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.


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