The Biden administration on Friday reversed a 1954 decision to revoke the security clearance of J. Robert Oppenheimer, known as the ‘father of the atomic bomb,’ months ahead of the release of a biopic starring Cillian Murphy as the physicist.
The decision comes eight years after the department declassified documents related to a Cold War hearing for Oppenheimer, who was accused of having communist sympathies.
The once-celebrated physicist lost his security clearance following the four-week, closed-door hearing. Officials also alleged that Oppenheimer’s wife and brother had both been communists and he had contributed to communist front-organizations.
Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm said in a written order that the since-dissolved Atomic Energy Committee acted out of political motives when it revoked Oppenheimer’s security clearance nearly 70 years ago.
The Biden administration on Friday reversed a 1954 decision to revoke the security clearance of J. Robert Oppenheimer, known as the ‘father of the atomic bomb’ for his work on the Manhattan Project
Oppenheimer, seen here with Albert Einstein in 1947, lost his security clearance following the four-week, closed-door hearing. Officials also alleged that Oppenheimer’s wife and brother had both been communists and he had contributed to communist front-organizations
‘The Oppenheimer matter concerned a man who, not long before, had played an indispensable and singular role in the war effort, a man whose loyalty and love of country were never seriously questioned,’ Granholm said in the written order.
‘More troubling, historical evidence suggests that the decision to review Dr. Oppenheimer´s clearance had less to do with a bona fide concern for the security of restricted data and more to do with a desire on the part of the political leadership of the AEC to discredit Dr. Oppenheimer in public debates over nuclear weapons policy,’ she said.
Oppenheimer, a theoretical physicist, headed the top secret Los Alamos Laboratory, which was established under President Franklin Roosevelt as home of the Manhattan Project to build the first atomic bomb during World War Two.
He oversaw the first atomic bomb detonation in the New Mexico desert, code-named ‘Trinity’, before the weapons were used in the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
A few months later the genius at the centre of the operation began his long fall from grace. It started with his own second thoughts.
‘Mr. President, I feel I have blood on my hands,’ Oppenheimer said to President Truman when they met in the White House.
He went on to attack Truman for using the tragedy of Hiroshima to accelerate the nuclear arms race rather than to bring about world peace.
Following the war, Oppenheimer opposed nuclear proliferation and development of the hydrogen bomb, stances that Granholm suggested in her order led the AEC to revoke his security clearance.
After the Manhattan Project, Oppenheimer served as director of Princeton’s Institute for Advanced Study until he retired in 1966.
His opposition to developing nuclear technology, as well as his and his wife Katherine ‘Kitty’ Oppenheimer’s associations with communism, led to his losing security clearance.
Oppenheimer is awarded with the Enirco Fermi Award by president Lydon B. Johnson
When he joined the Manhattan Project, Oppenheimer wrote on his personal security questionnaire that he had been ‘a member of just about every Communist Front organization on the west coast.’
Kitty Oppenheimer had also formerly belonged to the Communist Party, as had Oppenheimer’s late mistress, Jean Tatlock, who is generally credited with introducing Oppenheimer to radical leftwing politics.
In November 1953, William Liscum Borden, who had been the executive director of the United States Congress Joint Committee on Atomic Energy, sent a letter to then-J. Edgar Hoover saying: ‘more probably than not J. Robert Oppenheimer is an agent of the Soviet Union.’
Then-President Dwight Eisenhower launched the investigation, which was held in secret in early 1954.
Despite having willingly testified to left wing activities of his colleagues in the scientific community, Oppenheimer was still stripped of his clearance.
The Peaky Blinders star, 45, lost 14 pounds to portray the tortured genius, who was a distinctively stooped and lanky figure, seldom seen without a cigarette
Oppenheimer’s late mistress, Jean Tatlock, who will be played by Florence Pugh in ‘Oppenheimer,’ is generally credited with introducing Oppenheimer to radical leftwing politics
Katherine ‘Kitty’ Oppenheimer, who will be played by Emily Blunt in the film, was also a former member of the Communist Party
President Lyndon B. Johnson later tried to erase the embarrassment of Oppenheimer’s treatment by honoring him with the Atomic Energy Commission’s Enrico Fermi Award in 1963.
His predecessor, John F. Kennedy, had made it a point to give him the award, which Oppenheimer accepted a week after his assassination.
Granholm’s statement concludes: ‘Today we remember how the United States government treated a man who served it with the highest distinction. We remember that political motives have no proper place in matters of personnel security. And we remember that living up to our ideals requires unerring attention to the fair and consistent application of our laws.’
‘I commend Sec. of Energy Granholm for vacating the AEC´s flawed 1954 decision to revoke Robert Oppenheimer’s security clearance,’ Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont said on Twitter.
‘He was a loyal American who was subjected to a gross miscarriage of justice, and this action was long overdue.’
Oppenheimer died of throat cancer in 1967.
Accused of being a communist: Dr. J. Robert Oppenheimer, of the California Institute of Technology and the University of California, and head of the Los Alamos Group of Scientists who developed the atomic bomb
Father of the atomic bomb: Oppenheimer led the Manhattan Project at Los Alamos National Laboratory, which developed the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki during World War II
Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm said in a written order that the since-dissolved Atomic Energy Committee acted out of political motives when it revoked Oppenheimer’s security clearance nearly 70 years ago
After more than half a century of intrigue and mystery, the U.S. Department of Energy declassified documents related to a Cold War hearing for the man who directed the Manhattan Project in 2014
The news comes as Cillian Murphy leads an all-star cast for the Christopher Nolan biopic ‘Oppenheimer’ due out next summer.
The Peaky Blinders star, 45, lost 14 pounds to portray the tortured genius, who was a distinctively stooped and lanky figure, seldom seen without a cigarette.
The cast also includes Matt Damon, Rami Malek and Robert Downey Jr., with British actresses Emily Blunt as Kitty Oppenheimer and Florence Pugh as his mistress, Jean Tatlock.
Oscar winner Gary Oldman has a small role, said to be as President Truman. The film is set to be released July 21, 2023.
An exclusive picture from May shows Murphy and Damon outside Fuller Lodge in the Los Alamos research facility, where the Christopher Nolan film, called Oppenheimer, has had permission to shoot, and where the atomic bomb was first built.
The news comes as Cillian Murphy leads an all-star cast for the Christopher Nolan biopic ‘Oppenheimer’ due out next summer
New look: Cillian Murphy (pictured with Matt Damon) has gone through a physical transformation to play Dr J. Robert Oppenheimer, the ‘father of the atomic bomb’, in a biopic
Original: A picture shows Cillian outside Fuller Lodge in the Los Alamos research facility, recreating the 1945 presentation (pictured) of the Army-Navy ‘E’ Award to the physicist
Matt, 51, plays General Leslie R Groves, the commanding general of the Manhattan Project which built, designed and tested the world’s first atomic weapons.
In the picture, the men are recreating the 1945 presentation of the Army-Navy ‘E’ Award (the E stands for excellence in production of war equipment) to the physicist, who was stepping down as the facility’s director.
Nolan recently told a magazine that he created the look of an atomic explosion for the film without using CGI, according to People.
Kai Bird, a writer who co-authored the book ‘Oppenheimer’ is based on, told the New York Times Friday: ‘History matters and what was done to Oppenheimer in 1954 was a travesty, a black mark on the honor of the nation,’ Mr. Bird said. ‘Students of American history will now be able to read the last chapter and see that what was done to Oppenheimer in that kangaroo court proceeding was not the last word.’
What was the Manhattan Project?
A joint effort between the U.S., the UK and Canada, the Manhattan Project was a research and development program that produced the first atomic bomb during the Second World War.
It began in 1939 as a modest operation, but grew to involve more than 130,000 people costing about $2billion working across 30 sites in America, Britain and Canada – some of them top secret.
The first-ever nuclear device was detonated in New Mexico on July 16 1945. Less than a month later it was unleashed on unsuspecting Japan.
On August 6, 1945, the United States dropped a massive atomic bomb on Hiroshima.
Three days later, another atomic bomb was dropped on Nagasaki, which killed about 70,000 people.
The genesis of the Manhattan Project began in 1938 when German scientists Otto Hahn and Fritz Strassmann inadvertently discovered nuclear fission.
A few months later, Albert Einstein and Leo Szilard sent a letter to President Roosevelt, warning him that Germany might try to build an atomic bomb.
In response, FDR formed the Uranium Committee, a group of top military and scientific experts to determine the feasibility of a nuclear chain reaction.
Funding first came in December 1942, when Roosevelt ordered an initial $500 million. The headquarters of the project was then moved from Manhattan to Washington DC, while other project sites were across the country.
The weapons research laboratory was located Los Alamos, New Mexico, and would conduct most of the remaining research and construction of the A-bomb.
Workers laying up the graphite core of the Reactor-B atomic pile as part of the project. The pile was 36 feet high, measuring 28 by 36 feet. It was penetrated horizontally by 2,004 fuel tubes and vertically by channels for the vertical safety rods
Physicists, chemists, metallurgists, explosive experts and military personnel converged on the secret town, which grew to be the home of thousands of project workers.
The Army was charged with supplying, supporting and guarding the top-secret work being carried out at the site.
Physicist Norris Bradbury was in charge of the final assembly of atomic device, known as the Gadget.
Fellow physicist Seth Neddermeyer alongside George Kistiakowsky co-lead the design of the implosion-style Plutonium atomic bomb.
Chemist Dr. James Conant and engineer Dr. Vannevar Bush played critical leadership roles in the Manhattan Project and were awarded the Medal of Merit and Bronze Oak Leaf Cluster after the war.
The first nuclear device ever detonated was an implosion-type bomb at the Trinity test at the Alamogordo Bombing and Gunnery Range in New Mexico on July 16, 1945.