Accuracy in Media

Last fall, Accuracy in Media reported on new revelations about J. Robert Oppenheimer, the scientific director of the World War II Manhattan Project that produced the A-bomb. Oppenheimer lost his security clearance after the war amidst charges that he was a Communist. Like Alger Hiss, he denied those allegations to the day of his death and, over the years, the left included Oppenheimer among the victims of McCarthyism. He became a sympathetic figure to much of the elite media.

Two books were published last fall that concluded Oppenheimer was indeed a Communist and that his secret party work had continued into the early 1940s. The liberal media, however, preferred a benign interpretation of Oppenheimer’s actions once he took over the Manhattan Project. Author Jerrold and Leona Schecter concluded that while Oppenheimer may not have turned over secret documents to Soviet agents, he did permit young communist scientists, like Klaus Fuchs, to gain employment at Los Alamos, Oak Ridge, Chicago, and other Manhattan Projects around the country.

The recent release of transcripts from closed-door hearings conducted by Senator Joseph McCarthy shows that the U.S. government had at least been told about Oppenheimer’s role exactly fifty years ago. On January 30, 1953, McCarthy took the testimony of Paul Crouch, a long-time member of the Communist Party of the USA. Crouch told McCarthy that he had been a top functionary of the Party from 1925 until early 1942 and a full-time organizer. He also said that he had been a student at the Soviet Frunze Military Academy in Moscow and was an honorary member of the Red Army.

Crouch testified that in the course of his Party work he had met Oppenheimer at a closed meeting at the scientist’s house in California. In response to a McCarthy question, Crouch stated that there was no doubt in his mind that Oppenheimer was a member of the Communist Party. He said he had met Oppenheimer at least six times at social functions organized by the Party.

Crouch speculated that rather than have Oppenheimer supply classified documents to agents, his Soviet spy masters might have preferred that he “appoint other Communists to key positions who would in turn hand over the information.” Crouch then identified a number of scientists with Party affiliations appointed by Oppenheimer to key positions in the Manhattan Project. Nearly fifty years later, the Schecters would uncover a letter in the Soviet spy archives written by Lavrenti Beria, Stalin’s chief spy and then head of his nuclear program. Beria refers to Oppenheimer as an “unlisted agent” of the CPUSA and praises Oppenheimer’s role in providing Soviet spies access to U.S. atomic secrets.

Crouch testified that U.S. military intelligence ” has a vast amount of evidence regarding Oppenheimer’s membership” in the Party and his party activities. After his testimony, Crouch became the target of a smear campaign in the media and was accused of fabricating many of his allegations. But decades later, the opening of Soviet spy files would confirm his charges against Oppenheimer.

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