At the April 2008 meeting of the American Physical Society I delivered a paper about information received by British intelligence, MI6, during World War II that Germany had given up on building an atomic bomb. (See summary
The principal informant, according to the book The Griffin
by Arnold Kramish, was the German science editor Paul Rosbaud. His role was confirmed and praised by Samuel Goudsmit, the scientific head of the American ALSOS mission in Germany during the last months of the war, and by the British wartime intelligence officer, physicist R. V. Jones. While there is good evidence that Rosbaud’s revelation came in 1942, official confirmation and details are still being kept secret by MI6, the British intelligence-gathering agency—as is any disclosure of what was done with the information.
I reported that Rosbaud’s nephew, Dr. Vincent Frank-Steiner, had filed a complaint in a British court requesting MI6 to confirm (or deny) that a file exists and to put the content in the public domain. Frank-Steiner’s nattorneys argued that the family had a right to this knowledge and that—more than 60 years after the war’s end—the material cannot be properly withheld. The lawyer for MI6 responded that the agency never releases any information unless it furthers British national interests.
At the time of my presentation, I was not aware that a decision had actually been rendered a week earlier. Following a closed hearing on 4 April 2008, at which only MI6 and its lawyers were present, the Court rejected the complaint in a one-line decision that gave no reason. The dismissal had been foreshadowed in a finding on February 26 that held it was proper for MI6 neither to confirm nor deny that such a file exists, whether or not it does. The ruling cannot be appealed in court.
Even if the timely knowledge that Germany was not in fact building an atomic bomb would not have deterred the Anglo-American Manhattan Project, official confirmation of who knew what and when—and the disclosure of how British intelligence handled the information—is of substantial historical and public interest. Members of the Forum and historians in general may therefore wish to consider what they might do to help obtain release of this information. As David Cassidy reported in his introduction to Hitler’s Uranium Club: The Secret Recordings at Farm Hall
, by Jeremy Bernstein, it took the concerted and energetic action of British scientists and historians to obtain the 1992 release of the until-then secret records of the surreptitiously recorded conversations of interned German nuclear scientists.
A similar initiative, joined by American (and other) historians, could again lead to a positive result. Anyone who wishes to comment on this letter or who has a suggestion about how to proceed to try to obtain release of the Rosbaud file can contact me by email at email@example.com
, or by writing me at 304 Chula Vista Street, Santa Fe, NM 87501.
—Harry Lustig, Santa Fe, NM
Note Added: This article represents the views of the author, which are not necessarily those of the FHP or APS.