Atomic Energy Files, Lot 57 D 688

The Assistant Secretary of State for Congressional Relations (McFall) to the Chairman of the Joint Congressional Committee on Atomic Energy (McMahon)


My Dear Senator McMahon: I have received your letter of July 30, 19511 concerning Donald MacLean and Drs. E. H. Burhop and Kathleen Lonsdale.

The Department has no jurisdiction in the fields of espionage or counter-espionage and has only limited information on the questions you raise.

The Central Intelligence Agency, the Department of Justice, and the Atomic Energy Commission, to which you have also addressed inquiries, will be better able than this Department to supply authoritative answers in their respective fields.

The information which the Department has on the questions you ask is stated below in the order of the questions:

1. The Department has no knowledge of MacLean’s whereabouts.2 [Page 753] The British Government has made no statement, known to the Department, concerning his whereabouts. Foreign Secretary Herbert Morrison stated in the House of Commons on June 11, 1951 that neither MacLean nor Burgess has been dismissed. As of June 1, 1951, Morrison stated, they have been suspended from duty pending the outcome of inquiries into their activities. Morrison indicated that the question-of their dismissal will depend on the result of these inquiries.

2. The Department has no information that MacLean was ever involved in espionage during the time he had access to atomic data. An official British source disclosed on June 11, 1951 that the British Government was acting on the assumption that the MacLean-Burgess affair was a case of “premeditated defection.” No further information is known to the Department concerning the nature, background, or duration of this alleged defection.

3. The Department has no knowledge of MacLean’s connections with other individuals engaged in possible espionage.

4. It is not positively known whether MacLean had classified documents with him at the time of his disappearance. However, we have been informed by the British Embassy that no documents are missing and there is no evidence to indicate that Burgess and MacLean carried documents with them.

5. MacLean’s duties involved atomic energy policy matters of con-corn to his Government which came under the purview of the Combined Policy Committee. In this connection, MacLean had opportunity to have access to information shared by the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom in the fields of patents, declassification matters, and the research and development related to procurement of raw materials from foreign sources. In this capacity he had access to information relating to estimates made in 1948 of uranium ore supply from foreign sources available to the three Governments for the period 1948–49, and the definition of scientific areas in which the three Governments deemed technical cooperation could be accomplished with mutual benefit. These areas in general include such subjects as health and safety, research with low power reactors, extraction chemistry, stable isotopes and radioisotopes.

Since 1946 there has been no exchange of information with the United Kingdom and Canada concerning fissionable material production processes, weapons technology and development, or stockpiles of fissionable materials and weapons.

The role that MacLean had in the activities described above was that of a diplomat. He is not a scientist and his duties in connection with Combined Policy Committee matters were of a procedural and British diplomatic secretarial character. Some of the information available to him in 1947–48 was classified and would then have been of interest to the Soviet Union. Because of great changes that have taken [Page 754] place in this field in the intervening years, the information available to him then would not now be of any appreciable aid to the Soviet Union. The British inform us that MacLean had no access to atomic energy information after his departure from the United States in August 1948.

6. The Department has no information that Australian-born Dr. E. H. Burhop has lately had direct access to or responsibility for secret atomic research. Dr. Burhop has told the press it is six years since he had any connection with the atomic energy project and that the great bulk of secret information with which he had any contact during the Avar had, so far as he knew, long since been published. According to a statement issued by his son, Dr. Burhop worked for eighteen months up to 1945 on the atomic energy project in the United States, and has worked only on non-secret research since 1945. Since 1945 he has been on the staff of University College in London, first as reader in Mathematics and later as reader in physics. Although Dr. Burhop has not had any direct contact with government nuclear research for several years, he has been since 1946 secretary of the atomic scientists committee of the Association of Scientific Workers, the official trade union of British researchers. In the latest issue of the Journal of the Atomic Scientists Association of which he is a member, he appears as a leading advocate of political action by nuclear research workers.

Burhop is known to have strong pacifist leanings. He has associated himself with the activities of the Communist-dominated British Peace Committee and was recently denied a passport for a trip to Moscow sponsored by the British-Soviet Friendship Association and the Society for Cultural Relations with the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.3 It is not known whether Burhop is a member of the British Communist Party. From statements attributed to him it appears that Burhop is one who holds strong conscientious scruples and moral inhibitions concerning the use of the atomic bomb and who believes that scientists are morally obligated to take a public stand on the issue.

Professor Kathleen Lonsdale, Professor of Chemistry and head of the Department of Crystallography at the University of London, is reported to share this view. She stated recently in the Journal of the Atomic Scientists Association that “unlike individual civil servants we have no inhibitions preventing us from speaking plainly and publicly about matters of which we have knowledge.” The prohibition exercised against Dr. Burhop in regard to travel to the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics was not applied to Professor Lonsdale. She was one of seven British members of a delegation to the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics from the Society of Friends who flew to Moscow on July 14 at the invitation of the Soviet Peace Committee to spend [Page 755] two weeks and where they were “educated” by Jacob Malik4 in the Soviet view of the meaning of “peaceful coexistence.” A fellow of the Royal Society, Professor Lonsdale has an established scientific reputation in the field of crystallography. The information on her in the Department does not indicate affiliation with the British Communist Party or evidence that she is a consistent follower of a Communist Party line. However, she has associated herself with Communist-sponsored peace appeals. In March 1950, she was listed as Executive Secretary of the Atomic Scientists’ Association, and in September of that year was a delegate to the international conference held at Oxford on atomic energy organized by the Harwell research establishment. According to a British source, Professor Lonsdale is a very sincere Quaker.

Sincerely yours,

For the Secretary of State:
Jack K. McFall
  1. Not printed.
  2. On June 7, 1951, British authorities announced the disappearance on May 26 of Donald D. MacLean, Head of the American Department of the Foreign Office; and Guy F. de M. Burgess, Second Secretary, British Embassy in the United States from August 1950, to May 1951. MacLean had served in Washington from 1944 to 1948. For the period January 1947. to August 1948, he was British secretary of the Combined Policy Committee. For information on the Burgess-MacLean case, see British Cmd. 9577, Misc. No. 17 (1955), Report concerning the disappearance of two former Foreign Office Officials (London, H.M.S.O., 1955).
  3. For documentation on the Soviet peace movement, see volume iv .
  4. Deputy Foreign Minister of the Soviet Union.