Hopkins Papers

The Director of the Office of Scientific Research and Development (Bush) to the President’s Special Assistant (Hopkins)1



Re: Interchange on S–1.

On March twenty-fourth the President passed me the accompanying file on interchange with the British on S–1,2 and instructed me to prepare a reply, undoubtedly by suggesting material for a reply to you, since the attached cables are marked for your attention.

There is no longer any assertion of breach of agreement. The objection of the British must hence be either to the adopted policy or to the way in which it is being applied. I have discussed this matter again with the Military Policy Committee on the subject, and briefly with Secretary Stimson. None of us can see that the present policy, which was approved by the President after it had had the careful review and approval of General Marshall, Secretary Stimson, and Vice President Wallace, is in any way unreasonable, or such as to impede the war effort on this matter. Neither can we see that the application is at present unwise. I believe, therefore, that it will be necessary to determine more explicitly why the British object, before any modification could be recommended. It is true, as indicated in the last paragraph of CCWD 1744,3 that a prompt resoultion of this matter is desirable. However, the present unwillingness of the British to conduct certain scientific interchange, to which we have invited them, merely means that our scientists do not have for the moment the benefit of their collaboration in the studies constantly being conducted. This is of much less importance than a clear understanding on a matter of the unique significance of this. I will therefore review the policy [Page 7] and its application, and I suggest that you request the British for explicit criticism.

The adopted policy is that information on this subject will be furnished to individuals, either in this country or Great Britain, who need it and can use it now in the furtherance of the war effort, but that, in the interests of security, information interchanged will be restricted to this definite objective.

There is nothing new or unusual in such a policy. It is applied generally to military matters in this country and elsewhere. To step beyond it would mean to furnish information on secret military matters to individuals who wish it either because of general interest or because of its application to non-war or post-war matters. To do so would decrease security without advancing the war effort.

The application of this principle is in no way unilateral. In applying the policy in this instance full over-all information has been withheld, for example, from our own Naval Research Laboratory. This has been done with the concurrence of appropriate Naval authority, and in spite of the fact that the Naval Research Laboratory would like to have full information. That laboratory, like other laboratories engaged on the subject, is furnished with all the technical information necessary for full progress on the part of the program which it is carrying forward. To go further would decrease security, and security on this subject is important. In this connection it should be remembered that the Naval Research Laboratory was engaged on aspects of this research very early, in fact I believe as early as any group anywhere, under the guidance of a special committee appointed by the President. This committee was reorganized under NDRC when the latter was formed.

This same policy is applied throughout the OSRD organization. The principle is that no individual receives secret information except as it is necessary for his proper functioning in connection with his assigned duties. It is used by the British themselves, and they occasionally ask us to apply special restrictions on information they furnish us, beyond current practice, when especially secret matters are involved.

I find it hard to believe, therefore, that the present British objection is to the policy. However, the last two paragraphs of CCWD 1807 Z4 are very pertinent in this connection. The first of these states the principle, and the second states that the application made is a logical result of the principle. It then goes on to say that this “destroys the original conception of ‘a coordinated or even jointly conducted [Page 8] effort between the two countries’.” If the application is logical, then the objection must be to the principle itself. To step beyond this principle would, however, involve giving information to those who could use it, not for the best prosecution of the war effort, but rather for other purposes, such as after-the-war commercial advantages.

I have to conclude, therefore, that the British objection arises because of our withholding information which they consider might be of value in connection with their post-war situation. If that is really their position, then presumably it should be duly considered in connection with the entire post-war relationship between the two countries. It should be considered on its merits, and in due perspective to other relations. To transmit such information for such a purpose would involve our giving to Great Britain information obtained by this country as a result of great expense and effort, and, while we freely transmit for the purpose of furthering our joint war effort, we can hardly give away the fruits of our development as a part of post-war planning except on the basis of some over-all agreement on that subject, which agreement does not now exist. The proper conduct of the secure development of a potentially important weapon should not be modified to produce this further result simply as an incident. In this connection I draw your attention to the enclosed memorandum by Dr. Conant.5

My recommendation, therefore, is that the reply to the appended telegrams should attempt to fix the issue upon this point, if this is indeed, as I am inclined to believe, the point which is primarily in the mind of the British, in order that it may be considered in due time in connection with the broad problem of post-war relationships.

Specific points of application of the principle other than this are not, I believe, prominently in the British mind. However, it will be well to review them briefly; for they are consistent with the policy, applicable without distinction to UK and US groups, and, I believe, reasonable, and adapted to best progress with due regard to security.

There has been, from the beginning, full scientific interchange wherever scientific groups are working, in the two countries, on the same aspect of the subject. This it is proposed to continue. Recent failure to do so has been due entirely to British refusal thus to collaborate, while a policy to which they object stands.

Thus, there is a group in Chicago working on one part of the program, and a group on the same phase is being formed in Canada. [Page 9] We proposed complete scientific interchange between these groups as far as scientific research is concerned, but not on the details of the manufacturing process which we alone are prepared to carry on. Similarly there are groups on the scientific aspects of diffusion, and we proposed continued interchange here on a similar basis.

On the other hand, we have long worked at California on an electromagnetic process, and the British have not worked along these lines. We see no need for furnishing them information on our scientific results on this phase. They do not, I feel, object. They could not use such information, and our scientific group on this phase is fully adequate, and now includes as many scientific men as should work on this phase, at the expense of other scientific phases of the war effort.

We propose shortly to gather a special scientific group at an isolated site to work on some of the phases involved in actual bomb construction. It is essential that this be kept from the enemy at all costs. It is exceedingly difficult in this field, where the general background was known to all sorts of scientists all over the world before the work was brought under control, to secure adequate secrecy. Hence we propose to isolate this group, by special measures, from the rest of the world, including the bulk of our own scientists and of British scientists. However, we are quite willing to invite a British scientist or two to join the group, and have so indicated, provided they will render themselves subject to the same rigid control, for a period which may be several years, as apply to the American scientists that we invite.

We are now erecting manufacturing plants. The information gathered in reducing the manufacture to practice will be extensive, and many inventions will result in patent applications assigned to the United States Government. This is being handled through American companies in which we have confidence. We do not propose to make these manufacturing plans available to any group, British or American, unless it is fully necessary thus to extend information in order to maintain full speed. British commercial interests would like to have these plans, and an account of the operations of plants. So would, undoubtedly, various American companies that are not bound under contract to extend patent rights to the U.S. Government on any invention made by them in this connection.

Finally, there is the matter of military use. This will not come into question for some time. If the war is not of long duration, if there is no danger that the method may be used against us with disastrous results, it may never come into question. When it does, there will undoubtedly be set up special military channels for appropriate [Page 10] consideration of strategy, tactics, and use. I feel sure there is no concern in the minds of the British on this point.

In conclusion, before making a final reply, it is my recommendation that you again state the case briefly, and inquire where the specific objection now rests.

V. Bush
  1. The source text is accompanied by the following handwritten note of March 31 from Bush to Hopkins: “Dear Harry—You will probably wish to confer on this, and Conant and I will stand by. V.B.”
  2. The file under reference apparently consisted of Churchill’s two telegrams of February 27, 1943, to Hopkins, ante, pp. 2 and 3, respectively.
  3. The reference is to Churchills’ first message of February 27, 1943, to Hopkins, ante, p. 2.
  4. Reference is to Churchill’s second message to Hopkins of February 27, ante, p. 3.
  5. The reference is presumably to a six-page memorandum from Conant to Bush, dated March 25, 1943, setting forth Conant’s thoughts concerning the correspondence between Roosevelt and Churchill on the question of American–British interchange on the atomic bomb project (Hopkins Papers). Conant’s views are reflected in the Bush memorandum printed here.