This paper focuses on the defection of nuclear physicist Bruno Pontecorvo from Britain to the USSR in 1950 in an attempt to understand how government and intelligence services assess threats deriving from the unwanted spread of secret scientific information. It questions whether contingent agendas play a role in these assessments, as new evidence suggests that this is exactly what happened in the Pontecorvo case. British diplomatic personnel involved in negotiations with their US counterparts considered playing down the case. Meanwhile, the press decided to play it up, claiming that Pontecorvo was an atom spy. Finally, the British secret services had evidence showing that this was a fabrication, but they did not disclose it. If all these manipulations served various purposes, then they certainly were not aimed at assessing if there was a threat and what this threat really was.