Holding the packet collected by the J. Robert Oppenheimer Memorial Committee (JROMC) and delivered to U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich’s office in 2016, from left, JROMC archivist Art Freed, Heinrich Senior Advisor Michael Sullivan, pursuing effort Subcommittee Chair Mary Louise Williams and JROMC Chair Cas Mason. Courtesy/JROMC
By BONNIE J. GORDON
Los Alamos Daily Post
Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm issued a statement Friday that announced that “pursuant to the authority vested in the Secretary of Energy to carry out the functions of the Atomic Energy Commission, I hereby order that the decision rendered on June 29, 1954, In The Matter of J. Robert Oppenheimer be vacated.”
Secretary Granholm nullified the 1954 decision to revoke the security clearance of Oppenheimer. In her statement, Granholm said the decision of the Atomic Energy Commission, to revoke Oppenheimer’s clearance was the result of a “flawed process” that violated its own regulations.
Oppenheimer was a victim of McCarthy era suspicion of those who had even a tangential connection to communists or the left.
“In 2014, the Obama administration made public hundreds of newly declassified pages from the commission’s secret hearings, that affirmed Oppenheimer was loyal to U.S. and that the process that stripped him of his clearance was biased,” said J. Robert Oppenheimer Memorial Committee Chair David Izraelevitz during an interview Saturday.
The Committee is based in Los Alamos and honors Oppenheimer’s legacy by awarding scholarships and sponsoring a lecture series that explores scientific and historical topics.
In 2004, Martin Sherwin and Kai Bird, authors of the Pulitzer Prize-winning book American Prometheus: the Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer, contacted the committee to get help in clearing Oppenheimer’s name, Izraelevitz said. The effort was spearheaded by Mary Louise Williams, chair of the subcommittee pursuing the effort on the part of the JROMC.
“We are so grateful for the efforts of Mary Louise, who was tireless in pursuing this goal,” Izraelevitz said.
According to the JROMC website, a legal remedy was first explored through D.C. law firm Arnold & Porter. During their pro bono study to determine the viability of a legal remedy they found little hope of a court settlement.
A legislative solution was then sought through Sen. Jeff Bingaman’s office. The Senator had been advocating on behalf of Oppenheimer for some years, Izraelevitz said. This avenue proved fruitless, and the Committee moved forward to pursue the matter through the Department of Energy.
In 2014, newly elected Sen. Martin Heinrich joined the fight.
“The JROMC solicited letters of support from former LANL Directors, prominent researchers, Lab Fellows, and academics,” Izraelevitz said.
It seemed like the 13-year effort to clear Oppenheimer’s name was at a standstill in 2017, but Oppenheimer’s defenders did not give up. Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont joined Heinrich in the effort.
This week, their efforts came to fruition with the release of the DOE Secretarial Order.
A key element in the case against Oppenheimer was derived from his resistance to early work on the hydrogen bomb, which he did not think was viable at the time, Izraelevitz explained. His objections were scientific.
At the time, Oppenheimer had a great deal of support. At the Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory, physicist Fred Ribe organized a petition against Oppenheimer’s revoked security clearance and 494 Lab staff stood up for the former director’s character, Izraelevitz said.
“The Committee couldn’t be more pleased that this injustice is finally being corrected,” Izraelevitz said. “Laboratory Director Norris Bradbury once called Oppenheimer ‘Mr. Los Alamos’ and that pretty much sums it up.”
“Our hometown hero is vindicated at last,” Izraelevitz said.