In the Matter of J. Robert Oppenheimer
The "Chevalier incident"
(Page references to the transcript of the Personnel Security Board hearing appear
in parentheses in the text.)
Sometime in January or February of 1943, Haakon Chevalier and his wife had dinner
with Oppenheimer and his wife at the Oppenheimer's home in Berkeley. Oppenheimer
and Chevalier were alone in the kitchen mixing drinks, and Chevalier apparently
mentioned off-handedly that a man named George Eltenton, whom they both knew and
who worked for the Shell Development Corporation in Berkeley, had told him that
he had means of getting technical information to the Russians. Oppenheimer reacted
strongly and said that he would have no part in this. The matter dropped, but Oppenheimer
did not mention the conversation to the security officers until eight months later,
and when he did, he lied about it. These lies some would later interpret as evidence
of "fundamental defects of character."
The "Chevalier incident" first came to light in August 1943, after a meeting in
Los Alamos with Col. John Lansdale, the security aide to Gen. Leslie Groves, who
was in charge of the Manhattan Project. Lansdale was worried about espionage in
Berkeley, and in particular about a recently-formed union called FAECT -- the Federation
of Architects, Engineers, Chemists, and Technicians. Oppenheimer knew that George
Eltenton was active in the union, and so on August 25 he told Lt. Lyall Johnson,
the security officer in Berkeley, that Eltenton was worth watching. Johnson suggested
that Oppenheimer should explain the matter to Lt. Col. Boris Pash, and so the next
day Oppenheimer and Johnson met in Pash's office. Unknown to Oppenheimer, the interview
Pash explained that he was concerned about groups that might be after secret information
at Berkeley's Radiation Laboratory. Oppenheimer said that he understood that "a
man, whose name I never heard, who was attached to the Soviet consul, had indicated
indirectly through intermediary people concerned in this project that he was in
a position to transmit, without any danger of leak, or scandal, or anything of that
kind, information, which they might supply" (Transcript, p. 845). Pash was understandably
very interested, and pressed Oppenheimer for more information. Oppenheimer was reluctant
to mention the "intermediary people" he had fabricated: "to give more than one name
would be to implicate people whose attitude was one of bewilderment rather than
cooperation" (845). But he did mention Eltenton: "There is a man whose name was
mentioned to me a couple of times -- I don't know of my own knowledge that he was
involved as an intermediary. It seems, however, not impossible and if you wanted
to watch him it might be the appropriate thing to do. He spent quite a number of
years in the Soviet Union. He's an English... I think he's a chemical engineer.
He was -- he may not be here now -- at the time I was with him here, employed by
the Shell development. His name is Eltenton" (846). It was Eltenton who had "talked
to a friend of his who is also an acquaintance of one of the men on the project,
and that was one of the channels by which this thing went. Now I think that to go
beyond that would be to put a lot of names down, of people who are not only innocent
but whose attitude was 100-percent cooperative" (845-46).
Obviously this raised red flags for Pash -- it was important to know the identities
of both the "friend of [Eltenton's] and the "one of the men on the project" with whom
he was acquainted -- but Oppenheimer refused to identify them. He did, however, further
embellish the story: Eltenton knew "a man from the embassy attached to the consulate
who was a very reliable guy (that's his story) and who had a lot of experience in
mcrofilm work, or whatever the hell" (846). Pash pressed Oppenheimer for the identity
of the person through whom Eltenton had made this contact, but Oppenheimer refused:
"I think it would be a mistake. That is, I think I have told you where the initiative
came from and that the other things were almost purely accident and that it would involve
people who ought not to be involved in this" (846). He did reveal, however, that Eltenton's
intermediary was "a member of the faculty" (847). Pash, understandably, wasn't satisfied,
and kept pressing: "I want to again sort of explore the possibility of getting the
name of the person on the faculty... Not for the purpose of taking him to task in
any way... but to try to see Eltenton's method of approach" (847). Oppenheimer further
embellished his account: Eltenton's intermediary had approached three people, two
at Los Alamos and one at Berkeley who was slated to join the Oak Ridge laboratory
(848). The interview ended with a frustrated Pash complaining about Oppenheimer's
unwillingness to cooperate: "We could work a hundred years and never get this information"
The head of security at Los Alamos, Capt. Peer de Silva, interpreted Oppenheimer's
reluctance to identify the other parties as evidence "that J.R. Oppenheimer is playing
a key part in the attempts of the Soviet Union to secure, by espionage, highly secret
information which is vital to the security of the United States." A few weeks later,
Oppenheimer, Groves, and Lansdale were together for a sixteen-hour train ride to
Chicago. They discussed the interview with Pash, and Oppenheimer tried to explain
his reluctance to reveal the identity of Eltenton's intermediary but said that he
would if Groves ordered him to do so. Groves did not press the matter.
Lansdale returned to Washington, but during Oppenheimer's next visit he asked to
talk with him, and on September 12 they met in Groves' office for another interview
about the Chevalier incident. Once again, unknown to Oppenheimer, the interview
was recorded. Lansdale wanted to know the identity of the man whom Eltenton had
contacted. Again Oppenheimer refused: he had given the important name (Eltenton);
and "it would be wrong" for him to give the intermediary's name: "It's my overwhelming
judgment that this guy isn't involved. That isn't judgment which is based on hope
but his character" (875). Lansdale altered his course. Could Oppenheimer say which
people working on the project were current or past members of the Communist Party?
Oppenheimer could name several people who had been members: Joseph Weinberg and
Rossi Lomanitz (his students); Charlotte Serber (the wife of a good friend and fellow
Los Alamos physicist); Oppenheimer's wife Kitty. Lansdale then asked about various
others: Rudy Lambert, Steve Nelson, Isaac Folkoff (all known Communists with whom
Oppenheimer had had "associations" in the early 1940s); Jean Tatlock (Oppenheimer's
former fiancee). Lansdale asked, "What about Haakon Chevalier?" Oppenheimer parried,
"Is he a member of the party? ... He is a member of the faculty, and I know him
well. I wouldn't be surprised if he were a member, he is quite a Red" (877). When
Lansdale asked again later in the interview for the name of Eltenton's intermediary,
Oppenheimer put him off yet again: "It is a question of some past loyalties... I
would regard it as a low trick to involve someone where I would bet dollars to doughnuts
he wasn't involved" (886).
Oppenheimer's evasive stonewalling understandably frustrated the security officers,
and on September 12 Groves ordered Oppenheimer to reveal the identity of Eltenton's
intermediary. Oppenheimer identified Haakon Chevalier as the unknown member of the
faculty. But did Oppenheimer identify himself as the person Chevalier had approached?
And what about the three people Oppenheimer had mentioned to Boris Pash?
Oppenheimer's recollection, set out in the hearing (889), was that
When I did identify Chevalier, which was to General Groves, I told him of course
that there were no [sic] three people, that this had occurred in our house, that
this was me.
Oppenheimer asserts that he told Groves
(a) that Chevalier was the intermediary,
(b) that he, Oppenheimer, was the person Chevalier had approached, and
(c) that there were no other approaches --
in other words, that he had retracted all of the significant lies he'd told when
reporting the Chevalier incident to Pash and Lansdale. But telegrams sent to the
security offices of the Manhattan Project suggest otherwise:
LANSDALE ADVISES THAT ACCORDING TO OPPENHEIMER PROFESSOR CONTACT OF ELTENTON IS
HAAKON CHEVALIER. OPPENHEIMER STATES IN HIS OPINION CHEVALIER ENGAGED IN NO FURTHER
ACTIVITY OTHER THAN THREE ORIGINAL ATTEMPTS. (K.D. Nichols to Lyall Johnson in Berkeley)
HAAKON CHEVALIER TO BE REPORTED BY OPPENHEIMER TO BE PROFESSOR AT RADLAB WHO MADE
THREE CONTACTS FOR ELTENTON. CLASSIFIED SECRET. OPPENHEIMER BELIEVED CHEVALIER ENGAGED
IN NO FURTHER ACTIVITY OTHER THAN THREE ORIGINAL ATTEMPTS (Nichols to de Silva in
ACCORDING TO OPPENHEIMER PROFESSOR CONTACT OF ELTENTON IS HAAKON CHEVALIER. OPPY
STATES IN HIS OPINION BEYOND ORIGINAL THREE ATTEMPTS CHEVALIER ENGAGED IN NO FURTHER
ACTIVITY. FROM LANSDALE. DE SILVA AND JOHNSON TO BE NOTIFIED BY YOU. (Nichols to
Oak Ridge security office)
These telegrams must have originated with Groves, and they suggest that Oppenheimer's
account of his interview with Groves is mistaken at best, and dishonest at worst.
He may have identified Chevalier (a), but Groves and Nichols and the security officers
still had to worry about the three attempts made to get information from people on
A few years later, in June 1946, Chevalier was interviewed at length -- for ten
hours! -- in the San Francisco office of the FBI. The agents began by asking about
George Eltenton. Then they asked about Robert Oppenheimer. Then, according to Chevalier,
one the agents told him, "I have here three affadavits from three scientists on
the atomic bomb project. Each of them testifies that you approached him on three
separate occasions for the purposes of obtaining secret information on the atomic
bomb on behalf of Russian agents." Chevalier asked who these three people were,
but he was not told. Confused and frightened, he told the agents about his conversation
in Oppenheimer's kitchen in 1943.
Chevalier recalled that the telephone rang repeatedly during his interview. Some
time later he ran into George Eltenton and mentioned that he had been interviewed
by the FBI. Eltenton had, too -- and they figured out that their interviews were
at the same time. Eltenton also recalled repeated telephone interruptions, and he
and Chevalier concluded that the agents were checking their accounts, looking for
inconsistencies. Both men wondered how the FBI had learned of the matter.
Oppenheimer was questioned by the FBI a few months later, on September 5. In the
course of this interview he made it clear that the business of three attempts was
a fabrication, and that he had been the only person Chevalier had approached. The
agents also asked him about a couple pre-war meetings in San Francisco -- could
he identify people who had attended, could he tell the purpose of the meetings,
etc. Oppenheimer refused to answer these questions, and the agents did not press
Oppenheimer's behavior in the Chevalier incident is stupidly dishonest, and there
is certainly no plausible reading of it that doesn't make him look very bad. So
it is not surprising that it looms large in the case against him. Consider this
exchange between the AEC's attorney, Roger Robb, and Oppenheimer on Wednesday, April
14, the third day of the hearing (137-38):
Q: Now, let us go back to your interview with Colonel Pash. Did you tell Pash the
truth about this thing?
Q: You lied to him?
Q: What did you tell Pash that wasn't true?
A: That Eltenton had attempted to approach members of the project -- three members
of the project -- through intermediaries.
Q: What else did you tell him that wasn't true?
A: That is all I really remember...
Q: So that we may be clear, did you discuss with or disclose to Pash the identity
Q: Let us refer, then, for the time being, to Chevalier as X.
A: All right.
Q: Did you tell Pash that X had approached three persons on the project?
A: I am not clear whether I said there were 3 Xs or that X approached 3 people.
Q: Didn't you say that X had approached three people?
Q: Why did you do that, Doctor?
A: Because I was an idiot.
Q: Is that your only explanation, Doctor?
A: I was reluctant to mention Chevalier.
A: No doubt somewhat reluctant to mention myself.
Q: Yes. But why would you tell him that Chevalier had gone to 3 people?
A: I have no explanation for that except the one already offered.
Q: Didn't that make it all the worse for Chevalier?
A: I didn't mention Chevalier.
Q: No, but X.
A: It would have.
Q: Certainly. In other words, if X had gone to 3 people that would have shown, would
A: That he was deeply involved.
Q: That he was deeply involved. That it was not just a casual conversation.
Q: And you knew that, didn't you?
Robb returns again and again to the Chevalier incident in his cross-examination
of Oppenheimer, and from various angles he elicits the admission that Oppenheimer
lied (about the three contacts, about microfilm, about the Soviet Consulate, etc.),
and Oppenheimer several times admits that "This whole thing was a pure fabrication
except for the name Eltenton" (146), "This whole thing, except for the single reference
to Eltenton I believe to be pure fabrication" (147). Later in the cross-examination:
Q: Why did you go into such great circumstantial detail about this thing if you
were telling a cock and bull story?
A: I fear that this whole thing is a piece of idiocy. I am afraid I can't explain
why there was a consul, why there was microfilm, why there were three people on
the project, why two of them were at Los Alamos. All of them seems wholly false
to me [sic].
Q: You will agree, would you not, sir, that if the story you told to Colonel Pash
was true, it made things look very bad for Mr. Chevalier?
A: For anyone involved in it, yes.
Q: Including you?
Q: Isn't it a fair statement today, Dr. Oppenheimer, that according to your testimony
now you told not one lie to Colonel Pash, but a whole fabrication and tissue of
Q: In great circumstantial detail, is that correct?
That phrase, "a whole fabrication and tissue of lies," would be repeated many times
throughout the hearings, often in devious ways. Consider this exchange between Robb
and witness Gordon Dean, an AEC Commissioner from 1949-1953, who had testified that
Oppenheimer "is not a security risk" (308):
Q: Mr. Dean, Dr. Oppenheimer has testified before this board in substance that in
1943 he became aware of an attempt at Russian espionage against the atomic bomb
project. He has further testified that when interviewed about this matter by intelligence
officers of the United States Army, he told these officers a fabrication and tissue
of lies. He has also testified --
A: May I ask, are you quoting from some testimony?
At this point Oppenheimer's attorney Lloyd Garrison objects -- "the question gives
an utterly false summation of what actually happened in the total Chevalier incident"
-- but Robb is undaunted:
Mr. ROBB: Mr. Chairman, there is not the slightest doubt that Mr. Oppenheimer did
testify that he lied to Colonel Pash and Colonel Lansdale, not once, but many times,
and that his statements to those officers consituted a fabrication and tissue of
lies, and he knew when he was lying, that he was impeding the investigation in progress.
There is no question in the world that the record shows that.
Mr. GARRISON: Mr. Chairman, this whole business of the so-called lies over and over
again was in fact nothing but one story. He told this story to Colonel Pash. He
told part of it, that we have reference to here, to Colonel Lansdale. By breaking
up the component parts of that story into separate questions, counsel in his cross-examination
made this appear as if one lie after another had been told.
It lies heavy on my conscience that I did not at the time object to the impression
that was trying to be conveyed to the board of a whole series of lies when in fact
there was one story which was told.
After further discussion, Robb returns to his cross-examination of Dean:
Q: Mr. Dean, I am going to ask you to assume that Dr. Oppenheimer testified before
this board that in 1943 he became aware of an attempt at Russian espionage against
the atomic energy project, and assume that he further testified that when interviewed
about this matter by intelligence officers of the United States Army, he told these
officers a fabrication and tissue of lies, and assume that he further testified
that when he told these lies, he knew that by telling them, he was impeding the
investigation of Russian espionage.
Now, if Dr. Oppenheimer so testified in substance, would that cause you to change
your opinion of him?
A: As a security risk, then, or a security risk today?
A: None. There must have been some reason for it.
Several witnesses who know Oppenheimer well react this way to the Chevalier incident.
Consider this exchange between Gordon Gray and Isidore Rabi, who had known Oppenheimer
since the late 1920s when they were students in Germany, and who at the time of
the hearing was the chairman of the AEC's General Advisory Committee (465):
Mr. GRAY: You are familiar, if you have read the Nichols letter and read the summary
of a file which Chariman Strauss handed you, with the Chevalier episode to some
extent, I take it.
The WITNESS: I know of the episode, yes.
Mr. GRAY: Would you expect Dr. Oppenheimer today to follow the course of action
he followed at the time in 1943?
The WITNESS: You mean refuse to give information? Is that what you mean?
Mr. GRAY: Yes.
The WITNESS: I certainly do. At the present time I think he would clamp him into
jail if he asked such a question.
Mr. GRAY: I am sorry.
The WITNESS: At the present time if a man came to him with a proposal like that,
he would see to it that he goes to jail. At least that is my opinion of what he
would do in answer to this hypothetical question.
Mr. GRAY: Do you feel that security is relative, that something that was all right
in 1943, would not be all right in 1954?
The WITNESS: If a man in 1954 came with such a proposal, my God -- it would be horrifying.
Mr. GRAY: Supposing a man came to you in 1943.
The WITNESS: I would have thrown him out.
Mr. GRAY: Would you have done anything more about it?
The WITNESS: I don't think so. Unless I thought he was just a poor jackass that
didn't know what he was doing. But I would try to find out what motivated him and
what was behind it...
Mr. GRAY: There have been those who have testified, men of character and standing
and loyalty, that this episode shouild simply be disregarded... Do you feel that
this is just a matter that is of no consequence?
The WITNESS: I do not think any of it is of no consequence. I think you have to
take the matter in its whole context...
Rabi was a close friend, and so perhaps his willingness to cut Oppenheimer some
slack can be attributed to his friendship with him. The same could not be said of
John von Neumann, a mathematician at the Institute of Advanced Study and a staunch
foe of Oppenheimer's on the hydrogen bomb. Consider this excerpt of Robb's cross-examination
Q: I want you to assume now, Dr. von Neumann, that Dr. Oppenheimer reported and
discussed this incident with two security officers, one named Colonel Pash and one
named Colonel Lansdale, and will you please assume that Dr. Oppenheimer has testified
before the board that the story of the Chevalier incident which he told to Colonel
Pash on August 26, 1943, and affirmed to Colonel Lansdale on September 12, 1943
was false in certain material respects.
Assume that he has testified here that the story he told to Pash and Lansdale was
a cock and bull story, that the whole thing was a pure fabrication, except for the
one name Eltenton; that he told a story in great detail that was fabricated, that
he told not one lie but a whole fabrication and tissue of lies in great circumstantial
Assume that he has further testified here that his only explanation for lying was
that he was an idiot, and that he was reluctant to name Dr. Chevalier and no doubt
somewhat reluctant to name himself.
Assume that he has further testified here that if the story he told to Colonel Pash
had been true, that it showed that Dr. Chevalier was deeply involved in a conspiracy;
that the conversation or the remarks of Dr. Chevalier were not just a casual conversation
and it was not just an innocent contact, but that it was a criminal conspiracy on
the part of Dr. Chevalier.
Assume that he testified further that if the story that Dr. Oppenheimer told to
Colonel Pash was true -- if it was true -- then it made things look very bad for
both Dr. Chevalier and Dr. Oppenheimer.
At this point Garrison objects to Robb's characterization of the testimony: "I want
it clearly understood that the question that was put involved asking the witness
[whether] if the false story which he had been told had been true, there would have
been a criminal conspiracy, and make it clear that even if the false story was true
there was no suggestion by Dr. Oppenheimer that he was involved in espionage" (648-49).
Mr. ROBB: Dr. von Neumann, my question is, assuming that Dr. Oppenheimer testified
before this board as I have indicated to you, would that shake your confidence in
Von Neumann, unsure of the question, asks about the upshot of Robb's summation of
The WITNESS: In other words, the hypothetical testimony is that his conduct was
first of all due to a desire to make things easier for Chevalier and possibly for
himself, but on the other hand, it actually made it much worse. Is this the idea?
Q: I think it is clear to say that part of the assumption is that Dr. Oppenheimer
testified that one of his explanations for this conduct was that he was reluctant
to mention Dr. Chevalier and somewhat reluctant to mention himself.
A: But at the same time, he now realized that his statements if true would actually
be much worse for Chevalier.
Q: I think that is a fair statement, yes, sir.
A: So this was an attempt to achieve something of which it actually achieved the
opposite, is that the idea?
Q: That might be inferred, yes.
A: Look, you have to view the performance and the character of a man as a whole.
This episode, if true, would make me think that in the course of the year 1943...
he was not emotionally and intellectually prepared to handle this kind of job; that
he subsequently learned how to handle it, and handled it very well, I know. I would
say that all of us in the war years, and by all of us I mean all people in scientific
technical occupations, got suddenly in contact with a universe we had not known
before. I mean this peculiar problem of security, the fact that people who looked
all right might be conspirators and might be spies. They are all things which do
not enter one's normal experience in ordinary times. While we are now most of us
quite prepared to discover such things in our entourage, we were not prepared to
discover these things in 1943. So I must say that this had on anyone a shock effect,
and any one of us may have behaved foolishly and ineffectively and untruthfully,
so this condition is something ten years later, I would not consider too serious.
This would affect me the same way as if I would suddenly hear about somebody that
he has had some extraordinary escapade in his adolescence.
I know that neither of us were adolescents at the time, but of course we were all
little children with respect to the situation which had developed, namely, that
we suddenly were dealing with something with which one could blow up the world.
Furthermore, we were involved in a triangular war with two of our enemies who had
suddenly done the nice thing of fighting each other. But after all, they were still
enemies. This was a very peculiar situation. None of us had been educated or conditioned
to exist in this situation, and we had to make our rationalization and our code
of conduct as we went along.
For some people it took 2 months, for some 2 years, and for some 1 year. I am quite
sure that all of us by now have developed the necessary code of ethics and the necessary
So if this story is true, that would just give me a piece of information on how
long it took Dr. Oppenheimer to get adjusted to this Buck Rogers universe, but no
more. I have no slightest doubt that he was not adjusted to it in 1944 or 1945 [sic].
Robb and Garrison spar repeatedly over Robb's presentation to witnesses of Oppenheimer's
testimony about the Chevalier incident. For example, in his cross-examination of
Air Force General James McCormack, he asks,
I will ask you to assume that when questioned before this board about [the Chevalier
affair] and his interview with Colonel Pash, he was asked if he lied to Pash and
he said yes. When asked why he did that he said "Because I was an idiot." He said
"I was also reluctant to mention Chevalier" and somewhat reluctant to mention himself...
Assume further that he was asked whether or not if the story he told to Colonel
Pash had been true, it would have shown that both Dr. Oppenheimer and Chevalier
were deeply involved in an espionage conspiracy. He agreed that was so. (638)
Garrison objects: "Mr. Chairman, he [Oppenheimer] said that the story was an invention,
and the implication here to the witness is that he lied about something which would
have implicated him in espionage" (639). In other words, as Oppenheimer has said several times,
the whole story, other than the name Eltenton, was made up -- there was no attempt at
espionage; Oppenheimer was not involved in such an attempt, and neither was Chevalier.
But it is in Gordon Gray's questioning of Oppenheimer that the really damaging interpretation
of the Chevalier incident comes out (887-88):
Q: You said that Chevalier was your friend in whom you had confidence, and that
you were convinced that his remarks about passing information to the Russians were
innocent. For these reasons, you testified, it did not occur to you for a long time
that you should report this incident to the security officers, and when you did
tell them about it, you declined to name Chevalier, because you were convinced that
he was innocent, and in effect wanted to protect him from the harrassment of an
investigation because of your belief in his innocence.
You testified on the other hand that the story of the Chevalier incident which you
told to Colonel Pash in August 1943, and reaffirmed to Colonel Lansdale in September
1943, was false in certain material respects. I believe you testified that this
story was a cock and bull story, and that the whole thing was a pure fabrication
except for the name Eltenton, and that this fabrication was in some very considerable
circumstantial detail, and your testimony here as to your explanation for this fabrication
was that you were an idiot, and that you were reluctant to mention Chevalier and
no doubt somewhat reluctant to mention yourself.
However, I believe that your testimony indicated that you were agreed that if the
story you had told Pash had been true, it showed that Chevalier was deeply involved,
that it was not just a casual conversation, that it would not under those circumstances
just have been an innocent and meaningless contact, and that it was a criminal conspiracy.
In short, with respect to that portion of your testimony I believe you led the board
to believe that you thought that if your story to Colonel Pash had been true it
looked like a very unsavory situation, to say the very best about it.
Now, here is my question: If Chevalier was your friend and you believed him to be
innocent and wanted to protect him, then why did you tell a complicated false story
that on the face of it would show that the individual was not innocent, but on the
contrary, was rather deeply involved with several people in what might have been
a criminal espionage conspiracy?
Or to put the question in another way, I ask you whether it is not a fair inference
from your testimony that your story to Pash and Lansdale as far as it went was a
true story, and that the fabrication may have been with respect to the current version.
In other words, Gray wonders, perhaps Oppenheimer is lying now -- trying to protect
himself and Chevalier -- and that the story he told to Pash and Lansdale was the
truth. Oppenheimer tries to explain:
A: Let me take the second part of your question first.
A: The story I told to Pash was not a true story. There were not three or more people
involved on the project. There was one person involved. That was me. I was at Los
Alamos. There was no one else at Los Alamos involved. There was no one at Berkeley
involved. When I heard the microfilm or what the hell, it didn't sound to me as
to this [sic] were reporting anything that Chevalier had said, or at the time the unknown
professor had said. I am certain that was not mentioned. I testified that the Soviet
consulate had not been mentioned by Chevalier. That is the very best of my recollection.
It is conceivable that I knew of Eltenton's connection with the consulate, but I
believe I can do no more than say the story told in circumstantial detail, and which
was elicited from me in greater and greater detail during this [hearing] was a false
story. It is not easy to say that.
Now, when you ask for a more persuasive argument as to why I did this than that
I was an idiot, I am going to have more trouble being understandable.
I think I was compelled by 2 or 3 concerns at that time. One was the feeling that
I must get across the fact that if there was, as Lansdale indicated, trouble at
the Radiation Laboratory, Eltenton was the guy that might very well be involved
and it was serious. Whether I embroidered the story in order to underline that seriousness
or whether I embroidered it to make it more tolerable that I would not tell the
simple facts, namely, Chevalier had talked to me about it, I don't know. There were
no other people involved, the conversation with Chevalier was brief, it was in the
nature of things not utterly casual, but I think the tone of it and his own sense
of not wishing to have anything to do with it, I have correctly communicated.
I think I need to say that it was essential that I tell this story, that I should
have told it at once and I should have told it completely accurately, but that it
was a matter of conflict for me and I found myself, I believe, trying to give a
tip to the intelligence people without realizing that when you give a tip you must
tell the whole story. When I was asked to elaborate, I started off on a false pattern...
Q: Of course, the point I am trying to make with you, and that is the reason for
the question I asked, is the inference to be drawn from your motive at the time,
as I think you have testified, was the protection of an innocent person, because
the story you told was certainly not calculated to lead to the conclusion of innocence
on Chevalier's part. These inferences necessarily present themselves. (888)
The inference that perhaps Oppenheimer was telling the truth in his 1943 version
of the Chevalier incident, and that his subsequent accounts (1946 and now 1954)
are false, did not surface in the findings and recommendations of the Gray board.
But it did figure in the the "Recommendations" sent by General Manager Kenneth D.
Nichols to the five AEC Commissioners, and in the Commissioners' majority decision.