WASHINGTON — The Biden administration has reversed a decades-old decision to revoke the security clearance of Robert Oppenheimer, the physicist called “the father of the atomic bomb” for his leading role in the Manhattan Project during the Second World War.
US Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm said the Atomic Energy Commission’s 1954 decision was made using a “flawed process” that violated the commission’s own regulations.
“As time passed, more and more evidence came to light of the bias and unfairness of the process to which Dr Oppenheimer was subjected, while evidence of his loyalty and love of country did not than be assertive,” Ms. Granholm said in a statement on Friday.
Robert Oppenheimer, who died in 1967, led the Manhattan Project, which developed the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki during World War II. The theoretical physicist was later accused of having communist sympathies and his security clearance was revoked after a four-week closed hearing.
In stripping Mr. Oppenheimer of his clearance, the Atomic Energy Commission did not allege that he disclosed or mishandled classified information, and his loyalty to the country was not questioned, according to the order of Mrs. Granholm. The commission, however, concluded that there were “fundamental flaws” in his character.
Years later, an Atomic Energy Commission lawyer concluded after an internal review that “the system has failed” and that a “substantial injustice has been done to a loyal American,” according to the order of the secretary.
Ms. Granholm said the commission’s decision was prompted by its political leaders’ desire to “discredit Mr. Oppenheimer in public debates about nuclear weapons policy.”
“Such political motives should have no place in our personnel security process,” she wrote.
U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont applauded the reversal, saying the 1954 ruling followed a “grossly unfair and unethical hearing that would today be strongly condemned.”
“This decision reaffirms that government scientists, whether renowned like Mr. Oppenheimer or a technician doing his day job — including those who wish to raise security concerns or express unpopular opinions on security issues national security — can do so freely and that their cases will be fairly considered based on facts, not personal animosity or politics,” Leahy said in a statement.
The decision comes as Mr. Oppenheimer’s story heads to the big screen. Christopher Nolan’s ‘Oppenheimer’ is set to hit theaters in July. It is based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning biography by Kai Bird and Martin J. Sherwin “American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer,” and stars Cillian Murphy in the lead role.
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United States: Oppenheimer had his security clearance wrongfully withdrawn