Security Clearance Denial

A Look Back in History on a 1954 Security Clearance Revocation

I thought we would take a step back in time and take a look at a security clearance denial case that occurred in 1954. Most people have heard of Robert Oppenheimer, world renowned physicist and his contribution to science. What may be less known is he was accused of disloyalty and being a national security risk by the McCarthy Administration due to having Communist acquaintances, as well as his opposition to the development of the hydrogen bomb. Despite having worked for the U.S. Government as an advisor for the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) for 11 years prior to this, the AEC chose to revoke his security clearance in June of 1954 based on unfounded accusations of being of low moral character and beyond tolerable limits in regard to having Communist friends and acquaintances.

The Federation of American Scientists, which included Albert Einstein, were outraged and protested the AEC’s decision. Although his clearance was never reinstated, Oppenheimer continued on in the field of physics, served as the Director of the Institute of Advanced Study at Princeton, and was awarded the AEC’s Enrico Fermi Award by President Lyndon Johnson in 1963. Back then it was a lot easier to deny a clearance based not on facts, but on purported conduct and character. These days there has to be facts to back up disqualifying factors. Using current adjudicative guidelines this case would have fallen under Guideline B: Foreign Influence and Guideline E: Personal Conduct.

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