G/PM Files, Lot 68 D 349

Informal Statement by the Department of Defense1


[Subject:] View on CPC Exchange of Atomic Weapons Data with Great Britain

1. Until the British have developed their atomic energy facilities to a point where their production of fissionable material is sufficient to fabricate a considerable number of atomic weapons, or until there is a better chance that the defense of Western Europe will be effective, [Page 770] the Department of Defense is opposed to the transfer of any significant information on U.S. atomic weapons to them.

To furnish them any important information earlier would contribute very little to the defense of Western Europe or of the United States, and would increase the risk of such information falling into the hands of the Communists. This should not be taken to mean, however, that the door is entirely closed to discussions in this area.

2. In this background the Department of Defense has been exploring with the Atomic Energy Commission during the past year the problem of reconciling possible plans for comprehensive exchange of scientific and technical information through the western world with the military view expressed above.

The Department of Defense recognizes and accepts the principle that the U.S. with its superb industrial machine has a far greater chance to convert new scientific and technical information into production use than any other country in the world. The concrete issue in the particular exploration with which we were concerned is one of balancing the gains that are forecast from a broad exchange of information against the possible dangers resulting from leakage of information about military aspects of U.S. atomic energy activities.

During the past months these efforts have developed along the following pattern:

The Joint Chiefs of Staff proposed to the American Members of CPC that the U.S. manufacture atomic weapons for use by Great Britain from British plutonium. When the conditions set forth by the JCS were considered with the Atomic Energy Commission staff, it developed that it was not practical to hold the disclosure of technical information on U.S. atomic weapons to the limited areas on which the Chiefs had based their original recommendation. It became evident that such a proposal would result in a much wider exchange of information than the maximum on which the proposal was originally conceived.
(For a more complete review, see recent MLC memo to JCS)2
The Department of Defense is currently exploring an alternate line of effort; namely, to find some practical method of separating weapons information from scientific and technical information. The thought here is that if this operation is practical, it might then be possible to treat weapons information in one manner and to treat scientific and technical information in a separate manner.
With this thought in mind, we are pursuing the idea of handling all atomic weapons matters (including appropriate information exchange) through existing military channels.
From the military point of view, this is the route that must be followed in wartime and it therefore seems most desirable that it be adopted now when war planning activities are the key to the proper size of an atomic effort. This approach also has the advantage that it holds “sensitive” information within the military where a long established [Page 771] system of “security” now operates on all matters of military importance.
The crux of this approach lies in the difficulty of achieving a meeting of the minds (Defense and AEC) on the boundary lines between the two categories of weapons information and scientific and technical information.

3. The Commission is endeavoring to solve this issue by an approach which would initially amend the law to make information exchanges legal subject to the specific approval of the President. Further provision implies that action under the revised law would be permissive and subject to the approval of the Department of Defense and other appropriate groups before any concrete action was taken. Moreover, the AEC proposal would consider each specific situation on its individual merits and would not establish broad charters along the lines that were proposed some two years ago when CPC meetings were held to consider this same subject matter.3

4. The Department of Defense feels that any proposal for changes in the Atomic Energy Act at this time should not be made by the Administration. However, if the Joint Committee on Atomic Energy should strongly recommend changes which would permit certain exchanges of information which would be deemed by the President to be in the security interests of the United States and place in the Department of Defense the safeguarding of weapons information, the Department of Defense should support such legislation.

Among the reasons for this view are the following:

It is considered to be inappropriate for the Department of Defense to raise the matter of changes in the law with a critical Congress at this time.
Although permissive legislation, permitting the President to deal with each case on its merits, is preferred over broad charter grants, there is still a risk of substantial “leakage.”
“Leakage” of sensitive atomic information is the most damaging single factor in the present determination of U.S. military posture. Our present risks are matters of daily concern, and any action that tends to increase these existing risks affects the security of the U.S.

5. On the other hand, we should do nothing which would be restrictive to the actions of the Atomic Energy Commission in matters of policy. The Department of Defense should support in every possible way the obtaining of any information that tends to bring new technical ideas and American industry more completely into the production of fissionable materials and atomic weapons.

The Department of Defense recognizes that there are limitations on information exchange which retard the present program and believes, [Page 772] however, that there are other means of obtaining much of the scientific and technical information that may develop in Europe and elsewhere. These means are far less likely to jeopardize our own security. We must make sure that any exchange of information will on balance add to our military position.

6. The position of Canada is omitted from this discussion because of their decision to remain outside the weapons field in the atomic energy program.

  1. The source text is labeled “draft” and “copy.” Two separate handwritten notations appear at the top of the document: “LeBaron-Bradley,” and “seen 9/17/51.” The paper presumably constitutes an informal expression of the views of General Bradley as prepared by LeBaron and transmitted to Arneson’s office on September 17. A similar paper was furnished the United States Atomic Energy Commission on September 14; see letter from the Commission to William C. Foster, Acting Secretary of Defense, November 27, p. 785.
  2. Not identified.
  3. Documentation on discussions regarding United States-United Kingdom–Canada cooperation in the field of atomic energy during 1949 is printed in Foreign Relations, 1949, vol. i, pp. 419 ff.