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A popular conspiracy theory holds that Tesla invented a free energy device, but that the powers that be prevented him from publishing it, because it would hurt their investments. Of course, free energy as such does not exist, and literally speaking, this conspiracy theory is easy to refute, although one might still claim he referred to something else and the energy is not literally free, just very abundant.

One element of those conspiracy theories, however, is the claim that his documents were confiscated and classified shortly after his death. My question is not about free energy, but rather:

Does or did the US government, CIA, FBI, or some other agency, confiscate documents by Nikola Tesla and keep those classified to this date?

Some sources where related claims are made. Only the 3rd source below (PBS) is remotely reliable, but that one too cites no sources.

Is there any reliable source confirming or refuting this claim? If true, one element of the conspiracy theory — they're hiding something — is actually true, and even if the thing being hidden is not free energy, it might be something else that harms powers that be.

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Just a point to keep in mind. If there was something that he found and was kept quiet by the U.S. government, it would have been (or will be) eventually discovered by other engineers in other countries. The laws of natures and their applications are not limited to a single person, nor to a single country. – Ilya Melamed Jan 8 '13 at 15:47
@IlyaMelamed Given infinite time, yes, but it is not certain it already has. There is still a rational reason to keep knowledge secret under certain circumstances (albeit not necessarily an ethical one). – gerrit Jan 8 '13 at 17:31
I really don't want to enter into a debate about it. My point (that I didn't put clearly enough) is that if the gov. took his research and papers it's probably for the purpose of continuing his research, maybe even to continue the research in secret so that other powers won't have it. And not to hide it in the hopes that the technology would vanish. By trying to vanish a certain technological breakthrough you're losing a great advantage you have over other powers and if they ever research it, they will have the advantage that you could have had. And it seems that Ken's answer supports that. – Ilya Melamed Jan 8 '13 at 20:50
@IlyaMelamed I agree completely. – gerrit Jan 8 '13 at 21:16
@gerrit Electronic computers were invented in the UK but kept secret; usable electric light bulbs were independantly developed in the US and UK (although a lot of attempts were being made by various people). It's unlikely but possible - I believe the techniques for mediaeval stained glass windows are still lost, but this may have changed in recent years. – Phil Lello Apr 3 at 11:48
up vote 28 down vote accepted

It is indeed a fact, based on the documents released by the FOIA, that both FBI and OSS (the precursor to CIA - CIA didn't exist at that time) obtained papers from Nicolas Tesla after his death in 1943.

Some of the released material show that among others, the Department of Defense (DoD) was interested in these papers because (from letter written to FBI by LtCol. Allen J. MacLaren, 8. Feb 1981):

"SUBJECT: Papers recovered on the Death of Nicola Tesla (U).

(U) We understand that FBI may have possession of a number of papers found after the death of Nicola Tesla in 1943. [...] (C) We believe that certain of Tesla's papers may contain basic principles which could be of considerable value to certain ongoing research within the DoD. [...]"

Ref: Complete letter (scan)

Another document dated 12 Jan 1943 shows that vast amount of material including papers was seized from the hotel:

"[...] On Saturday afternoon, Jan nine, Corsuch and -- Fitzgerald of Alien Property Control went to hotel and seized all the property of Tesla, consisting of about two truckloads of material, sealed all articles and transferred them to the Manhattan storage and warehouse Co. NY, where they are now located. [...]"

Ref: Page 1 (scan), Page 2 (scan)

Another letter to FBI dated April 20, 1976, shows:

"[...] After Tesla's death, scientists from the Navy and OSS performed a cursory examination of the diary and notes [...]"

Ref: Page 1 (scan)

There exist other released documents as well, not included here.

I don't think there is doubt about the confiscation itself. The speculations are more about what the papers contained of information as well as what items where found.

It's also a fact that J.P. Morgan wanted to finance Tesla (see Unsuccessful ventures / Energy) as he was researching if he could utilize the ionosphere - where the idea of "free energy" comes from. If the experiments was successful or not is unknown, but eventually Morgan pulled out with his financial backing.

Further, the speculations refer to the High Frequency Active Auroral Research Program (or "HAARP" which you find in Alaska) as they also utilize the ionosphere - this has lead to the suspicion of that basis for this research is based on Tesla's work. Considering the letter above from DoD/USAF this is perhaps not so out of the blue (pun intended). From the official HAARP page they answer:

"[...] Because the DoD operates numerous communication and navigation systems whose signals either depend on reflection from the ionosphere or must pass through the ionosphere to satellites, there is obvious DoD interest in understanding the ionosphere's effect on these systems to improve their reliability and performance. [...]"

Ref: FAQ, HAARP official page (see last question)

The part that brings in the "conspiracy" element is what HAARP is being used for, and there is a question about it on this site. This however is not related to Tesla.

One thing is for sure, Tesla was a great genius almost "forgotten" in history.

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Note that the HAARP conspiracy is already addressed by other answers on this site. – Oddthinking Jan 8 '13 at 21:52
I'm just including it as HAARP is a major part of the speculations of what Tesla's work could be used for, related to DoD. – K3N Jan 8 '13 at 22:04
Sorry, Ken. I could have been much clearer. I wasn't meant to be a challenging any part of your answer (+1). It was meant to help any readers who were interested in further info about the HAARP conspiracy. – Oddthinking Jan 9 '13 at 1:22
@Ken-AbdiasSoftware, because it's information related to the answer and expanding it. If you feel that it shouldn't bee there see this:… – Ilya Melamed Jan 9 '13 at 13:07
@Ken-AbdiasSoftware : If you pick the average Nobel Prize winner in Physics/Chemistry/Medicine most of the public doesn't recoginze their names. It's quite normal for geniuses to have no fame that makes everybody know them. – Christian Jan 10 '13 at 21:40

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