Piecing Things Together: The End of the Pauling Case File

Linus Pauling speaking in Tampa, Florida. 1950s.

[Part 7 of 7]

In significant ways, by the 1970s the FBI had become an anachronism. It kept tilting at the illusory communist menace. It ran a sleazy campaign against homosexuals. It floundered in its perception and pursuit of the modern Mafia. It persecuted black citizens just when much of America was trying to help raise them up. It could not understand youthful protest.

-Rhodri Jeffreys-Jones, The FBI: A History

After nearly three decades of extensive observation and information collection, the FBI was unable to confirm suspicions that Linus Pauling was a communist or fellow traveler. Their most damning evidence, repeated again and again, year after rear, in report after report, was that Linus Pauling “associated with or supported several convicted Communists and has been referred to as a good friend of the CP.” A list of similar but less conclusive observations about Pauling likewise frequently saturated official Bureau reports:

For years Pauling has been an intense publicity seeker. He has expressed his opinions broadly as he could obtain an audience. He has sought the public forum wherever he could. He has said that he does not follow the communist line but that it is possible the communists may follow the ‘Pauling line.’ He is a highly individualistic, egotistical personality. Membership, in the narrow bookkeeping sense, in subversive organizations has not suited his conception of himself. He has preferred to: lend his name, speak and sponsor these groups.

Given the vast amount of unidentifiable and redacted material extant in his file, the tone of numerous references similar to that quoted above is perhaps the most important historical contribution offered by the FBI’s investigation of Pauling. It is useful from a scholarly perspective to note the degree to which the information that the Bureau collected, as well as the attitudes revealed in general inter-agency commentary, always seek to frame Pauling in an adversarial and negative light. Even after thirty years without “success,” the task and mission of the FBI’s efforts with regard to Pauling remained unceasingly single-minded.  Indeed, the organization’s vision of Pauling was so tinted, that its immediate reaction to his fearful night stuck on the edge of a cliff was to suggest that it may have been orchestrated for publicity.

Newscasts emanating from Monterey, California this date state at approximately 6:00 p.m. on 1/30/60, Pauling’s wife had reported him missing in mountains south of Monterey…Search for Pauling carried on until midnight on 1/30/60 and continued morning of 1/31/60 by helicopter…About noon this date newscasts indicated Pauling found alive and unharmed at above location.

No investigative attention being afforded reason for Pauling’s disappearance and location as could have been for publicity involved.

Exaggerated fears of communist influence led to other odd developments in Bureau behavior, as is evident throughout scattered comments in Pauling’s case file. For example, when Pauling’s book No More War! was made available at a public library in New York, a letter was sent to the FBI director from a New York office requesting more information on Pauling and the state of his file.

As the years dragged on however, and as Pauling’s file steadily grew, new additions were increasingly presented in a condensed and indifferent manner.  This entry from March 1964 is a typical example

The FBI has conducted an extensive investigation concerning Pauling over the past several years. Briefly, in summary, Dr. Pauling was named to the Soviet Academy of Sciences in 1958. He is considered a very influential person. He has given support to individuals and organizations associated with the Communist Party and the Communist Party and related organizations actively have supported his speaking activities. His statements and actions on many occasions have paralleled the Communist Party Line.

In 1954, he was the recipient of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry. In 1962, he received the Nobel Peace Prize. He has been affiliated with or supported approximately fifty separate Communist Party front groups. He is a strong advocate for the barring of nuclear testing and is active in numerous peace organizations.

After reviewing Pauling’s case file in its entirety, many questions come to mind regarding the FBI’s justifications for such extensive intrusion into an individual’s personal life. Chief among these is why, with no solid evidence uncovered after even ten years of investigation (let alone twenty or thirty), would the FBI be allowed to continue its invasive attempts to uncover non-existent wrongdoing? The answer to this and other questions likely has little to do with Pauling personally, but rather the preconceived pretext for an FBI-led domestic security apparatus, which could only be justified by the threat of an outside menace.  As the historian Rhodri Jeffreys-Jones wrote in 2007

In its desperation to win back the ground it had lost in turf wars, the FBI distorted its counterespionage mission. On the pretext that some spies had been communists, the assumption was made that treason was generically leftist in character. This was an archaic assumption, as Soviet spymasters, once having been rumbled, decided it would be foolish to continue with readily identifiable, ideologically motivated spies. In future, most American traitors would betray their country for money, not principle. FBI spy catchers either could not see that or would not see it, as they had another agenda. The Canadian political scientist Reg Whitaker has identified a process he called ‘Cold War alchemy,’ whereby government officials processed spy cases to make them look like subversion, and to justify political repression.

Pauling’s primary interest to the FBI was in his potential role as a communist or a functionary within communist plots. Though the Bureau was perpetually unable to validate these suspicions, by one way of thinking Pauling’s case file was only closed when fear of communism became a less effective tool for justifying authoritarian practices. As government-sanctioned fear of communism subsided, so did the loose and far reaching investigation of Pauling’s relationships and activities.

Linus and Ava Helen Pauling demonstrating in the streets for peace. San Francisco, California. 1960s.

Viewed in a different light however, the investigation of Pauling and others by the FBI was not conducted entirely in vain. Though much of the content presented in Pauling’s FBI records demonstrates a kind of corruption of democracy on the whole, it also serves as a biographer’s dream. The extensive organization, comprehensive coverage and sheer bulk of material included in Pauling’s (as well as many other individuals’) FBI case files have provided researchers with excellent historical documentation and a robust source of reference. While FBI information gathering itself was intrusive and typically one-sided, agents often did a marvelous job of encapsulating Pauling’s messages, history and positions on a great number of issues, and with regard to an extensive array of people and organizations.

Because the FBI’s value and merit for funding were not self-evident, the Bureau was constantly on the lookout for high profile cases which might validate claims in favor of its effectiveness and usefulness to the general public, to say nothing of Congressional budgetary committees. Undoubtedly, Pauling’s outspokenness, liberal politics and public presence made him a very tempting target for investigation, and his fame likely served as a major determinant for his longstanding position on the FBI’s reserve index. Pursuit of Pauling represented an important yet misbegotten component of the Bureau’s mission – a mission that contributed to the suffering of many U.S. citizens.

Informants, Committees and Travel

Excerpt from a testimony by Louis Budenz, annotations by Linus Pauling.

[Part 6 of 7]

Over the course of their thirty years of keeping tabs on him, the Federal Bureau of Investigation utilized a wide variety of tactics to monitor Linus Pauling and his activities. They kept track of his travel, saved references made to Pauling in the media, charted his participation in various groups and documented his appearances before different committees and government bodies. Perhaps one of their most intrusive methods however, was their use of informants and incriminating information provided by those who claimed to know him well.

Pauling’s friends and neighbors were questioned throughout the FBI’s long investigation, as were his colleagues and superiors at Caltech. Nearly every filed interview suggests that Pauling’s associates held a favorable opinion of his loyalty.  And even though these FBI activities contributed to an atmosphere of suspicion, Pauling appears to have been surrounded by individuals who truly cared for his well-being. At least one of Pauling’s personal secretaries fit this description, in so much as she served as an impediment to the FBI’s information-gathering schemes, as revealed, in part, by a 1961 Bureau memo:

Pauling teaches no classes at CIT and is engaged in research work only… [substantial redaction] positive in his own mind that no one could approach Dr. Pauling’s secretary about him, without she advising Dr. Pauling forthwith. [redacted] that Pauling’s office and its effects are kept under lock and key at all times.

[redacted] unable to furnish the name of anyone with whom Dr. Pauling discusses his future plans, other than his secretary, as noted above…Efforts will continue to develop a reliable source concerning the travel plans of Pauling, and the Bureau will be advised in this regard.

While Pauling’s long history with the FBI is wrought with both peculiar observations and fastidious documentation of his political activities, the most influential and frequently referenced item in his case file undoubtedly is the 1950 accusation made against him by Louis Budenz.

A former Communist Party member and managing director of the Daily Worker, Budenz became an informant for the FBI in the late 1940s. In a book that he wrote as a staff-member at Fordham University, Budenz claimed to know the identity of 400 concealed communists in prominent professional positions across the United States. Budenz advised FBI personnel that Linus Pauling was one of the 400, lending substantial weight to the loyalty investigation which had been administered to him in 1948. In regard to Pauling, Budenz provided FBI agents with the following testimony:

Although I did not meet Professor Pauling personally, he was officially mentioned as a Communist in connection with the formation of the Independent Citizens’ Committee for the Arts, Sciences and Professions at the time that he was active in cooperating in its formation, which was in late 1943 or early 1944. Dr. Pauling had been referred to me before that as a Communist in official reports from Milton Howard, who was assigned to cooperate in infiltration of the scientists, and also in official reports from V.J Jerome and Eugene Dennis. Up until 1945 Jack Stachel officially stated to me that Dr. Pauling was an active Communist. He has been a member of many fronts and also cooperated in raising money on several occasions.


Pauling’s file is likewise filled with comprehensive documentation of his appearances before several government boards and committees. An FBI agent was in attendance at the 1950 California State Senate Committee on Education hearings where Pauling was questioned about his refusal to sign a loyalty oath – five pages of notes outline the agent’s perception of the proceedings and Pauling’s testimony. While the overview of Pauling’s appearance before the Committee on Education is unusually detailed, it is generally evenhanded, taking care to note Pauling’s personal perspective without adding much in the way of inflammatory comment:

Pauling stated that all Communists should not be in the same category. He stated that he did not believe that there was any danger of Communist infiltration into the educational system. He said that even though he knew he put himself in jeopardy, he refused to answer the question as to whether or not he was ever a member of the Communist Party… He reiterated that when the United States suppresses liberal thought it was suppressing a part of the total thought.

Pauling’s files also contain a great number of testimonies from hearings and legal proceedings, particularly in the form of transcripts from several of Pauling’s court cases. Notes regarding particular difficulties that he experienced with other official entities are frequently presented, as is extensive documentation of his travel arrangements.

While it is now possible for scholars to reconstruct Pauling’s travel schedule by using a combination of the public record as well as the receipts, tickets and bills that he kept in his own personal records, the FBI maintained its own considerable documentation of Pauling’s travel – both domestic and abroad – in exacting and even disturbing detail. That noted, much of the FBI material concerning Pauling’s travel is redacted, making it difficult to discern the full level of infiltration into his personal arrangements. The information that remains visible usually takes the form of a report sent to the FBI Director, with a statement akin to:  “Will follow and report the return of Dr. and Mrs. Pauling from foreign travel on or about 1/15/64.”


The cover sheet to Section 8 of Paulings FBI file - annotations by Linus Pauling.

The FBI files also contain transcripts and commentary from Pauling’s 1951 appearance before the Industrial Employment Review Board, as well as his testimony before the Hennings Sub-committee on Constitutional Rights. Unsurprisingly, the files likewise contain substantial content related to Pauling’s two 1960 appearances before the Senate Internal Security Subcommittee (SISS). Extensive documentation demonstrates that members of the SISS maintained regular contact with FBI agents throughout the case that they built around Pauling, and updates were regularly fed to the Bureau.  The updates were especially frequent in Spring 1958, when Chief Counsel Jules Sourwine and other staff members were determining whether or not Pauling would make a satisfactory target for the committee’s next investigation:

Jay [sic] Sourwine, while discussing other matters, stated that there has been considerable activity on the part of Dr. Linus Pauling to stop atomic bomb tests, etc. He stated they have considerable front material on Pauling and he was wondering if Pauling might not be a fertile subject for inquiry by the Internal Security Subcommittee. He stated that he would appreciate any advice we might give him along this line feeling that Pauling might have some definite Party connections. Sourwine is not asking for information concerning Pauling but simply our opinion as to whether he might be a good subject to call before the Subcommittee.

RECOMMENDATION:

It is suggested that the Domestic Intelligence Division give this matter consideration.

FBI data in hand, the committee was ready to move against Pauling as early as 1958, but unforeseen political concerns, which are also documented in Pauling’s case file, delayed the confrontation. After nearly a year-and-a-half (during which time the committee focused on harassing and hastening the dissolution of SANE, a series of local but interconnected anti-bomb groups) Pauling was finally subpoenaed by SISS and questioned about his nuclear test ban petition. Pauling cooperated with the committee to some extent, but refused to provide information about those who had helped him collect petition signatures. Consequently, Pauling was commanded to appear at a second hearing before SISS later that year.

During the break that preceded his second appearance before their Committee, while Pauling was away on a pre-planned trip to Europe, SISS staff members were busy preparing material to use against him. In their ensuing efforts to weaken Pauling’s alternatives and strengthen their own general case, SISS staff members maintained contact and kept consultation with the FBI:

Mr. Sourwine stated he is attempting to convince the committee that a hearing should be held in New York City prior to 9-15-60 for the purpose of calling to such hearing several persons favorable to Pauling who could be expected to plead the Fifth Amendment. It is Sourwine’s view that with this testimony on the record, the committee’s position against Pauling would be stronger on 9-15-60 when he reappears.

Mr. Sourwine said he would keep us advised.

The final hearing with SISS ended well for Pauling. However the SISS case file, hearing transcript and a substantial amount of arguably relevant material was sequestered in Pauling’s FBI case file for future use. The information, pitched in a negative light, frequently resurfaced in Bureau reports throughout the following decade.

The FBI Begins its Investigation

Pauling in Paris, 1948.

[Part 5 of 7]

As a researcher in a private institution, Linus Pauling was initially spared from the FBI investigations made legal by President Truman’s Executive Order 9835. However, when Pauling initiated a trip to Europe in January 1948, he was approached by a Navy representative with an offer to become an intermittent contract employee. In exchange for his observations on the current state of British science, Pauling was officially paid as a consultant to the government. Upon signing the necessary contract, Pauling became subject to Order 9835, and thus investigation by the FBI.

FBI agents soon contacted the House Un-American Affairs Committee for relevant materials and began studying Pauling’s affiliations, noting his involvement with and support of a number of controversial organizations and petitions. The FBI questioned his neighbors and associates, noted his appearance in the Daily Worker, and searched through his personnel files from a number of institutions. Director J. Edgar Hoover authorized further investigation after a preliminary report, and Pauling was tracked throughout the rest of his European trip.

"Chemists' Leader Hits House Un-Americans", The Daily Worker, September 9, 1948.

The Bureau was very ambitious during its investigation of Pauling, but it suffered from a number of unforeseen delays, largely relating to cross-agency information transfers. A series of FBI memos retained in the Pauling file urgently request feedback and information from the Navy’s observations of Pauling. The memos are rife with frustration to an almost comical degree.  In them, their authors lament the obstacles inherent to inter-bureaucracy communication while urgently requesting Pauling’s status as per his employment with the Navy, so that information from his loyalty investigation could be furnished to the Civil Service Commission. A brief memo delivered by special messenger in August 1948, one of several requests sent to the Navy over the period of a week, exposes the anxiety felt by Bureau investigators:

Case very delinquent. Submit results at once. Further delay will not be tolerated.

While their methods appear to have been thorough, the investigation turned up nothing but an extensive initial case file on Pauling’s personal history and political activity – nearly everyone spoken to defended Pauling’s loyalty in one manner or another.  Nevertheless, Hoover still desired to send Pauling’s newly created file to the Civil Service Commission to move the matter forward. By the time the Pauling report was finally finished however, Pauling had returned home from Europe and had completed his contract with the Navy.  At that point, he was immune from further investigation as authorized by Order 9835.


Though the relationship between the Navy and FBI may have been strained by the 1948 episode, the two organizations demonstrated a general trend of cooperation throughout further sections of Pauling’s case file. In February 1950, a letter was received by the Office of Naval Intelligence and subsequently forwarded to the FBI. The letter was from a citizen who had seen radio equipment in Pauling’s garage, and who voiced concerns that Pauling might be a communist spy monitoring Navy experiments. In actual fact, the radio equipment belonged to Pauling’s son Peter, but the letter itself, and its subsequent transfer from Navy personnel to the FBI, demonstrates the outlandish mistrust spawned by the atmosphere of the era, as well as the cross-agency relationship that the FBI shared with a number of federal partners during its prolonged study of Pauling.

Soon after the first investigation, Pauling began to escalate the number of public speaking appearances that he booked on the subject of atomic weapons. Particular details that Pauling shared with audiences concerning the science of atomic bombs were analyzed for the possibility of security risks – a theme that would become fairly common in the FBI’s scrutiny of Pauling’s actions. In fact, a number of FBI memos discussed whether or not Pauling could be tried for violating security regulations in light of his knowledge about the atom bomb, his support of J. Robert Oppenheimer and his frequent attacks on anti-Russian sentiment:

In view of certain of the statements made by Pauling in his address concerning the detonation of atomic bombs, the Atomic Energy Commission, the Department of Army, Department of Navy and Department of the Air Force were requested to review Pauling’s address and to advise whether any of his statements contained classified information and, if so, whether the material could be declassified in the event of prosecution. (July 11, 1961)

These sorts of discussions were always resolved after consultation with experts, which revealed that Pauling’s observations were composed of information that could be accumulated through a number of public information sources.

Pauling also became a frequent subject of debate with regard to Director Hoover’s famed security index, and a number of memos, particularly from the early 1950s, struggle to locate Pauling’s rightful place within it. Early experience with Pauling led the FBI to consider placing him directly in the index; however indecision led to an on-again off-again approach as to Pauling’s proper placement on the list:

Bureau files reflect that Linus Carl Pauling is the subject of a Security Index card in the Los Angeles Office. (March 9, 1951)

The security index card should be canceled for Pauling; however, he should continue to be carried in a pending inactive status and periodic reports should continue to be submitted concerning. (October 21, 1952)

The periodic reports discussed in the memos form a regular component of Pauling’s file; reports which evolve slowly over the years to categorically and chronologically list all of Pauling’s suspicious actions and affiliations. In terms of Hoover’s security index however, the Bureau eventually settled on placing Pauling on reserve status:

This case has been re-evaluated in the light of the Reserve Index criteria and it continues to fall within such criteria because Linus Pauling (PhD) was named to the Soviet Academy of Sciences in 1958. Published “No More War” in 1958 calling for international agreement to end nuclear bomb testing and to decrease danger of war. For a number of years has given support to individuals and organizations associated with Communist Party and the Communist Party has supported his speaking activities. Throughout the years many of his statements and actions have paralleled Communist Party lines.

Analysis of his file suggests that the first few years of Pauling’s handling by FBI agents set the template for a familiar, cyclical pattern. While it was apparently obvious that Pauling was not directly involved with any communist plots or conspiracies – an observation accentuated by his extreme openness and clean record – his activity was continuously monitored, documented and melded into a lengthy Bureau file. Though the reports seem innocuous enough, as we’ll see they became a serious threat to Pauling’s well-being when placed in the hands of abusive government committee members seeking to uncover evidence of Pauling’s purported wrongdoing.

Opening the Pauling Case File

The cover sheet to Section 1 of Pauling's FBI file - annotations by Linus Pauling.

[Part 4 of 7]

In early spring of 1979, after citing amendments to the Freedom of Information Act and the Privacy Act of 1974, most of Linus Pauling’s personal FBI records were finally transferred to him. Following years of correspondence and various appeals, the rest of Pauling’s files from other agencies were released throughout the 1980s.

A great assemblage of personal information makes up the primary content of these files.  Included are frequent general background summaries, a large bulk of newspaper clippings, excerpts from Pauling’s speeches, documentation of his travel, testimony provided by informants, collections of information from other entities such as the Tenney Committee, and researched material from the Senate Internal Security Subcommittee hearing and other public depositions.

Pauling’s entire FBI file, several bulky but well-managed folders, contains over 2,500 pages of chronologically organized material covering roughly 30 years of the most politically active chapters in his life. Of this content, 2,161 pages were made available to him. Withheld pages are scattered throughout sections of his general file, all marked by documents explaining the number of pages removed from any particular section and the reasons why.

While advancing the notion that a nearly irresolvable resentment characterized the relationship between the FBI and the CIA for much of their history, FBI scholar Rhodri Jeffreys-Jones, in his 2007 book The FBI: A History, discusses the practice of omission as a coordinated cooperative policy between the two agencies:

Searching common ground for the purpose of a display of amity, the FBI and CIA could at least agree on the importance of secrecy. At a two-hour meeting to discuss requests for files under recent freedom of information legislation, officials agreed that the FBI would deny knowledge of CIA documents in its custody, and vice versa. This was in the 1970s, when the scandal-ridden intelligence community was under the microscope. Jointly under attack, the CIA and the FBI sometimes made common cause. Yet the relationship remained chronically parlous.

In support of Jeffreys-Jones’ thesis, Pauling’s file conclusively demonstrates that the FBI was cooperating with the CIA, Department of State, Armed Forces and other U.S. departments and federal agencies during most of its extended investigation. Record-sharing is evident in that Pauling’s activities during his travels abroad – presumably the bailiwick of overseas-based spy agencies, such as the CIA – are noted and detailed extensively throughout the case file.

Though various agencies leant the FBI assistance throughout much of the 20th century, informants seem to have been the primary tool for the initial creation of most case files. This appears to be the case with Pauling, whose involvement with several organizations and sponsorship of numerous petitions, and whose attendance at certain rallies and conferences began to garner negative attention, leading some associates to question his character as seditious.

A characteristic page from the Pauling FBI file, with names of informants redacted.

As is evident in certain of the earliest folders in his personal file, self-motivated sources gave the FBI its initial perception of Pauling as a subversive actor. The very first denunciation of Pauling to the FBI came in 1947, following his nomination as President-Elect of the American Chemical Society. As detailed in an office memo from one FBI agent to his director, a voluntary informant stated that:

Certain rumors had reached him that Pauling might be subversively inclined and he wondered if there was any assistance we could give him in the way of advice in the matter. He understands that information in our files is confidential and that we could only furnish this to him for his personal guidance.

Mr. Ladd made a quick check of the files, which indicates that we have never investigated Pauling but that he is closely associated with PCA [Progressive Citizens of America] and signed a resolution for abolition of the House Un-American Activities Committee and is a member of infiltrated groups. I advised [informant] that while we have never investigated Pauling, there are sufficient references to him to indicate that he ‘is not any bargain.’

[In this instance, the informant is using "bargain" informally, to mean, as defined by Random House, "an agreeable person, especially one who causes no trouble or difficulty (usually used in negative constructions), as in 'His mother-in-law was no bargain.'"]

This initial record would come to characterize the FBI’s primary source pool and information gathering method, at least as concerned future investigations of Pauling and his activities. Pauling’s willingness to sign petitions and his membership in questionable organizations, combined with concerned inquiries by those near Pauling who questioned his political motives, were all catalysts for the labor-intensive examination that special agents began mounting.


Meanwhile, as the Soviet Union closed its borders around countries that had been liberated and occupied during World War II, and as Communist Party forces consolidated control over most of China, communist world-domination conspiracies emerged once again as a dominant concern for a substantial section of the U.S. electorate.

Recast for uncertain times, anti-communism was used as a political bludgeon in the Congressional elections of the early post-war period, generally rewarding candidates who made use of fear-induced passions. The galvanized shift in public opinion subsequently served as a wake-up call to politicians on the fence and, largely as a result of these sentiments, President Harry Truman enacted, in March 1947, Executive Order 9835 – an order which established a loyalty and security program for federal workers.

The new program allowed committees such as the House Un-American Affairs Committee, and particularly the FBI, to start keeping tabs on federal employees. As such, any person who was part of an organization deemed by the Attorney General to be subversive could generally expect further investigation.

The executive order made a broad impact and, in particular, hastened the end of many controversial organizations whose conduct approached either side of the political spectrum too closely.  This seems to have been the case for Albert Einstein’s Emergency Committee of Atomic Scientists, which was progressively anti-bomb and subsequently stricken by dwindling donations. Over the course of his career, Pauling was involved with many organizations that held the potentially lethal Attorney General designation – the Progressive Citizens of America and the National Council of American-Soviet Friendship were the first two organizations that flagged him in the eyes of the FBI and, by extension, J. Edgar Hoover.

However, though Hoover was given clearance to investigate both hundreds of thousands of federal employees as well as individuals receiving government grants and contracts, he could not yet carry out an extensive legal investigation of Pauling. As it turned out, Pauling was unwittingly spared from such prying because he had ceased government work following the conclusion of the second world war and was therefore, as a researcher in a private institution, immune from the investigations rendered possible by Truman’s new initiatives. It would not be long however, before Hoover got his first real chance at a thorough shake-down of Pauling and his activities.

Pauling Obtains His FBI File

Corliss Lamont

[Part 3 of 7]

On March 8, 1971, several people broke into an FBI office in Media, Pennsylvania and stole hundreds of files from classified record storage. Information from these files was gradually leaked to the press, and in time newspaper articles began divulging information about COINTELPRO, an FBI operation that targeted both groups and individual U.S. citizens considered to be subversive by the Bureau and other government entities. Aside from its discriminatory selection of targets, the operation became controversial largely for its use of wiretapping and other intrusive techniques. The turn of events led to COINTELPRO’s dismantling, but the story was kept alive by a number of complementary developments taking place across the nation.

Amidst the furor  surrounding the Watergate scandal, the public was also made aware of the Central Intelligence Agency’s efforts to overthrow democratically elected foreign governments, as well as the agency’s direct support of several infamous dictatorships. The public disillusionment that followed these disclosures set the stage for a number of committees seeking to investigate improprieties initiated by both the CIA and the FBI.

Another blow to FBI secrecy came on May 2, 1972. That morning J. Edgar Hoover, director of the Bureau for 48 years, was found dead in his bedroom after suffering from a heart attack. The FBI was put under new leadership, and without Hoover’s powerful presence to fend off critics, the Bureau found itself increasingly vulnerable to congressional oversight.

A number of committee hearings were held over the next several years to investigate FBI conduct from the previous decades. Initially these were relatively discreet, though in time two committees succeeded in uncovering a substantial portion of previously classified FBI conduct. Much of the sensitive information uncovered by these committees was eventually released and leaked to the public.

Having aired new revelations about domestic FBI spying practices, members of Congress pursued further legislative measures to address public concerns and dismay. In 1974 the Privacy Act was passed and important amendments were made to the Freedom of Information Act, which in turn enabled citizens to access copies of their own personal FBI files.

In March 1976, the philosopher and activist Corliss Lamont wrote an article for publication in The Nation, which detailed his personal experience of applying for and reading through his FBI file. Lamont discussed the means by which he used the Freedom of Information Act to access 274 pages of his 1,526 page Bureau file, and the sometimes amusing but generally troubling information that his reading uncovered. He discovered acquaintances that had been harassed, travel that had been recorded and even cancelled checks that were regularly retrieved from his local bank. As if to predict the path that Linus Pauling would soon follow, Lamont sternly ended his piece with the following:

The most serious part of the documents deals with the bureau’s weird attempts to prove that I was a member of the Communist Party, an organization I never dreamed of joining. In this unceasing attempt, the FBI relied primarily on various ex-Communist perjurers.

The FBI’s treatment of me is characteristic of its harassment over the years of tens of thousands of Americans who held liberal or leftist views. The bureau’s anti-democratic practices not only violate our civil liberties but also drain away tens of millions of dollars, a senseless waste of the taxpayers’ money – for what? The accumulation of vast files of useless information.

Less than two weeks after the publication of Lamont’s article, Linus Pauling wrote to Francis Heisler for assistance. Heisler, a Carmel, California volunteer attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union, had counseled Pauling on a number of legal matters since the late 1950s. In his letter to Heisler, Pauling provided an impassive request for the transfer of his up-to-then classified FBI information.

I think that it might be worthwhile for me to get what information I can about the FBI record for me, and perhaps also for my wife, Ava Helen Pauling. If you think that this is a good idea, would you enter into correspondence with the Director of the FBI, with this end in view?

I would think that it would be desirable to get as much material as possible. At any rate, it would be interesting to know how big my file is.

Though Pauling began the process of requesting his FBI files in 1976, it took several years and substantial correspondence to receive them. In the meantime, he began petitioning other agencies, including the CIA, the National Security Agency, the Armed Forces, the Department of State, the National Archives and a host of other government bodies in order to see what they had tucked away in their own separate files devoted to him.

In early 1977, as part of this effort, Pauling sent a letter to the CIA requesting information as to whether his mail had been opened during an operation that was officially ended in 1973. Under the code name HTLINGUAL, CIA agents had opened, read and copied 215,000 first class letters that were sent by or to various American citizens over a period of about 20 years. Attaching an article titled “Did the CIA open your mail?” Pauling wrote his letter under the auspices of the Freedom of Information Act, literally demanding to know if any of his mail had been tampered with under the specified covert operation.  Pauling also became particularly interested in the events surrounding the various difficulties that he had encountered with his passport.

Letter from Linus Pauling to the CIA, January 10, 1977.

While Pauling was aided by various encounters with published material that made him aware of his ability to request previously classified files, he also received help from a number of acquaintances familiar with the protocols inherent to the Freedom of Information Act. For example, attached to a series of forms issued by the Department of State, correspondent Herman Berg shared with Pauling the specifics of how to request the desired information:

Here is your chance to find out the details about what happened to your passport in the 1950s. Enclosed is the material to launch Freedom of Information Request #8903183 with the State Department.

The search part might entail Secretary of State Dean Acheson as well as other department heads. It is also where the real meat might be, as well as running up the meter.

From 1977 to 1989, Pauling received a variety of responses to his inquiries. Aside from his massive FBI file, Pauling also acquired a substantial cache of content from the CIA and State Department. These files highlight more specifically the interactions that occurred between the FBI and other intelligence gathering agencies, and also present much of the information that is redacted in large portions of Pauling’s FBI files.

The entire process seems to have been arduous and wearying on Pauling’s end, (likely as well for those responsible for retrieving and copying his files) and it was also fairly expensive. All in all Pauling wrote hundreds of dollars worth of checks to the various agencies in order to receive copies of his files. It appears, however, that the information was easily worth the cost, as Pauling seems never to have hesitated to pay whatever price necessary to more fully understand a portion of his harried past.

Pauling’s First Interaction with the FBI

Transcript of an anonymous letter sent to Linus Pauling. March 9, 1945.

[Part 2 of 7]

In contrast to the adversarial tone that would later come to define their relationship, Linus Pauling’s first interactions with the FBI were largely benign and without conflict.

The earliest known documents in the FBI’s records concerning Linus Pauling date to 1935. That year, Linus and his wife Ava Helen were members of a National Academy of Sciences group who went through a Bureau office on an April tour.

The next year, Pauling was one of many scientific experts whose backgrounds were checked to see if they might qualify as expert FBI witnesses for various court cases. A special agent in charge of the report concluded the following:

Relative to Linus Pauling, Chemist, it was ascertained that Mr. Pauling has been associated with the California Institute of Technology for some years and bears an excellent reputation. He is considered to be one of the outstanding chemists in the entire United States.

It was not learned, however, that Mr. Pauling has testified in the courts in Southern California. It is the belief of informants that he would have no difficulty in qualifying.

A more personal introduction to the FBI came about with the defacement of Pauling’s property in early March of 1945. At that time George H. Nimaki, recently released from a Japanese relocation center, was hired to work part time at the Paulings’ Pasadena home while waiting to be inducted into the United States Army. On one of following mornings, Pauling woke to find a crude message on his garage door that had been painted by vandals the night before. “Americans die but we love japs, japs work here Pauling,” was hastily smeared around a depiction of the Japanese flag.

After speaking out against the incident in the local newspaper, denouncing the “misguided people” responsible for the act, Pauling received a number of anonymous letters and phone calls. The calls and letters contained threats of violence, a number of distasteful ill wishes placed upon the Pauling family in general, and demands that Pauling stop giving the incident publicity. Receiving no aid from local authorities, the Paulings turned to the American Civil Liberties Union for help, after which time the local sheriff was forced to post a guard outside the Pauling household.

The incident eventually faded into the background for most Pasadenans, but the matter was subsequently turned over to the FBI. The typewritten letters that had been sent to Pauling were given to an FBI lab, where agents attempted to decipher the make of the typewriter used in hopes of determining whether or not any of the letters had been written by the same person. In anticipation of a potential prosecution, lab agents were also directed to search through an anonymous letter file in an attempt to make a positive personal identification of the culprits.

As part of their investigation, FBI agents also went to the Pauling residence and Pauling’s office at Caltech, interviewing both Linus and Ava Helen, from which agents compiled a list of people who might possibly have known that Nimaki was employed at the Pauling home. While primarily aiding the investigation, the interviews also granted the FBI its first look at Pauling, as well as an opportunity to log a brief physical description that would be stored from that time forward in his personal agency file:

Sex: Male
Height: 6′
Weight: 170 pounds
Hair: Gray-black
Eyes: Gray
Complexion: Ruddy
Occupation: Professor, California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, California
Marital Status: Married
Color: White
Build: Tall and slender
Nationality: American

Agents pursued a number of potential leads in the case, using sources in the Pasadena Police Department, the Postmaster’s office at Altadena and the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Office Subversive Detail. The Police Department was contacted for any information about local residents protesting the Paulings’ gardener, which might have helped to identify the subjects in the case. Likewise, the Postmaster was contacted to see whether any of Pauling’s neighbors owned a typewriter, and to ascertain whether or not typewritten letters had been picked up at any of the addresses.

The Sheriff Department’s armed guard was removed from the Pauling residence two weeks following the incident. FBI lab agents examined the threatening letters which had been addressed to Pauling over the ensuing months, but found that they had all been written on different typewriters. Some of the letter samples were searched for other identifiable markers, but no latent fingerprints could be found on any of the materials. The FBI continued their investigation until mid-July, but no suspects were ever detained or apprehended.

Perhaps of greater consequence is the fact that this investigation would mark the first and last time that Pauling was ever a direct beneficiary of FBI services. From this time forward, whenever Pauling’s name was mentioned in FBI correspondence, he was either the subject or co-subject of proposed wrongdoing.

The Pauling FBI Files: An Introduction

J. Edgar Hoover

[Ed Note: This is Part 1 of 7 of a series of posts taking an in depth look at Linus Pauling's lengthy FBI file.]

[J. Edgar] Hoover’s imposing presence gave much of the country a sense of stability and safety as he gathered to himself the strands of permanence that connected Americans to their past: religion, patriotism, a belief in progress, and a rational moral order. To attack him was to attack Americanism itself. Millions were sure that Hoover’s secret power was all that stood between them and sinister forces that aimed to destroy their way of life.

-Richard Gid Powers, Secret and Power: The Life of J. Edgar Hoover, 1987.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation, and its budding force of special agents, was officially organized during the presidency of Teddy Roosevelt. While 1909 is the popularly accepted pen and paper date for the organization’s establishment, the Bureau’s roots run much deeper, as far back as 1871, the year after the United States Congress created the Department of Justice and authorized it to detect and prosecute federal crimes. Borrowing Secret Service agents from the Department of Treasury, the Department of Justice battled Ku Klux Klan members in the 1870s, but also pursued other sources of domestic criminality, including investigations of business and Congress.

Like much of its history, the initial founding of the agency was controversial, as the expansion of federal powers required for its genesis conflicted with the oft-embattled principles of state’s rights. However, concerns about interstate crime and cultural changes resulting from industrialization eventually won over the commonly held notions of many that policing and law enforcement were the sole jurisdiction of states and local governments.

Though the Bureau spent a large portion of its initial history fighting racial injustice, in the early twentieth century its priorities were marked by prominent prejudice – a result, according to some speculation, of the redistribution of power that occurred following Reconstruction and the racially motivated fears that followed. Since its early formation, the Bureau has been repeatedly criticized for its disproportionate focus on minorities (in terms of enforcement and surveillance) and for a conspicuous lack of diversity in its hiring processes.

While such practices certainly do not fully encapsulate uniform conduct by FBI agents during the early chapters of its history, the notion that the organization surveilled and discriminated against citizens based upon their gender, race, sexual orientation and political ideology was a consistent and widely held thematic conception of the Bureau throughout much of the 20th century. This perception of the FBI is especially relevant when its investigative actions are examined with respect to Linus Pauling’s personal case file.

A main actor in the drama that unfolded between Pauling and FBI investigators was J. Edgar Hoover. Serving as director of the FBI for nearly 50 years, Hoover loosely oversaw the bulk of the investigative material that the Bureau collected on Linus Pauling from the 1950s on. Various documents throughout the file highlight Hoover’s interactions with the content, and detailed inter-agency memos demonstrate Hoover’s personal awareness of the ways in which Pauling was being handled and of the case that was being built around him.

Many historians, both critics and supporters, have attempted to downplay perceptions that J. Edgar Hoover was the sole source of power behind the FBI’s rise to national prominence. These authors instead point to the much misunderstood role of the Attorney General, and later the CIA, in determining the basic structure of the domestic Bureau’s operations. However, though Hoover may not have been the bogey man that many detractors have made him out to be, his long reign as director was both unprecedented and a signal of his might as a shaper of history.

Pauling's copy of "Masters of Deceit," published 1958.

Without question, the FBI and other agencies proved very useful to American interests in many respects during and after the Second World War. Profound accomplishments in this regard include disruption of German war-time secret intelligence activities, aid to state and local law enforcement agencies, identification of national organized crime networks, and actions taken against domestic hate groups. While these commendable national services deserve recognition, they must be viewed historically as having operated in tandem with the FBI’s utilization of racial-, xenophobic- and communist-inspired fears to justify very intrusive practices.

It was as a consequence of such practices that the Bureau came under increasing fire in the 1950s and 1960s, particularly as its more politically oriented agenda came to stand in stark contrast to its relative lack of effective action against organized crime. By the 1970s, a number of congressional committees and special investigations began to initiate change and reform. In many respects, famed and formidable secrecy was forced to give way as citizens, politicians and even agents within the Bureau began mounting pressure against abusive practices.

While the self-published general history of the FBI, available to the public on its official website, elaborates on its struggle with the violence and disregard for authority used by anti-war protesters and “anti-establishment groups” in the 1960s and 1970s, the text makes no mention of the Church, Pike and similar committees. Final reports released by these groups, emanating from controversies relating to COINTELPRO and other FBI operations, disclosed a wide range of improper FBI and CIA practices.

Before meaningful action was taken to address the growing crises of democracy threatened by FBI and CIA indiscretions, Linus Pauling was subjected to nearly thirty years of wasteful and fruitless investigation by Hoover and the FBI. The FBI’s growing interest in Pauling coincided largely with his increasingly progressive activism and his subsequent tribulations with investigative boards and congressional committees. Though the FBI was only one of many forces that conspired against Pauling throughout his middle years, the Bureau played a distinctive role in reinforcing the lens through which Pauling was viewed by most U.S. institutions.  Close analysis reveals that, in the case of Pauling as with many others, the Bureau frequently sought to uncover the non-existent communist convictions that they suspected were harbored.

The history of the FBI and its longstanding director defies any kind of simple categorization, and has been the subject of considerable analysis by admirers and critics alike. While much of the value of the FBI’s activity during the 20th century is debatable and subject to differing perspectives, the in-depth focus that was directed toward Pauling has a tendency to demonstrate the more unsavory aspects of the organization and its mission. Though it is impossible to discern whether or not the actions of the FBI (particularly with regard to Pauling) were justified in light of the era’s circumstances, they remain very well documented and open to interpretation.

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