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.

The Peril of the Hydrogen Bomb



[Part 1 of 2]

“The question of an atomic war is not an ordinary political question. It is of equal concern to the left-winger, the right-winger, and the man in the middle of the road. The hydrogen bomb would not discriminate – it would kill them all. This problem, of an atomic war, must not be confused by minor problems, such as communism vs. capitalism, the existence of dictatorships, the trend toward socialism, the problem of race and class discrimination. It is a problem that overwhelms them – and if it can be solved, they too can be solved.”

-Linus Pauling, 1950.

In January 1950, President Harry S. Truman announced that the U.S. military was pursuing the development of an incredibly powerful atomic bomb. The new and mysterious weapon was rumored to be many times more destructive than any nuclear weapon that had yet been detonated. The declaration was a heavy blow to Linus Pauling and others already opposed to nuclear weapons production, a movement which was now further isolated from official U.S. policy.

To understand the import of Truman’s announcement, it is first necessary to understand the reaction mechanics of the various types of atomic bombs then in development. The cores of first generation atomic bombs were composed of concentrated and heavily enriched uranium or plutonium isotope spheres. Though several methods were devised to catalyze the nuclear reactions necessary for an atomic blast, the first atomic test at Alamogordo, New Mexico used TNT implosion for detonation. When the first atomic bomb was detonated during “the Trinity test,” TNT charges surrounding the bomb caused an explosion on all sides of the radioactive material, forcing it to compress and destabilize its molecular composition. Fission resulted from the splitting of radioactive nuclei, subsequently unleashing a chain reaction that released unprecedented amounts of force.

A different method was used to begin the chain reaction within “Little Boy,” the first atomic bomb ever used in combat. To initiate the Little Boy reaction, a specially tailored gun barrel was used to shoot a uranium projectile into a sphere of enriched uranium.

The hydrogen bomb, in contrast, used principles of both fission and fusion. Fusion, the process by which the sun generates such vast quantities of light and heat, is a process wherein the nuclei of light elements are fused to form heavier elements. This fusion of light elements is capable of liberating far more energy than is atomic bomb fission; however a large amount of energy is required to initiate the reaction.

The first hydrogen bombs were more or less conventional Little Boy-style atomic weapons surrounded by densely packed atoms of hydrogen and other light elements. The primary purpose of the atomic bomb that formed the core of a hydrogen bomb then, was essentially to catalyze an even larger reaction.

In order to help people understand the differences in explosive magnitude created by atomic bombs versus hydrogen bombs, Linus Pauling often compared their relative power to scalable amounts of TNT.  In his book No More War! (1958), Pauling wrote

The Nagasaki and Hiroshima bombs had explosive energy somewhere between 15,000 and 20,000 tons of TNT. Each of them was accordingly about 15,000 or 20,000 times more powerful than a one-ton blockbuster. Each was about 1,000 times as powerful as the greatest of the great bombs with conventional explosives used in the Second World War.

The bomb that could destroy the greatest city in the world and kill ten million people is not something imaginary. Bombs of this sort – hydrogen bombs and super-bombs – have been made and have been exploded. Bombs have been tested that have an explosive power as great as 15 megatons – an explosive power equivalent to 15 million tons of TNT, 15 million one-ton blockbusters.

Each one of these bombs is one-thousand times more powerful than the Hiroshima bomb or the Nagasaki bomb. Each one of them has an explosive energy five times as great as that of all of the bombs used in the Second World War.

Pauling had been gravely concerned about the possibility of atomic war between the United States and Russia well before development of the hydrogen bomb. However, the destructive potential of a single hydrogen bomb, as well as the conclusiveness of the decision to pursue its development, gave him much greater cause for concern. Pauling was alarmed by the post-war escalation of international tensions, and feared that production of such powerful weapons could instigate an accelerated arms race, ushering in an era shadowed even further by the threat of full-scale nuclear war. Pauling believed that heightened diplomacy and improved international relations were the keys to finding an agreeable solution, and that the development of the hydrogen bomb sowed new doubts about the feasibility of a peaceful, institutionally backed solution.


Harold Urey, 1930s


As discussion of the hydrogen bomb became more public, the possibility of consensus on the matter grew ever more remote. The seemingly irreconcilable positions surrounding hydrogen bomb policy led to the fracturing and destabilization of several associations, including the Emergency Committee of Atomic Scientists (ECAS). The ECAS, chaired by Albert Einstein, spent a substantial amount of time and energy addressing the need to place atomic weapons under international oversight, stressing the growing importance of an effective world government.

Many members of the ECAS, including Pauling, were vehemently opposed to the development of the hydrogen bomb. Others, particularly Harold Urey, favored pursuit of the new weapon, arguing that the Soviet Union would begin production of the bomb regardless of U.S. intentions. This difference of opinion turned out to be too great, and the ensuing debate was in part responsible for Urey’s resignation from the group. Afterwards, faced with a number of other difficulties, the committee chose to disband.

The severity of Pauling’s disagreement with Harold Urey and others became altogether too much to contain. Pauling gave hundreds of speeches during the 1950s which addressed the pressing threat of deteriorating international relations and atomic war. While his speeches and talks stressed the dangers of the hydrogen bomb, nuclear weapons proliferation and world war, they also accentuated peaceful negotiation as the only realistic solution.  As he noted in his 1954 talk “The World Problem and the Hydrogen Bomb

…Atomic energy should be used for the welfare and not the destruction of mankind. The statement of Mr. Churchill that ‘atom bombs are a terrible means of maintaining the rule of law in the world’ is no longer valid. The atom bomb and the hydrogen bomb have become powerful weapons of destruction in the hands of powerful nations, opposed to one another. If international affairs continue along the lines characteristic of the whole past history of the world, we shall sooner or later see the outbreak of a hydrogen-bomb war. No nation will benefit from such a war – it may be expected confidently that a hydrogen-bomb war, if it comes, will result in the destruction of most of the cities in the world, the death of hundreds of millions of people, the end of the present civilized world.

Pauling and the Presidents

rhetoric of Ronald Reagan. January 26, 1984

Notes re: rhetoric of Ronald Reagan. January 26, 1984

I respectfully request that you grant me an appointment in order that I may talk with you for a short while about the present opinion that scientists hold about the testing of nuclear weapons, and related questions, and about the petition urging that an international agreement to stop the testing of nuclear weapons be made, as a first step toward a more general disarmament.”
– Linus Pauling. Letter to Dwight D. Eisenhower. February 19, 1958.

Linus Pauling felt the international peace movement to be the single most important cause of its time. As a result, he believed peace work to be deserving of the attentions of political and social leaders around the globe, none more so than that of the U.S. Presidents who controlled the most powerful military in the world.

Over the course of his life as an activist, Pauling had occasion to correspond with every U.S. President from Harry Truman to Bill Clinton. Pauling’s requests were often ignored and his letters unanswered, but his convictions demanded that the leaders of his country understand the need for peace.

Pauling believed that, as members of a democratic nation, American citizens had the right to maintain discourse with their nation’s leaders. As a result, Pauling often addressed open letters to public officials as a means of bringing the public into the discussion.

The earliest example of this approach is the “Open Letter to President Truman,” issued on February 9, 1950, in which Pauling and his co-authors state that the President’s “decision to manufacture the hydrogen bomb has thrown a shadow of horror across the homes and minds of all Americans.”

More than forty years later, “An Open Letter to President Bush,” (January 18, 1991), written solely by Pauling, reached a similar conclusion about the ongoing hostilities of Operation Desert Storm

“The war in the Middle East is getting out of hand. It may become a great war, fought not only with high explosives but also with poison gas, bacteria and nuclear weapons. It may liberate worldwide radioactive fallout, damaging the whole human race.”

Pauling also wrote a great deal of private correspondence to his nation’s chief executive, including a series of unsuccessful appeals to President Eisenhower for an Oval Office appointment to discuss the United Nations Bomb Test Petition, (Pauling later concluded that Eisenhower had been a dupe of Edward Teller) and a similar request to President Johnson regarding the Vietnam War.

(Pauling likewise wrote a number of emotionally-charged letters to President John F. Kennedy, the nature of which will be discussed in a future post on this blog.)

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Pauling did not harbor a great deal of goodwill for President Nixon, attacking him (in biographer Tom Hager’s words) “for everything from the bombing of Cambodia to his policy in Pakistan – then [telling] reporters that Nixon should take more vitamin C.” Pauling also assumed, with much justification, that Nixon himself had twice denied Pauling the National Medal of Science, despite the recommendations of the President’s own advisory group. Not until the second year of the Ford administration would Pauling be granted this highly prestigious decoration.

Of all the American Presidents, Pauling seemed to most enjoy pillorying Ronald Reagan, a fellow Californian whose career Pauling had closely followed over three decades. These excerpts from a series of untitled notes written in the 1980s are characteristic of Pauling’s attitude toward the fortieth U.S. President.

“President Reagan. I’ve wondered what his problem is. When I was his age, my hair was white. I saw him on TV saying that we had to increase our nuclear destructive power. He didn’t have a single gray hair. He seems to have a simple problem. I think that he is a case of arrested development…”

It is important to note that Pauling did not limit his communications to leaders within the United States. At various points in his life, he corresponded with the likes of North Vietnamese president Ho Chi Minh and Nikita Khrushchev, former premier of the Soviet Union. In his mind, global solutions required a global dialogue and, with varying degrees of effectiveness, Pauling pursued this end for most of his life.

Read more about Pauling’s relationships with world leaders on the website “Linus Pauling and the International Peace Movement.”