The Wallace debacle in the 1948 election showed that the political middle in America
was shifting to the right, away from FDR’s legacy, away from world cooperation and
social liberalism, and toward a more militant anti-Communism. While FDR was alive,
Pauling would have been considered a fairly typical New Dealer, perhaps to the left
end of the Party, but in step with millions of others. Now Pauling found himself increasingly
isolated on what was becoming the far left fringe. Fear was driving politics. But
Pauling continued to speak out for hope, assailing atomic weapon development, arguing
for world cooperation, and critiquing government programs like the loyalty oaths that
he saw threatening freedom of expression. He was a brave man. He was also about to
be taught a lesson.
Late in 1947, the FBI, its files fattened with material from the Tenney Committee
in California, reviewed Pauling’s group affiliations and tagged him for further investigation.
J. Edgar Hoover himself looked at Pauling’s file. But further action was hamstrung
by a simple fact: Pauling was not a government employee. He worked for a private university,
using privately donated research moneys. Government employees were subject to government
investigation. Private citizens made far less easy targets. On a trip to England in
1948, Pauling was approached by a representative of the Assistant Naval Attaché for
Research, who asked him if he might do a small service for his country by letting
the Navy know his impressions of the laboratories he visited, nothing that would break
confidences, just general observations of the state of British science. For this service,
the government would pay him fifty dollars per day. Pauling agreed, signed a contract
-- and immediately became subject to the federal loyalty program. The FBI started
investigating in earnest.