Order vacates decision to revoke Oppenheimer’s security clearance

Brings new perspective to Manhattan Project leader’s legacy

January 4, 2023

@theBradbury January Opt

Last month, United States Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm signed an order vacating a 1954 decision by the Atomic Energy Commission to revoke the security clearance of J. Robert Oppenheimer, former Manhattan Project leader who was widely credited as the “father of the atomic bomb.”

The AEC ruling, considered by many to have been unjust, biased and politically motivated, had nothing to do with security violations, mishandling of atomic secrets or the like. Instead, it was handed down based on what the commission essentially said were flaws in Oppenheimer’s personal character — namely, his association with progressive causes and opposition to developing the hydrogen bomb. Years later, as noted in Granholm’s order, the AEC judgment appears to have had much more to do with discrediting Oppenheimer in public debates over nuclear weapons policy than anything else.

“As time has passed, more evidence has come to light of the bias and unfairness of the process that Dr. Oppenheimer was subjected to while the evidence of his loyalty and love of country have only been further affirmed,” Granholm said in her statement on the issue, noting that such political motives must have “no place” in the U.S. government’s personnel security process.

In April, Los Alamos National Laboratory Director Thom Mason joined eight former Los Alamos directors in delivering a signed letter to Granholm offering their perspective on the subject of Oppenheimer’s clearance. They strongly suggested that the Department of Energy nullify the AEC’s decree as an “historically appropriate remedy” to the egregious errors committed by the security review board and asked the DOE to issue an apology.

“Although this brings no peace to Dr. Oppenheimer, who died long ago, it brings needed perspective to the real truth of his legacy, integrity and moral courage,” Mason said. “It also sends a message that while the U.S. government takes security seriously and expects truthfulness, it must reciprocate with a fair analysis and principled decisions.”

Read about the 1954 petition to clear Oppenheimer’s name.