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From: Otis Willie
Subject: FBI Helped Britain Hide Cold War Security 'Error'
Organization: The American War Library
NNTP-Posting-Date: Sun, 21 Jul 2002 19:29:31 EDT
Date: Sun, 21 Jul 2002 23:29:31 GMT
FBI Helped Britain Hide Cold War Security 'Error'
(EXCERPT) Sat Jul 20, 7:28 PM ET, by Peter Graff
LONDON (Reuters) - British and U.S. officials deliberately covered up
an embarrassing Cold War error that led Britain to give security
clearance to a nuclear scientist who then defected to Russia, newly
released documents reveal.
British records show the FBI ( news - web sites) had warned Britain
that U.S. security agents had found Communist literature at the home
of Italian-born physicist Bruno Pontecorvo seven years before he
defected to the Soviet Union.
Pontecorvo worked at Britain's Harwell Atomic Research Center and fled
shortly after another Harwell physicist, Klaus Fuchs, confessed to
spying for the Soviets in one of the Cold War's great spy scandals.
The Fuchs case was hugely embarrassing to Britain and led to calls in
the United States to restrict nuclear cooperation between the allies
because of lax British security.
Pontecorvo's defection threatened to make that embarrassment far worse
but London and Washington succeeded in keeping the extent of the
British lapse a secret.
British officials publicly said they had done all the necessary checks
on Pontecorvo, that his record was clean and they had never had reason
to suspect him of being disloyal.
But documents released at Britain's Public Record Office this past
week showed U.S. security officials had told London about the
Communist literature in Pontecorvo's home in 1943.
A British account of the affair sent to the FBI acknowledged that "by
some organizational error" British security officials overlooked the
American warning when they gave Pontecorvo security clearance.
"We are unable to say why your reports were apparently not taken into
consideration," the British confessed in the account to the FBI.
Although American officials were aware of the blunder, they still
helped London conceal it, even agreeing to give deliberately
misleading testimony to Congress.
Aside from coming clean to the FBI, Britain sent a second account of
the affair to a senior U.S. nuclear official, R. Gordon Arneson, which
made no mention of the error.
Britain's ambassador to Washington, Oliver Franks, wrote back home to
London that the aim of sending the two versions was to allow Arneson
to provide information to Congress without revealing the embarrassing
British security lapse.
"The latter omits the paragraph dealing with the fact that in
February, 1943, the FBI sent a security memorandum to the British
Security Coordination stating that numerous pamphlets and books on
Communism had been found in Pontecorvo's residence," he wrote.
"It is naturally desirable that these facts should not become public,
and we believe the FBI will keep quiet about them if it can. As
Arneson wants to be in a position to show the letter we sent him on a
secret basis to members of the staff of the Joint Congressional
Committee, we omitted the paragraph in question in order to minimize a
Ambassador Franks said Arneson himself was aware of the British lapse,
but "if pressed on the subject of Pontecorvo's security status," he
planned to tell congressional staffers they should direct further
queries to the FBI.
Pontecorvo, a naturalized Canadian citizen living in England, vanished
while holidaying in Italy in 1950, flying with his Swedish wife and
children, first to Stockholm and then to Helsinki where he
Suspicions that he had defected to the Soviet Union were confirmed
when he surfaced in Moscow in 1955.
Pontecorvo later had a successful career as a nuclear scientist in the
Soviet Union, and died in 1993 at Dubna, the center of Russian nuclear
research near Moscow.
Historians are unsure whether he had spied for the Soviets or fled
because he feared he would be persecuted for his family's links to
Communism after the Fuchs case.
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