The Price of Affiliation

Linus Pauling, 1950s

[Part 2 of 2]

Nearly halfway through the twentieth century, many scientists who had held classified security clearances during the Second World War were being blacklisted from their profession. Post-war, the clearance process for work on classified projects became subject to increased scrutiny, a duty which fell under the dual jurisdiction of regional personnel security boards and the military. The boards could revoke clearance upon examination of an applicant’s personal information, and could choose not to present evidence for their conclusions.

In such instances where an applicant wished to challenge the decision, an appeal could be issued to the Industrial Employment Review Board (IERB), which allowed individuals to present their case in person. Civilian scientists that came before the board were judged by a military review panel, whose decision on the matter was final.

As a part of his general duties after the war, Linus Pauling worked on a committee that reviewed grant requests for Caltech’s Division of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering, many of which involved classified information for work on restricted projects supported by the Department of Defense. Because of new Caltech policies, people in Pauling’s position were required to submit an application for low level security clearance, a stipulation which Pauling agreed to but otherwise took little interest in.

On July 31, 1951 however, Pauling was notified by the IERB that his most recent request for clearance to work with classified military information had been denied. Before explaining his rights to appeal the decision, the reasons for his denial were freely expressed by the board:

Information indicates that you have been a member of the Communist Party and close associate of Communist Party members from 1943 to the present time; you have also been affiliated with or a member of numerous organizations which espouse Communist Party ideologies and on many occasions you have openly defended known Communists and Communist ideologies.

Pauling promptly requested a hearing before the board. He was soon notified of his options, and provided with an extended justification for his clearance denial. The reply from the review board included a detailed listing of Pauling’s many suspected connections to communism and communist organizations. The itemization noted, among other transgressions, his affiliations with the Independent Citizens Committee of the Arts, Sciences and Professions, the National Council of the Arts Sciences and Professions, the Progressive Citizens of America, and a lengthy list of people and causes that had received Pauling’s support or opposition over the previous several years. Nearly all of the listings had been cited by the Attorney General of the United States as subversive and/or communist. Having presented the lengthy list, the Executive Officer of the IERB, Donald Mare, concluded that

The foregoing information and all the investigative evidence in your case file, when considered in connection with the duties of your position as a research consultant on classified information of the Department of Defense at the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, California, indicates that you might voluntarily or involuntarily act against the security interests of the United States, and that your employment in that position might constitute a danger to national security.

Pauling was informed that the board would be hearing cases on the West Coast during the week of November 12, at which point he scheduled an appearance. Caltech President Lee DuBridge did not immediately reply to Pauling’s inquiry about Caltech-funded legal defense and delayed the assignment of a lawyer to Pauling, thus forcing Pauling to find his own. The event precipitated one of Pauling’s first close interactions with Abraham Lincoln Wirin, the American Civil Liberties Union lawyer who would provide him with vital legal counsel over the next several decades.

A. L. Wirin

At his appearance before the IERB, Pauling read a thirteen-page statement about his life, beliefs and the value of his work to the nation. After further discussion and examination of his character witnesses, the board ended the hearing inconclusively, informing Pauling and his counsel that a follow-up hearing would be pursued later in Washington, D.C.

Several days before his next hearing was scheduled to take place, Pauling met with Mr. Wirin and President DuBridge. At this meeting, DuBridge informed Pauling that the whole controversy with the IERB had resulted from an administrative oversight. DuBridge had discovered that Pauling’s name was mistakenly added to a list of researchers requesting top secret clearance for a hydrogen bomb research program called Project Vista. It seems that the mistake had made the entire discussion of Pauling’s affiliations a moot point, as the low level security classification required for Pauling’s position would likely have passed through the clearance process without incident.

After some discussion, DuBridge agreed that the basic “Confidential” clearance would likely continue to be satisfactory for Pauling’s work on the division’s Contracts Committee. He wrote a letter to that effect, clarifying the list error, which Pauling promptly delivered to the IERB. After presenting DuBridge’s letter to the Board, Pauling’s clearance was shortly reinstated.

Though the troubling events ended mostly in his favor, Pauling was understandably shaken by the ordeal. Had the low-level security clearance not been reinstated, Pauling’s ability to operate effectively in his position at Caltech would have been greatly jeopardized. Pauling was cowed by the experience, and after talking with his wife Ava Helen, decided to tone down the political aspects of his public profile.

Shortly thereafter, Pauling resigned from the NCASP, then declined a nomination from the American Association of Scientific Workers for a continued position as one of the organization’s vice-presidents. Pauling also resigned his vice-presidency of the World Federation of Scientific Workers, citing an inability to effectively perform his duties as an officer.  Nonetheless, even as he distanced himself from several people and organizations, Pauling found himself under continued scrutiny from investigators and other interested parties.

Though Pauling felt a pressing need to withdraw from some of his controversial associations, it was not long before he began to re-initiate contact. Pauling accepted the National Vice-Presidency of AAScW for 1952-53, less than a year after his initial refusal, and continued to receive and save AAScW newsletters throughout the 1950s. He also maintained contact with J. D. Bernal and others within the World Federation of Scientific Workers well into the 1980s. While the events of 1951 proved that Pauling could be temporarily intimidated or constrained, they also demonstrated his resilient commitment to peace-related activism and organization.

One Response

  1. […] 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. […]

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