|Secrecy and Science
The vast majority of Pauling's work during World War II was classified under U.S.
and British anti-espionage laws. As a result, it was sometimes difficult for Pauling
and other scientists to communicate with one another and share ideas without breaking
certain OSRD-established regulations. Even more troublesome were the screening and
registration processes that were required when sending restricted information by mail.
Senders and recipients had to be authorized to handle said information, letters had
to be approved, and the sending and receipt of the items needed to be documented by
OSRD staff. In order to circumvent these cumbersome regulations, the OSRD-employed
scientists often exchanged letters alluding to but not directly referencing specific
projects. These documents read much like transcripts of conversations between savvy
criminals, often referencing "the project", "a known chemical", or in the more informal
letters, "the thing." One can read the occasional wink or smirk behind these letters
as the civilian scientists flouted strict government laws in favor of maintaining
the open, communal air of the American scientific collective.
In some cases, even reports to the OSRD were too important to contain specific details.
In one letter, Pauling references a "silver physical reagent," something he notes
that the Office of Censorship has some experience with. In fact, the fear of espionage
was so great that it sometimes boiled over into misplaced accusations and investigations.
In one case, a document relating to work done in the Caltech labs disappeared in transit
to an East Coast lab. Following several accusations from a military officer, the
missing document was located, having been misfiled at the recipient's office. Though
Pauling was not directly involved in the drama, as an Official Investigator at Caltech
he received several letters regarding the incident, one which hinted at suspicion
A portion of the documents housed in the Ava Helen and Linus Pauling Papers were,
at one time, registered as classified information by the United States government.
Though a large number of the World War II-era documents have been classified as "restricted",
"confidential" or "secret", the final classification denoting documents of highest
sensitivity, "top secret", cannot be found in the collection. It does not appear
that Pauling worked on any project termed "top secret" during his time with the NDRC
Among the most interesting secret documents in the Pauling collection is a series
of items relating to his work with invisible inks. The documents themselves, mostly
reports to the OSRD, are largely vague and offer little specific information. What
makes them interesting is the possibility that they may be closely related to some
of the oldest classified documents in the United States National Archive. The National
Archives currently hold six classified documents dating from 1917 - the time in which
Arthur Lamb, an associate of Pauling's, was first engaged in work with invisible ink - which
contain explicit information on invisible ink and a 1945 "Secret Ink Technical Manual."
While Pauling does not appear to have personally owned copies of any of these documents,
it is likely that through his work with Lamb, he may have been familiar with the contents
of the items from 1917 and may have contributed to the information compiled in the
While our knowledge of Pauling's work may today be in some ways limited by concerns
for national security, it is likely that the items held in the National Archives will
eventually be declassified, perhaps allowing us a better understanding of the role
that Pauling and his colleagues played in the outcome of World War II.
It should be noted that the Oregon State University Libraries Special Collections
has received explicit permission to make all documents in the Ava Helen and Linus
Pauling Papers with a classification level of "secret" or lower available to the public.