Posts Tagged ‘Archives’


Excerpts from the Klaus Fuchs File (1951)

Wednesday, January 25th, 2012

Recently -- sometime in the last year -- the FBI revamped its online FOIA Reading Room and replaced it with a new website called the FBI Vault. Somehow I missed this until just this week. The Vault contains all of the files the old Reading Room had, but adds a huge, new section on the Rosenberg Case. This is pretty great, both for Cold War historians, as well as a potential font for student papers. Along with those of the eponymous couple, these include the files of Klaus FuchsHarry GoldDavid GreenglassGeorge Kistiakowski (misspelled online), J. Robert Oppenheimer (not his entire file), Morton SobellHarold Urey (not his entire file), among many others. Note that in some cases they are not the full files. Oppenheimer's file there is just the parts that were considered relevant to the Rosenberg Case. It's a lot of this-and-that, and not the full file by a long shot. Same with Urey's and Kistiakowski's files. At some point in the late 1970s, it seems that a number of files were either culled or grouped together with respects to a court order, and you can see evidence of this in the files as they have long lists of documents not enclosed, dated from 1978 or so.

Still, the Fuchs file is a full 9,923 pages (760MB!) of FBI-file-goodness, all conveniently in PDF format. It's not quite identical to what I got by FOIAing the FBI a few years ago -- the CD-ROM the FBI sent me had 839 more pages in it -- but it's still pretty impressive. (If you're interested in downloading the files in bulk, I heavily recommend using a download manager, like Download Them All for Firefox. It makes downloading 111 PDF files a lot easier, even though it does still take some fiddling, since the FBI wasn't entirely consistent with how it uploaded these files.)

Of course, the Vault site also contains the files of Groucho Marx, Liberace, and an 119 page file on "Louie, Louie," the song (the FBI, like everyone else, couldn't figure out the lyrics), so there's no shortage of fun to be had there. I've added this resource to my long list of nuclear primary sources on the web.

This week's document comes from the Fuchs file linked to above. Specifically, it's an excerpt of a February 1951 report made by the FBI titled "Summary Brief on Emil Julius Klaus Fuchs," related to "Fuchs' Scientific Knowledge and Disclosures to Russians."1

Click image to view the PDF.

Now this is, to me anyway, a pretty interesting document in and of itself. It compiles a lot of information about what exactly Fuchs claims to have given to the Russians. It's limited, though, in part because of the fact that the British weren't keen on giving the Americans unfettered access to Fuchs.2

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  1. Citation: Federal Bureau of Investigation, "Summary Brief on Emil Julius Klaus Fuchs" (12 February 1951), (Excerpt), in Klaus Fuchs FBI file, FBI Vault version. []
  2. For a really terrific account of the tensions in the FBI-MI5 relationship regarding Fuchs, see Michael S. Goodman, "Who Is Trying to Keep What Secret from Whom and Why? MI5-FBI Relations and the Klaus Fuchs Case," Journal of Cold War Studies 7, no. 3 (Summer 2005), 124-146. []

More from the Joint Committee on Atomic Energy

Monday, January 23rd, 2012

A few weeks ago, I spent some time at the Legislative Archives in downtown Washington, DC, looking at the files of the Joint Committee on Atomic Energy (JCAE). It was my first time over there since I had moved to the area; I had been there a few other times over the years, but it's really quite different when you actually live in the same town as the archive. It's a less hurried, less harried, and less targeted experience: you can take the time to really look at things you might otherwise not have time for. Case in point: I actually got to spend some time talking with one of the archivists there, Bill Davis, who knows about the JCAE records. And last Thursday, Bill called me up to tell me that a new batch of newly-declassified JCAE Executive Hearings had arrived. How's that for helpful? Of course I couldn't resist, and swung by last Friday on my way to work.

JCAE members Sen. Vandenberg (l) and Sen. Hickenlooper (r) look over various documents at a 1949 hearing regarding the AEC.

The eight newly-declassified JCAE hearings are all from 1953, ranging from March to December. NARA isn't in charge of declassifying them -- these ones seem to have been declassified by someone at the CIA who is apparently just working his way through the decades-old queue.  I imagine some poor declassifier sitting there with a 100 foot pile of paper next to him. In reality, these appear to have been scanned and are redacted using what looks like Adobe Acrobat. But it is just a single fellow doing it, apparently -- his name (Alan Lipton) is on every one of them as the declassifier.

1953 was an important year. For one thing, the Cold War was pretty hot right about then. The Korean War was still going on for most of it; the US had tested a hydrogen bomb prototype, but not an actual usable weapon; the Soviets set off a "thermonuclear weapon" (not Teller-Ulam, but still not very nice) that August; McCarthyism was still going strong. Tough times.

So what are in these files? Here are a few notes from them -- they cover some interesting topics. Many of them deal with CIA in particular, which is of some inherent interest.

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Meditations | Redactions

Archives Week, Addendum: More Notes on Technique

Monday, December 26th, 2011

My post on Day 2 of Archives Week got a few people asking me if I could elaborate on my post-processing methods for all those photos I take — the conversion from JPEG to PDF that I hinted at.

I've played with a few different ways of doing this, from the very simple to the reasonably sophisticated, and have come up with a way that, in the end, is "good enough" in the sense that it is easy, saves me time, and does a fine enough job.

Warning: this is a long post! There's a document at the end of it, though, for those of you who don't care much about how I make the files.

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Archives Week, Day 5: The Lost JCAE Hearings

Friday, December 23rd, 2011

On my post for Day 1 of this week's archival trip, I noted that the Lexis Nexis database of Executive hearings of the Joint Committee on Atomic Energy (JCAE) was empty after 1962. I wondered if that could possibly be accurate or not.

The answer, after fishing around for a week, is clearly no. There are a bunch of Executive sessions that are not in the Lexis Nexis database, especially from the 1960s and a few from the 1970s. Some of these have been only very recently declassified — in 2005, 2007, and 2010. There are probably others still classified. (You can't FOIA Congressional records, but you can request a Mandatory Declassification Review, which accomplishes similar ends.)

So I've been diving into these. The ones I have looked at so far cover:

  • Hyman Rickover testifying about the first nuclear submarine plans in 1951. This contained an interesting discussion about how many bombs you stockpiled per so many nautical miles traveled. I hadn't thought of that way of thinking about it; nuclear submarines usually run on highly-enriched uranium (HEU), because it gives better power output for the size constraints. Of course, in 1951, when they were planning the U.S.S. Nautilus, they were eagerly trying to expand the nuclear stockpile. Putting HEU into a submarine meant you couldn't put it into an actual bomb. So there was an interesting trade-off going on then. Of course, the actual numbers are blacked out. Or, more appropriately, whited out. Today's redactors use Adobe Acrobat to make their deletions:

    The USS Nautilus with a nice blob of redaction. No core for you!

  • Discussions with General McCormack about the goals of Operation Ranger (1951), the first continental nuclear test series since "Trinity." This includes McCormack trying to explain what the purpose of nuclear artillery would be to the JCAE, and why it required (at the time) strictly gun-type weapon designs (which use up a lot of HEU relative to implosion weapons). It also discusses their early plans for making nuclear bunker-buster weapons. One nice exchange:

Brien McMahon "... according to the staff's report to me,... the Air Forces are going to do a test called Windstorm up in Kamchatka or Kiska or something."
Gen. McCormack: "Amchitka."
McMahon: "Kamchatka?"
McCormack: "Amchitka. Kamchatka is over the border in Russia."
McMahon: "That wouldn't be a bad idea."

  • There's also some interesting remarks in that one by McCormack about why he'd want any use of tactical nuclear weapons in Western Europe to be completely American-controlled:

McCormack: " send American airplanes with American bombs to support foreign troops, I am afraid, would lead you into a most horrible sort of disaster because of the tie-in and coordination between air and ground forces is difficult enough at best if you all came out of the same school. It is very tough indeed when you come from different schools and if you pull a boner with an atomic bomb, as has been pulled with ordinary ammunition in Korea, if you pull one with an atomic bomb, I feel you will put back atomic support for ground troops by years." [Fair enough — if you accidentally nuke your allies, they probably won't want you playing with nukes again.]

  • Also now declassified is the first JCAE briefing on the Castle Bravo accident. As you might expect, there's some awful stuff here:

 Chairman Cole: "I understand even after they [the natives of Rongelap] are taken back you plan to have medical people in attendance."
Dr. Bugher: "I think we will have to have a continuing study program for an indefinite time."
Rep. James Van Zandt: "The natives ought to benefit — they got a couple of good baths." [Seriously?]

  • A rather interesting session from 1965, where the JCAE was introduced to the idea of MIRVing for the first time by Livermore scientists. One lovely exchange:

Rep. Holifield: "Dr. Foster, did this general idea [MIRVing] originate in the laboratory or was it a matter of requirement by the DoD?"
Dr. Foster: "I am not exactly sure how it originated. It came up, I think, three years ago in connection with our concern over what capability might be achieved by the Soviet missiles."
Rep. Holifield: "You didn't go ahead with this without a formal requirement, I hope."
Dr. Foster: "Yes, I am afraid we did. (Laughter) Let me be specific —"
Rep. Holifield: "You will be condemned by the Budget Bureau for that."

All in all, it was a good week at the archives. (As I post this, they are literally kicking me out of the reading room. Something about going home to their families for the holidays?)

Next week I'll post a bit more about my post-processing techniques for my files, since there has been some interest in that, and I hadn't quite gotten them all written up in a sensible way.


Archives Week, Day 4: Conspiring for Livermore (1952)

Thursday, December 22nd, 2011

Just a quick document for you today from the Legislative Archives: John Walker and Bill Borden, staff members on the Joint Committee on Atomic Energy, conspiring about creating a "second laboratory": what would become the Livermore laboratory.1

Click image for the full PDF.

It's a short piece, from early 1952, but I find it pretty revealing about the "second laboratory" mindset at the time. It's desperation is what appeals to me: Walker is fed up with the Atomic Energy Commission and the General Advisory Committee, and have basically concluded that the only way forward would be to give a bunch of cash to "an eminent scientist" who would round up patriotic colleagues and start their own lab, independent of the AEC or GAC. Walker believes that this "non-government and non-military establishment" impetus "would be important from a moral standpoint."

Where the cash would come from, and who the scientist would be, is left unconsidered.

It's kind of a mad scheme, given that the AEC had a total legal monopoly on this kind of research. It also show the lengths these particular Congressional staffers were willing to go — they were aiming to play a hugely active role in national policy.

I want to give a hat-tip to a former student of mine from Harvard, Eli Jacobs, who is interning at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. He has a number of great posts up on the CSIS blog, but my favorite so far is a discussion of a 1978 Defense Nuclear Agency report where they recommended nuking the Chinese-Soviet border in the case of war, with the hope that this would encourage China to invade the USSR. It's an impressively bad idea for a lot of reasons, and you know how much I like collecting impressively bad ideas.

  1. Source: John Walker to Bill Borden, "Second Laboratory," (21 February 1952), in Records of the Joint Committee on Atomic Energy, RG 128, National Archives and Records Administration, Washington, D.C., Series 2: General Subject Files, Box 60, "Thermonuclear Program: Second Laboratory." []