History Home | Book Catalog | International Catalog of Sources | Visual Archives | Contact Us

Oral History Transcript — Dr. John S. Foster, Jr.

This transcript may not be quoted, reproduced or redistributed in whole or in part by any means except with the written permission of the American Institute of Physics.

This transcript is based on a tape-recorded interview deposited at the Center for History of Physics of the American Institute of Physics. The AIP's interviews have generally been transcribed from tape, edited by the interviewer for clarity, and then further edited by the interviewee. If this interview is important to you, you should consult earlier versions of the transcript or listen to the original tape. For many interviews, the AIP retains substantial files with further information about the interviewee and the interview itself. Please contact us for information about accessing these materials.

Please bear in mind that: 1) This material is a transcript of the spoken word rather than a literary product; 2) An interview must be read with the awareness that different people's memories about an event will often differ, and that memories can change with time for many reasons including subsequent experiences, interactions with others, and one's feelings about an event. Disclaimer: This transcript was scanned from a typescript, introducing occasional spelling errors. The original typescript is available.

Access form   |   Project support   |   How to cite   |   Print this page


See the catalog record for this interview and search for other interviews in our collection


Interview with Dr. John S. Foster, Jr.
By Finn Aaserud
Telephone Interview
August 7, 1991

open tab View abstract

John Foster; August 7, 1991

ABSTRACT: In this interview, John Foster discusses the impact of the JASON Group. Topics discussed include: Foster's father, John Stuart Foster; Lawrence Livermore Laboratory; serving as Director of Defense Research and Engineering (DDR&E); Charlie Townes; Defense Science Board; Robert McNamara; Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA); Marvin "Murph" Goldberger; Institute for Defense Analyses.

Transcript

Foster:

Hi. John Foster here.

Aaserud:

Hello, this is Finn Aaserud calling.

Foster:

How are you?

Aaserud:

I'm fine. I should ask you first of all whether I could put this on a tape recorder.

Foster:

Oh certainly, go ahead.

Aaserud:

Okay, great, thank you very much. Well, you received my letter, so you know a little about me.

Foster:

Yes, I did.

Aaserud:

And I'm presently at the Niels Bohr Archive in Copenhagen, as you know.

Foster:

Yes.

Aaserud:

So I'm here on a whirlwind trip to try to get an idea of the impact of the JASON group. I'm doing a history of JASON of the first 15 years or so from 1960 to 1975, and I have so far interviewed a lot of JASONs, and I would like to talk to people who had some experience with the group from the outside.

Foster:

Yeah, very good.

Aaserud:

So that's how you come into the picture. I mean it's interesting, we have a connection in your previous generation too. Your father was rather closely connected to Bohr in the 1920s.

Foster:

Right. I remember when Bohr used to visit us in Montreal. I would drive him around. I can remember that.

Aaserud:

Oh, great. Well, it would be lovely to talk about everything, but I guess in a telephone conversation we should try to limit it to JASON this time around at any rate.

Foster:

Okay.

Aaserud:

Although I think it would be interesting to interview you about other things as well sometime. Has that happened? Has anybody interviewed you?

Foster:

No, no.

Aaserud:

The only thing I've come across is an old interview with you when you were still DDR&E. It's an interview that's deposited at the Johnson Library.

Foster:

I see.

Aaserud:

But that was very specifically oriented to that. Now, before we start, I would be very happy to receive any kind of biography or vitae or bibliography, if you should have it, if you could send it to me at some point, because it would add to my knowledge of the people that are involved in my study.

Foster:

Okay. I can have June do that.

Aaserud:

Okay. Great. Wonderful. And you are not writing any autobiography or anything of the sort.

Foster:

No, no.

Aaserud:

No time for that.

Foster:

No, that's right. No, in fact I pay no attention essentially to history, to the wake I leave behind. I spend my time looking out ahead and seeing what I can do to get us there.

Aaserud:

I hope I'm not doing the opposite.

Foster:

No, no. I'm relying on you to take care of the wake.

Aaserud:

Good. So, well, the period that I'm mainly interested in then is the period from about 1957 to 1975. So, just to get this in the context of your career, perhaps you could say what you were doing during those years. You were Director of the Lawrence-Livermore Laboratory I suppose.

Foster:

That's right. So I was in the Lawrence-Livermore Laboratory from 1952 to 1965. And I was the Director there from 1961 until 1965. So that means that Edward Teller was the Director of the laboratory from about 1958 or 1959 to 1961, then Harold Brown was the Director for about nine months, and then he left to the Department of Defense, and so then I was the Director for about four years, and then I left to replace Harold Brown. You know, as he said to me, "There is nothing like dealing with a reliable firm." Because he followed Herbert York, who was the Director of Livermore, and then I followed, and so there were three of us in a row.

Aaserud:

That was only broken after you, that tradition.

Foster:

Yeah, so I was kind of in the third man theme.

Aaserud:

And then you were DDR&E from 1965 —

Foster:

— Until 1973. So I went through a Democratic administration, and then was selected by a Republican administration. I guess that's the only time that has happened. And in fact being there for eight years was also uncommon.

Aaserud:

Well that's a record that hasn't been broken, has it?

Foster:

Yes, and I am not sure that is a good record! Anyway, let's see. Your subject deals with the JASONs.

Aaserud:

Yes. The first 15 years of them. So I suppose my first question to you is whether you were involved in or had an opinion of the origins of JASON, whether that came through you while you were still Director of the Lawrence-Livermore Laboratory.

Foster:

Yes and no. I knew of the JASONs while I was at Livermore, and of course then I had rather frequent contact with them when I worked in the Pentagon.

Aaserud:

But as for the origins of JASON, that's a complex history.

Foster:

Yeah, but I think you now know more than I can add. I've heard of the origins of the JASONs a number of times, as well as the origins of the Defense Science Board, and so on. I don't think I can add anything there.

Aaserud:

No. You didn't partake in Project 137 for example?

Foster:

No, I did not.

Aaserud:

No. And you did not discuss with Goldberger or Bruekner or Watson.

Foster:

Yes, with Brueckner and Watson, yes, but I don't think I contributed much of that.

Aaserud:

Right. They thought originally of establishing a private company.

Foster:

Yeah.

Aaserud:

Which would essentially do the same thing. And then they were diverted by Townes, who was Chief Scientist of IDA.

Foster:

No, and in retrospect, you know, I think that Townes had the right idea. And in fact even today when we have task forces working and Charlie Townes is a member, he has the right idea. So I think in retrospect what makes JASON unique is that they were founded on the basis of what Townes suggested. There are hundreds of title companies that now do what some of the early members wanted JASON to do. Let me make a point which sort of sticks with me with regard to the JASONs. You know, when I first got into the Pentagon, it occurred to me that I was rather isolated. I mean, you know, you come in at seven or seven-thirty in the morning, and you leave at seven or seven-thirty in the evening, and all day long there are people coming in and you are reviewing things and making decisions. And by and large, you are exposed only to what comes in, and very seldom does one get a chance to go out. And wherever you go, even if you were to go rather extensively, you only see a trivial fraction of the contributors to National Security.

Aaserud:

Do you think your position was particularly bad, or what we should say, in that respect?

Foster:

No. It's just that that's the way it is. Now, as a consequence I kept asking myself, you know, "I'm leaving here in two years, or I'm leaving here in four years for sure. What is it that I am missing? What is it that when I leave and I look back on it I will say now, you know, what is it that I should have done?" Well, that problem came to mind a number of times during a year, and so I would say, "Okay, what I'm gonna do is ask the JASONs, and I will ask the Defense Science Board, and so on, I will ask people, ‘What is it that we should be doing?’”

Aaserud:

That general a question.

Foster:

Yeah. That general a question. And so in particular I remember when I first came in the Pentagon I asked McNamara, you know, "Give me five things that you would like to see me focus on." And one of them was the war in Vietnam, I mean what can be done to improve the effectiveness. So, you know, one turns around then and says to the technical community, "Hey, here's a situation that's important. What is it that you think we might be able to do to help?" And I remember making a call on the JASONs and on the Defense Science Board, and in fact making a video tape and getting that around to the in-house laboratories and so on.

Aaserud:

Does this video tape exist?

Foster:

Oh, I'm sure it does, but, you know, I don't know where it is. But, you know, maybe it's at home. Maybe I've got a copy at home.

Aaserud:

Okay. Well that would be interesting.

Foster:

By the way, it may be on film rather than video.

Aaserud:

Yeah, at that time, I'm sure.

Foster:

Now, as a consequence, you know, I remember that the JASONs started to address the question of the Vietnam War.

Aaserud:

That was from the outside independent of you, their addressing the question of the Vietnam War?

Foster:

Yes, that's right. And also what should the United States be doing technologically in that effort, or to support that effort. And that helped a lot. That raises now another point that comes to mind, while we're chatting here. Why is it that JASON is important? I could think of a few reasons.

Aaserud:

You think it is in the first place.

Foster:

I think it's extraordinarily important. I think it's more important than people realize, because of what does not happen because of the existence of JASON.

Aaserud:

A corrective agency or something.

Foster:

Exactly. So, let me just think now out loud what that is. First of all, these people are professors from universities. Now the universities in the United States are critical members of the National Security community. I mean they really are very critical members of the community, just as critical as the in-house laboratories, just as critical as the industry. So what we have is some selected members from that university community who come in and can advise the government on what is possible, scientifically what is possible. They can provide a coupling of scientists and science to technology, and the coupling of that technology to applications, and then to systems concepts and systems capabilities. They have been extraordinarily useful to critique programs to address problems. The Department of Defense has a host of problems, some of them admit to scientific or technological attack. And these people have a very special vantage point in the universities, that can bring something to address those problems that you cannot get from industry, and you don't get it from in-house laboratories.

Aaserud:

So they're unique in that respect, you would say.

Foster:

Very unique. Look, that's one general thing that comes to mind. Another, perhaps even more important function, is that these professors expose their students to the realm of National Security. Now, you know, there is a tendency in universities to be more liberal — more to the left of center perhaps. And it would be perhaps unbalanced if it were not for the presence of some professors who were concerned about National Security. So the JASONs provide an opportunity for the National Security community to give them some vision, and some orientation, some understanding of the National Security situation, which they then pass on to their students. Now some of those students then go full-time to work in the area of National Security.

Aaserud:

Yes. Well that was in fact an aspect of the planned JASON that was seen as unique at the time of its establishment.

Foster:

Yeah. So as a customer, I could see the value of that.

Aaserud:

Do you think that was something new with JASON? Had there been that kind of linkage before JASON in the same way or to the same extent?

Foster:

Certainly not in the same way, certainly not to the same extent. It was clearly, from their point of view, something that was badly needed at that time. The fact that it still exists, the fact that it still contributes in a very important way, makes it clear that it is rather unique. I mean, let me just give you an example. About, I don't know, three or four years ago I called up — I guess it was Frank Press or somebody who was the head of JASON at the time, I just forget who it was — and said, "Look. I've really got a problem here." At that time I was on the President's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board, and we were concerned about the Soviet penetration of the American Embassy building that was being built in Moscow.

Aaserud:

So this was fairly recent.

Foster:

Yeah, that's right, several years ago. And what I wanted to do was to make sure that we had the very best scientific capable minds looking at that problem, and particularly looking at what it was that the government people were doing. So, you know, it was just a simple phone call, and then within a matter of, oh, not more than two months, several of the members of JASON had worked the problem and had of course gone to Moscow and delivered a report, both verbally and of course in writing. Now that's a very classified matter, but what I think is important to point out is that the existence of that kind of organization and the ability of it to react very quickly with the very best scientific capability is a critical thing for the nation. Let's see. So what I was saying is they provide an exposure to students that in turn turn out to get interested in the matter of National Security and then go into industry and so on. Now some of them will end up going into the Executive Branch, into the government. Now the Government only calls, only uses about 2 percent [tape inaudible for a few minutes.] That is the value. I think when one dwells on the matter of this or that individual who was controversial, who was troublesome, who was raising hell about this or that, one misses the value.

Aaserud:

Well, as you say, it might keep the system awake too.

Foster:

Yeah. It's crucial.

Aaserud:

I mean, that was your point about the Vietnam debate at the universities too.

Foster:

Yes. Now, you know, frankly sometimes these individuals make so much fuss because we don't listen. And these people care. And they think it's important. And so they will keep raising their voice again and again, louder and louder, until they feel that they have been heard.

Aaserud:

About the technical questions that they do as JASONs, or more generally?

Foster:

No. I mean as individuals in JASON. Now clearly it happens in other forums, and I'm not trying to say that everybody who raises hell has the same motivations, but at least when I think about JASONs, and they get upset about something, I think it's important. And I reject it when people feel that, as individuals or as an organization, they are troublesome. I think that's exactly wrong. They are an important national asset.

Aaserud:

Now, when you were DDR&E, JASON was wholly funded by ARPA I believe, at least during the first few years. But on the other hand you had direct contact with them. Now, did their advice go mostly through you, or was it you who made use of them, or was it mostly ARPA that made use of them, or how was that?

Foster:

I don't know the balance. The point is, they would come in and describe what it is they thought it was important to be working on, they would then come and tell me what it is they found and what I ought to do, and they would do the same thing with DARPA. But I don't know in detail, you know, how much it contributed to either side. And then of course I would work with DARPA often, so that meant that that loop was closed.

Aaserud:

Conceivably they could come to you when they didn't get through with ARPA. That might happen too perhaps.

Foster:

Oh sure. And if they couldn't persuade me, they could easily persuade ARPA. So, you know, either way.

Aaserud:

But they used the channels effectively is what you're saying.

Foster:

Oh yes. Ohhhh yes.

Aaserud:

Okay. Let me just turn the tape here. [Tape 1, Side 2] I would also like to talk a little bit about the mechanism for choosing projects. I mean, how was a project chosen while you were DDR&E by JASON to the extent that you were involved in that? And to what extent were JASON free to choose their own projects, to what extent was it projects that were presented to them?

Foster:

I'm not sure that my memory is very good on this. Or, put it another way, what I can remember could well be a distortion. I remember thinking about what it is that JASON should be working on, because the chairman would come in and ask me. The same would happen with regard to the Defense Science Board. Those two organizations held summer studies.

Aaserud:

It was a one-to-one discussion between you, often.

Foster:

That's right. And so what would happen is that usually in the fall the chairman of each of them would come in — separately, of course — but say, "Look, what is it you think we ought to be thinking about?" And I'd say, you know, "I don't know. I'd better think about it." And what I remember quite clearly was that for me it was a challenge — a challenge to think about what are the problems which I face where I really need an answer by next September. Because next September the JASONs will report out.

Aaserud:

After the summer study, yes.

Foster:

Next September the Defense Science Board will report out. What answers do I need then, to what kinds of problems? And of those, which ones are suitable for the JASONs to think about? And so I remember thinking about it, and then around December or January and February I would try and do what I could to contribute, and then I would also hear what they thought were important. And I remember going down lists of problems. And, frankly, my impression is that no matter how hard I thought I worked at that, there were people who came in with these other ideas that, if anything, were better than mine. Well, you know, which is exactly why these people are important.

Aaserud:

Was it the full list of summer study projects that was developed that way, or was it part of it?

Foster:

Okay, I don't know the answer. There would be more items on that list than they could handle, without any question, and I could have some preference, I could suggest some preference.

Aaserud:

Well let me phrase the question a little differently perhaps. Were all problems that they were going to deal with, I mean for ARPA, for possibly other agencies, coordinated through you and came up in the discussions that you had on a one-to-one basis with Hal Lewis or whoever it was?

Foster:

Well it coordinated yes that way, but I don't remember consciously coordinating the JASON studies with the studies performed by RAND or MITRE or the Defense Science Board or the Institute for Defense Analysis or so on. I think frankly that is an area where I could be criticized for not having perhaps consciously tried to make the proper assignments, to either have some duplication where it was important or to avoid unnecessary duplication.

Aaserud:

But I guess it was automatic to some extent. I mean, these were different organizations to some extent.

Foster:

That's true. That's true. But I've thought about it subsequently that it's an area where I failed to take full advantage.

Aaserud:

Of the differences.

Foster:

Yeah. Because sometimes it would be important, for instance in ballistic missile defense. There DARPA had a leading role for a decade or so, well, from about 1962 until, I don't know, 1967 or 1968. And in that period the JASONs and others were of enormous value. And the question I think was whether or not I properly used the Defense Science Board and the Institute for Defense Analysis and other forums to get independent views on that. So, if anything, I guess I'm not sure that I consciously worked enough on the matter of getting necessary duplication. I'm not so worried about the unnecessary duplication.

Aaserud:

But nevertheless, could you say something or could you specify what was specific to JASON — if it was specific, if it was special in relation to these other organizations that you utilized.

Foster:

Oh. Well, yes. I think of JASON as an organization to think of as standing individuals to think about a problem that requires the application of first principles. And not an organization to provide some kind of a refinement of a well-developed system. So if you've got a fundamental problem, like anti-submarine warfare, or ballistic missile defense, or worldwide surveillance, or whatever. That is where you are trying to pioneer something, you've got a very important problem and technologically you have not been able to crack it, so you ask JASON.

Aaserud:

Well that is somewhat different from JASON as a correcting organization, so it serves two functions then.

Foster:

Oh sure! Oh sure. Oh yeah. Oh, of course.

Aaserud:

I mean both new ideas and killing of others’ ideas.

Foster:

Yes. Oh yes. Totally different.

Aaserud:

But they served both functions.

Foster:

When you expose JASON to a program, they can critique it, the way it's being done. And that's important. But they also may come in and say, "Look, what you're doing is rather straightforward. The problem is, it's not elegant. It's enormously inefficient. I mean there's a whole new way to approach this thing. Here's what you ought to be thinking about." Or they will just say, "Look, there is a whole revolution in science which now permits one to do this job entirely differently." So JASON can play both roles.

Aaserud:

In terms of the role of new ideas and applying new developments in science, what would you point to as one or two particularly important developments that JASON contributed to during your tenure as DDR&E?

Foster:

Oh, they contributed to the, well, the ballistic missile defense program, they contributed to anti-submarine warfare, to overhead surveillance, to the application of satellites to navigation, what do you call it, GPS, communications. A whole host of things. Finding targets in the foliage.

Aaserud:

See, I'm asking you, well, from a general interest of course, but also because I think that if I'm going to develop this into a full-blown study I would need to have one or more case studies of specific projects that they did to get a sense of how they worked from, you know, of applying the first principles, and all the way until the advice was made and preferably acted upon.

Foster:

Well let's see. As I recall in your letter, you said that you have access to some of the information at MITRE. Is it not in those records?

Aaserud:

No, I wouldn't say that. It is fully unclassified records, and I think that I would need some declassification to get to a project that is representative.

Foster:

Well okay, so I think the thing to do there then is to see what can be done to declassify that stuff, at this stage.

Aaserud:

But there's a balance there. I mean, I need to find a project that is representative and at the same time something that is likely to be declassified — at least some of the information there.

Foster:

I don't know. Why not just ask the JASONs to take a look at that?

Aaserud:

I was wondering whether you had any opinion on one or two projects that you thought might be more likely than others with your experience.

Foster:

Well let's see, I don't know, some of the stuff they did with regard to Vietnam might be one area that one could declassify.

Aaserud:

I think some of that may have been declassified, because there is so much interest in that particular episode, so that's one possibility. But to my mind that is a little untypical of what JASON did. Or, I don't know if you would agree with that.

Foster:

No. I don't agree. I wouldn't think of it as atypical.

Aaserud:

Well, you started talking a little bit about that. That was perhaps one of the projects in which you were most closely involved in working with JASON. So I was wondering whether you had a little more to say about the DCPG I suppose it was called, and JASONs and your own role in that.

Foster:

I think we have to be very careful here about the security matter. You know, the recent operation in the Gulf, while it was very successful, it was simply applying on a large scale techniques which were developed and first tested in Vietnam, while they weren’t on a large scale in Vietnam, and the conditions there were perhaps not as good as in the Gulf, in fact in many cases nowhere near as good. But I'm a little concerned about specific examples just because of security matters. I just don't know the details about the security that's put on each.

Aaserud:

You are talking about smart weapons?

Foster:

Yeah, sure. And, you know, whether the security is now reduced because of the Gulf or not, I don't know. This may be just too early to say.

Aaserud:

But on a person-to-person basis, you worked both with JASON and what was called JASON East at the time, right?

Foster:

That's right.

Aaserud:

There was a collaboration of those older MIT people, generally speaking and JASON.

Foster:

Yeah, right, that's right.

Aaserud:

And that went all the way up to McNamara. I mean, he was also directly involved in that, correct?

Foster:

Oh certainly, yes. In fact I remember one meeting when McNamara and I went to meet with the folks at MIT, and they described their concept of such a system, and, you know, I was supportive, as was McNamara. I also remember one request they had, and that was, you know, to agree to stop bombing the North if you would put in this barrier. And I remember Bob not committing to that. It isn't quite as if he could make that trade.

Aaserud:

Well, there are some JASONs that are a little bitter about that.

Foster:

No, no, well but that's, you know, that's fine. First, I think it's quite proper that the JASONs should feel free to make that observation. On the other hand, it's quite proper for the Secretary of Defense to not accept and act on those recommendations.

Aaserud:

Of course, of course. But I sense that Goldberger for example felt that the deal was made.

Foster:

I was there, and there was no such deal. Bob was silent. He did not agree. And I remember that. Heck, I would have had to take some actions if he had agreed to it, so —

Aaserud:

Well, I'm glad you say that.

Foster:

But, you know, look, I think this is wonderful, you know. If Murph can be unhappy, he cares, and he had his say, that's fine. And now that he would continue to be unhappy I am sorry about, because it's over.

Aaserud:

No, it seemed that he was still concerned about that; that that was an episode that came back to him. But, I mean, he's been involved in JASON since then so —

Foster:

Oh certainly.

Aaserud:

So there were others of course who left as a result of the Vietnam episode, but surprisingly few — very, very few, considering the reactions on campus I would say.

Foster:

Oh yes, absolutely.

Aaserud:

And a lot of people told me that, I mean, they stayed on because of that, because they didn't want to lose face, also. But that's, another matter. But, it did have an effect on JASON, because this was fairly new. I mean, this was a new experience that they came into the headlines and got such notice. I have, as I said, looked at material at the MITRE Corporation, and I have entered it on the computer so I can see whenever your name comes up in it. And the first time so far that I've seen your name come up in those records is regarding a meeting at the Eglin Air Force Base in March 1968, in which the effect of JASON’s involvement in the Vietnam War on their work was evidently discussed. And a decision at that meeting was that "Lewis and the steering committee will develop a basis for future choices of study. Lewis will talk to J. Foster about this."

Foster:

Yeah.

Aaserud:

I don't know if that rings a bell at all with you.

Foster:

No, it doesn't. I'm sorry, it does not.

Aaserud:

And then this seems to be related. In August, 1968, it says, "the possibility of JASONs doing arms control work through ARPA on behalf of DOD, ACDA or CIA was discussed. H. Lewis will talk to J. Foster." What this seems to imply to me, and you can correct me on this of course, is that JASON was trying to spread their base as a result.

Foster:

That's true. And, you know, I think that would have been an important thing. Let me just say why. There is a tendency, when one is talking about arms control, for a polarization to develop, I mean for the State Department to tend to want to go in one direction, and the Department of Defense to have a different view, and the White House perhaps have still a different view, and the Arms Control Agency to have some other view. And I think it's important to have an organization that has an opportunity to listen to the voices on several of those agencies and departments. And so, you know, I tend to be supportive or sympathetic about that. On the other hand, you know, in a sense you are asking for trouble to set that up, unless, unless the individuals are rather wise and careful. And so there is an example where someone like Charlie Townes is exemplary. As long as he would have a voice in what the organization did, I think you could feel quite comfortable. At least I would.

Aaserud:

Well, you're talking in general terms now; you are not talking about the role of Townes in this particular case.

Foster:

No no. No, that's right. No, but there are a number of such people. I'm just giving an example.

Aaserud:

Yes, of course, but that's what comes to mind.

Foster:

Yeah.

Aaserud:

Well, if I go down the list here — it's not a very long list, so don't worry — of your involvements that has come out from my database of documents here, there was a discussion in 1969 and I think in the following years of whether a British equivalent to JASON could be established.

Foster:

That's right, yeah.

Aaserud:

And that raised some problems about security —

Foster:

Yes.

Aaserud:

— and things like that. I wonder whether you could just say, state your involvement in that, and how that was presented to you, and what happened to it.

Foster:

No, frankly I don't know. I don't know the details. I remember you mentioned that in your letter. I can only say now how I think I would have felt about it. By that time I was beginning to pay more attention to the NATO portion of it. You know, it takes you a year or two to sort of understand what's going on in the United States. And it's unfortunate. But then you begin to realize that there is a bigger piece. There is NATO. And in fact to be quite honest about it, I think it was not until my third or fourth year that I began to do my job within that regard. But then in the four years that followed, I may have overdone it, in working particularly with France and Germany and England. Now, I believe that particularly with regard to the United Kingdom, they could benefit enormously from an organization like JASON, and certainly they have the intellectual capabilities there to do just that. Now, I think the question that would have come to my mind was whether or not something of that nature, whether or not it did not already exist. Because, you know, people like Bill Cook and Bill Penny and others work together all the time, whether they were in office or not.

Aaserud:

Yes, well, it's interesting that you mention Bill Cook, because the letter that I have on my screen here now is a letter from Bill Nierenberg to Hal Lewis from October of 1969 in which he says, "I also talked to Bill Cook and Johnny Foster" in parenthesis after that. So you have probably referred him to Bill Cook about this matter.

Foster:

Yeah. And I think someone like Cook would certainly have recognized the importance of having intellectual input of the type one has from JASON. But whether or not it already existed in some form, even though it wasn't perhaps exactly the way JASON is, I don't know.

Aaserud:

Aha. So you wouldn't exclude the possibility that there was such a group at some point in England.

Foster:

Yeah, whether it's organized formally or not. I have a feeling that something like that existed. You know, the British system has, what do you call it, a closet government, I mean they are always actively working, the organization is not in power. And so those individuals, and particularly the ones who care about national security, are involved all the time, to some degree. But what I do not know is whether they have the university connection in the way that JASON’s organization provides it. I just don't know that.

Aaserud:

Well you see it's tempting for a historian — or at least for me — to draw the conclusion that since JASON occurred in the United States and not in Britain say, that is indicative of something unique in the relationship between academia and national security in this country as compared to England and other countries.

Foster:

I appreciate that. But I don't know the answer. Oh, it's an important thing to follow up. I mean, you know, get on the phone and ask them. Well let's see, you could ask, you know, more recently, you might get a hold of Robin Nicholson.

Aaserud:

Oh good.

Foster:

Do you know Robin?

Aaserud:

No I don't.

Foster:

Well let's see. Robin Nicholson — I'll get you his phone number in a moment — he was Margaret Thatcher's Science Advisor until just recently.

Aaserud:

He did not go with Major.

Foster:

No, he did not. No, he left, I don't know, a couple of years ago.

Aaserud:

Okay. Before that episode.

Foster:

He had left perhaps a year before —

Aaserud:

The change of leadership.

Foster:

Alright. Well, while we're on that, let me just see if I can get you the phone number. Hold a second.

Aaserud:

Okay, great. Thanks.

Foster:

Okay, let's see. She's bringing it in in just a moment.

Aaserud:

Okay, great. Well in the meantime perhaps I could read you a letter from Joel Bengston to you in relation to this, dated the last day of October in 1969.

Foster:

Yes.

Aaserud:

"Attached is a copy of Bill Nierenberg's letter," — which I just mentioned to you — "which Hal discussed with you last night. Lest there be any misunderstandings, I know of no suggestion that IDA have any financial involvement with a U.K. JASON. The first intent of my JASON associates is to encourage the U.K. to get a closer coupling between the university scientists and their defense establishment by setting up an analog to JASON which is appropriate to their governmental structure."

Foster:

Super.

Aaserud:

Yes. "If the two groups work together sometime, that will be just fine, but we would naturally consult with your office on the proper administrative arrangement, including security."

Foster:

Yep.

Aaserud:

So you seem to have warned them a little bit too.

Foster:

Yeah, of course, but I see no problem. Alright, let me give you Robin Nicholson's number.

Aaserud:

Wonderful.

Foster:

[gives number] Sir Robin Nicholson.

Aaserud:

Sir, yes, I have to include that, yes.

Foster:

I'm sorry, I forgot to do it. No, he's a very wonderful person.

Aaserud:

I did try to contact Hermann Bondi about this.

Foster:

Yes. I worked briefly with Hermann.

Aaserud:

Yes. But he wasn't, he didn't remember too much about it. He remembered that some discussions had occurred, but he didn't recall that anything had been effected.

Foster:

How about Bill Cook? You might talk with Bill.

Aaserud:

He's still around too, yeah.

Foster:

Yeah, I don't know, but I tried to get Bill Cook to be an advisor to me, after he retired, but we couldn't set it up, and, you know, it was because the Secretary of Defense saw some problems. And just the same kind of thing.

Aaserud:

Same thing all over again.

Foster:

Security issue. And, you know, I can't tell you in detail why it was. The Secretary was Mel Laird. I told him what I was doing, and he said okay, and then when I was ready to execute it, he said, "I don't think you better do that." And I didn't say, "Come on, Mel. Why?" You know, I didn't feel that proper. I mean, from his vantage point he was beginning to see some difficulty, and so we did not do it.

Aaserud:

I think MacDonald was strongly involved in this, and I think his strategy was to involve some British scientists in a JASON study here in this country in order to, you know, make them see how it functioned and how it worked and maybe that could transpose to England. But I don't think they even got the people here in the first place.

Foster:

Yeah, well, it depends on the study, right? I mean some studies I think it would be a real problem, and some other study I don't think would be any trouble at all.

Aaserud:

Well, I know too little about this episode. I only have bits and pieces of information about it.

Foster:

Okay.

Aaserud:

But I think it's very interesting when I write about this to get this larger perspective.

Foster:

Okay. Well let's see, I'm running out of time.

Aaserud:

Yeah, and the tape is running out too. I had a few more questions.

Foster:

Okay. Go ahead.

Aaserud:

How much time do you have left?

Foster:

None. None.

Aaserud:

None. Yeah, okay.

Foster:

Maybe we could do it some other time, or maybe I could help you after you have picked up some information.

Aaserud:

Okay. Good. Well, the next question was the role of IDA, whether it mattered at all that JASON was part of it, and the transfer to SRI and all that.

Foster:

Okay. On IDA, I think IDA is an extremely important element of the technological support, both to the JCS as well as to several offices — [cut off by tape] [Tape 2, side 1] …particularly because of the Goldwater-Nichols Act and the role of the Vice Chairman. I think a consequence of that will be that IDA will provide an increasing contribution. That there be a connection between JASON and IDA I think is important, but I have seen it as a weak connection.

Aaserud:

Okay. You indicated that the discussions took place directly between Hal Lewis and you. I was wondering whether the head of IDA was kind of a halfway house, or IDA was a halfway house between the two of you and that kind of thing, but it seems that that wasn't necessary, from what you've been saying.

Foster:

That's right. Right.

Aaserud:

Okay. I won't hold you any longer then.

Foster:

Look, I'd be very pleased to chat with you in the future, about some specific thing, although it's not likely that I can contribute. You understand? That was a long time ago. It's 20 years.

Aaserud:

Yes, yes, I know. And I had a conversation with Al Hill yesterday that was much more specific, because he was very strongly involved in the origins of JASON.

Foster:

Ah, yeah. MIT Hill.

Aaserud:

A. G. Hill, Albert Hill, yes, MIT Hill. And, you know, I confronted him with all these documents, which isn't really fair so many years later.

Foster:

Well, I remember working with Al and Killian in fact with regard to the Draper Laboratory.

Aaserud:

Oh yes.

Foster:

You know, there was a big issue there. I mean, they were having this campus problem, and they wanted to split the Draper Laboratory off, and you know, could we do it, and how, and so on —

Aaserud:

The divestiture problem, yes. Yeah, I am here at MIT now. Okay. So you can talk with Hill and also, let's see, who was the other guy?

Aaserud:

Ruina.

Foster:

Oh yeah, Jack?

Aaserud:

I will talk to him tomorrow.

Foster:

And, let's see, there's one more.

Aaserud:

Rathjens?

Foster:

Well yeah, that's right, but there's another. The fellow who took over as Director of Draper. Bob Duffy. Yeah, Bob Duffy you see would remember that period.

Aaserud:

Okay.

Foster:

But Bob Duffy was not a JASONite.

Aaserud:

No, but neither were you so —

Foster:

Yeah, that's true.

Aaserud:

And I'm concentrating on the outsiders now, or the people who experienced JASON from the outside.

Foster:

Yeah, that's interesting. Okay, I've got to go. I must go.

Aaserud:

Okay, well thank you very much.

Foster:

Well, thank you, Finn.

Aaserud:

Bye.

Foster:

Bye.