In the Matter of J. Robert Oppenheimer: The Security Clearance Hearing

In the Matter of J. Robert Oppenheimer: The Security Clearance Hearing

In the Matter of J. Robert Oppenheimer: The Security Clearance Hearing

In the Matter of J. Robert Oppenheimer: The Security Clearance Hearing

Synopsis

An edited and annotated transcript of the 1954 hearing before the Atomic Energy Commission in which this preeminent physicist attempted to clear himself of the charge of being a communist. Polenberg draws on recently declassified FBI files for introductory and concluding essays.

Excerpt

Richard Polenberg

On June 15, 1954, the Government Printing Office (GPO) published In the Matter of J. Robert Oppenheimer, a transcript of the famous physicist's hearing before the Atomic Energy Commission's Personnel Security Board. More than thirty witnesses testified at the hearing, which was held over a four-week period in April and May. the text came to 992 densely printed pages. Shortly thereafter, the gpo published the reports of the board and the commission, along with pertinent correspondence, comprising an additional 55 pages. the transcript contained a number of typesetting errors, although surprisingly few considering the haste with which publication was arranged. All discussions of classified matters were deleted, and the deletions—of words, phrases, and sometimes entire pages—were indicated by asterisks.

The demand from libraries, scholars, and other interested parties soon exhausted the supply of the GPO's edition. in 1970, the mit Press reprinted the transcript and the accompanying reports with a foreword by Philip M. Stern, the author of an exceptionally fine book on the subject, The Oppenheimer Case: Security on Trial (1969), and with a highly useful index. But the mit edition, too, has long been out of print.

The version presented here consists of about one-fourth of the original transcript. I include much of the testimony of the centrally important figures— Oppenheimer, Hans A. Bethe, Edward Teller, Leslie R. Groves, Isidor I. Rabi, Enrico Fermi, and George F. Kennan—but provide briefer excerpts from testimony that was less significant. To convey the underlying rancor, I include some of the angry exchanges between the opposing lawyers, and between Oppenheimer's attorneys and members of the board. I omit, however, lengthy discussions of such matters as whether a transcript of a 1943 interview between Oppenheimer and an army security officer accurately reflected the lan-

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