Scientists Under Surveillance
The FBI Files
440 pp., 8 x 11 in,
- Published: March 12, 2019
- Publisher: The MIT Press
Cold War–era FBI files on famous scientists, including Neil Armstrong, Isaac Asimov, Albert Einstein, Richard Feynman, Alfred Kinsey, and Timothy Leary.
Armed with ignorance, misinformation, and unfounded suspicions, the FBI under J. Edgar Hoover cast a suspicious eye on scientists in disciplines ranging from physics to sex research. If the Bureau surveilled writers because of what they believed (as documented in Writers Under Surveillance), it surveilled scientists because of what they knew. Such scientific ideals as the free exchange of information seemed dangerous when the Soviet Union and the United States regarded each other with mutual suspicion that seemed likely to lead to mutual destruction. Scientists Under Surveillance gathers FBI files on some of the most famous scientists in America, reproducing them in their original typewritten, teletyped, hand-annotated form.
Readers learn that Isaac Asimov, at the time a professor at Boston University's School of Medicine, was a prime suspect in the hunt for a Soviet informant codenamed ROBPROF (the rationale perhaps being that he wrote about robots and was a professor). Richard Feynman had a “hefty” FBI file, some of which was based on documents agents found when going through the Soviet ambassador's trash (an invitation to a physics conference in Moscow); other documents in Feynman's file cite an informant who called him a “master of deception” (the informant may have been Feynman's ex-wife). And the Bureau's relationship with Alfred Kinsey, the author of The Kinsey Report, was mutually beneficial, with each drawing on the other's data.
The files collected in Scientists Under Surveillance were obtained through Freedom of Information Act requests by MuckRock, a nonprofit engaged in the ongoing project of freeing American history from the locked filing cabinets of government agencies.
Neil Armstrong, Isaac Asimov, Hans Bethe, John P. Craven, Albert Einstein, Paul Erdos, Richard Feynman, Mikhail Kalashnikov, Alfred Kinsey, Timothy Leary, William Masters, Arthur Rosenfeld, Vera Rubin, Carl Sagan, Nikola Tesla
This study of the world as the powerful FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover saw it, focusing on surveillance of scientists, is as chilling as it is pertinent in a world in which we are suffocated by intrusive monitoring from governments and private power. We ignore its lessons at our peril.
Noam Chomsky, Institute Professor Emeritus, MIT; Laureate Professor of Linguistics, University of Arizona; author of Who Rules the World, Optimism or Despair and Global Discontents
This remarkable collection testifies to the uneasy alliance of knowledge with power in the nuclear age through today—an unease that drove the amassing of 'intelligence' on the nation's scientists, ranging from unfounded gossip to the occasional potential spy activity. This book raises important questions, along with valuable lessons for us all.
David C. Cassidy, Professor Emeritus, Hofstra University; author of J. Robert Oppenheimer and the American Century, and Beyond Uncertainty: Heisenberg, Quantum Physics, and the Bomb
Look over this trove of fascinating FBI files and then decide: In monitoring scientists during America's period of anti-communist hysteria, was the FBI spinning its wheels at taxpayer expense for no useful purpose, or was it just doing its job?
Kenneth W. Ford, retired physicist and writer; author of Building the H Bomb: A Personal History