Files related to the prominent Mexican physicist Dr. Manuel Sandoval Vallarta, provided to parapolitical in response to a request to the FBI, offer interesting but unremarkable insight into some of Vallarta’s previously unreported social and professional relationships with Soviet officials, including a meeting with Joseph Stalin in Moscow. The anecdotal information is recounted by a confidential informant, identified in documents as “Reliable Source C.” Of 151 pages of relevant files on Vallarta dating from the 1940s through 1970s, 44 pages were withheld from release by the U.S. Government, citing the presence of “national security classified information.”
Vallarta (red) at the University of Chicago’s 1939 Cosmic Ray Symposium. Edward Teller, “the father of the hydrogen bomb”, is located behind Vallarta (blue).
The son of the Governor of Jalisco, Vallarta studied in both Germany and the United States and joined the faculty of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1923. In 1946 Vallarta was appointed to the Board of Governors of the National Autonomous University of Mexico and, the same year, was designated the Mexican representative to the United Nations Atomic Energy Commission, ultimately being selected as the chairman of the short-lived body. There, he would preside over the UNAEC analysis of the 1946 Baruch Plan, the U.S.’ offer of unilateral atomic disarmament. Among the files provided to parapolitical was a letter from FBI director J. Edgar Hoover to Truman confidante George E. Allen following Vallarta’s appointment. In it, Hoover remarked that the scientist was “a former close associate of Constantine Oumansky, a former Russian ambassador to the United States and Mexico. In an off-the-record conversation, he stated that he considered Russia an example to be followed by the people of Latin America.”
Russian ambassador Constantine Oumansky and his family were killed in 1945 when the Mexican air force transport in which they were traveling exploded on take-off. Relations between the Soviet Union and Mexico became briefly strained after the former refused to accept the cause of the crash as an accident and requested a second investigation. William F. Buckley, meanwhile, claimed in a 1996 interview with The Paris Review that – during his service in the CIA – he had been told the crash was orchestrated by the Soviets themselves for unknown reasons.
In 1949 – at a time when the U.S. was the world’s only declared nuclear power – Vallarta briefly figured in an obscure incident in which agents of the Mexican Federal Security Directorate (predecessor to Mexico’s current intelligence service, CISEN) were reported to have intercepted uranium being moved out of the United States for destinations unknown. Mexican authorities sent the material to Vallarta’s lab in Mexico City for analysis; Vallarta identified it as U-235. The AP, which broke the story, abruptly terminated reporting on it after this revelation. Our best efforts to look further into this enigmatic episode were without satisfaction.
Until his death in 1977, Vallarta would periodically visit the United States to attend scientific conferences, traveling on a Mexican diplomatic passport. These trips were dutifully monitored by FBI informants.
The complete files:
Vaughan, Sam. “William F. Buckley Jr., The Art of Fiction No. 146.” Paris Review Summer 1996: n. pag. Print.
“Mexico Probes Uranium ‘Theft’” Christian Science Monitor [Boston] 19 Mar. 1949: n. pag. Print.
Messersmith, George. Letter to Nelson Rockefeller. 12 Feb. 1945. MS. University of Delaware Library Special Collections, Dover, Delaware.
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