you have had some interest in science you must have heard of Richard Feynman, an iconic figure within theoretical physics best known for his work in the path integral formulation of quantum mechanics and the theory of quantum electrodynamics.
He initially studied at MIT (Massachusetts Insitute of Technology) where he did his undergraduate degree in 1939 and at Princeton University where he got his Ph.D. in 1942. During the period of the Second World War, he had done extensive research on theoretical physics as not only was this area of interest but it was also becoming rapidly popular.
After the end of World War II and with the planet witnessing the use of nuclear bombs for the first time, the world became intrigued by science and its capabilities, especially the big powers around the world. It wasn’t long until the Cold War started and America was after its best scientists, not only to pressure them into creating innovative weapons of mass destruction but also to make sure that they weren’t persuaded by the enemy to do the same.
It is important to mention that at the end of World War II there was a small race between the U.S. and the Soviet Union at grabbing the best scientists that Germany had to offer (forcefully). There is no doubt that Germany had the best scientists in the world and I don’t just say that because Albert Einstein is of German descent, but in scientific terms, the Germans were way ahead of the whole world.
That is why America created Operation Paperclip where 1,600 German scientists were deported to America to be used mainly by the army. This meant that the Soviet Union had a lack of scientific power, something that they also realized would be a valuable asset within the 20th century and especially during the Cold War.
Why did the FBI have a “crush” on Feynman?
In the 1950s Feynman became a world-renowned star within his field. He was seen as the prodigy of Physics. His admiration was also granted for the help in creating the first atomic bomb, making his knowledge very desired by many different powers during the Cold War.
This made the American government very skeptical although Feynman was very open about all of his works and his activities. As good as this sounded this also meant that he was willing to share his knowledge with other scientists that at the time were considered the enemy (although in Feynman’s defense this knowledge would only be shared for academic purposes).
The FBI was assigned to keep a close eye on him when Feynman was invited by the Soviets at a scientific conference. The agency stepped in and stopped him from going to the conference or sharing any of his knowledge with the Soviets. Feynman didn’t have the power to go against the government and he understood the global circumstances.
Feynman had had enough
I had a look at some declassified FBI files from 1974 that show the records they had on Feynman since they started observing him. We are talking about over 300 pages of records where Feynman was spied on day by day until 1958 when the records end.
In 1958, Feynman had had enough of the FBI constantly watching him and interviewing him about his daily life so he kindly requested the FBI to stop. Based on this record we can see that a letter was sent by Feynman to the FBI requesting them to stop.
Feynman reminded the FBI that he had aided the creation of the atomic bomb so he should be excused by any skepticism the government might have about him.
To the world’s surprise, the FBI actually stopped bothering Feynman, making him the first person to get the FBI off them.