"War demands secrecy; science thrives on openness. How can a free
society balance those competing demands?" With this question, House
Science Committee Chairman Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY) opened what he said
was the first hearing, since the September 11 terrorist attacks, on
the appropriate balance between openness and security in the nation's
research enterprise. OSTP Director John Marburger testified on some
of the actions the Administration has taken or is considering to enhance
security in academic research. Several witnesses with experience in
both government policy and university research concurred that the scientific
and policy communities need to work together on this issue, but cautioned
that heavy-handed restriction of research results would inhibit scientific
progress. "Our scientific and technological strength is also one
of our best national defenses," commented M.R.C. Greenwood, Chancellor
of UC Santa Cruz.
Currently, dissemination of federally-funded research results is guided
by the Reagan-era National Security Decision Directive 189 (NSDD-189),
which states that to the maximum extent possible, fundamental research
results should remain unrestricted, and that the appropriate mechanism
for controlling information produced by federally-funded research is
the classification process. As the October 10 hearing demonstrated,
the Administration, Congress, and the scientific community are all revisiting
the issue of how to handle research results that could potentially be
used for harm. According to the committee's hearing charter, last spring
DOD put forth a proposal that would give it approval authority over
publication of DOD-funded research results, but this proposal was withdrawn
after opposition from the science community. The hearing charter also
reports that the Administration is considering other policies regarding
disclosure of "sensitive but unclassified" information. Also
discussed were federal policies calling for the tracking of foreign
students and their fields of study, and development of an Interagency
Panel on Advanced Science and Security (IPASS) to review student visa
applications and prohibit some students from studying certain sensitive
fields of research.
Marburger made it clear that the process of determining what information
is sensitive and how it should be handled is still "in the formative
stage." The Administration has been holding "listening sessions"
with universities, scientific societies, and other stakeholders, with
the resulting document to be published in the Federal Register for public
comment. He assuaged concerns about government control over publication
of research results, saying, "I am aware that there is an impression
that the Administration is considering a policy of pre-publication review
of sensitive federally-funded research. This is incorrect." Marburger
testified that it is the goal of the Administration, as well as Congress,
"to ensure an open scientific environment in the U.S." while
maintaining homeland security. He also clarified that the designation
of a "Sensitive Homeland Security" category of information
did not necessarily refer to research results, but to government information,
such as intelligence, law enforcement, and public health information,
that is generally not made public.
Witness after witness stated that the strength of the nation's S&T
enterprise is based on open exchange of information, and on the publication
of findings and methods so that experiments can be reproduced by others.
This "mitigates fraudulent results, sloppy science, and political
biases," said Greenwood, who previously served as OSTP Associate
Director for Science. Ronald Atlas, an expert in bioterrorism and President
of the American Society for Microbiology (ASM), warned that efforts
to restrict scientific information might also "stifle the research
needed to develop countermeasures" to possible biological attacks.
"We should take care not to break what works well and not attempt
to fix what isn't broken," Greenwood said. The Reagan-era NSDD-189
was cited repeatedly as an effective model for addressing research-related
security concerns. The witnesses urged that, if research is of sufficient
concern to be restricted, it should simply be classified. They warned
that the categorizing of research as "sensitive but unclassified"
was poorly defined and confusing. MIT professor Sheila Widnall, former
Secretary of the Air Force, said the responsibilities and obligations
of a university toward such research would be vague and unclear. So
far, she said, MIT has refused to accept any contract restrictions that
would require government pre-publication review for "sensitive"
information. Widnall also served on an MIT committee that recommended
that all classified research be performed off-campus, and that no students
should do their thesis research in areas requiring access to classified
The witnesses acknowledged that, while NSDD-189 has worked well in the
past, new concerns have arisen since the Cold War - in particular, the
concern over biological agents being used as weapons of terrorism. As
Boehlert remarked in his opening statement, "for the first time,
the biological sciences are caught on the horns of our security dilemma."
Widnall noted that the biological sciences community was not as familiar
as those in the physical sciences with "the relationship between
basic research and its national security applications," and needs
to start identifying areas that should be classified and mechanisms
for doing so. Atlas reported that the ASM has developed its own policies
to prevent the publication of research that could be harmful, but continues
to require that articles contain sufficient information to allow others
to reproduce the work. "Independent reproducibility is the heart
of the scientific process," he testified. He commented that the
biological sciences community was "struggling to identify what
is dangerous, what is sensitive." He also said the ASM has asked
the National Academy of Sciences to convene a meeting of scientific
publishers in early 2003 to discuss security issues related to publishing.
Questions were also raised about restricting foreign students from
certain fields of study. A 2001 presidential directive that called for
establishing the IPASS process also prohibits "certain international
students from receiving education and training in sensitive areas,"
and legislation has been passed that will require universities to keep
track of foreign students and their fields of study. The witnesses pointed
out that international students bring vitality and talent to U.S. universities,
that students change majors frequently, and that information from most
courses is available on the Internet and in textbooks. Marburger explained
that the IPASS process, which is still being formulated, would focus
on graduate-level research and consider each case individually. The
directive, he added, states that the government "shall continue
to foster and support international students."
Remarking that restrictions on university research would not have prevented
the September 11 attacks, Rep. Lynn Woolsey (D-CA) asked, "are
we overreaching?" However, the witnesses agreed that it was the
responsibility of the scientific community to address issues of security,
and to join in a dialogue with the Administration to find the proper
balance between security and openness. "I've concluded that the
Administration is asking the right questions, and consulting broadly,"
declared Ranking Minority Member Ralph Hall (D-TX). The committee expects
to hold more hearings on this subject.