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Richard Feynman's FBI Files Released 181

Posted by Unknown Lamer
from the soviet-sympathizers-beware dept.
v3rgEz writes "The FBI files of noted physicist, esteemed author and all-around geek Richard Feynman have been released. Feynman and the FBI had an extended encounter after the Bureau discovered he had been invited to speak at the USSR, which set off a flurry of investigations into his loyalty — even as he pestered the State Department for guidance on whether he should or shouldn't go, guidance they only gave belatedly. Of particular interest to the FBI was his avid devotion to the art of lock picking, his high school membership in a socialism club (for social reasons, he swore), and the fact that he was a godless scientist who loved his bongo drums. Original documents are available. One other element? A seven-page letter detailing a conspiracy theory that Feynman was a sleeper agent for enemies unknown, but probably communist ones."
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Richard Feynman's FBI Files Released

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  • by Animats (122034) on Wednesday June 06, 2012 @12:39PM (#40234063) Homepage

    The interesting question is, who wrote that letter? Not an FBI agent; an FBI agent wouldn't write to Hoover directly, outside of channels. That came from some outside source with a political agenda. But the source has been "redacted".

  • While the lockpicking hobby might've scared the FBI just in itself, more problematic to them was that he had used it in a "stole the atom bomb secrets" prank. He really did break into the safe that had the atom bomb secrets! But he didn't leak them. But: not everyone was sure of that.

    Here's the story from an interview (from p. 51 in this book [amazon.com]):

    Interviewer: Is it true that you broke the Los Alamos security code and opened a safe containing top-secret documents? Then left behind a note that said "Guess Who?"

    Feynman: When I was at Los Alamos one of my hobbies was to try to open safes and locks, a sort of locksmith-type hobby. Practicing opening locks, I at one point opened the lock of the safe that contained all the secrets of the atom bomb, and the whole business behind them. There were nine filing cabinets containing all the documents at Los Alamos. I opened three of them to check if they all had the same combination. I left notes in them to tell the guy that he shouldn't have locks with all the combinations the same, and stuff like that. And that I'd taken the documents out. And there were certain jokes in my notes. I was standing in the office there playing with the safes in the full light of day. The guy who was running the office was a friend of mine. And he was very upset when he found the safes had been opened. They probably changed the combinations after that.

    Fortunately, FBI agents apparently were more reasonable even during the Cold War than they are in the War on Terrorism, because he'd probably be in jail for that prank today.

  • Re:7 pages, typed... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by starless (60879) on Wednesday June 06, 2012 @01:35PM (#40234843)

    Edward Teller testified against Oppenheimer's security clearance. Could he have been against Feynman as well?

  • Tannu Tuva (Score:5, Interesting)

    by fliptout (9217) on Wednesday June 06, 2012 @01:42PM (#40234977) Homepage

    Feynman had a bit of an obsession with a small Asian nation called Tannu Tuva. He badly wanted to visit, and at the time Tannu Tuva was part of the USSR. As part of an arrangement with the USSR government, he would be allowed passage to travel there, but in exchange he would have to give some lectures in Moscow, I think.

    Nova has a wonderful documentary about this, and it can be watched in its entirety on youtube.
    The Last Journey of Genius: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Mn4_40hAAr0/ [youtube.com]

  • by pesho (843750) on Wednesday June 06, 2012 @01:56PM (#40235159)
    You got to love the logic of the person who wrote the letter. The first thing that disqualifies Feynman as scientific adviser is:

    Technical ability to review scientific data

    And then there is:

    Experience in formulating and laying out the groundwork for complex patterns of activity that extend well into the future

    and

    A practical aptitude for dealing with mechanical and electronic devices

    The funny part is that this is exactly the kind of things that would send you to a camp if you were in the soviet block at that time. And people on the other side of the iron curtain were writing exactly the same letters but substituting 'communist' for 'imperialist'.

  • by tqk (413719) <s.keeling@mail.com> on Wednesday June 06, 2012 @02:06PM (#40235287)

    The interesting question is, who wrote that letter?

    I doubt that really matters (but from a cursory read of the redacted FBI notes, I'd guess it was a woman). Everyone was encouraged to be suspicious of everybody else. I'd be surprised if no-one had bothered to point a finger at him.

    Feynman was an oddball iconoclast and would have stood out as fairly strange at anytime. His wife divorced him because he was constantly solving calculus problems even while driving, and flew into violent rages (including choking her) when she interrupted him during it or while he was playing the drums. He made a habit of tweaking the noses of censors and the security people, for fun.

    Back then, if you weren't a frothing at the mouth Commie hater like Curtis LeMay or Edward Teller, you looked suspicious, and the US' security apparatus at the time was encouraged to be nutbar paranoid. Look at what happened to Oppenheimer. This was the McCarthy era. Read Vasilli Mitrokhin's history of the KGB, and you'll see the Soviets were practically level-headed sensible in comparison. Besides, there was a large contingent of scientists who thought the whole thing should end once the Nazis were beaten. Feynman was just the village oddball (and a terrific physicist).

    Tuva, or bust!

  • by History's Coming To (1059484) on Wednesday June 06, 2012 @02:34PM (#40235593) Journal
    He later revealed that they didn't change the combinations, instead they sent a memo out instructing that Prof. Feynman was not to be left alone with a safe. "Security by missing the point entirely" I believe it's called.
  • by ElijahBailey (2502712) on Wednesday June 06, 2012 @04:15PM (#40236689)
    I love that he did the right thing and alerted the government to the fact that Russia had requested he visit and asked for their guidance but they knowingly ignored his request just to investigate whether he would go. It's like they were lying in wait, hoping for him to screw up so they could slap him in chains and say, "Made my quota! America is safe from citizens who do the right thing once more!"

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