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.

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