Oral History Transcript — Dr. A. G. Hill
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A. G. Hill; August 5, 1991
In this interview, Albert G. Hill discusses his experience in the JASON Defense Advisory Group. Topics discussed include: John Wheeler; Jerrold Zacharias; Luis Alvarez; James Killian; President's Science Advisory Committee (PSAC); Eugene Wigner; Institute for Defense Analyses (IDA); Project 137; Louis Ridenour; Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Lincoln Laboratory; Herb York; Don Price; Oskar Morgenstern; Henry Jackson; Garrison Norton.
Aaserud:We are in the apartment of Dr. Albert Hill on the 5th of August, 1991, and I would like to talk to you about your experience with JASON in particular, and also how it relates to your career more generally.
But let me first say a little about my project so far. So far I have talked mostly to JASONs about their experience in JASON, and I think itís very important in order to get a sense of their impact to talk to others who experienced JASON from the outside, and also to look at documents created by others who saw JASON from the outside. So thatís an important part of my trip here this time, and thatís why I want to talk to you about this. And I know that you were quite strongly involved in the origins of JASON. I have a lot of documentation on that.
Aaserud:So, you know, we could go through the documentation and discuss it, thatís one thing. And I have little or no documentation of your experience or involvement in JASON at a later date. Now hopefully you can correct me on that, and I would love to have your evaluation of the importance, of the experience and involvement in establishing JASON. My documents for that go back to December of 1957.
Hill:1957. Yeah, thatís about right.
Aaserud:When John Wheeler wrote to you.
Hill:Right. My importance to JASON — and I want this clear from the outset — was mostly getting them support. Not so much money support as support of the scientific community. I said this is something that has to be done. And we got it done. Please, Iím not trying to take credit for JASON; Iím trying to tell you what I did for it. It was a good project.
Aaserud:But what John Wheeler proposed in December of 1957 was not JASON; it was something completely different. It was a proposal to establish a laboratory for Defense, in which basic scientists, mostly physicists, should have relative freedom to work on basic science programs having to do with national security.
Aaserud:A very ambitious thing. And I donít know if you remember anything about your first response to that or how you responded to Wheelerís first approach.
Hill:Well, I think I can. Now, remember, Iím talking about events as far as Iím concerned took place 15, 20, 30 years ago. Quite a long time and so I may have to correct or something later. But thatís about right. And what JASON proposed to do —
Aaserud:Well, I would like to talk about Wheelerís ideas of a laboratory first, and how you responded to that.
Aaserud:And I donít know if you remember Wheelerís proposal. At the outset it was a proposal to establish a whole hierarchy of laboratories, with basic science at the top —
Aaserud:— And then the weapons laboratories would constitute but just one part of the structure. And I think he used DuPont originally as a mode1for how this should work. But at any rate, he sent this proposal to you and to Killian, and probably some other people, towards the end of 1957.
Aaserud:And he argued that this was absolutely necessary to catch up with the Soviets.
Hill:1957. Just a moment, please. I have to thought-scan my brain with details. That was a long time ago.
Aaserud:And you were Chief Scientist of IDA. That was the capacity in which he sent it to you.
Hill:Yes, thatís correct. I have no problem with that. Thatís truthful Iíd say. Itís as truthful as I could be if I corrected you.
Aaserud:But you donít remember Wheelerís proposal?
Hill:Oh yes. I remember Wheeler coming to see me, and I remember my position at IDA and all that. All I can say is that I think heís got it pretty correct.
Aaserud:You reacted positively to that proposal.
Hill:Letís put it this way. Nobody invents anything. Somebody else has invented something and he has stolen the ideas, you know? So you see what Iím trying to say. Iím trying to say that, what Wheeler had in mind was first rate. Whether it ever came to pass in the way that he had in mind, I donít know, he doesnít know. But I think it was a good idea. Of course without seeing the tape or something like that I canít tell you how successful it was, but I think it was, but I think it was a pretty good job, and needed to be done about that time. Now I always feel when I talk to somebody whoís been through this cycle as often as I have been that he — thatís you now in this case — you are asking the wrong questions.
Hill:Well, weíll get to that. And the problem —
Aaserud:Well you said I was asking the wrong question.
Hill:Oh yeah. Now what did I mean by that? The question I asked, how do I know how wrong it was?
Aaserud:Well, I was asking about your response to Wheelerís laboratory project.
Hill:Yeah. Well, I think the wrongness in Wheelerís proposal would have been one I would have made too. Please, I want to make that clear. It was just not a thing that you could really do in 1957. And we were of the idea that if you took 300 pounds of brilliance and put them to work on a problem you could solve it. Well, that ainít so. You can lead into the problem, and thatís what Wheeler did. And what Wheeler did I support. His reasons for it I never agreed with, but thatís not the thing.
Aaserud:Well, could you elaborate on that?
Hill:Iíll try. If anybody is worth having on a project of this sort, he
has to be damn bright or a very hard worker. And Iím not sure you can distinguish between the two, hard workers or very bright. But Wheeler was a dominating force in things and he started it and so on. So it was very hard to say, ďLook, youíre crazy as hell.Ē In fact it wasnít even necessary. Now the most successful project manager I ever knew was Jerrold Zacharias. You know the name.
Yeah. And he somehow had the ability to get a lot of smart guys together and keep them working on the problem. Now, let me try to clarify that. Iím pausing because of my asthma. Youíll just have to put up with that, Iím sorry, asthma doesnít require your blessing, you see. Itís like that. Zacharias had the amazing ability of getting a lot of bright people together, some of whom were very good scientists, such as Luis Alvarez. If these names are unfamiliar, let me spell them out. Or good managers such as, what the hell, Iíll say me. I didnít do enough in the scientific field in these special summers things. Iím not trying to be modest, please. But I was damned good at keeping the group on course. And thatís where I made my contributions. I hope you do not get any feeling that I am extremely modest.
Hill:I assure Iím not. [laughs] But he had guys, well, have you ever seen the Hartwell Report?
Aaserud:I have not seen it.
Hill:Yeah. It has been more or less declassified. Have you requested it? You havenít gotten it yet. Youíre making it damn difficult.
Aaserud:I donít think I have requested it.
Hill:Oh. Request it. It was the best summer study of all time. So you ought to get it and read it.
Aaserud:Yes. That was some years earlier, but thatís fine.
Hill:You never flatter anybody by saying someone else suggested that too. Look, Iím an American. I repeat. Iím a wisecracker. The reason it was very good was, one, leadership — Zacharias; two, it looked at the problems and never for an instant taking their minds off the main problem, which was how do you defeat submarines. Thatís the easiest way I can say it. And every time we sort of drifted off that, Zacharias would be there with his bell and his wicked impulses to tell us to address a problem. He might have said, ďGentlemen,Ē but I doubt it. Zacharias was not a terribly popular fellow, I think primarily because he never let any special group get off the subject, and also because he had a good idea of what the subject was to begin with and he kept us there. Iím about out of breath, so if you want to ask a question —
Aaserud:What Wheeler tried of course was something quite different. It was a laboratory in which problems should be approached and decided on as they came up. It was not one particular predetermined set of projects. You indicated that Wheeler came to this for the wrong reasons or something like that. What did you mean by that?
Hill:Now look. Youíre asking me to go back 20, 30 years. Never mind, Iím not gonna make myself out an ass by giving you the wrong reasons at this point. Let me give you a little information on justifying that statement. I think that statementís justifiable. The justification I would use if you asked that question now is that we got real bright guys, some of whom knew something about the technical problems, and some of whom knew something about how you get people working on them, you know. This mix I mentioned before. And it worked because, primarily of two things: we had bright people, and we had great leadership. Now, before I miss a second point I made, and that was who the smartest person on the project was — well of course it was me. You understand that. Zacharias was an incomprehensible leader, because he was always getting everybody in the group angry with him, and always coming out with something useful. Oh hell, I guess I have some of it left. Zach died about three years ago. As I say, he was never popular in his lifetime, and you might not even say any of these things are true now, but he was something. Let me let you take over, for two reasons. One, Iíve run out of ideas; two, Iíve run out breath.
Aaserud:Of course Wheeler did not take on that responsibility that Zacharias did.
Aaserud:So thatís another matter. Weíll come to that. The laboratory failed in part because Wheeler didnít want to take the responsibility.
Hill:Thatís right, thatís right. Zacharias didnít either, but Zacharias made it very clear at the start that what he was after was to get people interested in this problem or these problems. But it was never to pursue one particular problem from, you know, life to death.
Aaserud:And not a full-time thing. Well maybe Iíll read a part of your response to Wheeler.
Hill:Good. Youíre gonna make me out a liar, but thatís alright. I donít mind.
Aaserud:Okay. ďIt is my feeling that the problem is somewhat more complicated than might be inferred from your message sent to the Presidentís Scientific Advisory Board. Let me assure that this is not another way of saying, ďYes, yes, this is all very good, but Professor Wheeler does not understand the facts of life.Ē Such is furthest from my thoughts. Actually my deep concern is the problem of drawing competent scientists into these very important fields on a full-time basis. Many of our colleagues feel that a consulting relationship with an operating agency is quite enough contribution on their part, and I am very much afraid that this is not true. Assuming the general truth of your statement, I feel we must work very hard to see that an appropriate number of first rate scientists work full-time within the government framework.Ē
Aaserud:So I understand this to say that you are agreeing with Wheeler that the more full-time kind of work is needed as compared to, you know, part-time consulting.
Hill:Yeah. That scares the hell out of me. Assuming I said it.
Aaserud:Well, I assume you did.
Hill:Okay. I told you I was an American. Assuming I said it. I think what I am trying to say is that there are a hell of a lot of different approaches to problems of this sort. If by any chance you need say ten Einsteinís to work on something, thatís one problem; if you realize you donít need ten Einsteinís, you only need one guy who can run something and nine guys who can not only think but will do what he tells them to think about,
thatís different. Is that clear? Because this I think is very important. Zacharias was a guy who could tell you what to think. Einstein was a guy who could think.
Aaserud:Are you implying that Wheeler was not emphasizing leadership enough?
Hill:You canít catch me there, old boy. No.
Aaserud:Iím not trying to. I am just trying to understand what you are saying.
Hill:Alright. Iím not trying to imply anything. I think what I am saying is what I honestly believe today and now, and probably believed 20 years ago. But I wonít say that thatís what I believed 20 years ago. I donít really know, I donít know if youíre looking for a pause to your next question or if Iím looking for a pause because of my asthma.
Aaserud:Well, I was sort of waiting for your correction of my statement that Wheeler didnít take the question of leadership seriously enough. I mean, you keep comparing or implying that the project of Zacharias was more realistic in some way than Wheelerís proposal. Thatís how I understand you.
Hill:That is right. On the other hand, let me quickly correct myself. If I wanted to hire somebody to run a project for six weeks or six months, ainít no question Iíd get Zacharias. Now, how about a longer thing? On a longer thing itís not clear thereís a great difference. I might still hire Zacharias. But there is a difference, and somehow you have to get into the heart and brain of a man to point out what the difference is. Now I worked with and for Zacharias. He worked for me (for a short spell) for a long time. I hope you got the parentheses in there. Itís very hard for me to compare the two people. Maybe I knew them too well.
Aaserud:Wheeler is not suggesting that this thing is going to be led by him of course.
Aaserud:This is a concept he is introducing; he is not introducing himself as the leader.
Hill:Understood. But can you really tell the difference? Now ask yourself that question. Donít ask me.
Aaserud:Well actually, in this case itís interesting. Thatís an interesting question, because in the end he refused to be the leader of the concept he proposed.
Hill:That has nothing to do with it. No, no, no. You donít understand. People like Zacharias and Wheeler, quite different, they had one thing in common, and that was they were always suggesting problems for somebody else to solve, and thatís what Wheeler is doing here. And maybe Zach too.
Aaserud:I donít think Zacharias was in on this.
Hill:No, I donít think he was either, but I can tell you, if he had been involved itís pretty certain this would have been his approach. And you canít correct me, because Zacharias is very dead.
Aaserud:But since you said you were worried about what you said here, let me tell you what you said at the end here. ďI am afraid that my ideas on this subject are somewhat exhaustive and complicated. I do not feel I can put them into a sentence and readable letter.Ē And then you asked to meet him.
Hill:Well youíre going back 20 years, or 10 years or something. This is an ancient statement. When was this statement made, and by whom?
Aaserud:It was made by you in early 1958, in response to Wheelerís proposal.
Hill:Oh, I see. Now you got to read it all over again. I wonít be dishonest with you. Iíll tell you what I thought then, what I think now.
Aaserud:Yes. Actually my deep concern is the problem of drawing competent scientists into these very important fields on a full-time basis. Many of our colleagues feel that a consulting relationship with an operating agency is quite enough contribution on their part, and I am very much afraid that this is not true. Assuming the general truth of your statement, I feel we must work very hard to see that an appropriate number of first-rate scientists work full-time within the government framework.
Hill:God help me, did I really say that?
Yes. ďNot so many as to destroy the character of our basic research and educational programs. Both of these require more effort, not less, but enough to insure that our Ďmilitaryí "— in quotation marks —" programs are getting a fair shake from first rate people and not from the second and third raters who are even now running many important programs.
Hill:Okay. Iím perfectly happy with that. At Princeton or the Institute for Advanced Study.
Aaserud:No, Wheelerís at Princeton University.
Aaserud:Heís now in Maine. He just celebrated his 80th birthday.
Hill:I got him beat by a year. Iím 81. Well, Iím 81 Ĺ in those terms.
Aaserud:A year and a half. Okay. He very, very strongly recommended that I talk to you. He told me that you were the most crucial person for him in trying to get access to government and get the correct channels for it.
Hill:Yes. Well, I will say that certainly I did more for him than anybody else.
Aaserud:Than anybody else did. Iíll ask you now to what extent you found Wheelerís concept to fit into all the other relationships and institutional expressions of the relationship between academia and government at the time. The Advanced Research Projects Agency ARPA, of the Department of Defense has just been established. The Institute for Defense Analysis, IDA, was expanding and was providing scientific support for ARPA. The DDR&E would be established a little later. I think Wheelerís original suggestion was that his laboratory should be the working scientific arm of ARPA. It was because ARPA did not have a laboratory at the time. So what I am asking is how was Wheelerís proposal viewed in comparison with and in the context of all these other mechanisms?
Hill:You want an honest answer, or do you want pontification?
I would like an honest answer, which might be pontificating if necessary.
Okay. Reasonable. So I am now pontificating. Look. Itís a very complicated, very mixed-up subject. It involves politics. Politics in the worst sense of the word. You know, the ward healers; that have meaning to you, a ward healer?
Hill:No, it doesnít. Well, Iíll put it in basic English. A ward healer is someone who is always looking for the end result as it affects him. Thatís all. You look puzzled. A non-ward healer is the opposite, thatís all.
Aaserud:Iím not entirely certain who you are talking about.
Hill:Neither am I. Letís see if we can start over. I think this might be an important point.
Iím not sure whether you are saying that I am asking you the wrong question or whether Wheeler proposed his laboratory for his own benefit in some sense?
Aaserud:Okay. So weíre all ward healers.
Hill:Yeah, weíre all ward healers. And thatís of course very unfair.
Aaserud:Okay. Well, let me put the question in a little more concrete term then. Was Wheelerís proposal in some sense an implicit reaction to other developments? I mean, should Wheelerís proposal be seen as a competitor with PSAC for example or a supplement to PSAC?
Hill:No, itís in addition.
Aaserud:Yes, I have that sense too. I donít know how slowly or quickly we should go on this. We could go on for a very long time if we keep this pace. Now of course Wigner was also part of this. Wigner wrote to Killian in May of 1958. Okay, itís not going very slowly after all. We are in May of 1958 already. What was Killianís response to Wheelerís proposal? Do you remember that? Did you discuss this with Killian?
Hill:I have no idea. I have no idea. But I think it would have been very general, very socioeconomic political terms. Now look, donít think Iím talking down Killian. Killian was a very great man. He had a lot of important things to do, and did. On the other hand he was not a Zacharias. They were different people.
Aaserud:Well, my feeling is from the documentation I have seen that Killian was not completely happy with the concept. I think he saw it in some way as some kind of competition with PSAC. At any rate, he was a little irritated, thatís the feeling I get, that they were pushing this so hard.
Hill:Who was pushing what so hard?
Aaserud:The Princeton people were pushing this laboratory concept so hard.
Aaserud:Because there were so many proposals floating around at the time, and he felt that he through his PSAC position should have control and make the choice of what would be the right institutions. So he was a little upset that they pushed this so hard and tried to get in front of the rest of the field because there were many proposals of course during that period. That is my sense.
Aaserud:And in an exchange with Wigner, Killian was stressing the applied side, that it was important to have a project lead somewhere, have some goal for a project. Whereas Wigner was saying that, well, if you want that, then you do not allow science to go in whichever direction it needs to go. So there seems to be a difference there between Wigner and Killian.
Hill:Yeah. Well, I would put it this way, that — I donít know which came first, and I donít think itís important at all — I think that Killian —
Aaserud:I should have shown you the documents. Itís unfair of me to just talk about the documents that you have not seen.
Hill:Thatís right. My feeling is theyíre both right, and youíre not putting it in the right context. Killian was writing a paper I think for the President to sign, and thatís a hell of a different thing than writing a paper for say the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs to sign. Now please, donít use those terms. Iíll tell you why. Iím not ashamed of them, not in the least, but you have to be prepared to answer them on the spot. You canít just drop out Joint Chiefs and Secretary. And it would come out all wrong. I would not know how to write it, and so I ask you not to quote me on that one.
Hill:I will probably be dead, so it wonít really matter, so you donít have to be careful. But seriously, there is a point in what Iím saying. And I think the real point to what I am saying is that time marches on, and you see I said Iíd probably be dead. Well look at the things that have happened just in the past year. Who would have predicted that communism would be dead. You know, not just somehow beat over the head, but dead! Itís the deadest thing on Godís earth as far as I can tell at the moment. I think the point Iím trying to make is that time does change a lot of things. Especially in military, problems or the economy is not measured in dollars; itís measured in time, minutes really. A dollar a minute, thatís damn cheap, come to think of it. And I think this is the point. If you agree with it at all, you have to make it very clear. Please. Iím not asking you to agree with me. Iím asking you to try to understand what in the hell it is Iím trying to say, because I donít understand it. Seriously, the most difficult thing I think to understand is politics. And this is a very broad, the broadest sense. Iíve said enough for the moment. You can ask questions if you want. At your own risk, I might add.
Aaserud:Fine. Well, at any rate, this disagreement between Wigner and Killian led to the two of them meeting and coming to some kind of agreement that the time was not right for the laboratory; one should do something in preparation for the laboratory, some trial project. And that trial project was to become the Project 137, the summer study of 1958. That is how I have come to understand the development from the huge, ambitious laboratory concept, which became a little smaller in ambition after a while, to Project 137, a mere summer study.
Hill:That was held at Hartwell Farms.
Aaserud:No. It was held at the National War College in Washington.
Hill:Oh, right. Thank you because that clarifies that point. Yeah, I donít know enough about that one to comment. Iím scared to death if I commented I would give you incorrect information — and this is perfectly honest.
Aaserud:Okay. So that was that. Let me take this chronologically now. Thereís a completely different thing that occurred. In early June 1958 you were going to ask Wheeler not to become director of his own laboratory but to become director of the National Security Agency Laboratory of Communications I think it was, or of Cryptography that was to be established at Princeton. Do you remember that?
Hill:Iím not with you. I donít.
Aaserud:The IDA helped the National Security Agency.
Hill:Yes, thatís true. And Iím glad you mentioned IDA, because now I can understand what your question is based on. IDA did, in a very general, general way, about as much as Killian helped 137. In other words it steered its channels this way and not get out of it. Repeat your question if you can. Iím sorry.
Aaserud:The IDA helped the National Security Agency to establish a laboratory in Princeton. I think it was a laboratory for cryptography.
Hill:Yeah. It could have been. Iím not sure of the name. Keep going.
Aaserud:On 3rd June, 1958, Jim McCormack, the head of IDA wrote in a memo that you were going to ask John Wheeler to become director of this laboratory.
Aaserud:Do you remember that, and do you remember whether you asked Wheeler and what his response was?
Hill:I can manufacture one which is probably true.
Aaserud:The most likely, yes.
Hill:Wheeler didnít want to run anything; he wanted to establish things and have them run.
Aaserud:Actually he didnít recall that either. He didnít recall the laboratory or being asked about it, so that was probably more of a side concern of both of you as compared to these other developments.
Hill:Exactly, right. I think you have it.
Aaserud:So what Wheeler remembers very vividly was not that, but it was working with you to locate briefers for the upcoming Project 137 study.
Hill:Right, yeah, yeah, right. I remember that. See, I didnít remember the first one at all.
Aaserud:And I wondered whether you could say something about your
work with Wheeler in that respect.
Hill:No, you know, itís like 25 years from now somebody comes in and says, ďTell me about your conversation with that Norwegian who wanted to know about everything.Ē How did I respond? I would say something general like, he was interested in the overall manner in which problems were set up. He never embarrassed me by trying to be specific on particular projects, because when the time had gone on and — Iíll try to say it another way. If youíre looking at very general problems, the passage of time doesnít make a hell of a lot of difference. They stay with us. If youíre looking at very specific problems, they change like crazy. And look, it occurs to me at this point that I have given you a lot of generalizations on very specific questions. Iím sorry, but Iím not out to commit hara-kiri over it.
Aaserud:Thatís right. But what Iím saying, I have the documents and I havenít shown them to you. I mean itís unfair.
Hill:Thatís alright. I donít mind that at all. That doesnít bother me.
Aaserud:Some of it obviously comes back, and even if you generalize, you were there.
Hill:Oh yeah, Right.
Aaserud:If you manufacture, as you say, thatís fine too.
Hill:If I manufacture it, I was smarter than I thought.
Aaserud:Well you said you manufactured that one answer about Wheeler and the NSA laboratory. But I suppose that your work to locate briefers for Wheeler consisted in using your position in IDA.
Aaserud:Only that, but your experience with government people, generally speaking.
Hill:I would say itís fair and probably more accurate to say I used it because of the latter reason that I was familiar with the problems, I had an awful lot of work as background. I spoke from that background, just as I am trying to speak to you today.
Aaserud:Of course this was very different from the laboratory in the sense that Project 137 was intended to brief on very specific problems.
Hill:Could be. I canít recall.
We shouldnít talk too much about Project 137, because I still have not got the documents for that. Itís waiting for me in Copenhagen, so itís not all that meaningful. But what it was was that there was one lecture on a specific problem and discussion on that problem, etc., over a large range of specific national security problems. And you assisted Wheeler in finding the people and probably the topics that were relevant for such discussion and were ripe for such discussion. Weíll leave it at that, the Project 137, unless you have something to add?
Hill:No, thatís more than fair. Iím perfectly happy with that. I didnít do a damn thing as far as I know except say, ďI will help you recommend people or compare one type of person with another.Ē
Aaserud:But if we stay on Project 137, laboratory idea was still in the back of Wheelerís mind certainly, and he still saw Project 137 as a trial attempt to develop this into his more ambitious laboratory concept.
Hill:Youíve talked to Wheeler recently I gather.
Aaserud:Yes. I have.
Hill:Then I agree with you completely.
Aaserud:And there was a discussion at the project about what could be done to establish such a laboratory.
Hill:At the project. That doesnít ring a bell.
Aaserud:Well, during the project, I think during a weekend, there was a discussion of this.
Aaserud:And I could remind you of something you said possibly there. It might remind you of something, it may not. You said that Ridenour had tried to set up a little NDRC after the war.
Hill:Yes, thatís correct.
Aaserud:And that developed to no more than the Lincoln Laboratory. I would like you to explain that, because thatís my lack of history here.
Hill:Yeah. Well, itís also Ridenourís lack of history — and Hillís, I quickly add. Zacharias was an absolute genius at names. Wheeler always named things like ďProject 137.Ē Wheeler was a theoretical physicist and 137 was a magic number, and Zach was more of a practical type who named things for some specific reason. And what was the name? You mentioned 137; you mentioned another name of a project.
Aaserud:NDRC. National Defense Research Council?
Hill:No, no, no.
Aaserud:Lincoln Laboratory? No, you would know that.
Hill:Yeah, well, itís alright. I realize itís probably unimportant. Just wasting time here. I was thinking of something else.
Aaserud:What is interesting here I think is that you compare in this statement Wheelerís laboratory to what Ridenour tried to set up.
Hill:Oh, sure, but itís also history.
Aaserud:Yeah. And I would like you to elaborate a little on that. I mean, first what Ridenour tried to set up, your involvement and opinion of that, and how and why you found it appropriate to compare that attempt to Wheelerís attempt. Thatís a lot of questions. I have to change the tape to get your answer.
Aaserud:What I was asking about was Ridenourís attempt seemingly to set up a laboratory much like Wheelerís.
Aaserud:I seem to remember to have read that that came out of a summer study too.
Hill:Possible. You have to remember, and you have to tell yourself this every day of the week, every month of the year if youíre going in this business, that everybody is inventing a new way to solve these military-political problems. That isnít the best language I could use, but I think you can translate it into something that would suit your purposes. Would you repeat my earlier statement, the one you just quoted to me?
Aaserud:Yes. Well let me first say that this was a meeting at the end of the summer study, seemingly an informal one, in which in addition to you, Marvin Stern, Fred Reines, Charles Lauritsen, Fowler, Wigner, Marvel, Furnas, Weil and Fitch participated.
Hill:You should never have told me that. You have sent me off into orbit. Because all of these people I knew very well.
Aaserud:Good. Wheeler was there too of course. Wheeler took notes of the meeting; thatís why I know anything about it. So what I say is from Wheelerís notes of the meeting. And according to Wheelerís notes of the meeting, it says, ďHill, Colon, Ridenour tried to set up ĎLittle NDRCí— in quotation marks —ďafterward only Lincoln came out.Ē That is what Wheeler refers to you as having said. I wonder if thatís something you would say now.
Hill:Well, I wouldnít have said it then. Put it this way, that, Lincoln Lab did come out of a number of meetings like this, and it was a survival of the fittest if youíre a Darwinian, and I canít really say any more than that.
Aaserud:But was one of the thoughts that eventually came to materialize as Lincoln the thought of establishing a much broader laboratory?
Hill:It couldíve been; it couldíve been. I will either clarify or hopelessly destruct your idea.
Aaserud:Youíre welcome to destroy it.
Hill:Alright. Youíre a historian, I gather.
Hill:The first name given to this project was Project Lexington.
Aaserud:That was the summer of 1949, was it?
Hill:Something, I donít know. No. I think that has no relation. I would forget it for the moment. You can come back to it if you wish. We have to back up. Not because of your questions, but because of my answers and so on. Do you understand what Iím saying?
Aaserud:So would you want to back up?
Hill:Yeah, I want to back up.
Aaserud:Now I just read this as your way of saying that now finally that will happen which could have happened when Lincoln was setup. I mean, I read that as I see it here through Wheelerís notes as a very positive statement towards Wheelerís idea. And I may be wrong or right on that.
Hill:No, I think itís a positive statement. But itís a positive statement that might have had a very negative effect, you see. Thatís why youíre confused.
Aaserud:It could be. But you would like to backup you said.
Hill:Oh no, thatís fine. Among other things, youíll find Iím not modest.
Aaserud:No. But you think that my interpretation is incorrect.
Hill:No, I think thatís alright. But maybe we ought to discuss it to make sure that you and I agree on what modesty is and all that.
Aaserud:Well there are two things here. One is how I find documented what Ridenour wanted. I would be interested to know what his concept was that eventually became Lincoln Laboratory — his attempt to set up a little NDRC. I wasnít aware of that, and I would like to get to that so that I can compare the two reasonably. And I wonder if you could say something about that attempt by Ridenour, if you remember it at all.
Hill:Oh, I remember it fairly well, but not in detail. Ridenour, who was also a global thinker among other things, thought — and now this must have been the period shortly after World War II — it might be sensible to set up a project or a number of projects, thatís why we called it, a ďlittle NDRC,Ē supporting radar, fire control — God knows what else, atomic weapons, you know, anything to make a big noise.
Aaserud:Any technology with war applications.
Hill:Well, there we are. I think Iíve answered your question.
Hill:Look. I should add one other thing about myself. Iím not in the least unhappy at being embarrassed or asked questions I canít answer.
Hill:Alright, okay, I just wanted you to understand this.
Aaserud:Well I should be embarrassed. Itís my job to look for these documents anyway.
Hill:Yeah, I know.
Aaserud:There are two of us. Well, this borders on the journalistic I suppose, but, how was the relationship between Wheeler and Killian? Wheeler was on a trip to England in the midst of all this. He took a research trip to England. And evidently Killian got a little upset about this, because he wanted to follow up what was happening with the leader of this, and when Wheeler comes home you tell Wheeler immediately, ďPlease make peace with Killian.Ē Is that just a small thing, or is it indicative of a larger point?
Hill:Itís the most important question youíve asked me. Now hang on. Itís also the least important. By this I mean youíve asked me a question, and here are two very bright guys, and this should never have been brought up. What did Killian mean? Who asked whom?
Aaserud:You advised Wheeler to make peace with Killian.
Hill:Okay. Well what I was trying to tell Wheeler I guess was that he didnít have all the brains in the universe; that there was still a little left over for Killian. Now that was completely unacceptable. But if you knew Wheeler youíd understand why. Alright. You want more? I donít think thereís anything more to say.
Aaserud:No, thatís fine. It was a little thing.
Hill:Alright. I donít mind the little things, the big things.
Aaserud:And you also said at this meeting: ďRun on basis of academic department with full professor status.Ē And you also wanted military personnel to be closely involved in the laboratory. Well, itís very difficult to draw conclusions from such notes.
Hill:Iím trying to think if thatís in character at all. I canít see that itís particularly in character. Iím not basing a judgment on that thought.
Aaserud:No, but I found it a little difficult to understand.
Hill:It bothered you. Okay, thatís enough. Why donít we skip it for now?
Now the Project 137 has taken place, and the discussions go on about the laboratory. Then on 24 October 1958 Herbert York who by now is the DDR&E, introduces the laboratory idea at an IDA trustee meeting. And he is very positive about it. So finally it seems that this may come to something. But then, on 16 March in 1959 Wheeler, after a lot of deliberation, says, ďNo thank youĒ to York to be the leader of the laboratory even part-time. I do not know, and Iím asking you, to what extent you took part in these developments, that is, first making it edible for York, and then trying to convince or not convince Wheeler to take the lead in this, or perhaps try to find other leaders; in short, to make the laboratory into a real entity during this period. Itís a very specific question, but I was wondering whether you remembered any of that?
Hill:I remember only the general characteristics of the discussion. Am I being recorded?
Hill:Okay, good because I want this said very, very clearly. I donít give a damn if you agree with me or not, but I want to be awfully sure that what I have said comes out the way I think I have said it.
Aaserud:I will transcribe it and send you a copy, and then you can do whatever you want with it.
Aaserud:And what you do with it will be the final version.
Hill:Yeah. Well, suddenly I thought of it. Go ahead.
Aaserud:But I would like you to say something about your involvement in the development from it being, from the laboratory concept being a real entity for York and something he wanted to do, until the time when Wheeler said, ďNo thank you.Ē
Aaserud:You know, for example if you were involved in trying to find a leader, any kind of involvement that you had in that laboratory concept. I think it was Jim Killian had the idea first that you ought to get someone to run it. And somehow or another Herb York was picked out. Now Herb Yorkís just a very first-rate guy. So I want it clear that my discussion is not on his capabilities at all. Itís about time for me to say ďhowever,Ē but Iím gonna fool ya; Iím not gonna say ďhowever.Ē I canít think of anything to add. York was just first rate, a very good man if we could get him, and Killian and I were both in the business of trying to get him — and McCormack. McCormack was involved. And there we were.
It was ARPA who took him from you?
Hill:Yeah, right and rechristened it to DARPA.
Aaserud:Well, thatís much later. So thatís basically what you can say about that.
Aaserud:Well there was a little afterthought. As an afterthought, Wheeler proposed Don Price.
Aaserud:Price, yes, as a possible candidate, to which Morgenstern was very negative.
Hill:Who was negative?
Aaserud:Oscar Morgenstern. It was you know the threesome, Wigner, Morgenstern and Wheeler, who backed this from the Princeton.
Hill:Right. Remember, youíre going back in my memory 20 years.
Aaserud:I know. Well, a little more than that.
Aaserud:Even. Now in May in 1959 you decided, or whoever decided, that you were going to leave as Chief Scientist of the Institute for Defense Analyses. That was in May of 1959. What were the circumstances for that? You just decided to retire from the position?
Hill:Well, what were the circumstances for me accepting the job in the first place?
Aaserud:Yeah, what were they?
Hill:Oh, why donít you tell me?
Aaserud:I donít know.
Hill:Okay. I was a Professor of Physics at MIT. I was perfectly happy being a Professor of Physics at MIT. I didnít want another job.
Aaserud:You came on a leave of absence from MIT.
Hill:Yeah, right. And I agreed to a stay of perhaps two or three years. And thatís all there is to that.
Aaserud:You probably stayed even a little longer than that as far as I remember.
Hill:I might have. I donít remember.
Aaserud:I donít remember exactly. You stayed from the beginning of IDA I believe.
Hill:Pretty much. Well, you see I had two jobs really. One was running the research program; the other was being director in residence which McCormack never was. I mean he wasnít in residence.
Aaserud:So what youíre saying is that it was in the cards all the time that you would only be there for this short period.
Hill:Yeah, thatís right.
Aaserud:Now enter Henry Jackson.
Hill:Oh yeah, Senator Jackson, right.
Aaserud:Yes. Henry ďScoopĒ Jackson.
Hill:Boy, my memory is better than I thought.
Aaserud:He is involved in this in some way also, and I would be very interested to have a little explanation of that, because I am not sure how all this fits together from the documents I have seen.
Hill:Yeah. Oh it doesnít, of course.
Aaserud:So, if you could help me on that I would be happy. On the 3rd of May, 1959, Jackson introduced legislation to establish an academy of national policy. And there seems to be some relationship there between that idea and IDA. And I wonder if you could say something about that.
Hill:Well, yes, I can say this about it right off. This shouldnít surprise you in the least. Where are you? Politics is wonderful, politics is crazy. This is just one of those things that ties together. Scoop Jackson was a pretty smart guy, as far as I know. I canít really add anything more.
Aaserud:No, but, okay, I will have some more specific questions as we go along.
Aaserud:You know John Wheeler worked for Jackson in 1957.
Hill:Oh yeah. They were very close. I had forgotten all about that.
Aaserud:What was your own relationship with Jackson? Did you know him at the time?
Hill:Not really, no.
Aaserud:The minutes from the IDA trustees meeting on the 26th of May, 1959, and let me see what that says. Norton ďthen discussed with the trustees the proposal made by Senator Jackson and a group of other distinguished men in these fields, both in and outside the government, that there be established a national academy for basic studies in all the facets of national defense and policy goals to give as much emphasis to studies in the social sciences as is now being given to the military and natural sciences. Mr. Norton concluded from this proposal and other related developments that there exists a wide future ahead for the corporation if the trustees decide that the scope of its activities should be expanded.Ē So this was a proposal, a development that the Institute for Defense Analyses wanted to be part of obviously.
Hill:Youíre putting words in my mouth.
Aaserud:But it was true that IDA sought to expand its activities.
Hill:IDAís program was set up in such a way that it could be expanded, no question. But that doesnít mean that we wanted it to be expanded, and thatís what youíre saying.
Aaserud:Well it seems to me, from what Norton is writing, or saying here, that he is eager to, but could correct me on that. You do not think that this was a wish of IDA to expand in this direction?
Hill:You mean an IDA board or an IDA? Have you ever been on a board?
Aaserud:Well, sort of, yes.
Hill:Did you ever agree with management?
Aaserud:Well, it happens, I suppose.
Hill:That should answer your question. Let me then expand a little.
Boards have a very important purpose, and a good board can make all the difference between a well-run corporation and a poorly-run one. But they meet, what, once every month or three months or something. They donít determine really what the corporationís going by. They can kill projects, they can initiate projects, but they donít run it. Itís a very complex thing.
Aaserud:Yes. But I mean if thereís something management does that is completely —
Aaserud:Or completely adverse to the boardís intentions, then it would be stopped sometime or other.
Hill:Sure. Thatís right.
Aaserud:So I would suppose that Norton wasnít going completely against the board in this case.
Hill:I have no idea.
Aaserud:Were you chairman?
Hill:No, I wasnít chairman; I was never chairman.
You were on the board at this time?
Hill:I was on the board, and I was president or something. I had some fancy title; I donít know what it was.
Aaserud:Let that be it for Jackson and expansion and all that for the time being, and let me turn to a meeting at Endicot House around —
Hill:Thatís in the next town over, Datum.
Aaserud:Early June 1959; a meeting which I have not found any written documentation on but which people have told me about and said that it was sort of a continuation of Project 137. I do not know whether you remember that particular meeting, but I could try to make you remember by mentioning one specific thing that one participant claimed took place there, namely Marvin Stern, who you may know.
Hill:Yeah, I know him.
He was a participant in Project 137, and he also came to that meeting. And he went up to you at that meeting — that is what he has told me — and explained to you his elaboration of Project 137, what he wanted to do in the longer term. And what he said he wanted to do was not to establish a laboratory, as Wheeler had proposed, but to establish some kind of involvement with national security questions by young physicists while still keeping them on campus. That was an innovation as far as he was concerned, and as far as he told me you bought that concept.
This took place at the lawn, outside, he tells me. And you took and introduced him to Jim McCormack who was also at the meeting. The three of you talked about Sternís concept and were positive about it. I donít know if that makes you remember the meeting either?
Hill:No, no, I remember it pretty well.
You remember that this took place?
Hill:Look. I remember it in this sense. It certainly could have happened.
Did it happen exactly? Well, you know if a manís life was at stake, guilty of murder or something, Iíd vote no. But, yes, Iím sure such conversations took place. We had Ďem all over the place all the time.
Aaserud:And Stern is more likely to remember than you are, because —
Hill:Because of what?
Aaserud:Stern is more likely to remember than you are, because it was his child, so to speak.
Hill:Yeah, right, exactly, exactly. Thatís a very good observation.
Aaserud:Now, at any rate, soon after that you wrote to Marvin Stern and asked him to become a member of the New Committee on Professional Problems that was set up by IDA, probably in connection with plans for reorganizing IDA or whatnot.
Hill:I have no idea.
Aaserud:Incidentally, in the same letter you say that Norton has seen Charles Townes and I think Townes accepted to succeed you as IDA Chief Scientist.
Hill:Oh. Charlie Townes, Yeah, right.
Aaserud:And according to Stern, this letter from you made him brave enough to formulate his thoughts in a letter, which he addressed to Garrison Norton, and where in effect he proposed — I would even say JASON at this point, because he proposed something like JASON.
Hill:No question itís probable.
Aaserud:So, I donít know if you remember enough to evaluate the developments that took place from the end of Wheelerís laboratory concept to Sternís proposal. Because Stern himself put it in the context of Project 137 and as the continuation of Wheelerís ideas —
Aaserud:— while at the same time claiming that the idea was new in the sense that it would not bring scientists away from their academic work for longer times.
Hill:No. No response.
Aaserud:So you do not recall how you responded to that as compared to how you responded to Wheelerís concept.
Hill:What year was it?
Aaserud:We are now in the summer of 1959. Would you consider, from what I have said, Sternís concept as something radically different from Wheelerís concept and from other proposals that had been presented previous to that of Stern?
Hill:Thatís hard to say. May I philosophize for a moment?
Hill:When a guy is proposing something, if you are chairman of the board — and I have been in that particular situation — you always want to know who is gonna run it. Is he proposing it for himself to run or for somebody else to run? And until you get a clear-cut answer to that, just forget it; donít even discuss it. If he says, ďWell, this is a very important, rah rah rah rah,Ē you say, ďYeah. Now who are we gonna hire to run it?Ē And then he suddenly starts speaking double talk, you know, double talk. And then you say, out! Thatís what I say here. I donít know.
Aaserud:I donít think Stern necessarily had that kind of ambition.
Hill:No. Not necessarily. Thatís absolutely right. But I say these are the things you have to answer.
Aaserud:Of course, of course. But I think both with Wheeler and with Stern the problem was probably more that they didnít want than that they did want.
Hill:Who knows? Who knows? You have to ask Ďem.
Aaserud:But you probably did.
Hill:Iím sure I did, unless I was embarrassed, of course.
Aaserud:Which you probably werenít.
Hill:Oh, I was terribly embarrassed.
Aaserud:I will continue to try to ask you a specific, very specific question. Iím sorry. You will not be embarrassed for not remembering, and so thatís fine. But, in July 1959 Garrison Norton wrote to Thomas Gates, who was then —
Aaserud:— Under Secretary of Defense, yes, and suggested that a small research capability should be established within IDA. And he adds, ďAs has already been discussed with Hill and me.Ē What I am a little confused about, and what I was hoping that you could clarify for me, is what this small research capability within the IDA central organization amounted to — what it was. I have a slight suspicion, but only a slight suspicion, that it could be what turned into JASON later. But Iím not at all certain about that. And if you want me to, I could show you the letter so that the wording might help you. But what is your first reaction to that?
Hill:Offhand itís easy. This is a sort of a garbage bucket that we dumped everything like this into — JASON, and the ones who didnít survive. JASON survived. This is not to put down the other suggestions, nor JASON itself. Itís just this is the sort of operation you have to go through.
Aaserud:So youíre actually saying that the small research capability is a bucket in which to put several things, or in which several things can be put, rather than a specific facility.
Hill:Yeah, only donít call it a small research facility. Call it something else. Call it a garbage bucket. Iíd be much happier with that.
Aaserud:ďA small research capability within the IDA central organization as contrasted with the presently established divisions of IDA, WSEG, NSA, and ARPA.Ē There was a resume of these conversations enclosed with the original letter which is not here now.
Hill:Are you sure it doesnít —. Iím trying to think of the negative of negative.
Hill:No. That is not the negative of negative. And when I think of the word, youíll understand. Let us say that someone had proposed Al Hill for this job, and someone else didnít want Al Hill there, but he didnít want to go on record as opposed to Al Hill. There you are.
Aaserud:I go to a document of 17 November, which are the minutes of an IDA trustee meeting. The in-house research group referred to earlier and Townesí proposal of a JASON group is treated at the same meeting. And they are treated as different items. ďRobertson then reverted to the prior conversation about an in-house research group for IDA. He stated that this group should build up a solid core of knowledge of defense problems. Then, due to their position, they could have a large effect on this community as a whole.Ē
Hill:What are Robertsonís names or initials?
Aaserud:Which Robertson is it, is that what youíre asking?
Hill:I would guess offhand H. P. Robertson, who was killed in an auto accident a year or two after that.
Aaserud:Was he a trustee of IDA?
Aaserud:It must be him.
Hill:Better put it in. Itís not too uncommon a name.
Aaserud:But this is just a quote from the minutes.
Hill:Yes, thatís alright.
Aaserud:ďAfter considerable discussion the committee summarized its position on this item as follows. There is a certain community of scholars who have become experts in government scientific matters. They influence greatly the decisions of government in these matters. IDA can be of great assistance to this community as a whole by building within itself a solid competence in these matters. The President of IDA should be aware of this community and its influence and should encourage in any valid way IDAís participation in this community. One possibility suggested was that IDA might organize seminars on specific problems. Hill then,Ē thatís you, ďHill then drew the committeeís attention to Item 4: use of bright, young scientists on DOD problems — Townes proposal.Ē And that is the proposal of the group that was to become JASON. And my question again is the relationship of the former which is the in-house research group, to the latter.
Hill:Yeah. Well I think thereís a direct relationship. How many, many generations? Please, donít ask. Youíre looking so puzzled.
Aaserud:But it is not the same. I mean, these are different items it seems to me of the discussion. I mean the in-house research group for discussion of government scientific matters.
Hill:Well, I would put it somewhat differently. These are not mammalian creatures. They reproduce somehow, but not necessarily by mating with one another. I donít know what term you want to use. Iím sure the one I suggested is not correct.
Aaserud:No, Iíll probably use something else for that.
Hill:You can say it, thatís no problem.
Aaserud:Will you allow me to just — Iím sure this bores you. Iíll just quote one more document in this connection. And weíll leave that specific question for now. And Iím getting close to the end of my specific list on the origins of JASON here. And then we can change gears, or you can throw me out, whatever.
Aaserud:Okay. This is a letter from Garrison Norton to Henry ďScoopĒ Jackson, the senator, of 13 November 1959. And this is a response to a letter from Jackson asking Norton about IDAís position in relation to his ideas to establish a national academy kind of thing. And question 5 that Jackson has asked is, ďHow can one minimize the danger that essential separation of policy research groups on one hand from operations on the other may result in ivory tower thinking.Ē And Norton responds to this: ďAnother important principle which may be very effective in this connection and which is still unexplored is under investigation at present in IDA. We have suggested that a decentralized research division of IDA be organized, made up of the most productive young scientists in the universities and research institutes. These men would stay at their present locations but would devote part of their time to government research projects. They would meet together at appropriate times and places to learn of new problems and to discuss results obtained during the preceding period. In this way a number of projects guided by some of the most creative minds in the country, employing graduate students and support personnel, could be utilized for the national defense. Steps are currently being taken by the Department of Defense to implement this proposal. If successful this principle could be applied to the broader field of national security policy.Ē And then he goes on. But thatís the important part.
Hill:Yeah, well you bump right into the security problem. Bingo.
Aaserud:Well thatís very interesting.
Hill:Well this is probably time we reinterpreted the security problem. But thatís alright.
Aaserud:Well actually the letter goes on to touch on that. But what this seems to me to indicate is that he is talking about JASON here or the plans for JASON. Thatís fairly clear.
Aaserud:So it seems that those two, you know, the in-house research capability and JASON seems to have joined together here in this letter, so that the in-house research facility seems to have lost its independence of JASON.
Hill:Well, I would say right off that I am not opposed to such a concept, but you do have a problem in the political arena of trying to decide whether itís proper or not.
Aaserud:Yes, yes, of course, of course. But I think it is interesting that JASON is seen in this light of Garrison Norton trying to establish this in-house capability for IDA, that JASON also came out of motivations that were internal to IDA, and that Garrison Norton, if not the trustees, if not the board, sought out such a course. So that there are all these interests which are not wholly compatible in and of themselves that come together and take form.
Hill:Thatís why boards exist.
Aaserud:I talk too much now. I should interview you, but this was just a particular thing that puzzled me.
Hill:No. Look, this is a conversation .Weíre not sitting here to decide the fate of the nation.
Aaserud:No, fortunately not.
Hill:And as such, itís a good conversation. What you brought up was something that you have to give to management to run, not a board of directors.
Aaserud:Are you saying that I should have posed these questions to Garrison Norton and not to you?
Hill:No, no. I can answer much better than he.
Aaserud:Iím sure of that, for practical reasons.
So I think Iíve covered the documents I had in relation to the origins of JASON that I wanted to ask you specifically about, and weíve been keeping at this for quite a while. So, then my next question is a million times more general, simply because I donít have documentation on it. What was your experience with the group that became JASON? So far weíve only talked about nonentities, or whatever you call it.
Hill:Thatís essentially what they were.
Aaserud:Yes. But at least there was a group that could be identified as JASON by 1960, and my question to you is what kind of experience, if any, you had with that group through its history.
Hill:Iím not sure I can answer that. Now, I went from minus to plus, or vice versa in a hurry. And the reason is very simple. If you want to discuss JASON, you donít want to talk to me; if you want to discuss the origins of JASON, thatís something else.
Aaserud:So you wouldnít point to any specific experience. I mean did you for example go out to a summer study and give a talk? Did you receive a report by JASON in any capacity; I mean was there any kind of contact?
Hill:Not that I recall, no.
Aaserud:So, let me generalize the question and ask you, do you think JASON has been an important group in any way, or do you have any opinion on that?
Hill:No. You know what weasel as a verb means?
Aaserud:As a verb. Well, no. Youíre teaching me some English. Thatís good.
Hill:Okay. Well weasel means you say what you want to say but hear what you want to have heard. In other words, you are weaseling. Youíre not telling the truth, but youíre not doing it directly. So I will weasel on this one. Now what was the question?
Aaserud:The question was whether you thought JASON had made a difference or was an important group in some ways.
Hill:I can look back on anything I have done as a physicist or a military philosopher or pontificator, God knows what, and I can always find something I thought should have been killed at birth and other things that in the end had an important impact. And so I would put JASON. It had some successes and some failures. The important thing is that we are open to this sort of self-criticism of the Department of Defense talking about its own operations. Okay?
Aaserud:Well that was the tape.