Prior to President Bush's signing of the Department of Homeland Security
bill on November 25, OSTP Director John Marburger took several occasions
to discuss the White House's views on security in the conduct of science.
On October 27 he gave the keynote address on "Science in a Security
Conscious World" at the policy session of this year's Industrial
Physics Forum. Security in air travel, scientific contributions to securing
U.S. ports and naval assets, and countering bioterrorism threats were
other topics at this session of the annual Industrial Physics Forum
and Academic-Industrial Workshop, which is sponsored by the American
Institute of Physics' Corporate Associates program. Some highlights
of Marburger's keynote address are provided below.
Marburger began his remarks with a brief history of the interaction
between science and security. It was "an accident that the scientific
knowledge needed to produce the technology of nuclear weapons appeared
coincidentally with the outbreak of World War II," he said, but
"nuclear science henceforth became a paradigm for postwar arguments
favoring public support of research. The course of World War II was
strongly affected by technology, most notably radar, but arguable also
penicillin and other areas of chemistry, optics, and electronics, as
well as nuclear weapons."
While security in the post-war period generally focused on nuclear
weapons, Marburger noted that "the example of nuclear weapons is,
unfortunately, not very useful for guidance in how to manage science
in a security-conscious twenty-first century. The scientific knowledge
upon which nuclear fission weapons are based is thoroughly understood
and widely available today.... But everyone knows that the technical
skill required to make a nuclear weapon is specialized, and that substantial
resources are required to produce the fissile material and fabricate
it into a weapon of mass destruction. Specific details of these processes
remain classified.... Because of their tremendous potential destructive
power and their relatively small size, [nuclear weapons] remain high
on the list of security concerns. Everyone agrees that nuclear weapons
technology should remain highly classified."
"None of these precedents for dealing with security-sensitive
technical material gives adequate guidance for the field of bio-warfare
or bio-terrorism," Marburger continued. "Modern biotechnology
has two aspects: the apparatus required to unravel molecular codes and
structures and their significance to the organism, and the technical
procedures employed to produce novel organisms based upon this knowledge.
In contrast with nuclear science and technology, the former is relatively
difficult to acquire, and the latter relatively easy.... In biotechnology,
therefore, the discovery activity upon which the entire field depends
for its advance is the one that is technically difficult to acquire.
The applications phase is easier. This has implications for any policy
aimed to enhance national security against bio-terrorism. The most efficient
way to prevent bio-terrorism would be to classify the basic data that
is difficult to acquire. Because it is basic data, however, this approach
would have a serious impact on the development of all applications of
biological research, and generally impair the progress of the field.
The alternative of denying access to education in techniques for applying
biotechnical knowledge is not efficient because the necessary training
is in general not particularly specialized."
"What is an appropriate course of action here?" Marburger
asked. He pointed out that the policy currently in effect is the Reagan-era
National Security Decision Directive 189, which states that, to the
maximum extent possible, the products of fundamental research should
remain unrestricted, and that the mechanism used for control of federally
funded R&D information should be the classification process. However,
Marburger remarked that in March, "Chief of Staff Andrew Card issued
a memorandum ordering federal departments and agencies to take
steps to protect information regarding weapons of mass destruction and
other information that could compromise national security....' [T]here
are obviously many forms of information, such as law enforcement and
forensics data, whose circulation is controlled but which are not classified.
Mr. Card's memorandum was a reasonable caution to agencies that generate
and use such information. It does not signal an intent by the U.S. Government
to intervene in the process of review and publication of the results
of scientific research." Marburger referred listeners to his recent
testimony on this topic (available on the OSTP web site at http://www.ostp.gov)
before the House Science Committee (see FYI
"As an example of...an appropriate way to address the complexity
of the openness vs. security issue," Marburger cited President
Bush's October 2001 directive which declares, in part, "the Government
shall implement measures to end the abuse of student visas and prohibit
certain international students from receiving education and training
in sensitive areas, including areas of study with direct application
to the development and use of weapons of mass destruction." It
is difficult, he said, "to define when a particular student applying
to study a particular field at a particular institution may pose a security
risk.... [I]t would be extremely difficult to devise a set of rules
that could be applied automatically by consular offices in a foreign
country to assess the probability that the applicant could be a terrorist
seeking special information needed to disrupt society. As a practical
alternative, an interagency working group...has proposed a process that
brings the necessary information to bear on problematical cases."
He continued, "The Administration concluded that given the wide
array of coursework and information freely available through academic
institutions and other open sources, it becomes impossible to create
a list of sensitive courses or even majors that would meaningfully enhance
homeland security against terrorist threats from international students.
Because of the focus on uniquely available, sensitive, scientific training
or knowledge, it is logical to assume that graduate and postdoctoral
researchers would be more likely to be reviewed than undergraduate students
whose educational content tends to be more widely available." An
Interagency Panel on Advanced Science and Security will be established
to review visa applications on a case-by-case basis, focusing on "international
students who wish to participate in sensitive science and technology
areas that are uniquely available in the United States and who may use
the knowledge gained to threaten the security of the United States."
The panel will "evaluate a number of variables, including the individual's
background and previous education and training, their country of origin
or affiliation, their scientific area of study, training, or research
and the nature of the work currently conducted at the U.S. educational
institution, and will provide the referring agency with an advisory
opinion regarding the proposed visa applicant." Marburger noted
that the panel will work closely with educational institutions and scientific
societies to learn what "sensitive scientific knowledge is emerging,"
and that the panel's work will be monitored "to ensure that the
Federal government has struck the right balance between scientific openness
and homeland security.... We don't wish to turn away scientists unnecessarily."