DOE Declassifies Oppenheimer Security Clearance Hearing Transcripts

Dr. J. Robert Oppenheimer on December 5, 1958.

Dr. J. Robert Oppenheimer on December 5, 1958. AP File Photo

The full 20-volume transcript is now online.

J. Robert Oppenheimer was trustworthy enough to guide development of the atomic bomb at a Los Alamos, New Mexico, top-secret facility from 1942 to 1946. But he lost it in the witch hunts of potential communists in the federal government in the early 1950s.

In December 1953, the Atomic Energy Commission first suspended Oppenheimer’s security clearance and then revoked it outright after a four-week, closed-door hearing in April and May of 1954.

Steven Aftergood, who writes the Federation of American Scientists’ Secrecy News blog said the Oppenheimer hearing “was a watershed event that signaled a crisis in the nuclear weapons bureaucracy and a fracturing of the early post-war national security consensus.”

He added, “It further represented a breakdown in relations between scientists and the U.S. government and within the scientific community itself.”

The Government Printing Office published a redacted version of the transcript in 1954, which “became a GPO best-seller and went on to inform countless historical studies,” Aftergood said.

The Energy Department has previously declassified some portions of the Oppenheimer transcript but the 20 volumes of the transcript released last Friday represent the first release of the complete unreacted text. They are now available on Energy’s OpenNet website.

Aftergood said the release of the declassified Oppenheimer hearing transcripts is part of a continuing series of declassifications of historical records and documents of particular historic value and public interest by Energy.

 In August, Energy declassified and posted online the entire history of the Manhattan Project which developed the atomic bomb under Oppenheimer’s leadership.