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.


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