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The ghost of Senator Joseph McCarthy haunts Camp Evans

Senator Joe McCarthy [center] visited the Camp Evans Administration building, the former Marconi Hotel on Oct. 20, 1953.

The Ghost of Senator Joseph McCarthy Haunts Camp Evans

By Fred Carl – Published in The Coast Star May 15, 2003, page 9

After 50 years, the long-sealed transcripts of the most notorious investigation in congressional history were released earlier this month. Except in the thoughts of his victims, Sen. Joseph McCarthy’s ghost had been quiet for many years. Those suspected of Communist subversion suffered damaged careers and hold memories of friends who deserted them. Over 40 people were suspended from their jobs at Camp Evans without any hearing, based on accusations by unnamed persons. They were forced to testify before McCarthy’s Congressional Committee and burdened with tremendous legal expenses.  They were badgered on the witness stand and asked pointed questions such as “Do you know of any Communists out there in the Evans Laboratory,” and “Are you a member of the Communist Party?”

How did Camp Evans, once known as the Army’s “house of magic,” become the suspected “house of spies?” Why were many Camp Evans workers forced to work outside the security fence in the area named the “Leper Colony,” away from any secret documents? The problems started when a researcher from an East German laboratory defected to the United States. The defector claimed he had seen secret films from Oak Ridge Nuclear Laboratory and radar equipment blueprints from Evans Signal Laboratory.  He indicated that the Russians could obtain any information that they desired from the Evans Signal Laboratory.  McCarthy and his staff suspected that a ring of Communist spies was still operating in Camp Evans. The FBI was satisfied there was not McCarthy, who knew better, took on the mission to expose the Communists and clean house.

Julius Rosenberg, executed for espionage, had attended the City College of New York and was a radar inspector for Fort Monmouth during WWII. Many of the Camp Evans staff had attended City College and one possibly even car-pooled with Rosenberg in the past. Those who had attended City College or were associated with them were suspected and were suspended.

During the hearings over 47 people associated with Camp Evans were questioned. Physicists, engineers, mechanics, a glassblower, and even the librarian faced McCarthy or his lawyer Roy Cohen. Even Fort Monmouth’s Commander, Major General Kirke B. Lawton, had to defend security procedures.

McCarthy could not understand how this defector knew the name Evans Signal Laboratory. McCarthy stated, “I never heard of the Evans Signal Laboratory.” A General Back of the Signal Corps explained under oath, “It is a fact, of course, that a great deal of the original Signal Corps equipment was developed at Evans Laboratory at Fort Monmouth, and that a considerable amount of that equipment developed at Evans was shipped to Russia under Lend-Lease.” This explains why the Russians would have blueprints from Camp Evans.

The Army did its best to placate McCarthy without giving him any of the Camp Evans personnel files compiled by the FBI. The Secretary of the Army, with President Eisenhower’s approval, insisted on the confidentiality of those files. McCarthy wanted them released. Not satisfied with the information obtained from the hearings McCarthy and his staff visited Camp Evans on October 20, 1953.
What would occur at Camp Evans that day would lead to the famous “Army vs. McCarthy” hearings televised in 1954. Some historians call this the first reality TV. The events would lead to reforms in all future Congressional investigations.

During the hearing, McCarthy would state to the cameras, “If you only knew what is going on in our secret radar facility …”

In a future story, you will find out.
[Fred Carl is the director of the Infoage Science-History Center at Camp Evans.]

page originally created June 4, 2003


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