Thursday, July 7, 2011

National Security & Science: The Standoff? 1

How does the open nature of science live within the demands of national security?  Is there friction?  Can both fulfill their roles fully?

The Invention Secrecy Act (1951)
Whenever the publication or disclosure of an invention by the publication of an application or by the granting of a patent, in which the Government does not have a property interest, might, in the opinion of the Commissioner of Patents, be detrimental to the national security, he shall make the application for patent in which such invention is disclosed available for inspection to the Atomic Energy Commission, the Secretary of Defense, and the chief officer of any other department or agency of the Government designated by the President as a defense agency of the United States.
"...physicist Alvin Weinberg sarcastically remarked that it was becoming difficult to figure out if MIT was a university connected to a multitude of government research laboratories or "a cluster of government research laboratories with a very good educational institution attached to it."
The Complex: How The Military Invades Our Everyday Lives
Nick Turse

The law goes further on to state,
Each individual to whom the application is disclosed shall sign a dated acknowledgment thereof, which acknowledgment shall be entered in the file of the application. If, in the opinion of the Atomic Energy Commission, the Secretary of a Defense Department, or the chief officer of another department or agency so designated, the publication or disclosure of the invention by the publication of an application or by the granting of a patent therefor would be detrimental to the national security, the Atomic Energy Commission, the Secretary of a Defense Department, or such other chief officer shall notify the Commissioner of Patents and the Commissioner of Patents shall order that the invention be kept secret and shall withhold the publication of the application or the grant of a patent for such period as the national interest requires, and notify the applicant thereof. Upon proper showing by the head of the department or agency who caused the secrecy order to be issued that the examination of the application might jeopardize the national interest, the Commissioner of Patents shall thereupon maintain the application in a sealed condition and notify the applicant thereof. The owner of an application which has been placed under a secrecy order shall have a right to appeal from the order to the Secretary of Commerce under rules prescribed by him.
Kindle eBook
Common Tech Problems,
Windows, OS X

This is the law governing any invention which might have national security implications.  As of the year 2007, the number of patent secrecy orders is about 5,002.  As of 2009, the number has grown to 5,081.

Brief History Of The Influence Of The American Military In Academic Science
The "golden triangle," as it has been called it composed of military agencies, high technology industry and research universities.  During World War II, six universities stood out as getting the lion share's of military research funding.  These were California Institute of Technology, Harvard University, Columbia University, the University of California at Berkeley and John Hopkins University, each receiving upwards of $10 million.  At the end of the war in August of 1946, there were 602 projects and over four thousand scientists funded by the Office of Naval Research (ONR).  By 1968, MIT was ranked fifty-fourth among all defense contractors and J. William Fulbright had modified Eisenhower's famous Farewell Speech phrase to the "Military-Industrial- Academic Complex."  By 2005, the MIT alone was pulling in $600 million in military research funding.  According to the Association of American Universities (AAU), in 2002, 60% of the total federal funding to electrical engineering universities and 55% of all computer science funding was from the Department of Defense.  By 2004, the percentage for these two fields was 68% and 50%.  This power can have consequences.  In 2002, when Harvard Law School continued its policy of denying military recruiters for the judge advocate General Corps, the Department of Defense threatened to withhold its $300 million dollars from the university.  This broke Harvard's resistance.
"...the free university, historically the fountainhead of free ideas and scientific discovery, has experienced a revolution in the conduct of research. Partly because of the huge costs involved, a government contract becomes virtually a substitute for intellectual curiosity."
President Eisenhower

The National Science Foundation, although it is an independent agency of the federal government does concern itself with national defense and security.  This was written in its charter from its inception, " promote the progress of science; to advance the national health, prosperity, and welfare; to secure the national defense..."  It had an annual budget of $6.2 billion in 2010.  In the funding of research that would be considered falling under national defense, it gets its money from the Department of Defense and it is the Secretary for the Department of Defense that will determine, " requirements, safeguards including restrictions with respect to access to information and property, as it deems necessary."

Among the scientific community there has been dissent with the way the government conducts business in scientific research.  By nature, scientists are prone to share their findings, indeed, in many cases it is essential to the way science conducts peer verification.  As early as 1955, in an article published in the Bulletin Of The Atomic Scientists, titled, The Impact Of Government Information And Security Controls On Competitive Industry, by J.G. Beckerley (a physicist who served as director of classification for the Atomic Energy Commission 1949-1954) stated,
While many of these strings on Uncle Sam's money have relatively little adverse effect on industrial health or on the maintenance of free and competitive enterprise, there are at least two controls which interfere with fundamental industrial practices to an increasingly dangerous degree.  These are the control of information and the control of people as expressed in governmental security classification and personnel clearance regulations.
"To cover with the veil of secrecy the common routine of business, is an abomination in the eyes of every intelligent man and every friend to his country."
Patrick Henry
This article sounds as if it was written today.  It seems extremely relevant.  Beckerley continues in his criticism of "need to know" security practices of his day,
 The sources of good ideas are quite unpredictable.  In many classified atomic research and development projects I have seen otherwise rational scientists and engineers say "For this problem, A or B should be able to furnish some ideas."  A and B are always recognized authorities in the field.  However, it has been demonstrated time and again that is it the unknown in the field who make big quantum jumps, although of course be becomes "known" immediately after his discovery or invention.
Beckerley then focuses on "information control,"
In the atomic energy program we had committees and subcommittees of experts from all fields trying to assess relevance of classified information to potential peacetime activities.  Even worse than this, we had to compare this hypothetical relevance to the relevance of the information to the atomic activities of "inimical interests."  If presumed use to the U.S. appeared to outweigh presumed use to the USSR, we had a case for declassification.  Often we had the impression we were faced with an impossible task and that it would be more proper to abandon the weighing process in favor of completely arbitrary decisions, such as "declassify after X years," or" declassify nothing," or "declassify everything."
In this same issue of the journal appeared another very relevant article titled, Security And Science Sacrificed To Loyalty by Edward Shils (professor in the Committee on Social Thought at the University of Chicago).  His statement on the inherent contradictions of "classified" science is even more scathing,
"Yet, in holding scientific research and discovery in respect, as we should, we must also be alert to the equal and opposite danger that public policy could itself become the captive of a scientific-technological elite."
Presidential Farewell Speech

The community of science is built around the free communication of ideas among a relatively small number of intellectually interested and qualified persons whose judgment i recognized to be a measure of validity, and whose approbation gives confidence in the truthfulness of discoveries and in the fruitfulness of the paths traversed.  This tradition is part of the fundamental constitution of science.  WIthout it science could not exist.  Science is not a collection of results of individual investigators who happen to have been working on the same subjects at more or less the same time.  Science is the product of a very informal community of many scientists working on similar or related problems - matching their results with one another's or using them as the point of departure of their own investigations.  The communication of scientists takes place through publication in scientific journals, through the distribution of off-prints, through private correspondence and conversation.  This has been harshly misunderstood by the custodians of loyalty-security.

We include a trailer for a 2008 documentary titled Secrecy. If you have Netflix, you can watch it streamed.  It is not available on YouTube.  If you cannot see the embedded video, here is the link:

In our next installment we continue with how much science may be hidden from the general public.


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