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British DNA scientist was suspected of spying for Russia

31 August 2010
Appeared in BioNews 573

Maurice Wilkins won the Nobel Prize for Medicine with James Watson and Francis Crick in 1962, for the pioneering work in deciphering the structure of the DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) helix. Files recently released to the National Archives now reveal that he was previously being investigated for being a potential communist sympathiser and betraying secrets from his work on the first nuclear bomb.

The British Secret Service unit MI5 began its investigation into Wilkins in April 1951. The US Federal Bureau of Information had reported that an Australian or New Zealander atomic scientist had been in contact with the Communist Party in New York in 1945, and had revealed all information he possessed on the Manhattan Project in Los Alamos, New Mexico. This was the top secret research project into creating nuclear weapons. The FBI named nine possible suspects, including Williams. They asked that he be interviewed but MI5 declined, saying that they had nothing concrete to confront him with. He came under suspicion after defending Alan Nunn May, an acquaintance who had been convicted of being a spy.

MI5 did keep Williams under surveillance. Their reports say that he was 'a caricature of a scientist in that he seems to be both incapable of dealing with ordinary human situations and apparently uninterested in them. At the same time he realises his own failings and tries to get over the difficulty by consultations with psychoanalysis'. His associates were identified as being 'Leftwing socialists' rather than communists. By 1953, nothing incriminating had been uncovered and the investigation was dropped.
DNA scientist was suspected Soviet mole
Daily Telegraph |  26 August 2010
Nobel scientist watched over atomic secrets
The Financial Times |  26 August 2010
Nobel-winning British scientist accused of spying by MI5, papers reveal
The Guardian |  26 August 2010
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