Recommendations of the General Manager to the United States Atomic Energy Commission in the Matter of Dr. J. Robert Oppenheimer

Washington 25, D. C., June 12, 1954

Memorandum for: Mr. Strauss, Dr. Smyth, Mr. Murray, Mr. Zuckert, Mr. Campbell.
Subject: Dr. J. Robert Oppenheimer.


On December 23, 1953, Dr. J. Robert Oppenheimer was notified that his security clearance had been suspended, and informed of his right to a hearing under AEC procedures. By telegram dated January 29, 1954, Dr. Oppenheimer requested that he be afforded a hearing and on March 4, 1954, after requesting and receiving three extensions of time, he submitted his answer to my letter of December 23, 1953.

Mr. Gordon Gray, Mr. Thomas A. Morgan and Dr. Ward V. Evans agreed to serve as members of the Personnel Security Board to hear Dr. Oppenheimer's case. The Board submitted its findings and recommendation to me on May 27, 1954. A majority of the Board recommended against reinstatement of clearance, Dr. Evans dissenting.

On May 28, 1954 I notified Dr. Oppenheimer of the recommendation of the Personnel Security Board and forwarded to him a copy of the Board's findings and recommendation. I informed Dr. Oppenheimer of his right to request review of his case by the Personnel Security Review Board and informed him that upon full consideration of the entire record in the case, including the recommendation of the Personnel Security Review Board in the event he requested review by that Board, I would submit to the Commission my recommendation as to whether or not his clearance should be reinstated. I also informed him that the final determination would be made by the Commission.

By letter of June 1, 1954, Dr. Oppenheimer waived his right to a review of his case by the Personnel Security Review Board and requested an immediate consideration of his case by the Commission.


In making my findings and determination I have considered the question whether a security risk is involved in continued clearance of Dr. Oppenheimer I have taken into account his contributions to the United States atomic energy program and in addition I have, in accordance with AEC procedures, considered the effect which denial of security clearance would have upon the program.


Dr. Oppenheimer has been intimately associated with the atomic energy program virtually from its inception. He participated in early weapons research and was selected as the wartime Director of the Los Alamos Laboratory. As district engineer of the wartime Manhattan Engineer District, I was keenly aware of the contribution he made to the initial development of the atomic bomb. His leadership and direction of the Los Alamos weapons program were outstanding; his contributions leading to a successful atomic weapon have properly received worldwide acknowledgment and acclaim.


As deputy district engineer of the Manhattan District, I was also aware of the circumstances, which have been brought out in the record, surrounding Dr. Oppenheimer's appointment as head of the Los Alamos Laboratory, and his subsequent clearance. He was selected in spite of the fact that he was considered a "calculated risk." He would not have been chosen had he not been considered virtually indispensable to the atomic bomb program. After he was chosen, as General Groves testified before the Board, Dr. Oppenheimer probably would not have been cleared had he not already been thoroughly steeped in knowledge of weapons research and had he not been considered absolutely essential.

Security officers opposed the clearance of Dr. Oppenheimer and it was not until July of 1943, after he had participated in the program for many months, that the decision to clear him was made by General Groves. I personally signed the directive advising the commanding officer at Los Alamos that there was no objection to Dr. Oppenheimer's employment.

The Manhattan District had one mandate-to build an atomic bomb as quickly as possible. Fears that Germany would build an atomic weapon first and possibly win the war thereby spurred the Manhattan District in what was felt to be a race against the German effort. Communist Russia was also fighting Germany at that time.

General Groves testified before the Board that he did not regret having made the decision to clear Dr. Oppenheimer in consideration of all of the circumstances which confronted him in 1943 but that under the present requirements of the Atomic Energy Act, as he interprets them, he would not clear Dr. Oppenheimer today.


In this case as well as in all personnel security cases, the AEC in granting or reinstating a clearance must determine that the common defense and security will not be endangered. Under the Atomic Energy Act, such determination must be made on the basis of the character, associations, and loyalty of the individual concerned. Thus, a finding of loyalty in any given case does not suffice; substantial deficiency in any one of the three factors-character, associations, or loyalty-may prevent the determination that permitting such person to have access to restricted data will not endanger the common defense or security.

In addition, the criteria set up by Executive Order 10450 must be considered. This order requires that a program be established to insure that the retention in employment of any employee is clearly consistent with the interests of national security.


I have reviewed the entire record of the case, including the files, the transcript of the hearing, the findings and recommendation of the Personnel Security Board, and the briefs filed by Dr. Oppenheimer's attorneys on May 17, 1954, and June 7, 1954, and have reached the conclusion that to reinstate the security clearance of Dr. Oppenheimer would not be clearly consistent with the interests of national security and would endanger the common defense and security.

I concur with the findings and recommendation of the majority of the Personnel Security Board and submit them in support of this memorandum. In addition, I refer in particular to the following considerations:

1. Dr. Oppenheimer's Communist activities.-The record contains no direct evidence that Dr. Oppenheimer gave secrets to a foreign nation or that he is disloyal to the United States. However, the record does contain substantial evidence of Dr. Oppenheimer's association with Communists, Communist functionaries, and Communists who did engage in espionage. He was not a mere "parlor pink" or student of communism as a result of immaturity and intellectual curiosity, but was deeply and consciously involved with hardened and militant Communists at a time when he was a man of mature judgment.

His relations with these hardened Communists were such that they considered him to be one of their number. He admits that he was a fellow traveler, and that he made substantial cash contributions direct to the Communist Party over a period of 4 years ending in 1942. The record indicates that Dr. Oppenheimer was a Communist in every respect except for the fact that he did not carry a party card.

These facts raise serious questions as to Dr. Oppenheimer's eligibility for clearance reinstatement.

It is suggested that Dr. Oppenheimer has admitted many of the facts concerning his past association with Communists and the Communist Party. Whether this be true or not, it appears to me that Dr. Oppenheimer's admissions in too many cases have followed, rather than preceded, investigation which developed the facts. It appears that he is not inclined to disclose the facts spontaneously, but merely to confirm those already known. I find no great virtue in such a plea of guilt; certainly it does not cause me to dismiss Dr. Oppenheimer's past associations as matters of no consequence simply on the ground that he has admitted them.

2. The Chevalier incident.-Dr. Oppenheimer’s involvement in the Chevalier incident, and his subsequent conduct with respect to it, raise grave questions of security import.

If in 1943, as he now claims to have done, he knowingly and willfully made false statements to Colonel Pash, a Federal officer, Dr. Oppenheimer violated what was then section 80, title 18, of the United States Code; (1) in other words if his present story is true then he admits he committed a felony in 1943. On the other hand, as Dr. Oppenheimer admitted on cross-examination, if the story Dr. Oppenheimer told Colonel Pash was true, it not only showed that Chevalier was involved in a criminal espionage conspiracy, but also reflected seriously on Dr. Oppenheimer himself.

After reviewing both the 16-page transcript (as accepted by the Board) of the interview between Dr. Oppenheimer and Colonel Pash on August 26, 1943, and recent testimony before the Board, it is difficult to conclude that the detailed and circumstantial account given by Dr. Oppenheimer to Colonel Pash was false and that the story now told by Dr. Oppenheimer is an honest one. Dr. Oppenheimer's story in 1943 was most damaging to Chevalier. If Chevalier was Dr. Oppenheimer's friend and Dr. Oppenheimer, as he now says, believed Chevalier to be innocent and wanted to protect him, why then would he tell such a complicated false story to Colonel Pash? This story showed that Chevalier was not innocent, but on the contrary was deeply involved in an espionage conspiracy. By the same token, why would Dr. Oppenheimer tell a false story to Colonel Pash which showed that he himself was not blameless? Is it reasonable to believe a man will deliberately tell a lie that seriously reflects upon himself and his friend, when he knows that the truth will show them both to be innocent?

It is important to remember also that Dr. Oppenheimer did not give his present version of the story until 1946, shortly after he had learned from Chevalier what Chevalier himself had told the FBI about the incident in question. After learning of this from Chevalier, Dr. Oppenheimer changed his story to conform to that given to the FBI by Chevalier,

From all of these facts and circumstances, it is a fair inference that Dr. Oppenheimer's story to Colonel Pash and other Manhattan District officials was substantially true and that his later statement on the subject to the FBI, and his recent testimony before the Personnel Security Board, were false.

Executive Order 10450 provides:

"SECTION 8 (a). The investigations conducted pursuant to this order shall be designed to develop information as to whether the employment or retention in employment in the Federal service of the person being investigated is clearly consistent with the interests of the national security. Such information shall relate, but shall not be limited, to the following:

(1) Depending on the relation of the Government employment to the national security:

In my opinion, Dr. Oppenheimer's behavior in connection with the Chevalier incident shows that he is not reliable or trustworthy; his own testimony shows that he was guilty of deliberate misrepresentations and falsifications either in his interview with Colonel Pash or in his testimony before the Board; and such misrepresentations and falsifications constituted criminal, * * * dishonest * * * conduct.

Further, the significance of the Chevalier incident combined with Dr. Oppenheimer's conflicting testimony from 1943 to 1954 in regard to it were not, of course, available in whole to General Groves in 1943, nor was the complete record on the Chevalier incident considered by the Atomic Energy Commission in 1947. Consideration of the complete record plus a cross-examination of Dr. Oppenheimer under oath were not accomplished by anyone prior to the personnel Security Board hearing in 1954.

3. Dr. Oppenheimer's veracity.-A review of the record reveals other instances which raise a question as to the credibility of Dr. Oppenheimer in his appearance before the Personnel Security Board and as to his character and veracity in general.

(a) The record suggests a lack of frankness on the part of Dr. Oppenheimer in his interviews with the FBI. It appears that during this hearing he recollected details concerning Communist meetings in the San Francisco area which he did not report in previous interviews with the FBI.

(b) Dr. Oppenheimer told the FBI in 1950 that he did not know know (sic.) that Joseph Weinberg was a Communist until it became a matter of public knowledge. When confronted with the transcript of his interview with Colonel Lansdale on September 12, 1943, he admitted that he had learned prior to that date that Weinberg was a Communist.

(c) It is clear from the record that Dr. Oppenheimer was a great deal more active in urging the deferment of Rossi Lomanitz and his retention on the atom bomb project than he said he was in his answer to my letter of December 23, 1953. Furthermore, Dr. Oppenheimer testified that if he had known that Lomanitz was a Communist he would not have written the letter to Colonel Lansdale of the Manhattan District on October 19, 1943, supporting Lomanitz' services for the project. However, the record reflects that Dr. Oppenheimer told Colonel Lansdale of the Manhattan District on September 12, 1943, that he had learned that Lomanitz was a Communist.

(d) Dr. Oppenheimer admitted in his testimony before the Board that in 1949 he wrote a letter to a newspaper which might have misled the public concerning his testimony before the House Un-American Activities Committee on Dr. Bernard Peters. He testified that an earlier article in the newspaper which summarized his testimony was accurate, yet the effect of his published letter was to repudiate the earlier article.

(e) Dr. Oppenheimer in his answer to my letter of December 23, 1953, and in his testimony before the Board with respect to the H-bomb program undertook to give the impression that in 1949 he and the GAC merely opposed a so-called "crash" program. It is quite clear from the record, however, that the position of the majority of the GAC, including Dr. Oppenheimer, was that a thermonuclear weapon should never be produced, and that the United States should make an unqualified commitment to this effect. In discussing the building of neutron-producing reactors, a majority of the GAC, including Dr. Oppenheimer, expressed the opinion that "the super program itself should not be undertaken and that the Commission and its contractors understand that construction of neutron-producing reactors is not intended as a step in the super program." The testimony of Dr. Oppenheimer viewed in light of the actual record certainly furnished adequate basis for the majority of the Board not believing that Dr. Oppenheimer was entirely candid with them on this point.

(f) Dr. Oppenheimer testified before the Board that the GAC was unanimous in its basic position on the H-bomb. He specifically said that Dr. Seaborg had not expressed his views and that there was no communication with him. It should be noted that the statement that "there was no communication with him" was volunteered by Dr. Oppenheimer in his testimony on cross-examination before the Board. However, Dr. Oppenheimer received a letter from Dr. Seaborg, expressing his views, prior to the October 29, 1949, GAC meeting.

4. Dr. Oppenheimer's continued associations after World War II-Dr. Oppenheimer has continued associations which raise a serious question as to his eligibility for clearance. He has associated with Chevalier on a rather intimate basis as recently as December 1953, and at that time 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. Since the end of World War II he has been in touch with Bernard Peters, Rossi Lomanitz, and David Bohm under circumstances which, to say the least, are disturbing.

5. Obstruction and disregard of security.-Dr. Oppenheimer's actions have shown a consistent disregard of a reasonable security system. In addition to the Chevalier incident, he has refused to answer questions put to him by security officers concerning his relationships and knowledge of particular individuals whom he knew to be Communists; and he has repeatedly exercised an arrogance of his own judgment with respect to the loyalty and reliability of his associates and his own conduct which is wholly inconsistent with the obligations necessarily imposed by an adequate security system on those who occupy high positions of trust and responsibility in the Government.


Upon the foregoing considerations relating to the character and associations of Dr. Oppenheimer, I find that he is a security risk. In making this finding I wish to comment on the item of derogatory information contained in my letter of December 23, 1953, which relates to the hydrogen bomb and, in particular, which alleged that:

" * * * It was further reported that even after it was determined, as a matter of national policy, to proceed with development of a hydrogen bomb, you continued to oppose the project and declined to cooperate fully in the project. It was further reported you departed from your proper role as an adviser to the Commission by causing the distribution, separately and in private, to top personnel at Los Alamos of the majority and minority reports of the General Advisory Committee on development of the hydrogen bomb for the purpose of trying to turn such top personnel against the development of the hydrogen bomb. It was further reported that you were instrumental in persuading other outstanding scientists not to work on the hydrogen bomb project, and that the opposition to the hydrogen bomb, of which you are the most experienced, most powerful and most effective member, has definitely slowed down its development."

It should be emphasized that at no time has there been any intention on my part or the Board's to draw in question any honest opinion expressed by Dr. Oppenheimer. Technical opinions have no security implications unless they are reflections of sinister motives. However, in view of Dr. Oppenheimer's record coupled with the preceding allegation concerning him, it was necessary to submit this matter for the consideration of the Personnel Security Board in order that the good faith of his technical opinions might be determined. The Board found that, following the President's decision, Dr. Oppenheimer did not show the enthusiastic support for the program which might have been expected of the chief atomic adviser to the Government under the circumstances; that, had he given his enthusiastic support to the program, a concerted effort would have been initiated at an earlier date, and that, whatever the motivation, the security interests of the United States were affected. In reviewing the record I find that the evidence establishes no sinister motives on the part of Dr. Oppenheimer in his attitude on the hydrogen bomb, either before or after the President's decision. I have considered the testimony and the record on this subject only as evidence bearing upon Dr. Oppenheimer's veracity. In this context I find that such evidence is disturbing.


In addition to determining whether or not Dr. Oppenheimer is a security risk, the General Manager should determine the effect which denial of security clearance would have upon the atomic energy or related programs. In regard to Dr. Oppenheimer's net worth to atomic energy projects, I believe, first, that through World War II he was of tremendous value and absolutely essential. Secondly, I believe that since World War II his value to the Atomic Energy Commission as a scientist or as a consultant has declined because of the rise in competence and skill of other scientists and because of his loss of scientific objectivity probably resulting from the diversion of his efforts to political fields and matters not purely scientific in nature. Further, it should be pointed out that in the past 2 years since he has ceased to be a member of the General Advisory Committee, his Services have been utilized by the Atomic Energy Commission on the following occasions only:

I doubt that the Atomic Energy Commission, even if the question of his security clearance had not arisen, would have utilized his services to a markedly greater extent during the next few years. I find, however, that another agency, the Science Advisory Committee, Office of Defense Mobilization, has stated in a letter dated June 4, 1954, signed by Dr. L. A. DuBridge, Chairman, and addressed to Chairman Strauss, that:

"* * * It is, therefore, of great importance to us that Dr. Oppenheimer's 'Q' clearance be restored. This is especially true since our Committee is planning to undertake during the coming months an intensive study of important items related to national security on which Dr. Oppenheimer's knowledge and counsel will be of very critical importance."

Dr. DuBridge further stated that:

" * * * His value is, it seems to me, so enormous as to completely overbalance and override the relatively trivial risks(*) which the Personnel Security Board reports. In other words, the net benefits to national security will be far greater if Dr. Oppenheimer's clearance is restored than if it is terminated. Even though he served the Government in no other capacity than as a member of the Science Advisory Committee of the Office of Defense Mobilization, the above statements will, I am confident, be true beyond question."

Other Government agencies may also desire to use Dr. Oppenheimer's services if he were to be cleared. In addition, contractors and study groups involved in atomic power activities undoubtedly will from time to time, as one or two have already indicated, desire to clear Dr. Oppenheimer for consulting work.

Dr. Oppenheimer could of course make contributions in all these fields, but he is far from being indispensable.


I have conscientiously weighed the record of Dr. Oppenheimer's whole life, his past contributions, and his potential future contributions to the Nation against the security risk that is involved in his continued clearance. In addition, I have given consideration to the nature of the cold war in which we are engaged with communism and Communist Russia and the horrible prospects of hydrogen bomb warfare if all-out war should be forced upon us. From these things a need results to eliminate from classified work any individuals who might endanger the common defense or security or whose retention is not clearly consistent with the interests of national security. Dr. Oppenheimer's clearance should not be reinstated.

General Manager.

(1) 18 U. S. Code, sec. 80, provides in pertinent part: "Whoever * * * shall knowingly or willfully falsify or conceal or cover up by any trick, scheme, or device a material fact, or make or cause to be made any false or fraudulent statement or representations * * * in any matter within the jurisdiction or agency of the United States * * * shall be fined not more than $10,000 or imprisoned not more than 10 years, or both." back

(*)It should be noted that Dr. DuBridge to my knowledge has never had access to the complete file or the transcript of the hearing.back

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