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Of Scientists and Spies | The Nation

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Of Scientists and Spies

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After thirty years spent building the Federation of American Scientists into one of the country's most valuable and venerable institutional voices for peace, democracy and real security, Jeremy Stone is leaving to create a new nonprofit called Catalytic Diplomacy. In his new capacity Stone will devote himself to providing countries with strategic advice on how to improve their security relations with the United States. Thirty years is certainly a long time to spend at any one job, and Stone, who turned 64 recently, says he has been itching to leave for more than a decade, and he is looking forward to new challenges unencumbered by the bureaucratic duties he shouldered at FAS. The organization's chairman, Carl Kaysen, adds, "Jeremy himself decided to retire. He reminded us that he had said five years earlier that he wanted to go. I did not resist that decision."

About the Author

Eric Alterman
Eric Alterman
Eric Alterman is a Distinguished Professor of English, Brooklyn College, City University of New York, and Professor of...

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If only that were all there is to the story. But about a year ago, Stone seems to have lost his head. In completing his memoir, Every Man Should Try (Public Affairs), he decided to include a late chapter--one he did not show to the book's pre-publication endorsers--accusing one of FAS's founders and most beloved members, MIT scientist Philip Morrison, of having spied for the Soviets during the Manhattan Project. (He referred to his one-time friend Morrison as "X" in his memoir but then named him when asked by William Broad for a New York Times article this past May.)

It is always sad to see a good man besmirch his own name by false accusation. It is particularly upsetting--and more than a little weird--to see it happen to one whose father, the late, great I.F. Stone, has been the posthumous subject of equally nefarious charges, all based on extremely thin evidence from the bowels of perhaps the most murderous organization in human history, the KGB [see Alterman, "Redbaiting Stone," July 20, 1998]. Make no mistake: Jeremy Stone is a very good man. During the past three decades he has worked tirelessly on a vast array of issues, from ballistic missile technology to the peace process in Cambodia, playing the role of a model citizen and public-spirited scientist. During that period, FAS has grown from a paper organization to a powerful and influential voice on all matters where science, peace, justice and security may be said to interact.

The details of Stone's accusation could hardly be more arcane or complex. They turn on the identity of a spy code-named "Perseus," "Pers" or "Percy," depending on the document, who may be a real person, a composite or a figment of a KGB propaganda exercise. "For many historians," Linda Rothstein observed in The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, "the underlying question behind the controversy is not 'Who is Perseus?' but 'Was there a Perseus?'" In fact, the remnants of the KGB have been engaged in a fight with the remnants of the Soviet atomic bomb project to claim credit, as one Izvestia reporter described it, "for a place on the Mount Olympus of history." The alleged scientist/spy may not exist at all.

But Stone decided he had found him. Morrison, who had been cited by Stone's organization in 1981 as "an intellectual and moral anchor of FAS for a third of the century," angrily denied the charge immediately, and Stone grudgingly accepted his denial. In fact, while Stone's "evidence" is shaky in the extreme--he inexplicably construes a generic quote from the alleged Perseus as Morrison's "thumbprint"--Morrison happily points out that in the key KGB-authored document upon which Stone relies, Perseus is described as a veteran of the Spanish Civil War whose parents are from New York. Morrison's parents never lived in New York, and he could hardly have served in Spain, being afflicted with polio.

At first the gray eminences at FAS hoped the incident would just go away. Frank von Hippel, chairman of the FAS Fund, told me, "We thought we could ride this out with Jeremy's apology." But he soon discovered "continuing unhappiness among the older and senior people associated with the FAS." Numerous scientists, funders, friends and colleagues of Morrison wanted a public rebuke of its president. Historian and FAS secretary Priscilla McMillan declared the accusation "a smear in search of a crime, a criminal and some evidence." Ironically, McMillan had worked with Stone to clear the names of atomic scientists Robert Oppenheimer, Enrico Fermi and Niels Bohr from a similarly slipshod accusation by KGB man Pavel Sudoplatov, along with Jerrold and Leona Schecter, that Time magazine and the MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour foolishly trumpeted in 1994. (It was this false accusation, Stone explains in his memoir, that inspired his thinking about the spy's identity in the first place.)

But it was Stone himself who refused to let the issue die. Even after his departure from FAS had been announced and his new organization had begun--he is currently working half time for each--Stone returned to an FAS executive committee meeting in November, accompanied by his lawyer, former Arms Control and Disarmament Agency director Paul Warnke, and stunned everyone by repeating his accusation. According to one witness, Stone announced, "I don't believe my own retraction, and I think history will prove me right."

When I bring up the November meeting with von Hippel, who, like Kaysen and Stone himself, had been portraying the departure as entirely amicable, his voice drops a few decibels. "I had hoped that would not come out," he admits. Stone's decision to reopen the matter, says von Hippel, was "just crazy and very counterproductive. And if there is any chance that there will be a recurrence [of the charges], people will be relieved if it happened after he left FAS."

Morrison, meanwhile, was initially furious at having to spend so much time defending his good name against the accusations of a good friend. Now he says he is worried that Stone may be heading toward an emotional breakdown. "He simply has an obsession that he cannot shake," says Morrison. "It is a great pity," the 84-year-old astrophysicist adds. "Jeremy has done great things."

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