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Key Issues Nuclear Weapons History Cold War Oppenheimer Affair Testimony

Testimony in the Matter of J. Robert Oppenheimer

A. General Leslie R. Groves

Q. General, did your security officers on the project advise against the clearance of Dr. Oppenheimer?

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A. Oh, I am sure that they did. I don't recall exactly. They certainly were not in favor of his clearance. I think a truer picture is to say that they reported that they could not and would not clear him.

Q. General, you were in the Army actively for how many years?

A. I don't know. 1916 to 1948, and of course raised in it, also.

Q. And you rose to the rank of lieutenant general?

A. That is right.

Q. During your entire Army career, I assume you were dealing with matters of security?

A.  I would say I devoted about 5 percent of my time to security problems.

Q.  You did become thoroughly familiar with security matters.

A. I think that I was very familiar with security matters.

Q. In fact, it could be said that you became something of an expert in it?

A. I am afraid that is correct.

Q. I believe you said that you became pretty familiar with the file of Dr. Oppenheimer?

A. I think I was thoroughly familiar with everything that was reported about Dr. Oppenheimer; and that included, as it did on every other matter of importance, personally reading the original evidence if there was any original evidence. In other words, I would read the reports of the interviews with people. In other words, I was not reading the conclusions of any security officer. The reason for that was that in this project there were so many things that the security officer would not know the significance of that I felt I had to do it myself. Of course, I have been criticized for doing all those things myself and not having a staff of any kind; but, after all, it did work, and I did live through it.

Q. General, in the light of your experience with security matters and in the light of your knowledge of the file pertaining to Dr. Oppenheimer, would you clear Dr. Oppenheimer today?

A. I think before answering that I would like to give my interpretation of what the Atomic Energy Act requires. I have it, but I never can find it as to just what it says. Maybe I can find it this time.

Q. Would you like me to show it?

A. I know it is very deeply concealed in the thing.

Q. Do you have the same copy?

A. I have the original act.

Q. It is on page 14, 1 think, where you will find it, General. You have the same pamphlet I have.

A. Thank you. That is it. The clause to which I am referring is this: It is the last of paragraph (b) (i) on -page 14. It says: "The Commission shall have determined that permitting such person to have access to restricted data will not endanger the common defense or security," and it mentions that the investigation should include the character, associations, and loyalty.

My interpretation of "endanger" - and I think it is important for me to make that if I am going to answer your question - is that it is a rea-sonable presumption that there might be a danger, not a remote pos-sibility, a tortured interpretation of maybe there might be something, but that there is something that might do. Whether you say that is 5 percent or 10 percent or something of that order does not make any difference. It is not a case of proving that the man is a danger. It is a case of thinking, well, he might be a danger, and it is perfectly logical to presume that he would be, and that there is no consideration whatsoever to be given to any of his past performances or his general usefulness or, you might say, the imperative usefulness. I don't care how important the man is, if there is any possibility other than a tortured one that his associations or his loyalty or his character might endanger.

In this case I refer particularly to associations and not to the associ-ations as they exist today but the past record of the associations. I would not clear Dr. Oppenheimer today if I were a member of the Commission on the basis of this interpretation. If  the interpretation is different, then I would have to stand on my interpretation of it.

b. Hans Bethe.

Q. Do you have any opinion, Dr. Bethe, on the question of whether there has been in fact any delay in the development and the perfection of thermonuclear weapons by the United States?

A. I do not think that there has been any delay. I will try to keep this unclassified. I can't promise that I can make myself fully clear on this.

Q. Try to, will you?

A. I will try. When President Truman decided to go ahead with the hydrogen bomb in January 1950, there was really no clear technical program that could be followed. This became even more evident later on when new calculations were made at Los Alamos, and when these new calculations showed that the basis for technical optimism which had existed in the fall of 1949 was very shaky, indeed. The plan which then existed for the making of a hydrogen bomb turned out to be less and less promising as time went on.

Q. What interval are you now speaking of?

A. I am speaking of the interval of from January 1950 to early 1951. It was a time when it would not have been possible by adding more people to make any more progress. The more people would have to do would have to be work on the things which turned out to be fruitful.

Finally there was a very brilliant discovery made by Dr. Teller. It was one of the discoveries for which you cannot plan, one of the discoveries like the discovery of the relativity theory, although I don't want to compare the two in importance. But something which is a stroke of genius, which does not occur in the normal development of ideas. But somebody has to suddenly have an inspiration. It was such an inspiration which Dr. Teller had which put the program on a sound basis.

Only after there was such a sound basis could one really talk of a technical program. Before that, it was essentially only speculation, essentially only just trying to do something without having really a direction in which to go. Now things changed very much. After this brilliant discovery there was a program.

Q. Dr. Bethe, if the board and Mr. Robb would permit me, I would like to ask you somewhat a hypothetical question. Would your attitude about work on the thermonuclear program in 1949 have differed if at that time there had been available this brilliant discovery or brilliant inspiration, whatever you call it, that didn't come to Teller until the spring of 1951?

A. It is very difficult to answer this.

Q. Don't answer it if you can't.

A. I believe it might have been different.

Q. Why?

A. I was hoping that it might be possible to prove that thermonuclear reactions were not feasible at all. I would have thought that the greatest security for the United States would have lain in the conclusive proof of the impossibility of a thermonuclear bomb. I must confess that this was the main motive which made me start work on thermonuclear reactions in the summer of 1950.

With the new [Teller-Ulam idea?] I think the situation changed because it was then clear, or almost clear - at least very likely - that thermonuclear weapons were indeed possible. If thermonuclear weapons were possible, I felt that we should have that first and as soon as possible. So I think my attitude might have been different.

Q. One final question, Dr. Bethe. I should have asked you this. I have referred you to the press statements and the article that you published in the late winter and spring of 1950, expressing critical views of the H-bomb program. Did you ever discuss those moves, that is to make such statements and write such articles, with Dr. Oppenheimer?

A. I never did. In fact, after the President's decision, he would never discuss any matters of policy with me. There had been in fact a directive from President Truman to the GAC not to discuss the reasons of the GAC or any of the procedures, and Dr. Oppenheimer held to this di-rective very strictly.

Q. Did you consult him about the article?

A. I don't think I consulted him at all about the article. I consulted him about the statement that we made. As far as I remember, he gave no opinion.

Q. On the basis of your association with him, your knowledge of him over these many years, would you care to express an opinion about Dr. Oppenheimer's loyalty to the United States, about his character, about his discretion in regard to matters of security?

A. I am certainly happy to do this. I have absolute faith in Dr. Oppenheimer's loyalty. I have always found that he had the best interests of the United States at heart. I have always found that if he differed from other people in his judgment, that it was because of a deeper thinking about the possible consequences of our action than the other people had. I believe that it is an expression of loyalty - of particular loyalty - if a person tries to go beyond the obvious and tries to make available his deeper insight, even in making unpopular suggestions, even in making suggestions which are not the obvious ones to make, are not those which a normal intellect might be led to make.

I have absolutely no question that he has served this country very long and very well. I think everybody agrees that his service in Los Alamos was one of the greatest services that were given to this country. I believe he has served equally well in the GAC in reestablishing the strength of our atomic weapons program in 1947. 1 have faith in him quite generally.

Q. You and he are good friends?

A. Yes.

Q. Would you expect him to place his loyalty to his country even above his loyalty to a friend?

A. I suppose so. Mr. Marks. That is all.

c. George F. Kerman.

Q. As a result of your experience with Dr. Oppenheimer in the cases that you have reference to, what convictions, if any, did you form about him?

A. I formed the conviction that he was an immensely useful person in the councils of our Government, and I felt a great sense of gratitude that we had his help. I am able to say that in the course of all these contacts and deliberations within the Government I never observed anything in his conduct or his words that could possibly, it seemed to me, have indicated that he was animated by any other motives than a devotion to the interests of this country.

Q. Did you ever observe anything that would possibly have suggested to  you that he was taking positions that the Russians would have liked?

A. No. I cannot say that I did in any way. After all, the whole purpose of these exercises was to do things which were in the interest of this country, not in the interests of the Soviet Union, at least not in the interests of the Soviet Union as their leaders saw it at that time. Anyone who collaborated sincerely and enthusiastically in the attempt to reach our objectives, which Dr. Oppenheimer did, obviously was not serving So-viet purposes in any way.

Q. Have you said that he contributed significantly to the results?

A. I have, sir.

Q. Mr. Kerman, is there any possibility in your mind that he was dissembling?

A. There is in my mind no possibility that Dr. Oppenheimer was dissembling.

Q. How do you know that? How can anybody know that?

A. I realize that is not an assertion that one could make with confidence about everyone. If I make it with regard to Dr. Oppenheimer it is because I feel and believe that after years of seeing him in various ways, not only there in Government, but later as an associate and a neighbor, and a friend at Princeton, I know his intellectual makeup and something of his personal makeup and I consider it really out of the question that any man could have participated as he did in these discussions, could have bared his thoughts to us time after time in the way that he did, could have thought those thoughts, so to speak, in our presence and have been at the same time dissembling.

I realize that is still not wholly the answer. The reason I feel it is out of the question that could have happened is that I believed him to have an intellect of such a nature that it would be impossible for him to speak dishonestly about any subject to which he had given his deliberate and careful and professional attention.

That is the view I hold of him. I have the greatest respect for Dr. Oppenheimer's mind. I think it is one of the great minds of this genera-tion of Americans. A mind like that is not without its implications.

Q. Without its what?

A. Implications for a man's general personality. I think it would be actually the one thing probably in life that Dr. Oppenheimer could never do, that is to speak dishonestly about a subject which had really engaged the responsible attention of his intellect. My whole impression of him is that he is a man who when he turns his mind to something in an orderly and responsible way, examines it with the most extraordinary scrupulousness and fastidiousness of intellectual process.

I must say that I cannot conceive that in these deliberations in Government he could have been speaking disingenuously to us about these matters. I would suppose that you might just as well have asked Leonardo da Vinci to distort an anatomical drawing as that you should ask Robert Oppenheimer to speak responsibly to the sort of questions we were talking about, and speak dishonestly.

Q. Mr. Kerman, in saying what you have just said, are you saying it with an awareness of the background that Dr. Oppenheimer has, the general nature of which is reflected in the letter which General Nichols addressed to him, which is the genesis of these proceedings, and his response?

A. I am, sir.

Q. How do you reconcile these two things?

A. I do not think that they are necessarily inconsistent one with the other. People advance in life for one thing. I saw Dr. Oppenheimer at a phase of his life in which most of these matters in General Nichols' letter did not apply. It seems to me also that I was concerned or associated with him in the examination of problems which both he and I had accepted as problems of governmental responsibility before us, and I do not suppose that was the case with all the things that were mentioned in Gen-eral Nichols' letter about his early views about politics and his early activities and his early associations.

I also think it quite possible for a person to be himself profoundly honest and yet to have associates and friends who may be misguided and misled and for who either at the time or in retrospect he may feel intensely sorry and concerned. I think most of us have had the experience of having known people at one time in our lives of whom we felt that way.

d. Isador Rabi.

Q. Dr. Rabi, Mr. Robb asked you whether you had spoken to Chairman Strauss in behalf of Dr. Oppenheimer. Did you mean to suggest in your reply - in your reply to him you said you did among other things - did you mean to suggest that you had done that at Dr. Oppenheimer's  investigation?

A. No; I had no communication from Dr. Oppenheimer before these charges were filed, or since, except that I called him once to just say that I believed in him, with no further discussion.

Another time I called on him and his attorney at the suggestion of Mr. Strauss. I never hid my opinion from Mr.   Strauss that I thought that this whole proceeding was a most unfortunate one.

Dr. Evans: What was that?

The Witness: That the suspension of the clearance of Dr. Oppenheimer was a very unfortunate thing and should not have been done. In other words, there he was; he is a consultant, and if you don't want to consult the guy, you don't consult him, period. Why you have to then proceed to suspend clearance and go through all this sort of thing, he is only there when called, and that is all there was to it. So it didn't seem to me the sort of thing that called for this kind of proceeding at all against a man who had accomplished what Dr. Oppenheimer has accomplished. There is a real positive record, the way I expressed it to a friend of mine. We have an A-bomb and a whole series of it, and what more do you want, mermaids? This is just a tremendous achievement. If the end of that road is this kind of hearing, which can't help but be humiliating, I thought it was a pretty bad show. I still think so. By Mr. Marks:

Q. Dr. Rabi, in response to a question of the Chairman, the substance of which I believe was, was Dr. Oppenheimer unalterably opposed to the H-bomb development at the time of the October 1949 GAC meeting, I think you said in substance no, and then you added by way of explanation immediately thereafter the two annexes or whatever they were.

A. During the discussion.

Q. During the discussion he said he would be willing to sign either or both. Can you explain what you meant by that rather paradoxical statement?

A. No, I was just reporting a recollection.

Q. What impression did you have?

A. What it means to me is that he was not unalterably opposed, but on sum, adding up everything, he thought it would have been a mistake at that time to proceed with a crash program with all that entailed with this object that we didr;t understand, when we had an awfully good program on hand in the fission field, which we did not wish to jeopar-dize. At least we did not feel it should be jeopardized. It turned out in the events that both could be done. Los Alamos just simply rose to the occasion and worked miracles, absolute miracles. Mr. Marks. That is all.

e. Edward Teller.

Q. Dr. Teller, you know Dr. Oppenheimer well; do you not?

A. I have known Dr. Oppenheimer for a long time. I first got closely asso-ciated with him in the summer of 1942 in connection with atomic energy work. Later in Los Alamos and after Los Alamos I knew him. I met him frequently, but I was not particularly closely associated with him, and I did not discuss with him very frequently or in very great detail matters outside of business matters.

Q. To simplify the issues here, perhaps, let me ask you this question: Is it your intention in anything that you are about to testify to, to suggest that Dr. Oppenheimer is disloyal to the United States?

A. I do not want to suggest anything of the kind. I know Oppenheimer as an intellectually most alert and very complicated person, and I think it would be presumptuous and wrong on my part if I would try in any way to analyze his motives. But I have always assumed, and I now assume that he is loyal to the United States. I believe this, and I shall believe it until I see very conclusive proof to the opposite.

Q. Now, a question which is the corollary of that. Do you or do you not believe that Dr. Oppenheimer is a security risk?

A. In a great number of cases I have seen Dr. Oppenheimer act-I under-stood that Dr. Oppenheimer acted in a way which for me was exceedingly hard to understand. I thoroughly disagreed with him in numerous issues and his actions frankly appeared to me confused and complicated. To this extent I feel that I would like to see the vital interests of this country in hands which I understand better, and therefore trust more.

In this very limited sense I would like to express a feeling that I would feel personally more secure if public matters would rest in other hands.