e was the Elvis of science.
Women pursued him, celebrities sought him out, politicians
courted him, and journalists followed him through the streets.
But, as Einstein was well aware, there was a darker posse on his
trail. For many years, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and other
agencies spied on him, acting on suspicions as disturbing as a tip
that he had been a Russian spy in Berlin; as vague as an unease with
his support of civil rights and pacifist and socialist causes; and
as goofy as claims that he was working on a death ray or that he was
heading a Communist conspiracy to take over Hollywood.
The broad outlines of this history have been known since 1983,
when Dr. Richard Alan Schwartz, a professor of English at Florida
International University in Miami, obtained a censored version of
Einstein's 1,427-page F.B.I. file and wrote about it in The Nation
But now new details are emerging in "The Einstein File: J. Edgar
Hoover's Secret War Against
the World's Most Famous Scientist," by Fred Jerome, who sued the
government with the help of the Public Citizen Litigation Group to
obtain a less censored version of the file. His book will be
published this month.
The new material spells out how the bureau spied on Einstein and
his associates and identifies some of the informants who said he was
The agents went through trash and monitored mail and telephone
Those activities seemed routine to the bureau, Mr. Jerome said.
"It's like the agents got up in the morning, brushed their teeth,
opened other people's mail and tapped some phones," he said.
The investigation turned up nothing. Nevertheless, the agency
dogged Einstein's footsteps until his death in 1955, even
cooperating with an investigation by the Immigration and
Naturalization Service to see whether he should be deported.
Mr. Jerome, a self-described "Red diaper baby" born and raised in
New York City, is no stranger to the F.B.I. His father, a Communist
Party official, was imprisoned for three years under the Smith Act,
which made advocating the overthrow of the government a crime.
As a young journalist, Mr. Jerome covered the civil rights
movement. In recent years, he has been a teacher and media
consultant, founding the Media Resource Center, which puts
journalists in touch with scientists. He contends that contrary to
his image as a woolly-headed idealist, Einstein was a savvy and
politically astute champion of the underdog who made hardheaded
choices about what organizations he would support.
Einstein's political problems began as a youth in Germany, which
he left in 1894 at 15, partly because of a visceral dislike of
German militarization. He had just moved back to the country, to a
post in Berlin, in 1914 when World War I broke out, and he made no
secret of his distaste for the war. He was one of only four
prominent intellectuals to sign an antiwar manifesto emphasizing the
need for European unity, and he attended meetings of pacifist
Einstein became an international celebrity in 1919, when
observations of light bending during a solar eclipse validated his
general theory of relativity, a rewriting the laws of space, time
In the following years, Einstein lent his name and, occasionally,
his presence to a variety of organizations dedicated to peace and
disarmament. Such activities inspired an organization known as the
Woman Patriot Corporation to write a 16-page letter to the State
Department, the first item in Einstein's file, in 1932, arguing that
Einstein should not be allowed into the United States. "Not even
Stalin himself" was affiliated with so many anarchic-Communist
groups, the letter said.
Nevertheless, Einstein moved to the United States and the
Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, N.J., in 1933, when
Hitler came to power in Germany. Subsequently, his outspoken support
for the antifascist forces in Spain raised hackles.
Horrified by the atomic bomb, Einstein spoke out after World War
II in favor of world government. He feared the tyranny of a such an
organization, he wrote in The Atlantic Monthly. "But I fear still
more the coming of another war or wars."
He also helped Paul Robeson, the black singer, actor and athlete,
organize a rally against lynching in 1946.
In the 50's, he made headlines by appealing for clemency for the
Rosenbergs, sentenced to death for espionage, and for encouraging
people not to testify before Senator Joseph McCarthy's
Although Einstein espoused socialist ideals, he was not the kind
of man to owe allegiances or to trust mass movements.
"He was not a party animal," said Dr. Robert Schulmann, a
historian who is the former editor of The Collected Papers of Albert
Einstein. "Einstein was the kind of guy that was uncomfortable for
all authorities. He's the kind of person you don't want in your
It is hardly surprising, given that résumé, that the F.B.I. would
be interested in Einstein, historians and biographers of Hoover say.
The attitude was that liberalism was the first step toward
"Einstein is dangerous because he is sympathetic to the kinds of
causes Communists were espousing," said Dr. Ellen Schrecker, a
historian at Yeshiva University and the author of "No Ivory Tower,
McCarthyism and the Universities." "They assume that Einstein is a
man of the left; he's got to be dangerous."
This was not so crazy, said Dr. Richard Gid Powers, a historian
at the College of Staten Island and the Graduate Center of the City
University of New York and the author of "Secrecy and Power: The
Life of J. Edgar Hoover." The bureau had no choice but to watch
Einstein, Dr. Powers argues, especially after the war, when
officials worried that they were losing a "high-stakes game of
propaganda" to the Soviets as luminaries like Einstein, Picasso and
Charlie Chaplin criticized American policy.
"These people were way too smart to argue with," Dr. Powers said.
"The only thing to do was to keep an eye on them."
A look at Einstein's file, available at
foia.fbi.gov/einstein.htm, shows more about public — and bureau —
attitudes toward scientific genius than toward the genius himself.
No feat seemed beyond such a man, according to the file. Through a
spokesman, the F.B.I. declined to comment specifically on the file,
saying it was up to the public to evaluate the material. Mike Kortan
of the bureau said that under the Freedom of Information Act the
agency was required to release information from "an earlier era in
our history when different concerns drove the government, news media
and public sentiment."