, Dr. Oppenheimer's early Communist associations by themselves would not have led me to my conclusion. The more recent connections, such as those with Lomanitz and Bohm, would not have been decisive. The serious 1943 incident involving Chevalier would not have been conclusive, although most disturbing and certainly aggravated by the continuation of the relationship between Chevalier and Dr. Oppenheimer. Individual instances of lack of veracity, conscious disregard of security considerations, and obstruction of proper security inquiries would not have been decisive.

But when I see such a combination of seriously disturbing actions and events as are present in this case, then I believe the risk to security passes acceptable bounds. All these actions and events and the relation between them make no other conclusion possible, in my opinion, than to deny clearance to Dr. Oppenheimer.

There follow some additional observations of my own which I believe are pertinent in the consideration of this case and the problems underlying it.

It is a source of real sadness to me that my last act as a public official should be participation in the determination of this matter, involving as it does, an individual who has made a substantial contribution to the United States. This matter certainly reflects the difficult times in which we live.

2. "SECURITY" IN 1954

The fact is that this country is faced with a real menace to our national security which manifests itself in a great variety of ways. We are under the necessity of defending ourselves against a competent and ruthless force possessed of the great advantage that accompanies the initiative. There is no opportunity which this force would not exploit to weaken our courage and confuse our strength.

The degree of attention which Dr. Oppenheimer's status has evoked is indication of the extent to which this force has imposed upon us a new degree of intensity of concern with security. There has always been a recognition of the need for security precautions when war threatened or was actually in progress. It is new and disquieting that security must concern us so much in times that have so many of the outward indications of peace. Security must indeed become a daily concern in our lives as far as we can see ahead.

In this Nation, I believe we have really commenced to understand this only within the past 10 years. It would be unrealistic to imagine that in that brief period of time we could have acquired a well-rounded understanding, much less an acceptance, of the implications of such a change in our way of life. It will not prove easy to harmonize the requirements of security with such basic concepts as personal freedom. It will be a long and difficult process to construct it thoroughly articulated security system that will be effective in protecting strength and yet maintain the basic fabric of our liberties.

It is clear that one essential requirement of the struggle in which this Nation is engaged is that we be decisive and yet maintain a difficult balance in our actions. For example, we must maintain a positive armed strength, yet in such a manner that we do not impair our ability to support that strength. We must be vigilant to the dangers and deceits of militant communism without the hysteria that breeds witch hunts. We must strive to maintain that measure of discipline required by real and present-day danger without destroying such freedoms as the freedom of honest thought. Our Nation's problem is more difficult because of a fundamental characteristic of a democratic system: We seek to be a positive force without a dominated uniformity in thought and action dictated by a small group in power.

The decision in this particular matter before us must be made not in 1920 or 1930 or 1940. It has to be made in the year 1954 in the light of the necessities of today and, inevitably, with whatever limitations of viewpoint 1954 creates. One fact that gives me reassurance is that this decision was reached only after the most intensive and concerned study following a course of procedure which gave the most scrupulous attention to our ideas of justice and fair treatment.

The problem before this Commission is whether Dr. Oppenheimer's status as a consultant to the Atomic Energy Commission constitutes a security risk.

3. THE CONCEPT OF "SECURITY RISK"

One of the difficulties in the development of a healthy security system is the achievement of public understanding of the phrase "security risk." It has unfortunately acquired in many minds the connotation of active disloyalty. As a result, it is not realized that the determination of "security risk" must be applied to individuals where the circumstances may be considerably less derogatory than disloyalty. In the case of Dr. Oppenheimer, the evidence which convinced me that his employment was not warranted on security grounds did not justify an accusation of disloyalty.

The "security risk" concept has evolved in recent years as a part of our search for a security system which will add to the protection of the country. In that quest, certain limited guidelines have emerged. With respect to eligibility of people for sensitive positions in our Government we have said, in effect, that there must be a convincing showing that their employment in such positions will not constitute a risk to our security. Except in the clearest of cases, such as present Communist membership, for example, the determination may not be an easy one. In many cases, like the one before us, a complex qualitative determination is required. One inherent difficulty is that every human being is to some degree a security risk. So long as there are normal human feelings like pain, or emotions like love of family, everyone is to some degree vulnerable to influence, and thus a potential risk in some degree to our security.

Under our security system it is our duty to determine how much of a risk is involved in respect to any particular individual and then to determine whether that risk is worth taking in view of what is at stake and the job to be done. It is not possible, except in obvious cases, to determine in what precise manner our security might be endangered. The determination is rather an evaluation of the factors which tend to increase the chance that security might be endangered. Our experience has convinced us that certain types of association and defects of character can materially increase the risk to security.

Those factors-many of which are set forth in the majority opinion-are present in Dr. Oppenheimer's case to such an extent that I agree he is a security risk.

4. POSSIBILITY OF AN ALTERNATIVE ACTION

There have been suggestions that there may be a possible alternative short of finding Dr. Oppenheimer a security risk. One possibility suggested was that the Commission might merely allow Dr. Oppenheimer's consultant's contract to lapse when it expires on June 30, 1954, and thereafter not use his services. I have given the most serious consideration to this possibility and have concluded that it is not practical.

The unique place that Dr. Oppenheimer has built for himself in the scientific world and as a top Government adviser ' make it necessary that there be a clear-cut determination whether he is to be given access to the security information within the jurisdiction of the Commission.

As a scientist, Dr. Oppenheimer's greatest usefulness has been as a scientific administrator and a scientific critic. He has been looked to for scientific judgment by people within the profession. He is a personality in whom students place particular reliance for leadership and inspiration. These qualities, coupled with a nature that enables him to keep in active touch with great numbers of people in the scientific professions, have given him a unique place in the scientific community.

The Commission's clearance has permitted Dr. Oppenheimer to carry out his role as an active consultant of scientists. For example, Los Alamos Laboratory reports on the most intimate details of the progress of the thermonuclear and fission programs have continued to flow to him. I would gather that these reports were sent to Dr. Oppenheimer because his leadership and scientific judgment were recognized, and it was felt that he should be kept intensively abreast of the development of the weapon art.

I think the Commission is clearly obligated to determine whether Dr. Oppenheimer may continue to carry out this function and whether scientists may continue to call upon him as they have in the past in regard to highly classified material.

In addition, the scope of Dr. Oppenheimer's activities as a top adviser to various agencies of Government on national security policies make imperative a determination of his security status.

After the development of the atomic bomb and the end of World War II, Dr. Oppenheimer was quite suddenly projected into a far more important capacity than he had held as a scientist and laboratory director at Los Alamos. He was given responsibilities for the formulation of international controls of atomic energy. His post as chairman of the General Advisory Committee and a host of other committees in the Defense Establishment made him an adviser on national security problems at the top level of Government. His advice was sought on many matters in which science or technical aspects of atomic energy were important, but important as incidentals and background. With his unique experience, his intellect, his breadth of interests and his articulateness it was almost inevitable that he was consulted on a growing number of national security policy matters. As a result, his degree of access to the detailed essentials of our most secret information was, in my opinion, among the greatest of any individuals in our Government. I doubt that there have been contemporaneously more than a handful of people at the highest levels who have possessed the amount of sensitive information which was given to Dr. Oppenheimer.

Since Dr. Oppenheimer's retirement from the General Advisory Committee he has been employed as a consultant to the Commission. It is true that since 1952 the Commission has used him very little. Commission clearance has, however, been a basis for other agencies using him in connection with delicate problems of national security. It is logical to expect that would continue. For example, the Commission has recently received a letter from Dr. DuBridge, Chairman of the Science Advisory Committee, Office of Defense Mobilization which says:

"Our Committee is planning to undertake during the coming months an intensive study of important matters related to national security on which Dr. Oppenheimer's knowledge and counsel will be of critical importance."

I believe that the outlined facts concerning Dr. Oppenheimer's activities in the scientific profession and employment by the Government demonstrate that the Commission could not decide the matter on any other basis than to grant or deny clearance. Any other action would merely postpone the problem. His activities cannot be compartmented to some particular area of scientific effort. It is only reasonable to expect that he would be used in connection with broad assignments such as he has had in the past. Inevitably the question would arise whether he should be given access to the most sensitive restricted data which is under the Commission's jurisdiction.

Therefore, there must be a determination as to his security status with respect to this data.

All of the facts concerning Dr. Oppenheimer's activities, scientific and governmental, and the consequent access to vital information emphasize the degree of his security responsibility.

For the reasons outlined in the first paragraphs of these comments, I conclude that he falls substantially below the standard required by that responsibility. There seems to me no possible alternative to denying Dr. Oppenheimer clearance.

5. THERMONUCLEAR CONTROVERSY DISREGARDED

There is one final comment which I should add. My decision in this matter was influenced neither by the actions nor by the attitudes of Dr. Oppenheimer concerning the development of thermonuclear weapons. Nor did I consider material any advice given by Dr. Oppenheimer in his capacity as a top level consultant on national security affairs.

In my judgment, it was proper to include Dr. Oppenheimer's activities regarding the thermonuclear program as part of the derogatory allegations that initiated these proceedings. Allegations had been made that Dr. Oppenheimer was improperly motivated.

The Gray Board, although doubting the complete veractiy of Dr. Oppenheimer's explanations, found that these most serious allegations were not substantiated. I have carefully reviewed the evidence and concur in the finding.

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