Forgot your password?
typodupeerror
Privacy Government Science

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."
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

Richard Feynman's FBI Files Released

Comments Filter:
  • by cpu6502 (1960974) on Wednesday June 06, 2012 @12:36PM (#40234017)

    The summary forgot this was during the height of the Cold War. Stuff like this doesn't happen today. The government wouldn't waste time doing a background check just because you flew to modern-day Democratic Russia.

    hahahahahahahahahahahaaha
    I kill me.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday June 06, 2012 @12:38PM (#40234049)

    surely they're joking

  • 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".

    • Jelious co-worker. (Score:4, Insightful)

      by bussdriver (620565) on Wednesday June 06, 2012 @12:50PM (#40234185)

      Envious people cause a lot of trouble; especially when you provide them outlets to express such emotions.

      Modern day witch hunts are no better, people exploit the idiocy of the time to their own ends. We've not evolved any, we just like to think we are better than people thousands of years ago.

      • by mcgrew (92797) *

        We've not evolved any, we just like to think we are better than people thousands of years ago.

        Well, we probably haven't evolved physically; wait... yes we have. Europeans evolved the ability to digest cow's milk, for one. But societies have evolved greatly. We no longer have crucifiction or burning at the stake, for example. Technology has evolved to a huge extent as well.

        • by walshy007 (906710)

          We no longer have crucifiction or burning at the stake, for example.

          Why would you do that when shooting people in the head is so much less effort?

    • by timeOday (582209)
      Sounds like a co-worker, doesn't it?

      And indeed, the letter's author (whose name has been redacted) laid out an interesting case for Feynman-as-secret-agent, citing his analytical mind, film-developing prowess, code breaking techniques and his well-known fascination for lock picking. The latter was a skill he regularly showed off at Los Alamos, to the chagrin of more security-minded scientists.

      Probably it was one of those "more security-minded" scientists.

      I say, there's a grain of truth to it. You can

      • by The Mister Purple (2525152) on Wednesday June 06, 2012 @01:17PM (#40234557) Homepage

        I find it funny that the term "security-minded" is used when describing the scientists upset by Feynman's lock picking, when the impression I got from reading his memoirs and biography was that he was not concealing it and was indeed pointing out security vulnerabilities at Los Alamos. He was able to open a colonel's office safe using the default combination, if I recall correctly. After all, it's not like Feynman was letting the Germans or Japanese know about the weakness of the locks, let alone about the existence of the Manhattan Project. It's basically the same problem as seen in computer security today: people who point out vulnerabilities in a non-destructive way still get criticized (or worse, ignored).

        • by Daniel Dvorkin (106857) on Wednesday June 06, 2012 @01:29PM (#40234763) Homepage Journal

          I find it funny that the term "security-minded" is used when describing the scientists upset by Feynman's lock picking, when the impression I got from reading his memoirs and biography was that he was not concealing it and was indeed pointing out security vulnerabilities at Los Alamos.

          "Security-minded" people always hate it when holes in their security systems are pointed out. It's practically a law of nature.

        • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

          by Anonymous Coward

          We were gathered together to discuss a
          report that was in the fella's safe -- a secret safe -- when suddenly he
          realized that he didn't know the combination. His secretary was the only one
          who knew it, so he called her home and it turned out she had gone on a
          picnic up in the hills.
          While all this was going on, I asked, "Do you mind if I fiddle with the
          safe?"
          "Ha, ha, ha -- not at all!" So I went over to the safe and started t

    • by PPH (736903) on Wednesday June 06, 2012 @01:28PM (#40234737)

      Possibly someone like Klaus Fuchs [wikipedia.org]. Secrets are being leaked. Counter intelligence is certain to find out and come looking for an insider source. Better to divert attention towards a plausible suspect than have them spot you.

      Law enforcement (in general) seems to develop a theory of a crime and then go looking for supporting evidence rather than keeping an open mind. So if you give them a plausible hypothesis, they'll stop their wider investigation. Its an old trick and still works quite well.

    • 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 blueg3 (192743)

        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.

        His second wife. His first wife died of TB. His third marriage was happy and lasted until he died.

  • by T.E.D. (34228) on Wednesday June 06, 2012 @12:41PM (#40234089)
    Wouldn't a Theoretical Physicist (not under government contract) make a really crappy "sleeper agent"? When you activate him, what is he going to do, change Relativity?
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by DigiShaman (671371)

      Divulge nuclear secrets that would otherwise provide America an upper hand in the nuclear arms race. Essentially, something close to another Klaus Fuchs.

      • Re:Sleeper agent? (Score:4, Insightful)

        by Dexter Herbivore (1322345) on Wednesday June 06, 2012 @01:00PM (#40234339) Journal

        Divulge nuclear secrets that would otherwise provide America an upper hand in the nuclear arms race. Essentially, something close to another Klaus Fuchs.

        Alternatively, be in a position of trust to be able to recruit young and impressionable 'up and coming' physicists that might have better access to the current cutting edge military tech than he would have. The USSR already had most of the data from his generation, so using him to run a next generation network makes sense.

        • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

          by Anonymous Coward

          ...so using him to run a next generation network makes sense.

          Only on Slashdot would someone post this and get moderated Insightful. If you wonder where all the paranoid people on the interwebs hang out, you've come to the right place...

          • Just because you're paranoid doesn't mean you're wrong. The KGB/FSB had two deep cover agents living in Cambridge, MA, whose only job seemed to be to rub elbows with students and faculty at Harvard/Kennedy. They were arrested two years ago after spending most of the 90's and 00's making friends and influencing people.
            • by slew (2918)

              And then there was "sleeper" agent Anna Chapman... Hard to forget about that one ;^)

      • by T.E.D. (34228)
        But if he's not working under Government contract, he's going to do that anyway. They call it "publishing".
        • And the Government has a propensity for "publishing" bullets. It doesn't make it right, but it's been known to happen. And as they say "May you live in interesting times". Well, actually not. But you know what I mean.

    • by vlm (69642)

      The weird part of it is his life was much more classified when he was young. All his anecdotes about the Manhattan project, etc.
      Once he got older, there's not much he can do ... directly.

      On the other hand, numerous students of his probably went on to some interesting projects, and maybe he was politically advising them in addition to academically advising them...

    • He might have friends who are working for the government, and who might not suspect that a colleague would steal their papers.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      Wouldn't a Theoretical Physicist (not under government contract) make a really crappy "sleeper agent"? When you activate him, what is he going to do, change Relativity?

      Theoretically.

    • by tinkerton (199273)

      In any case since even Feynman himself didn't know he was a sleeper agent, the guys who were controlling him must have been pretty good.

  • More proof that if you have nothing to hide everything will be fine. Another success for team Freedom!imwatchingyou.

  • by Trepidity (597) <delirium-slashdot@@@hackish...org> on Wednesday June 06, 2012 @12:50PM (#40234191)

    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.

  • Today, the Gove will just put you on the "google Glass" beta test list, as a ubergeenerd you will wear them everywher in hopes of people oogling at you. yet you are feeding a steady feed back to CIA headquarters....

    "Anything new on subject 47?"

    "no sir, he made it to Moscow, but is spending all his time in the hotel room looking at Russian porn and it seems that he is shaking a lot."

    • I really want a Google Glass (on my RX glasses) setup just so I can take pictures in places people say i cant. Sorry Mr. Tour Guide, its a medical device.
    • A bit off topic, but when I saw the number 47, I immediately thought of a bald assassin.

  • Different era (Score:5, Insightful)

    by rbrander (73222) on Wednesday June 06, 2012 @01:02PM (#40234365) Homepage

    That was a whole different era; government was different, indeed, human nature was entirely different.

    There is NO chance of another generation looking back at all the surveillance of every Muslim community picnic and shake their heads in wonder at our paranoia. All of our investigations are justified and wise.

    • Re:Different era (Score:4, Insightful)

      by dkleinsc (563838) on Wednesday June 06, 2012 @01:09PM (#40234449) Homepage

      To quote from a previous generation's songwriter, Tom Paxton:

      I learned our government must be strong.
      It's always right and never wrong.
      Our leaders are the finest men.
      And we elect them again and again.
      That's what I learned in school today.
      That's what I learned in school.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      It was? Probably the name Qian Xuesen wont ring a bell, but in the madness of McCartismthey did a lot of funny things, from wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Qian_Xuesen):

      "During the 1940s Qian was one of the founders of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory[2] at the California Institute of Technology. During the Second Red Scare of the 1950s, the United States government accused Qian of having communist sympathies, and he was stripped of his security clearance[3] in 1950. Qian then decided to return to Chin

  • ... and very few typos or grammatical errors that I can spot. The author was obviously well educated and a good typist (albeit he had a crappy typewriter). Probably the Unibomber.
  • by WOOFYGOOFY (1334993) on Wednesday June 06, 2012 @01:08PM (#40234439)
    Just the right wing's way of saying- "thanks for saving us from Hitler, you crazy science guys!"
    • Oh and I forgot about Turing.. that's right.. fuckin' faggot... the conservatives gave him just what he deserves, eh?
    • by Asic Eng (193332)

      What did they do to Heisenberg? Looking over his bio it doesn't seem he suffered anything terrible after Germany's defeat, and had quite a decent career post-war.

      • Fuck I was thinking Oppenheimer and I type Heisenberg . I blame this on reading material before me at the time of typing. .
  • then the US certainly for the best end of that deal.

  • "What Do You Care What Other People Think?"

  • ...shows up in the heavily redacted original documents. It would be funny, if the writer wasn't so unintentionally creepy and didn't take himself so seriously. It has the hallmark of an individual totally incapable of self-reflection.

  • 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'.

  • If you're a bongo-playing genius, you are either a famous communist spy physicist or Maynard G. Krebs.
  • by cfulton (543949) on Wednesday June 06, 2012 @03:27PM (#40236215)
    A sleeper agent who had the time and smarts to develop quantum electrodynamics. What government would put a physicist capable of winning a Noble prize in another country as a sleeper agent? Surely the Russians (who love physics) would rather have him as their noble prize winning physicist than working as a double agent in America. That is just crazy.
    Are we sure the director of the FBI at the time wasn't some dress wearing conspiracy nut?

    Feynman has always been my favorite Nobel prize winner. This just takes him up a notch.
  • 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!"

You are in a maze of UUCP connections, all alike.

Working...