The worst of the Manhattan Project leaks

by Alex Wellerstein, published September 20th, 2013

We live in an era where the press regularly rejoices in printing "national security secrets," via leaks, as an evidence of its "watchdog" status. This isn't exactly a new thing, of course. Press leaks and investigations have been around for quite a long time, and ever since the example of Woodward and Bernstein, this has become the ultimate symbol of journalistic power and access. But it does feel like it has accelerated somewhat in the last decade, both in terms of frequency and magnitude of such "antagonistic leaks" (as opposed to, say, "official leaks" — the kind that are secretly sanctioned for whatever reason). I've sometimes heard people suggest that were the press like this during World War II, things like the secret of the atomic bomb could never have been kept as well as they were. And while there is something to that, in the sense that American journalists were far more cooperative and acquiescent during the 1940s, it also projects a rosier picture backwards than ever truly existed. Even during the Manhattan Project, there were copious leaks. Some small, some huge.

Saturday Evening Post, November 1945.

Saturday Evening Post, November 1945 — one of the postwar articles lauding the Manhattan Project as the "best-kept secret," or, in this case, "the big hush-hush."

During World War II, the United States had a program of voluntary press censorship, coordinated by the Office of Censorship. It was, as stated, voluntary: there were no fines or threats attached to it, just stern official rebuke. It lacked "teeth." It worked primarily by the Office of Censorship publicly releasing long lists of prohibited topics, and occasionally trying to squelch violating stories before they were syndicated. As such, it was a little clunky, something that usually went into effect after the fact.

The worst violation came in March 1944. John Raper, a reporter for the Cleveland Press, while on vacation in New Mexico, somehow stumbled upon one of the biggest, most secret stories of the day. Below I reprint the entirety of the article — it nearly speaks for itself, both in its security violations and its strange rambling nature. Some commentary follows; minor comments are in the footnotes. The images have been ordered to correspond with the text, not necessarily how they were laid out on the page.1

1944 - Forbidden City - Masthead


Forbidden City

Uncle Sam's Mystery Town Directed by "2nd Einstein"

Jack Raper, Press columnist, has returned to Cleveland following a vacation in New Mexico, where he found the following story.


SANTA FE, N.M. — New Mexico has a mystery city, one with an area from eight to 20 square miles, according to guesses. It has a population of between 5000 and 6000 persons, not more than probably half a dozen of whom can step outside of the city except by special permission of the city boss. He grants permission only in the most exceptional circumstances and under the most rigid conditions. And it is even more difficult for a non-resident to enter than for a resident to leave.2

Commonly known as Los Alamos, the place is a thoroughly modern city. It has fine streets, an electric light plant and waterworks with capacity for a city twice as large as Los Alamos, a service department that really services, public library, high, grade, and nursery schools; recreation centers, hospital, apartment houses, cottages, dance hall, an enormous grocery, refrigeration plant, factories and jail.

If you like mysteries and have a keen desire to solve one, here is your opportunity to do a little sleuthing, and if you succeed in learning anything and then making it public you will satisfy the hot curiosity of several hundred thousand New Mexicans.

But you might as well be informed that you will fail and the chances are thousands to one that you will be caught and will be thrown into the hoosegow or suffer a worse fate.3

A Free Country, But —

Of course, this is a free country and you can go where you please — if you are willing to sleep in the smoking car aisle or breathe the exhalations of your fellow sardines packed in a bus. But forget all about that sort of nonsense.

If you have any idea that you can employ a battery of eminent constitutional lawyers and go into court and that eventually the Supreme Court of the United States will decide the case in your favor if the lower courts decide against you, forget about that, too. you would be wasting your time and burning up any money you paid to the lawyer, for the man who owns this city has too much money and too much power in such a legal action.

This city's site, or at least part of it, at once time was occupied by a private school for boys,4 and is not far from the village of Los Alamos, which is 53 miles almost due east from Santa Fe, the state capital.5 It is in one of the most interesting sections of New Mexico. It has scenery enough for a whole state — peaks and peaks and more peaks, and cliffs and colors that dim the rainbow.

Not far away are the Indian villages occupied by the finest kind of Indians, intelligent, industrious, friendly, skilled in the production of art objects, many of them graduates of Indian schools.

1944 - Forbidden City - Image 2

Cliff Dwelling Remnants

Within a short distance are the remnants of cliff dwellings, excavated ruins of pueblos centuries old, so old that men who have made scientific studies of them will say, when talking of their ages, "They may be," "Probably," "Estimates vary," "We are pretty certain, but—."

Shortly after the man who thinks he is going to the mystery city of Los Alamos reaches the level on which it is built, he will see, if he looks into the windshield mirror, a man following him on a motorcycle not many feet behind the car and he will be in the same position when the gate is reached. The instant the car stops there is a man directly in front of it and a man on each side. The three men are in military uniform and each has a rifle.

Then you realize that the owner of this strange city is Uncle Sam and you make no kind of protest and answer questions politely. If you have gone through all of the preliminary red tape previously and have been notified that you will be admitted, the men at the gate will know all about you and there will be little delay after you show the necessary papers.

Escorted by 2 Jeeps

You will be escorted to the office of the man whom you are to meet, escorted by two jeeps, one in front and one behind your car, men in each jeep armed with rifles. En route you will notice that the city is fenced in and that mounted soldiers patrol it and you will see scores of buildings.

When you transact your business you will be carefully escorted out of the city, taking the same route as when you entered. If you are a New Mexican and on your return to your home town it becomes known that you were in Los alamos everybody will ask, "What did you see?" The answer will be, "Nothing." And if anyone asks, "Did you learn what is going on there?" the answer will be, "I don't know a bit more about it than I did before I went." Both answers will be true.

Uncle Sam has placed this in charge of two men. The man who commands the soldiers, who sees that the garbage and rubbish are collected, the streets kept up, the electric light plan and the waterworks functioning and all other metropolitan work operating smoothly is a Col. Somebody.6 I don't know his name, but it isn't so important because the Mr. Big of the city is a college professor, Dr. J. Robert Oppenheimer, called "the Second Einstein" by the newspapers of the west coast.7

1944 - Forbidden City - Image 3

Residents Must Stay

Dr. Oppenheimer is a Harvard graduate, attended Cambridge a year, received a Ph.D. from Gottingen University, Germany; is professor of physics at the University of California and the California Institute of Technology, and is a "fellow" of too many organizations to enumerate.8

It is the work of Prof. Oppenheimer and the hundreds of men and women in his laboratories and shops that makes Los Alamos such a carefully guarded city. All the residents will be oblige to remain there for the duration and for six months thereafter and it seems quite probable that many of them don't know much more about what is being done than you do.9

It is gossip that no one mechanic is permitted to finish a piece of work. He starts to make something and it is passed at a certain point in its production to another, who goes a little further with the work and passes it to another and so on until the article is finished.10

One of the public's guesses is that nothing but research is done.

Thousands believe the professor is directing the development of chemical warfare, so that if Hitler tries poison gas Uncle Sam will be ready with a more terrifying one.11

1944 - Forbidden City - Image 1

Tell of Huge Explosions

Another widespread belief is that he is developing ordnance and explosives. Supporters of this guess argue that it accounts for the number of mechanics working on the production of a single device and there are others who will tell you tremendous explosions have been heard.12

The most interesting story is that Prof. Oppenheimer is working on a beam that will cause the motors to stop so that German planes will drop from the skies as though they were paving blocks.13

In support of this there are stories of the experiences of automobile drivers in the vicinity of Los Alamos. According to these their radios and motors stopped suddenly at the same instant and after 15 or 20 minutes suddenly began to operate as usual.14

Names of the drivers are frequently given, but when I asked "Did any of them tell you, or did you get it secondhand?" the answer invariably was, "Well, he didn't tell me. A friend of mine told me about it."

And if you say, "Did you ask your friend if the driver who had the experience told him?" The answer is generally, "Well, I didn't ask that question."

One of these days Prof. Oppenheimer may tell the newspapers about what he has done at Los Alamos, there may be another now-it-can-be-told book or the secretary of war may hand out the report made to him. And who knows but that the eminent physicist may deliver an address at the Cleveland City Club or the Rotary Club?

If you'd rather see it in the original spread, uploaded here is my copy of it from the archives. Note the original is a photostat and has black/white reversed, which is why it is a bit washed out after photographing (shop talk: it is very hard to photograph old photostats because they are on glossy paper and thus reflective, so you have to take pictures of them under shadows).

Why do I consider this the worst? Not because it says, in any straight terms, that atomic bombs are being made. But look at the suggestions it is giving to potential spies:

  • It identifies (with some geographical error) the name and location of an obviously classified scientific/military facility
  • It gives an approximate and plausible size of the facility, which gives some hint of its importance
  • It emphasizes the amount of compartmentalization going on at the facility, which again hints at its importance
  • It correctly identifies the scientific director, which to an observed eye would narrow it down to something relating to theoretical physics
  • It reports local accounts of explosive testing on site

If I were a spy thinking about nuclear weapons, I would find that a pretty interesting combination of things, and worth following up on. Of course, it also has a healthy dose of confusion, nonsense, and just plain silliness mixed into it. But even a ray gun that stopped airplanes, or a chemical weapons plant, might be of interest to enemy spies. (Much less Allies who you don't want snooping around, like the Soviets.) The article has just enough ring of authenticity to it to suggest that something serious was going on at Los Alamos — which makes it much more dangerous than something that was wilder yet potentially closer to the truth.

General Groves — not amused.

General Groves — not amused.

The Manhattan Project security apparatus was not amused. Col. Ashbridge, the military head of Los Alamos, sent a copy to Groves a few days after it was published, noting that he had heard that Groves was already aware of it and that it had been shown to Oppenheimer. Ashbridge wrote:15

We are naturally much perturbed about it and Major [Peer] de Silva [Los Alamos security head] is preparing a memorandum to Lt Col [John] Lansdale [Manhattan Project security head] as to the source of the data collected by the reporter while vacationing in Albuquerque and Santa Fe. There are many rumors around town about this project since thousands of construction workers from this vicinity have been employed at Los Alamos, many of our personnel go into town for shopping and weekends, and Dr. Oppenheimer's name is fairly well known in Santa Fe.

In discussing this with Major de Silva, he indicated that he felt the "leak" was not something we could have prevented, but that the reporter had doubtless picked up some local gossip, and put it together with information on Dr Oppenheimer in "Who's Who."

The late A.J. Connell [director of the Los Alamos Ranch School] informed me several months ago that everyone in Santa Fe knew some sort of scientific project was underway at Los Alamos, but that curiosity had died down when no one found out anything more after several months, and they just accepted us without trying to guess what was done.

The action of the newspaper in printing such an article shows a complete lack of responsibility, compliance with national censorship code and cooperation with the Government in keeping an important project secret. It is hoped that some steps can be taken to deny the paper certain privileges as a result of their disclosure of this project in such an article.

So what did Groves end up doing? First he made sure that it wouldn't spread further — he put the kibosh on any follow-up stories or further syndication. Time magazine was going to write a follow-up regarding West Coast atom smashing work, but the Office of Censorship stopped them. Then he had the reporter investigated and interviewed. For awhile he thought about getting Raper drafted to the Pacific Theatre — a rather bloodthirsty approach to the problem. He relented on this when, as it turned out, Raper was in his sixties. Not exactly Army grunt material.16

Did the Axis powers notice this? If they did, they don't seem to have done much with it. Which highlights an important aspect of Manhattan Project secrecy, in a way: how lucky it was. There were a tremendous number of puzzle pieces out there for an enemy power to notice and put together regarding the bomb effort. It was not quite so perfectly secret as we often talk of it as being. We know it was possible to put some of the pieces together, because the Soviets did it, and even a few others did it. (I'm in the process of writing an article about some of the successful efforts, so more on that later.) Groves wanted a hegemonic, all-encompassing, all-controlling secrecy regime. Understandably, he couldn't accomplish that — but he pulled off just enough that, with a bit of luck, the project stayed more or less below the water line.

  1. Source: John W. Raper, "Forbidden City," (13 March 1944) The Cleveland Press. Photostat copy in Manhattan Engineer District records, Records of the Army Corps of Engineers, Record Group 77, National Archives and Records Administration, Box 99, "Investigation Files." []
  2. While entry to Los Alamos was heavily restricted, many more than "half a dozen" people were allowed to leave. []
  3. This guy is impressively flip, eh? []
  4. The Los Alamos Ranch School. []
  5. Los Alamos is 35 miles northwest of Santa Fe. []
  6. Probably a reference to Col. Whitney Ashbridge, the post commander of the Los Alamos site. Ashbridge had replaced the original military head, Col. John Harman, because the latter had difficulty getting along with the scientists. Ashbridge himself was replaced by Col. Gerard Tyler in late 1944, after Ashbridge's health began to fail because of the strain brought on by the job. See Vincent C. Jones, Manhattan: The Army and the Atomic Bomb (US Government Printing Office, 1985), 486, 497-498. []
  7. Something of an exaggeration, of course — Oppenheimer's purely scientific achievements never rivaled Einstein's. Still, there is some irony in the fact that Oppenheimer would in the postwar take a position as the Director of the Institute for Advanced Study, in the Princeton, New Jersey, and as such effectively become Einstein's boss. For more on Einstein and Oppenheimer, see S.S. Schweber, Einstein and Oppenheimer: The Meaning of Genius (Harvard University Press, 2010). []
  8. Manhattan Project security speculated that this information came from Oppenheimer's Who's Who entry. No comment on whether this "fellow" was a "fellow traveler" or not... []
  9. Again, I don't really know where he gets this "sealed in" argument from. It is not correct. But it is true that most of the residents were not aware of the final goal of the project. []
  10. This is an exaggeration of the compartmentalization policy, but not so off the mark. Henry Smyth once joked to the New Yorker that because he ran two different divisions in the project, he was not allowed by rules to talk to himself. []
  11. Not entirely off the mark, either in actual purpose or analogy. The first Los Alamos-like installation that I have heard of dates from World War I, the so-called "Mousetrap" factory in Cleveland, where Lewisite (an arsenic-based chemical weapon) was produced. James B. Conant worked on that project. []
  12. Very, very close to the mark. The explosives heard may be related to the implosion studies, which had begun in the summer of 1943. []
  13. The idea of motor-stopping beams is one that pops up in numerous places during speculation about enemy science during World War II. I have even read stories that have said the technology was obvious, though I have no idea what it might have been. []
  14. No, not an electromagnetic pulse. Aside from the fact that no nuclear weapons had been set off by March 1944, the nuclear EMP at ground level is a very short-range effect compared to the blast effects, and if your car was really damaged by an EMP it would not start back up again in 15 minutes. []
  15. Whitney Ashbridge to Leslie R. Groves (18 March 1944), Manhattan Engineer District records, Records of the Army Corps of Engineers, Record Group 77, National Archives and Records Administration, Box 99, "Investigation Files." []
  16. Patrick S. Washburn, "The Office of Censorship's Attempt to Control Press Coverage of the Atomic Bomb During World War II," Journalism Monographs 120 (1990), 1-43, on 11-12, and 37 fn. 43. See also Robert S. Norris, Racing for the Bomb: General Leslie R. Groves, The Manhattan Project's Indispensable Man (Steerforth Press, 2002), 275-276. []

40 Responses to “The worst of the Manhattan Project leaks”

  1. Bill Higgins says:

    Footnote 12: The explosives heard may be related to the implosion studies, which had begun in the summer of 1943.

    Or they might be related to the gun tests at Anchor Ranch, though I imagine 75mm and 20mm cannon were not as loud as the explosions.

  2. Bill Higgins says:

    The most interesting story is that Prof. Oppenheimer is working on a beam that will cause the motors to stop so that German planes will drop from the skies as thought they were paving blocks.

    Ah, the engine-stopping secret weapon. One of these was portrayed in 1940’s Murder in the Air, in which Secret Service agent Brass Bancroft, played by Ronald Reagan, prevents spies from stealing the secret of the Inertia Projector. Some scholars have connected President Reagan’s enthusiasm for antimissile weapons forty years later to his experience acting in this obscure movie. (See Stephen Vaughn, “Spies, National Security, and the ‘Inertia Projector’: The Secret Service Films of Ronald Reagan,” American Quarterly , Vol. 39, No. 3 (Autumn, 1987), pp. 355-380.)

    We will never know whether Jack Raper or the people he was interviewing in 1944, had Murder in the Air in mind.

    I have also heard of such an imaginary weapon from an earlier, and less well-known, example in Wheaton, Illinois. In the summer of 1937, in his mother’s yard, Grote Reber began construction of a movable paraboloid antenna 31 feet in diameter. Developing a series of sensitive receivers, he spent most of the next decade mapping radio emissions from the cosmos. He was nearly the only person on Earth doing radio astronomy during that period.

    Neighbors were mystified by the contraption. They speculated that it had something to do with a Moon rocket, or contolling the weather. The weird-looking device also attracted attention from curious local aviators who would sometimes buzz the neighborhood. Reber wrote:

    One day a plane about a thousand feet up developed engine trouble and had to make an emergency landing in a nearby paddock. This led to another rumour that the telescope was a new secret weapon for putting the ignition systems of planes out of action. That would have been far better than radar!

  3. Ben Johnson says:

    Based on this and your previous article I’m curious what the ‘inevitability’ point was for the Manhattan project? What I mean is, this article was published in March of ’44 and we were still over a year away from Trinity. Were we far enough along at this point that if Los Alamos were compromised we’d still get the bomb, slightly delayed?
    On the same track, could our enemies have even stopped us if they knew what we were up to? I doubt it but I’d appreciate your thoughts.

    • That’s an interesting question — I’d have to think about it for a bit. Maybe a subject for a future blog post, because there are multiple strands of information that would need to be put together if one wanted to suggest (in a counter-factual way), how could the Manhattan Project have been compromised, if the Axis (or anyone else) were inclined to do so, and had total knowledge of it?

  4. Before the Manhattan Project secrecy set in, the popular press ran a lot of stories about the 1938 discovery of uranium fission, like this one from Scientific American in 1939:
    which included speculation about the discovery leading to the manufacture of powerful new weapons. So if it became well-known a few years later that Oppenheimer was running a large secret project, how was it that thousands of professional and amateur scientists failed to guess what was going on at Los Alamos?

    • Peter Solem says:

      Probably because they didn’t know what they were looking for – back then, nobody really had any idea of the importance of nuclear weapons relative to the dozens of other technological warfare efforts being conducted in the United States during WWII – that list includes chemical weapons, biological weapons, radar (note that ‘beams of energy’ are what radar is all about, except for detection, not incapacitation, other than jamming), encryption and decryption, naval mine detection, armor, rockets, etc. etc. – there was a lot more going on than just the effort to develop nuclear weapons. For that matter, since Los Alamos was just one part of the Manhattan Project, why didn’t the complex at Oak Ridge or at Hanford draw attention?

      Looking backwards, it seems clear to us what was important – but a spy for the Germans in the US during WWII would not know any of that, and might see no especial relevance to a story about a secret effort in the New Mexico desert, since there were dozens of other secret efforts going on at the same time.

      • The complexes at Hanford and Oak Ridge did draw attention, separately, and had their own leaks. In a sense these are less unlikely given their size and workforce; there were ample rumors surrounding these secret cities were tons of material went in and grams of material came out. The trick of it, though, was that very few people at either of those two sites even knew that there were other sites, much less where they were. This is arguably the most successful part of Groves’ compartmentalization policy, because it meant it was very hard to put together the full picture of the entire project. Even the Soviets got very little information about Hanford, because their men were not involved with it at all. (Fuchs did some work related to Oak Ridge, and had helped developed the diffusion concept, so he was able to tell them quite a bit about that.)

    • Quite a few did guess it — in the United States and in a few other countries. I’m writing up an article on this at the moment. There is, of course, a big difference between having a hunch and really thinking that this was being done and would burst upon the scene in only a few years. The biggest surprise of the Manhattan Project was not that an atomic bomb could be built, but that the US government was willing to commit to building it by 1945 and not, say, 1950 or later. To go from literally table-top science in 1939 to industrial-sized reactors and bombs by 1945 is by any measure improbable and astounding (especially since they didn’t really get started on it until late 1942).

  5. Peter says:

    As I understand it, the strict compartmentalization of duties seen at Los Alamos is today commonplace in many defense activities. And not just defense: it’s a safe bet that most of the engineers working on the next-generation iPad do not have access to the “big picture.”

    • Compartmentalization was a common counter-intelligence practice well before the Manhattan Project; what Groves did differently was to run it at a level that was unusual even for military activity, where tens of thousands of people would be working on something rather directly without much knowledge of what they were doing. I’m not sure how common that is, these days. The engineers working on the next-generation iPad may only have a part of the project in front of them, but they probably know they’re working on an iPad, as opposed to, say, a cruise missile. I would suspect that situations of Manhattan Project-like compartmentalization, where vast armies toil in completely ignorance as to the purpose of their labor, are quite rare. Even in the postwar nuclear complex, that was not really the case most of the time. Workers at Rocky Flats knew they were handling plutonium, for example, and that it was being used in nuclear weapons, even if they did not know the specifics of the weapon designs. I am not sure I have heard of too many cases where workers were producing substances whose properties they were ignorant of, for purposes they were ignorant of.

  6. Chris M says:

    A ray that can stop aircraft engines is a key part of the British 1939 (just barely pre-war) movie Q Planes (released in the US as ‘Clouds Over Europe’), where a ship of an unnamed European power is able to capture experimental British military aircraft (and test pilot Laurence Olivier!) using it. So it was definitely an idea that was in the air, even if the physics doesn’t make any sense (interfering with spark plugs? What else could you do?)

    I suppose that it would be related to the original (in Britain- radar was independently developed in many countries and I don’t know the history behind German, Japanese, Dutch, or Soviet work) idea behind radar: someone asked physicist Watson-Watt if he could incinerate pilots- he said that would be impracticable but that they could probably find planes that way.

  7. […] that strikes me about this piece about the idiot reporter who nearly revealed the Manhattan Project to the Axis – and the […]

  8. Zachary Smith says:

    Three minor transcription typos:

    Shortly after the man who thinks he is going to the mystery city of Los Alamos reaches the level on which it is build, — change “build” to built”

    Uncle Sam as placed this in charge of two men. — change “as” to “has”

    German planes will drop from the skies as thought they were paving blocks.13 — change “thought” to “though”

    Fascinating stuff!

  9. Nathan Myers says:

    Another correction, s/release/realize/.

    • Zachary Smith says:

      How did I miss that one?

      “Finally”, this: you would be wasting your time and burning up any money….

      Change “you” to “You”.

      My hat is off to whoever typed this out, for it was obviously a LOT of work. None of my OCR software could have handled that dark and blurred image.

  10. Bradley Laing says:

    —Is there a “quick fix” resource (Someone you could telephone?) Of bad reporting in the 1940’s that led foreign intelligence agencies to believe untrue things? Phllip Knightly wrote that Stalin would discount reliable information his diplomats—not his spies— had found out and tried to give him, and he ignored it out of his biases. Establish a benchmark of “they kept making this mistake over and over, but never made that mistake, even once.”

    Example: “Only the isolationist, anti-Roosevelt Chicago Tribune can be trusted. The other ones are in Roosevelt’s pocket. So ignore that Miami Herald story, unless the Tribune says it first.”

  11. Bradley Laing says:

    —Interlibrary loan this, and look for the index?

    Raper was a frequent speaker and a member of the leftist “Soviet Table” at the CITY CLUB OF CLEVELAND. Raper supported Franklin Roosevelt long after the Press had abandoned him. During WORLD WAR II, Raper published a detailed description of the Army’s “Forbidden City” of Los Alamos, more than a year before the bombing of Hiroshima. In 1945, he compiled a book from his “Josh Wise” sayings titled What This World Needs. Retiring in 1947, he died in Pueblo, Colo. Raper married Marie A. Delahunt in 1899 and had a daughter, Dorothy (Mrs. Wick R. Miller). Raper died in Pueblo, Colo. but was buried in LAKE VIEW CEMETERY.

    —The FBI must have been spying on him if *anyone* compared him to the “Soviet Union!”

    –Two internet links to his portrait.

    —-So, where is his column from the day after Hiroshima, showing him gloating about his success?

    —What book title! From “John Raper,” not “Jack Raper!”

    —The book mentioned on the “12:20 am” posting above.

    —-Two thoughts: wait until Monday, call the City Club, and ask them if they have a copy of the 1945 book, and if it has an index, table of contents for quick look up of what is in the book—that might save you having to interlibrayr loan it.

    —Ask about other “quick fixes” —“Oh yeah, his FBI file, declassified years ago, it is in the archives at…”

    —“His reporters notes? All of them are in room C of the Fill In the Blank Building, down at…”

    “Hotel Carter, Rainbow Room Thursday, June twenty-first nineteen hundred and forty-five. Sponsored by the Cleveland Newspaper Guild”–Cover.
    Includes program and menu.

    —June 21, 1945. Well before Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

  12. Bradley Laing says:

    Clarification: the quote above is from note about ” Jack Raper: A Story of Liberal Journalism,” from the listing at the WorldCat website.

  13. Jim-Bob says:

    What I find most interesting is that it would seem that an EMP had been deployed way before Trinity. It’s interesting too that, if that is the case, it was able to short out an automotive electrical system in the days before electronic ignitions and solid state voltage regulators (both systems at that time involved contact points). Could there have been another sub-critical detonation before Trinity? Were they possibly experimenting with a pure electromagnetic pulse weapon? I can see no other reason for an anecdotal account of these effects on some unknown motorists vehicle.

    • There were no sub-critical detonations (they wouldn’t have wasted the material), and I don’t think there’s any reason to assume this was an EMP, for the reasons I’ve listed above in a footnote.

      I rather assume the anecdotes are the kind of rumors that flourish in a vacuum of information mixed with an air of mystery. For example: A guy’s car overheats, cools after 20 minutes, and then restarts. He tells someone about this, they tell someone else, and so on, in that fashion of gossips, and sooner rather than later it gets embellished, takes on a life of its own, etc. It’s an easier answer than trying to come up with implausible physical solutions.

    • Gridlock says:

      I find it intriguing that this phenomena, or at least reports of it, apparently predates ‘modern’ UFO sightings, let alone The X Files. I have no idea what to infer from this, except that maybe people inherently think their cars are sensitive to ‘weird shit’.

      • Bradley Laing says:

        —The late John Keel wrote an article in 1986 suggesting that ideas like engine stalling being linked to alien spaceships were the product of a 1940’s pulp magazine popularizing the idea.

  14. Randy Dutton says:

    The Chinese knew about the bomb at least two weeks before the bomb was dropped. The Head of Chinese Intelligence personally asked my grandfather, Col. Carl R. Dutton about the bomb. My grandfather was ACoS to Generals Stilwell, then Wedermeyer in the CBI Theater from 1943-46 and was told by Gen. Marshall after the war that he had been the original selectee to head the Manhattan Project. Problem was, the Army put off its decision to go ahead with the project for six months, and when they did go ahead, my grandfather had already been assigned to build three TNT plants.

    I’ve often wondered if the bomb would have been built faster with my grandfather since his expertise was in explosives.

  15. Bradley Laing says:

    —If Jack Raper wrote a follow-up column in 1945, about his 1944 article about Los Alamos, did he admit in the column that he got it wrong? That the engine-stopping beam never existed?

  16. Darrell Dvorak says:

    The one part of the Manhattan Project that seems to have been kept secret the longest was the role of the 216th Army Air Forces Base Unit (Special) in transforming Los Alamos’s nuclear science and engineering into functional weapons, i.e., the ordnance work. As far as I know, the paper I had published late last year was the first public description of the 216th’s critical role. Most distressing, the Air Force Historical Research Agency at Maxwell reports that “for some reason, the histories of the 216th AAF BU goes to September 1944 then does not pick up again until January 1946.” In other words, the primary repository of Air Force records has nothing about the AAF’s ordnance work on the atomic bombs. From my reading, I believe this can be traced back to Parsons’s insistence that all mention of the ordnance work be omitted from the Smyth report.

  17. […] can read the entirety of the article over at Wellerstein’s site, but what is interesting here, beyond the substance of the report, is what this reveals about the […]

  18. Sam Zaremba says:

    Can you research the following?
    I recently came across references to atomic weapons which appeared in American and even German popular media and predate the Cleveland episode. In “The Catcher was a Spy” , Nicholas Dawidoff cited December 1943-January 1944 articles in the Washington Star the Herald Tribune and Newsweek describing the effects of atomic bombs and the possibility that Germany might be developing them. The Newsweek article actually cited a German Propaganda Ministry radio broadcast threatening the allies with a “uranium torpedo”.
    Google “uranium torpedo” and you’ll find an article from January 1944 in the Deseret (sic) News published in Salt Lake City. It describes an atomic explosion in lurid, but reasonably accurate terms.

  19. […] Raper published his story in the newspaper on March 13. It provoked an immediate stir among the Manhattan Project authorities, who quashed a followup story in TIME and briefly considered having Raper drafted into the Pacific Theater. But ultimately nothing came of it, and no Axis spy seems to have pursued it. American Institute of Physics science historian Alex Wellerstein discusses the story, and provides the full text with its lurid illustrations, on his Restricted Data blog. […]

  20. John Cowan says:

    In 1943, John W. Campbell, the editor of Astounding Science Fiction magazine, gave information on uranium fission, derived entirely from unclassified sources, to the writer Cleve Cartmill, whose story “Deadline” was published in March 1944. Campbell also deduced by looking at the magazine’s change-of-address data that some sort of highly secret technical project was going on at Los Alamos. It wouldn’t be surprising if he put the two facts together, though he told no one.

    Of course, atomic bombs were described by H.G. Wells in 1913, though his bombs were about delayed radiation, not blast. Robert A. Heinlein described the nuclear stalemate in 1940, in some ways a more important prediction, though he skipped the bomb entirely and went straight to fallout.

  21. Bradley Laing says:

    —Is there an index to the book?

    The Years Were Good (1956) by Louis B. Seltzer – An autobiography by the editor of The Press from 1928-1966.

  22. Bradley Laing says:

    —I found the book online. Jack Rapers’ name is not in the index. World War II has a chapter, but the idea of defying the voluntary censorship code is not in there.

    —Instead the author acts like he was just as patriotic as anyone else.

  23. Bradley Laing says:

    –Chapter 28 mentions in passing an optimistic future of atomic energy, and a few words mentioninging “exploding bombs” in a context that suggests that the A-Bomb was technological progress. But also, no fear of the Soviet Union and expansionist Communism, either.

  24. Bradley Laing says:

    –Clarification: As patriotic as anyone else during WW II, despite Jack Raper leaking one of the militaries biggest secrets at the time.

  25. Bradley Laing says:

    —Many years ago, I looked up newspaper articles about a famous 1937 Chicago murder of the owner of the Sportsman’s Park racetrack. The newspaper accounts I read showed some inconsistencies. But more important, as the weeks went by, more and more details were added, leaving less certainty.

    —This afternoon, I fought off the urge to find *all of* John Rapers columns from between Hiroshima and his retirement in 1947, to see if he “rewrote” his Manhattan Project exposure experience as the period between 1945 and the day of his retirement from the Cleveland Press.

    —The Seltzer book does not mention wartime secrecy, and it certainly does not mention the early Cold War period when things could be “born secret,” like the fact that cork was used in nuclear weapons.

    —At least, I convinced myself that it is still “secret” that cork was used in nuclear weapons.

    —A cartoonist pointed out that “our enemies classify information, so will we,” and ended with “We will not let out enemies impose their evil ways on us. We will do it for them.”

    —If John Raper felt that wartime secrecy was one thing, and Cold War secrecy was another, he might have changed his account of what he did and why, during WW II.

    —In what way, I do not know. But my mood today makes me wonder.

  26. […] Reading these few examples reveals how vulnerable the Manhattan Project was to discovery, despite its unprecedented level of secrecy. As Alex Wellerstein, an historian of science who specializes in nuclear weapons has previously observed: […]

  27. Philip says:

    An early use of the “aircraft-stopping ray” idea appears in Arthur B Reeve’s crime short story “The Terror in the Air”, published at some point in the 1910s. In that story, it’s explained in terms of Tesla’s dubious claims to be able to remotely create large currents by radio waves, with the claim that a beam of radio waves induced a current in an aircraft’s electrics powerful enough to melt the wiring.