Published in The Asbury Park Press on November 10, 2003 by Fred Carl
WALL – The lives of Fort Monmouth engineers and a U.S. senator changed 50 years ago last month. The events of Oct. 20, 1953, contributed to the downfall of Sen. Joseph McCarthy, R-Wis., damaged careers and changed how investigations were conducted.
Based on information from an East German defector, McCarthy and his chief aide, attorney Roy Cohn, focused their investigation on Camp Evans, a Fort Monmouth satellite in Wall. The defector had said – he later admitted he lied – that secret material from Camp Evans was freely available to the Soviets.
America was in the grip of a communist scare, and McCarthy said he was out to rid the Army of communists. Many called it a witch hunt.
The Soviet Union had detonated its first hydrogen bomb in August, just four years after shocking America with its first atomic bomb test – a bomb built using information supplied by spies. An Army radar inspector from Fort Monmouth – Julius Rosenberg – and his wife, Ethel, had been executed in June for passing information to the Soviets.
McCarthy said he feared that more than research was going on behind the security fence. He and his staff interviewed Camp Evans workers, and many were suspended for the slightest association with American Communist Party members.
At Camp Evans, radar was being coupled with early computers to coordinate defenses against Soviet bombers. A new electronic wonder, the transistor, was being used to shrink military radios and radar sets. The most closely guarded and top-secret projects were electronic countermeasures, nuclear weapons effects teams and centers to detect Soviet nuclear tests. The center was theproject that caused the problems during McCarthy’s visit in 1953.
The unit was housed in a simple concrete block building linked to far-flung detectors that could pick up the seismic waves generated by nuclear blasts. Analysts at Camp Evans could esti-mate the size of a blast and report directly to the Pentagon.
When McCarthy approached the building with his staff, they were stopped by Camp Evans security. Only elected officials or those with top-secret clearance were allowed in.
McCarthy said the project should not be classified top secret and ordered the security personnel to allow his staff in. A heated argument followed, during which security reminded the senator they had authority to shoot anyone attempting to enter the building without proper clearance.
Among those excluded was Cohn, who angrily vowed beforewitnesses that he would get the Army for the affront. The out-burst was too much for the Army and Congress. Hearings were held in 1954, during which McCarthy stated, “If you only knew what is going on in our secret radar facility.”
This time McCarthy was discredited for reckless accusations and poor investigative tactics. More than 20 million television viewers heard Special Council Joseph Welch rebuke McCarthy: “Have you no sense of decency?”
The senator from Wisconsin had ruined careers and lives with no real evidence of wrongdoing. All 42 Camp Evans staffers sus-pended because of his accusations would be reinstated. McCarthy’s political career was over and the government would enact reforms to prevent the excesses of the McCarthy “investigations.”
Fred Carl is director of Infoage Inc., a nonprofit group that has ,
established an information-age learning center using historic buildings at Camp Evans.
created January 10, 2004