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

Oral History Transcript — Joel Bengston

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 Joel Bengston
by Finn Aaserud in La Jolla, CA;
1 July 1986
Oral history interviewee photo

Transcript

Aaserud:

Would you happen to have any papers pertaining to, JASON in particular or my general topic, like files, correspondence, manuscripts, that might be of use?

Bengston:

I do; I'll have to figure out how to sort it.

Aaserud:

You have a file there already?

Bengston:

Well, I just pulled it out a minute before you came in, so I'm not going to give it to you right now. A major portion of the files I think probably got trashed when the outfit moved from IDA, for various reasons.

Aaserud:

There's a lot of that. I spoke with David Katcher and he told me a similar story.

Bengston:

Yes. Well, I was there when we moved from IDA to SRI, and I wasn't quick enough at saving things somehow. I had my back turned, and the system threw away a lot of stuff that I thought was being sent on to SRI. I have a thing called JASON publications. I have to figure out whether I'm supposed to give that away. I don't know who else has files like that. I just didn't throw them in the trash can somehow.

The list goes up to when I was no longer associated in this way. There's some uncertainty about whether it's complete or not. It was done at IDA and done by technical editors and what not. Why don't I promise to send it to you after I ask somebody whether there's any obligation? I don't see why the hell there is; it's twelve years old. I can give you the list of members without any qualms. That's obviously unclassified.

Aaserud:

I should say that we're in Joel Bengston's office at Science Applications Inc., in La Jolla, on the lst of July, 1986. I would like to discuss with you mostly your involvement in JASON, but I would like to put it in the context of your career generally too. Maybe we could start with a brief introduction of your career — birth date and place, first of all.

Bengston:

Oh my goodness. I was born in Cleveland, Ohio, December 17, 1926.

Aaserud:

What were your parents doing; what kind of background did you have?

Bengston:

Well, my father had moved there trying to sell something or other. He didn't do very well at it, so I did not as a consequence of all that, grow up in Cleveland. I grew up in Connecticut and went to Trinity College and went to Yale; I got my PhD at Yale in 1952.

Aaserud:

What was the nature of the degree?

Bengston:

In theoretical physics. I worked for Gregory Breit, and after that, I went to the Oak Ridge National Laboratory. Being young and naive, I worked on this whimsical project to develop a nuclear powered airplane.

Aaserud:

Lots of people did that.

Bengston:

And then after a couple of years I decided, probably for a combination of reasons, to leave there, and went to work at the Livermore Laboratory where I worked on development of codes to design nuclear weapons.

Aaserud:

What period was this?

Bengston:

Well, I got my PhD in 1952. I went immediately to Oak Ridge essentially. In early 1955 I went to Livermore, and left Livermore at the end of 1958 to work for a whimsical little company called Aerojet General Nucleonics that was in the military reactor business. Then in 1960 I moved to Windsor, Connecticut, to work for Combustion Engineering in the nuclear division, also in the reactor business.

I worked for Walter Zinn, who ran the nuclear division. At (January, 1961) that time CE was operating a reactor (the SL-1) that, in an excursion in Idaho, killed three Army enlisted men. That had unfortunate consequences for our short term sales, so I moved to an outfit called the Institute for Defense Analysis in April 1962. When I got there, I discovered there was this group of people called JASON who seemed to study at nice places, so I thought, "Gee, that sounds like a good thing to learn about."

Aaserud:

That was your first exposure to the group at all?

Bengston:

Yes. Well, I had heard about them before, of course. They were studying one summer in Berkeley, when I was negotiating with Foster, I believe, about possibly going back to work at Livermore. He said, "Why don't you come and spend the summer with these guys?" But that never happened. But anyway, I discovered this outfit, and somehow or other there was a study associated with JASON that was not an ordinary JASON study but sort of an add-on in 1963 on high energy lasers, run by Keith Brueckner, and that's the first time I attended a JASON summer study. I guess I then attended every year through 1973.

Aaserud:

In what capacity?

Bengston:

From 1963 and through the summer of 1969, I attended essentially as a participant who would help the JASONs write their reports. Some of these guys weren't always that good about getting their reports written on time, so there was the notion that IDA staff members who were available full time after the summer study was over would take a major role in writing up the results of summer studies. That's what I did, and participated in a large number of studies that were generally multi-man studies related to such things as ballistic missile defense, strategic systems of various sorts, and so forth.

Aaserud:

Maybe we could just go through your career briefly, and then concentrate on JASON in particular, after that.

Bengston:

OK, to continue then, JASON left IDA in 1973, and then I continued as a staff member at IDA, which is essentially what I had been until 1969. I was a staff member at IDA until 1969, and then I was made something called the Assistant to the President of IDA for JASON. Then in 1973 I again became a staff member at IDA, and stayed there until January of 1979, when I went to work for a firm called R and D Associates in Rosslyn, Virginia. I worked there until May of 1983, at which time I joined Science Applications, and here I am.

Aaserud:

Here you are, yes. So that your connection with JASON was through IDA more than through JASON, so to speak; it was always your affiliation with IDA that came first?

Bengston:

As I said, there was that affiliation which was through IDA, yes, and then, subsequently, there was a hiatus. Somewhere in about 1977, I believe, there was a study. I've forgotten what the study was, but it was some study involving strategic systems of some sort, arms control—the specifics I don't remember. I was asked to come back and also work on that summer study, and I worked on JASON summer studies then for three or four years in a row. Then, I believe, there was again a hiatus and I think the last time I participated in a summer study was 1982.

Aaserud:

So you did retain your JASON connection?

Bengston:

Well, off and on.

Aaserud:

How did your career turn out in relation to physics expectations or career expectations at the time of starting it all.

Bengston:

Oh, I see. Well, that's interesting. I skipped over some of the parts of my early career. I got a bachelor's degree in 1947 and then I wasn't quite sure what I wanted to do. But I got the opportunity because this was after World War II, and there were all these guys going back to school from the military. So I got this opportunity to teach at the college level as an instructor at Worcester Tech, even though I only had a bachelor's degree, and I thought that was sort of fun.

I thought, "Gee, I've got to get a PhD if I want to do this regularly," so that was my purpose in going back to get a PhD. Then when I got my degree in 1952, I thought, "Well, maybe I'm not sure I want to do that teaching stuff," and I heard about all these laboratories doing interesting things, which also paid a little better than teaching. I thought, "Well, gee, I think I'll try that." That's what got me on this road.

Aaserud:

Was it also an interest in science policy questions by some definition that led you away into this or was it mostly technical?

Bengston:

I think it was mostly technical and the fun of getting associated with big projects, rather than what you would call policy. I guess whatever interest in science policy I've developed probably developed later, while I was at IDA.

Aaserud:

Yes, that's somewhat more policy oriented of course.

Bengston:

Right. When I was there, IDA's general activity was sometimes called "policy research."

Aaserud:

To finish the general part — family? Has that played a role in your moving?

Bengston:

Of course. I have a wife and I have four children, and they've been important to me.

Aaserud:

We did start a little bit about your background and motivation for your JASON involvements. I don't know if there's anything you wanted to add to it.

Bengston:

Well, essentially what it started with was, here's this opportunity to work with all these clever guys, and they work in these neat places too, so that seemed like an ideal situation. Then I did get to work with them, and got to develop close working relationships with a number of them. Some of those friendships I still retain, obviously—quite old friendships.

Aaserud:

So you kind of got gradually into it. What were the circumstances of being offered the job of executive secretary, I guess it was called, right?

Bengston:

Right. Well, I guess the circumstances were that they were looking around for a sucker and they found me, right? And I figured after all this going to summer studies without it, being relatively irresponsible, I couldn't refuse.

Aaserud:

Well, you had some prior connection and knowledge of JASON anyway.

Bengston:

Well, a lot.

Aaserud:

How typical or untypical was that of an executive secretary?

Bengston:

Well, it was different, because if you just go there and work on a summer study; obviously you work on a specific project. Generally I was not the project leader, but I'd often be deputy to the project leader, so that some other guy, a JASON, would be the project leader but then I'd put the report together. Well, of course if you're an executive secretary you're into the management of the outfit, helping Hal Lewis run JASON. Which involved, you know, all the things you do—try to find money and worry about management of people and find support for studies, even if it's not monetary; it might be personal support from high executives in the Defense Department, "You're going to let us study this, aren't you?" type of thing.

Aaserud:

Just to make it plain, what was your precise tenure as executive secretary?

Bengston:

I believe it was at the end of the summer study in 1969, until JASON left IDA, which was in 1973, I think before the summer study that year.

Aaserud:

That was a crucial period in the history of JASON, I'm sure.

Bengston:

Yes.

Aaserud:

Who did you succeed, who had been your predecessor on your job? I know David Katcher was there as the first; was it seven years approximately?

Bengston:

Quite a while, yes. He was succeeded by Jack Martin (for two years, I think). And he was succeeded for a year by Bob Turner.

Aaserud:

OK, and then you.

Bengston:

Right.

Aaserud:

To what extent did the concern of JASON expand when you were a member? I know it started out with ARPA I think as the only sponsor really, and then it expanded towards other agencies. Was that during your tenure essentially?

Bengston:

Well, I think the really dramatic expansion happened after it left IDA and was related to that. IDA was an FCRC—Federal Contract Research Center. A lot of the reason why I left IDA and a lot of limitation while I was within IDA was because of that fact. The management of IDA, the Board of Trustees, or whatever decided that IDA should only work for the office of the Secretary of Defense within the Defense Department; IDA should not work for the Army, Navy, or Air Force, because that would be a conflict of interest. IDA should not get into a situation where it would have a big contract from the Navy and then advise OSD while this project would grow and prosper, so that was it. So because of that, essentially the only work that JASON could do for the Defense Department was at the level of OSD.

But that included not only ARPA, which you mentioned, but it included the Office of the Secretary of Defense and in particular, in cases I'm familiar with, the Director of Defense Research and Engineering. Before I got associated with management of JASON, there was this project related to the War in Vietnam that you must have heard about. I don't know how the hell it was funded, but that was in fact not for ARPA itself but it was for the Secretary of Defense. And so in the same way during the time I was there, we felt that in many matters we were working either for the Director of Defense Research and Engineering, Johnny Foster, or one of his deputies.

I talked about going around talking to people and getting support for doing studies—support to go do it rather than financial support; that's what Hal and I would do. We'd go see Johnny, go see other people who worked for Johnny and try to get their agreement that we should do specific things that the JASON members felt they wanted to do.

Aaserud:

John Foster was the DDRGE during your whole tenure?

Bengston:

I think so. I forget these things.

Aaserud:

That's in the record; that can be checked.

Bengston:

Let's see. That was a time when I guess it was a little of this post-Vietnam bit. People were milling around trying to do other things than just these rotten dirty Defense things. You understand those words are in quotes, right, because I've worked for practically nothing but the Defense Department all my life and I don't feel rotten and dirty about it.

And IDA policy allowed the possibility of JASON work for other government departments and agencies. But anyway, within the membership there was this desire to do other good things that might be high tech, and as I can recollect, the only real big, the only real successful—successful in the sense of getting a little money attempt, that we made at that was to do a study of air traffic control for the Department of Transportation. I think the fact that we were able to do that at all was because of a fellow, Bob Cannon ,in the DOT.

He's now a professor at Stanford, but his background included being chief scientist of the Air Force I believe and so forth. So he had a military background strongly correlated with some of the other people like Hal Lewis and Dick Garwin, so he said, "OK, I'll let these guys fiddle around with air traffic control." I don't recollect how seriously we tried any other things because my memory fades.

Aaserud:

That was not specifically military related, right?

Bengston:

That was for the Department of Transportation.

Aaserud:

Was that the first non-military involvement of JASON?

Bengston:

I think so. We had other ventures that didn't work out. We talked about talking to EPA, ACDA, and I forget what all else.

Aaserud:

Hopefully that could be found in the record too. And it might help to look at that list of reports, of course.

Bengston:

Again, I remember going to talk to Spurgeon Kenny in ACDA and saying, "Gee, we'd love to work for ACDA," and him saying, "We don't have any money, Doc." So we were trying to obtain outside support within this constraint; we were unable, because of the IDA connection, to go to the Army, Navy, Air Force.

Aaserud:

So it was more a question of JASON going out looking for projects than being asked to do projects; was that the general tenor of it at that time?

Bengston:

I hate to admit it, but that's the way the world works, isn't it?

Aaserud:

Well, in most cases, I guess so.

Bengston:

Anybody tells you anything else—

Aaserud:

Well, I'm sure that varies with administrations and with the conception of JASON too.

Bengston:

Yes.

Aaserud:

That's another thing that should be investigated. What about the organizational structure, to the extent that it existed, during your tenure? I guess that structure has been pretty constant. I mean, there has been a chairman, steering committee, and then groups working on different projects. Could you just describe briefly that structure and the importance of it?

Bengston:

Well, I think it's gotten a little fancier lately, from what I understand. There are lots of subsets of the steering committee that worry about things like tenure and what not, which I've only heard about indirectly since I'm not directly concerned. But essentially there was a steering committee of half a dozen guys roughly, whose identity at a point of time is here on this sheet of paper. Let's see—and it says here, there are six JASONs on the steering committee at this time, and the President of IDA was said to be at this time an "ex officio member" of the steering committee.

Aaserud:

Was that a formal matter or did that have any practical being?

Bengston:

Well, he came to the meetings. He did come to the steering committee meetings and talked with us. He obviously was able to commit IDA to specific actions where I could not. The steering committee met whenever—in principle once a month or so. It didn't really meet that often, but the intent was to meet once a month. Things sometimes don't happen as quickly as intended. But it was the body that did the planning. Now, in fact, as you know, committees are not the greatest at initiating and carrying through, so that the steering committee more or less approved what Hal Lewis and I initiated, or gave suggestions that then we'd go and try to initiate. Hal was clearly very strongly involved in the management of JASON and making initiatives as to what would be done as far as studies are concerned. He tried to be responsive to the steering committee.

Aaserud:

But it was the two of you who did the work.

Bengston:

We did most of the work.

Aaserud:

What about the relationship to the rest of JASON? Did they participate with a voting procedure, anything like that?

Bengston:

As part of the spring and fall meetings, there was, and presumably still is, a session on Sunday morning where we talked about the management of JASON. Guys were solicited to make any comments that they wanted to about what was going on. In addition to that, obviously there were a lot of informal discussions; there were generally personal ties between people in this outfit because so many of them were from the same backgrounds and had gone to school together or taught together or worked together. So that in most cases there wasn't really that need to solicit suggestions. If people wanted to complain, they'd find a way to complain very quickly.

Aaserud:

And they did at times.

Bengston:

Yes. But anyway those Sunday mornings were designed to, you know, give people an explicit opportunity to do that.

Aaserud:

There's a group that I haven't mentioned, the senior advisors. I don't know how they fit into the structure. Was that an active part?

Bengston:

It was mixed. I'd say it was mixed. I believe, this was, as far as I recollect, that it was an invention that occurred during this period, because what had been happening was that a bunch of these people had been carried on for a long time as members and then we'd say, "Gee, why don't you come to the meeting?" We would ask Charlie Townes for example, to come to the summer study and he'd give you a lot of reasons why he couldn't, because he was so busy doing lots of things.

Bengston:

So after a while we realized, that these people who are in general were a little older than the members themselves, had a lot of demands on their time, and really wouldn't be likely to be just an ordinary member who comes to a summer study. But they would be very valuable people who might advise the group on what they should do, and if they wanted to come to a meeting or study, just super. And so a group like that was developed, with a bunch of fuzzy criteria, but I think that I gave a little background about the fuzzy criteria anyway. I have a list here. It has Herb York on it, and John Wheeler.

I know that in both those cases we really did get substantive input from them. They came to one meeting or another and there was a tie-in of course because Herb also at the time was a trustee of IDA. John Wheeler was just an interested guy. He was very interested because he had started JASON, in a sense, you know. I don't know that he ever came to a summer study, but he was always very enthusiastic, and he came to spring meetings and fall meetings occasionally. When he did, he'd come to steering committee meetings and try to help us in thinking about what to do.

Charlie Townes, Pief [Panofky], Murph [Goldberger]; Murph at that time of course had been chairman, and I think by now he was sort of tired of all that. It says here he was at Princeton at the time, and he didn't come to the summer studies very often. And Luis Alvarez.

Aaserud:

These are listed as senior advisors.

Bengston:

They're called advisors in this list, and I'm going to make a copy for you. This is just before JASON left IDA January, 1973.

Aaserud:

Katcher described his role with the JASONs as a den mother. I wondered if you had the same kind of experience?

Bengston:

Well, I don't know. I had this background where I still tried to participate to some extent in the technical shenanigans, so I probably did more of that than Katcher did, you know, because of the fact that that's how I started, as well as my technical background. But naturally I did have to get concerned with some of those non-technical things.

Aaserud:

So you would single out Hal Lewis as the person that you had the most to do with during your tenure.

Bengston:

That's essentially correct (within JASON).

Aaserud:

Were there others that you would single out as particularly important in the decision process?

Bengston:

Well, as I said, there was the steering committee, and various people were on it at various times, and so I tried to work with the steering committee. Here's a list that's got Sid Drell, Dick Garwin, Gordon MacDonald, Allen Peterson, Mal Ruderman on it; and I think that some of those people as you well know are pretty strong personalities. For example, when JASON was anxious to work on issues related to arms control, I think that Sid and Dick and Gordon were very much interested in getting us to do that sort of thing. So they were part of the motivation for Hal and me to go around and bug people about it; probably more so than Hal's personal interest in doing the study. He was supporting the guys that were in the group; we were both doing that.

Aaserud:

So that was the way it worked.

Bengston:

That's the sense in which we worked, yes. Not that Hal Lewis wanted to work on arms control; he knew that Sid and Dick wanted to work on arms control, so he wanted to make sure they did it in the right environment.

Aaserud:

Was there any disagreement as to what kinds of problems were the best for JASON? The arms control issues that these three people prefer, seem to be more general science policy questions than what was most usual.

Bengston:

I think there has obviously been for a long time this dichotomy, that a lot of the fellows in the group want to work on science policy questions. But not all of them. Some of them couldn't give a damn about it. They really don't. A lot of them do care very much. On the other hand, I can assure you that from the government's side, there was often less than a burning interest to have these fellows working on certain science policy questions, because the people on the government side thought that they could see that the result would be an answer that was not supportive of the position of that particular bureaucrat in the system. So there is that sort of disagreement, if you will.

Aaserud:

So the disagreement was more with the agencies or on the political side than it was within JASON.

Bengston:

Even within JASON, of course, when you float off into some big global thing like ABM, you can have a big goddamn debate about whether it's a good idea or not, rather than focusing on specific technical questions of how it might work. It's that kind of disagreement also.

Aaserud:

And the agencies might argue that physicists should do what is particularly for them as physicists.

Bengston:

Exactly. However, the JASON studies arms control questions were not exercises in political science. They had a quantitative technical content.

Aaserud:

How were members selected? What was your involvement in that process?

Bengston:

Well, one of the big things we always tried to do at the steering committee meetings was sit around and think of new members. Now, the way the system has obviously worked, or did work at that time, clearly was one in which it was semi-closed, in that you don't go do a computer scan or anything like that to get a list of candidates; you tend to do it by this network, but that's not, you know, uncommon. I guess what that means is that the consequence of that was clearly that, since it was a bunch of physicists sitting around, you'd get a bunch of physicists as new members.

That's the way the system worked. But we spent a lot of time thinking about it. And again, this was in the era after Vietnam, and it was not a vintage time to try to recruit people to work for the Defense Department! So it went sort of slow. But there was a real conscientious effort to do it, and we even had a guy or two join and then quit, for reasons that may in part have been related to their unwillingness to be associated with Defense.

Aaserud:

But generally you had to screen people to some extent because of the security requirements, right?

Bengston:

Yes. Well, you know, you have to do it. Practically all we had to do is make sure they were American citizens. I don't recollect any problem we ever had with proposing a member who couldn't get cleared. I don't recollect such a problem. I don't know but I don't remember one.

Aaserud:

Was there a formal trial period, a period during which they had a different status?

Bengston:

While I was there, there was not. Very early in time, as I understand it from reading some of the old stuff that I threw away, there were apparently two grades. There was the grade of real member, and—I don't know what they were called—associate member or some such, but that disappeared; but there were pay grades, which are minor differences in pay. Let's see, how did it work? I'm trying to remember how it worked, because I don't know that we really had any formal contracts with a guy that said, "You will be reviewed after such and such a period of time." I think we just had renewable contracts, and in general, the guy served at the pleasure of the steering committee.

Aaserud:

Formally at least, you could be fired 20 years after your engagement as equally as after one year, say.

Bengston:

Right. But there was no complex rigmarole and it was sort of in the eyes of the steering committee, and that's what happened.

Aaserud:

How constant was the membership during your period? I mean, this was after the main Vietnam involvement but not after the main debate, of course. The debate went on.

Bengston:

It surely did. It's curious, different problems occur at different times. Now these guys are really a senior group of prestigious people, but while I was there, we were fighting an image that said that JASON was this group of young scientists; people kept saying, "How old are these young scientists?" And so we went through this drill of trying to see how they aged, and they were aging two-thirds of a year per year, on the average, or something of that sort, which indicated clearly that some fraction was leaving, and being replaced by younger members; the fraction that left because of disenchantment was only part of that, really. But there were some; a significant number of people. I can look at people on this list, and I know people who left because they didn't agree with the government's policies.

Aaserud:

But that was probably the only time that that happened.

Bengston:

No, this is a list back to the beginning of JASON. This is former JASON members who were ever members, who are not at this point in time. And several of these guys quit because they were upset about Vietnam and Cambodia and all that stuff. Others left for other reasons, however.

Aaserud:

But was there a break in that curve at that time?

Bengston:

I'm trying to recollect. It's hard to know. For example, there's a fellow who's name is on here and it says he was a member up till 1970. Well, in fact, I think he'd stopped coming to JASON meetings about two years before that. And so we just kept him on the list until he said, "Goddamn it, I really quit: You know that?" So any such list is a little hard to decipher.

Aaserud:

Of course it is, and I should really interview the specific persons involved. Well, such lists would direct me to that. I don't know any people who mentioned specific people that would be useful to talk to in that respect.

Bengston:

Yes.

Aaserud:

Did that debate, was that debate strong within the steering committee, or within JASON itself, or what form did it take?

Bengston:

Obviously when meetings occurred, these guys were able to get high executives in the government to tell them about some fiasco or other going on in the government. Then they'd debate with the poor guy, and then they'd have debates afterwards, so you'd have sort of this intellectual thing. But as far as being a member of JASON, then you had to decide whether you were happy doing what JASON does, or whether you wanted to feel that you were having some input into this dumb government, or whether you wanted to ignore the whole thing.

Aaserud:

But was there a discussion in principle about what kinds of problems or projects that were acceptable, for example? Or was it just that some people did some projects and others did other projects?

Bengston:

Physicists being what they are, there was a tendency to, "This is my project, that's what's important," and not have a strong feeling of censorship as far as what somebody else is doing. Because they wanted to branch out, there was always this marvelous hypothetical thought about how great it would be to work on problems related to the environment or problems related to air traffic control, and the number of people who thought that was marvelous to do were much larger than the number of people who would actually do anything on the project if it arrived. So there was that sort of thing, which was, I guess, everybody's feeling that, "Gee, we don't want to be tarred as just Defense people." In fact they were happy to work on Defense problems, most of them.

Aaserud:

It was the sweetness of the problem when it came down to it that played the crucial role.

Bengston:

That's right. And that's where the technical problems are, in large measure.

Aaserud:

That leads us from members to projects. You said a little bit about that at the beginning, too; the mechanism for selecting projects.Maybe you could expand a little on that—how they were selected, what kinds of problems they were, whether they were full scale projects or evaluations of other people's work, what the projects were like, how they were selected, and your involvement in the process.

Bengston:

Well, my memory's getting rusty, you know?

Aaserud:

It's a while back. I should have some specific document to pull out of the hat, perhaps. But maybe it comes to you when you start talking about it.

Bengston:

Well, one of the contents in having these fall and spring meetings, of course, was that if you get all these bigwigs in there to give you a lecture, maybe you'll learn something about what's a good project. I think it's sort of not clear that that was all that good a mechanism, but people tended to prefer listening to, you know, the Under Secretary of the Air Force or the Assistant Secretary of the Navy for R and D who would talk in global abstractions you can't do anything with, rather than listen to a guy who really had a problem. But nevertheless that was part of the thing.

Aaserud:

Did you have both kinds of exposures?

Bengston:

What I tried to do was to get people on the list who would have quasi-real, you know, problems that the fellows could do a couple of calculations on, as opposed to just saying "That's great," and to be another policy maker; I mean, there are so many policy makers already in Washington. I thought that various. So anyway, that was part of it. And then the steering committee would sit around and think about possible things to do.

Each person, including myself, had his own background of contacts within the system, and from having been around it, and from personal knowledge of people in OSD and ARPA, I'd go around and see people. Hal would go around and see people, and other members of the steering committee would go around and see people and find out what they thought were problems. I guess on occasion people did in fact call us, because they knew that, JASON had dome something previous, like a study on red-out some other time. A guy would say, "We'd love to have you do some more."

So that was sort of an exercise with the steering committee, and then the resource allocation was pretty sloppily done. You know, you get all this menu together for the spring meeting and tell the guys, "Here is what you can work on," and they'd sign up or not as they wished.

Aaserud:

So that was the purpose of the spring meeting.

Bengston:

Well, an important part of the spring meeting was that, yes.

Aaserud:

Then the work started during the summer meeting.

Bengston:

Then, you know, what we always tried to do was get a little head start on that, if possible—if there were background briefings to be gotten—trying to get somebody to learn a little bit before June 15 or whenever the study started.

Aaserud:

Then at the other end, the presentation of the results; how was that done? Was that the fall meeting essentially?

Bengston:

The fall meeting was hardly ever a presentation of the results themselves. The way the results have historically been presented is in a meeting at the end of the summer study. I don't know whether others have told you anything about that, but we would usually have a day or two at the end of the summer study. It started out as JASONs just talking to themselves and telling each other what they'd done, but inevitably then we started to drag in the major customers, at least. Now it's gotten much more formalized; they sort of have a big audience. But we used to have a few people from OSD and ARPA. Now with their wide sponsorship they've got a room full of people. But that was really, at least, the oral presentation of the results.

Aaserud:

Then of course there were publications.

Bengston:

Publications. And of course there were also occasions where we'd go brief, you know, because only a limited number of people would come to listen to a briefing. We'd go brief if that was required.

Aaserud:

To what extent were you involved in that; for example, in the capacity of making the results understandable to the agencies? There might be some problem of communication between the physicists and the agencies in that respect.

Bengston:

Well, I don't know; I'm a physicist too so I don't think I'm any better at communicating with those guys than Dick Garwin is, for example. You know, because he's very good at it. In fact I'm probably not as good as Dick Garwin.

Aaserud:

But was that part of your task?

Bengston:

I think that on occasion I tried to work on that problem. But it isn't all that bad a problem, because generally the way the system worked was that when guys were doing a complex technical problem, they generally had a customer who understood it well enough, you know. If they were doing complex analyses of reactions that go on in the ionosphere because you zap it with X-rays from a nuclear weapon, they were doing it for people who had backgrounds where at least they'd heard this stuff a lot and thought they knew it. So that they could understand it. So I don't think that translation was or is a serious problem.

Aaserud:

I see. So in most cases the project was defined from the outset in connection with a customer. That was the general rule.

Bengston:

Well, you know, I think that was the general rule. There are always exceptions to general rules. I think for example the business that Mal Rudeman and Henry Foley did on NOX from nuclear explosions they sort of dreamed up; I don't remember that we went to any customer and said, "Hey, we want to do this." Though it was motivated by interest n assessing the effect of the SST on the stratosphere, I think they just sort of dreamed it up and went and did it, and then afterwards we spread it all around and it became hot stuff.

Aaserud:

That was my impression, one of the hottest things.

Bengston:

Yes

Aaserud:

But generally it was a selection from a pool, more than problems coming out independently from the physicists?

Bengston:

Sure. Sure.

Aaserud:

I don't know to what extent you would detail the main projects during your tenure, what can you say about the main projects, the most important ones?

Bengston:

Well, I don't know.

Aaserud:

And who were the customers for them.

Bengston:

Well, as I said, it was essentially all in OSD. I guess this was a time in which there was considerable JASON interest in this internal wave phenomenondogy. I think that really the report that Walter Munk and others first did on the subject was done in—1968, but I'm not certain. But there was a continued interest in that sort of stuff.

Aaserud:

That was before the connection with the Navy; the Navy was not the sponsor then?

Bengston:

It was just because these guys were interested in doing it. That was a continuing focus of interest.

Aaserud:

Who was the sponsor for that?

Bengston:

That was done for ARPA and DDR&E. Actually, AROPA was not particularly interested n the internal wave stuff when it was started by the JASONs. Let's see, there was also air traffic control; we milled around in air traffic control. There was continuing interest in this particle beam project which was called Seesaw at the time.

Aaserud:

Was that something that was taken over from before your tenure?

Bengston:

Oh, it had been going on forever. And that was for ARPA. Nick Christophilos was also busy on trying to sell Sanguine. the ELF emergency communications system.

Aaserud:

Was that him alone or was that a group of interested people?

Bengston:

He was really a one man band as far as that was concerned, in fact.

Aaserud:

But he was a regular member at that time.

Bengston:

Yes. As an overflow from the fact that these fellows had been working on the internal wave problem, I tried to get going a more serious effort on Polaris vulnerability in general, and I see here a report that was written by three of the members in response to that. Another major effort was in the arms control arena. One of the burning issues was the so-called SAM upgrade problem, whether you can have a SAM-2 netted with some kind of radars to make a realistic ballistic missile defense system. That was the kind of thing that was done as part of the arms control interest of the members. That was a burning issue within the government, really.

Bengston:

So I've seen more than one report on the SAM upgrade stuff, and more than one report on this internal wave stuff. There was interest in lasers, interest in ionospheric heating, and here's one on, a combination of arms control and SSBN survivability, trying to think of any arms control options that will help SSBNS survive. There is an unusual one here that I should mention, and I've forgotten how this came about, or at whose initiative this was; it may be at Johnny Foster's initiative. JASON went and looked at a bunch of in-house government laboratories. It was one of these recurring reviews of government labs and what are we going to do about it. I've forgotten who was in charge, or who all was on the big group. There was an in-house group, as I recollect, and a fellow named Ed Glass who was in DDR&E orchestrated the whole thing. Some of the JASONs and I went around to visit a bunch of labs and got briefings on what they were doing and wrote a little thing that then became an appendix to the main Government report.

Aaserud:

When was this?

Bengston:

In 1971. You know, that's a different character from these other technical things, because this is really managementitis rather than, a technical thing to do. I mean, there are essentially little things. We went to these places, and these people seemed to do good things on X; at least, it was, therefore presumably an indication that these laboratories aren't all rotten.

Aaserud:

That was an untypical thing.

Bengston:

That was quite untypical.

Aaserud:

Were you specifically asked for that or was that something that came up from within?

Bengston:

Oh, we were asked to comment. You know, you could say, they're all bad, bad, bad. I wrote the letter that Hal Lewis signed, and I didn't feel constrained to say they're all marvelous. I think we were just told to give our reaction. I think we tried to give our reaction. Maybe that was a little bureaucratic business that you have to read hard to discover that at least one of those places probably should be closed down. But I think we tried to say what we thought in a constructive manner. But that was atypical, in a sense.

Aaserud:

It was a typical.

Bengston:

Yes. But since that I've seen more of that sort of thing happen.

Aaserud:

So it's been going in that direction, you might say.

Bengston:

It's been going in that direction. Now, of course, there was always the fact that ARPA wanted these guys to evaluate what was going on in a sort of a small program. But this was of in the large, and more management oriented. There was a lot of milling around helping try to find uses for lasers. You know, are lasers any good for anything except zapping tanks or airplanes?

And there was a study we did partially for Jack Martin—partially supported by Jack Martin—when there was an interest in applications of lasers. Report of the 1971 JASON laser summer study. That was partly supported by OSTP, which again was felt by the members to be a prestigious thing, you know. Jack gave us $5,000 or $10,000 toward what probably turned out to be thing for a $300,000 study. The rest was paid for by ARPA—they were interested in this study because they had a substantial high energy laser program at the time.

Aaserud:

That was the kind of interest that arose within JASON, not something you were specifically asked to do, I suppose?

Bengston:

Well, no we were asked to do it, but the fact that we were asked by the office of the President as well as again, the Defense Department made a difference. I've about run down, the topics, I think.

Aaserud:

As a case study of a case study, so to speak, I need to have some specific sense of how JASON worked. As I can't do everything, what would be a good project or series of projects to follow up historically, that is typical and is accessible, that is not unduly classified—just a limited set of problems that could be studied in some more detail? Would you have a suggestion, out of those you have mentioned now, for example?

Bengston:

My problem is that the problems I tend to know best are classified. I really do have that problem. Therefore, a lot of the small talk was classified once, so I don't know what to do.

Aaserud:

Would it be possible to declassify some of these things, do you think?

Bengston:

Well, again, I don't know what's classified any more. You know, I don't know, but there are lots of things that were classified that are not classified any more.

Aaserud:

But you would say just generally that the classified things were the most important or would be the most interesting from a historical point of view.

Bengston:

Well, the fact of the matter is, that's what they did most of. And that's why it's easier to pick things from that that are typical.

Aaserud:

But those general topics that you went through include the classified ones.

Bengston:

Yes, of course.

Aaserud:

But that's the general overview.

Bengston:

For example, I think there are at least two kinds—of projects. One kind of typical enterprise was the study of a big systems problem, let's say, that then would get decomposed into subsets, technical subsets, and how big the systems problem was would vary. It would be something like this business about the SAM upgrade stuff, and that would tend to involve a fairly heavy interaction with Defense professionals—guys at IDA or some other contractor or agency—who had done a lot of this stuff during the year. Then they'd come and work with the JASONs, and the JASONs would try to get to understand some of the fancy technical notions involved and see if they could improve upon them. That's one sort of thing—the SAM upgrade.

There were things we did on nuclear effects on ballistic missile defense systems way back in David's [Katcher] time, which were sort of in the same category. There were, say, the things done on arms control—which went under the general rubric of arms control later on—like worrying about missile accuracy, extensions of that, where you'd say there's a strong interaction with the external Defense community, the IDAs, the MITREs whatever. That's one kind of problem. But another kind—which is typical of some subset of the group—is more like the thing where guys go and calculate some fairly esoteric effect related to how lasers break down air, or multi photon ionization of something by lasers.

Aaserud:

Which is part of a general picture.

Bengston:

Which is a detailed part of a big picture, but doesn't involve much interaction with the outside world. So there are those two kinds of things. I guess what has made JASON have some clout, of course, is the first one I described—the system thing—but the others are still there and they're very important. I don't know know how to pick one.

Aaserud:

No, but I shouldn't just pick something out of the hat, I should pick something representative.

Bengston:

You could recognize that there's sort of a spectrum of things. It's not just that everybody does these big things. This Foley and Rudeman thing, for example, got to be a popular enterprise after Mal and Henry made their first thoughts; then everybody wanted to help them. Really I think it's Mal Rudeman who had the idea. I don't know. I'm just guessing.

Aaserud:

So what you're saying is that there's no prototype.

Bengston:

There are at least a couple of kinds of prototypes.

Aaserud:

And that's part of the typical picture, so that has to be accounted for. The mode of collaboration within JASON—was it mostly large scale collaboration, two people working together, or one person giving an independent report?

Bengston:

Well, that's what I was referring to when I said, you've got to recognize there was a spectrum of things.

Aaserud:

In that respect also.

Bengston:

There was a tendency for people who were attracted to doing, really complex computational problems to work either by themselves or with one or at most another guy. For example, Ken Watson, tended to like to work pretty much by himself, because he liked to have a problem he could solve. Sid Drell was sort of another extreme, because he really was always interested in issues that had policy impact. He really wanted to run a study of other people who would look at a big issue, like one of these SAM upgrade issues or an arms control issue and so forth. I think that a lot of guys tried to dabble in both, obviously.

Aaserud:

There was room for all that.

Bengston:

So a fellow would perhaps do his own little thing on internal waves or what not part time; Stanley Flatt?, for example, would work on his own research in some specific area as a stand alone piece, but then participate in one of these SAM upgrade studies at the same time. So it was possible to do that.

Aaserud:

So there was a general tendency of all JASONs knowing about each other's work.

Bengston:

Yes. I think that has decreased in recent times.

Aaserud:

I think some part of it is due to the clearance problem—that different clearances are required for different people now, especially after the Navy got involved.

Bengston:

Yes.

Aaserud:

That was no problem in your time, was it? Or were some problems more classified than others?

Bengston:

Yes, there were, but it was nowhere near as widespread.

Aaserud:

But there were some JASONs who couldn't speak about their project with other JASONs. Did it come down to that?

Bengston:

Again, I think that's probably been true, not from time zero, certainly this era. I recollect going to those summer studies when the reports were done for Mr. McNamara. I knew something was going on because one of my associates at IDA was deeply involved in the study, actually, as well as my friends within JASON. But I didn't get a full picture of what they were doing from them, or from the briefings at the end of the summer. And I'm sure the members not directly participating didn't get a full picture of what was going on, because some of it involved what was thought at the time to be sensitive information; it must have had some special intelligence stamps on it. But they knew something was going on, so they got part of the picture.

I'd say that that's what generally happened while I was there. There were things that involved intelligence information, and therefore you don't talk about it even in a room where you can talk about ordinary secrets. But, in general it was not a central issue. On the other hand, the Navy involvement I think did do a more substantial thing, because when I went and participated as a consultant—I'd say I was a consultant to JASON in the late seventies or early eighties—then there was the ordinary day and there was the Navy day. I'm sure that that's had some effect on the togetherness and what not, but whether that's important, I don't know. There has also been a more general proliferation of "black" and/or special access programs throughout the Defense Department.

Aaserud:

But there was no transition in that respect during your tenure as Executive Secretary.

Bengston:

No. That happened after they left IDA, when as a consequence they could go work for the Navy.

Aaserud:

That was the main transition in that respect, right. So that came along with the increase in the number of sponsors.

Bengston:

Yes.

Aaserud:

Did political views of the individual members play a role in choice of projects, or were there any such major debates within JASON at all?

Bengston:

Well, I guess I've alluded to the fact that people were strongly motivated towards working on arms control. I think you'd call that a political view, or at least an interest in affecting political issues. So that was probably the strongest motivation that I can think of. But on the other hand, those who worked in arms control had a wide spectrum of political beliefs.

Aaserud:

So the technical versus general reflects a political distinction, you would say. What about the secrecy question generally? I mean, scientists are usually working in an environment where openness is the main code. Were there any problems with that? You know, the way of working within JASON must be very different from the way it is in an academic environment.

Bengston:

Yes. Well, I guess, in a sense, that is a problem, I guess. I think that the main difficulty associated with that was when, for one reason or another, we were unable to get special access for members because the government limited us. And that was a concern. Now, I never saw any indication of people who, having gotten special access, were unwilling to go by the rules; there was no indication of such. Whatever you say about openness of scientists and all that, when they're let in on these great secrets, they're like any other human; they say, "Oh, I have this secret, I can't tell you." So they seem to understand the rules of the game and, it doesn't violate their values as a scientists.

Aaserud:

And of course they went into it with that understanding.

Bengston:

Since I didn't get so many people into those things, I can't recollect anybody turning down a special access but there may have been. Presumably the same people who left for various reasons might have turned it down.

Aaserud:

Were there any conflicts between the members of JASON and the representatives of the agencies?

Bengston:

As far as what's secret, for example?

Aaserud:

Yes, for example.

Bengston:

Well, you know, they make the rules. I don't know. I don't recollect anything. All JASON reports were (and are) subject to Government classification review.

Aaserud:

What was the public relations aspect of your work? Were you involved in that, for example, in relation to the Vietnam problem? That's when JASON reached the public eye, really.

Bengston:

Yes. Well, you know, I think unfortunately the problem that the individual members had was generally on each specific campus, they had this terrible problem with nuts who wanted to go picket somebody. So unfortunately there wasn't really a hell of a lot that we could figure out to do about it.

Aaserud:

So you were not involved in any effort to-

Bengston:

No. Maybe it's wrong, but I think that unfortunately those people would only have redoubled their efforts if they got the attention of the Office of the Secretary of Defense, or the attention of the Institute for Defense Analyses. They'd love it, you know. So that was my own feeling—and I'm sure, my management's feeling—at the time. And many of the JASON wanted us to keep their association with us and Defense as quiet as possible.

Aaserud:

What about JASONs using their knowledge from JASON in other capacities, like in advising generally or even to the press?

Bengston:

Well, you've got two things going on there. Let me talk about them separately. As far as the first goes, there was a notion when JASON was founded that it might possibly be a training ground for guys who would then go do something else somewhere else—for defense industries or you name it. There's always a problem about conflict of interest—of getting information within JASON and then going and helping a specific defense contractor. But aside from that the notion that they go do something else in the defense industry was a plus.

You know, they'd go consult for the Defense Science Board, the Navy, the Air Force SAB or whatever—it's a plus. So that was just fine. We considered it a good thing. There was always a concern, however, and people were asked to write down their other consulting arrangements, so that there would be some review of what possible conflict of interest might be involved. But aside from that, it was positive. As far as interaction in the public arena goes, I think I already addressed already the fact that any such thing will shake the establishment if the views espoused do not agree with the views of the guy within the establishment.

Aaserud:

But there have been instances of that.

Bengston:

Within IDA we made no attempt to censor anybody. We don't do that.

Aaserud:

Have there, have there been suggestions from other places that people should be excluded, for example?

Bengston:

While I was in IDA—I can't speak for management since 1973—I do not recollect anybody saying to me or hearing of anybody saying to Al Flax or to anybody else, "We've got to get rid of so and so" or "We don't want so and so." I do not recollect that.

Aaserud:

I think the general tendency of JASONs is to want to keep a low profile.

Bengston:

Yes.

Aaserud:

But of course there are exceptions to that.

Bengston:

Right.

Aaserud:

When such exceptions occur, what is the general reaction within JASON? Is it disgust? Is it taken up at all?

Bengston:

They're all human. There's a wide variety of reactions. I know these people very well, and there's a wide variety of reactions.

Aaserud:

Yes, but it's not something that is taken up and voted on or whatever?

Bengston:

How do you do that?

Aaserud:

Right. And of course the general tendency would be and has been to protect people who would come in that problematic situation.

Bengston:

In general. But you know, there get to be personality conflicts, where people, at least within the confines of the group, are pretty sharp to each other, though it might not appear that way to an outsider.

Aaserud:

Were there specific instances of such things during your tenure?

Bengston:

I can't recollect.

Aaserud:

How unique would you consider JASON, as a group of academics essentially being involved in advising on the level that they were advising?

Bengston:

I think it's really a remarkable phenomenon, in the sense that it's a much more substantive kind of advice than most of the advice mechanisms that the defense system has. As you know, there's the Defense Science Board, the Air Force SAB, the Navy NRAC, the Army Science Board; and all those things tend to be at a much higher level of aggregation, and their summer studies are much shorter and necessarily shallower. They attack "systems problems." These guys do some of that, but these guys do real original work, too, which is really quite different.

Aaserud:

Original work within JASON?

Bengston:

Yes. That's what's different about it. They tend to do original technical work.

Aaserud:

And it has stayed that way during the whole period of JASON?

Bengston:

Yes, and it still stays that way. Of course I could also give you other lectures about what I think is wrong about all those boards that are captives of the defense contractors. But that's another issue.

Aaserud:

On the other hand, of course, JASON is temporary; it has input only for a specific time period during the year. I don't know to what extent that limits the impact or limits the work.

Bengston:

Sure it does.

Aaserud:

But you think that the kind of work, the uniqueness, the connection with academic work, makes up for that—that these are a group of people who have provided a unique kind of advice that other agencies have not been in the position to?

Bengston:

Well, OK. I think that generally there's clearly a perceived value of people outside looking in on a project, trying to add something new; I wasn't even thinking about defending that, because that's just sort of true. You get some bright person to look over your shoulder and you discover, "Geez, I never thought of that, why didn't I think of that?" And that is what all these Defense Science Boards and rickytick like that try to do at a management level. JASON is unique because it does it sometimes at a management level and sometimes at a really detailed technical level; it has to be a supplement to the system. It's not complete in itself. You know, you'd never build a submarine that way. You'd never build anything that way. But it would at least give new ideas that could be picked up by the system—if they're really good ideas—and develop a constituency.

Aaserud:

Well, what do you consider the agencies' view of JASON in that respect? You said that you went out to get projects in a lot of instances. To what extent has JASON been used to the most useful degree by the agencies, also as a function of time?

Bengston:

Well, I believe that the small talk I always encountered about whether a particular person wanted JASON to help him with a problem, was primarily related to this fellow's view of how he could make sure that JASON wouldn't be used against him somehow—not because the JASONs were "disloyal" in a normal sense, but because they might go talk to other people and by doing so undercut this guy's bureaucratic position.

Bengston:

You know, the problem that I perceived was that when we were going around banging down doors and saying, we want to work on a problems in arms control and we want access to what's going on, that the guy in the government had a little concern that, "Geez, if I give these guys access, suddenly something will happen that will upset my relationship with the damn State Department." So there was that kind of bureaucratic concern. But there was always an interest in getting the guys to work on the problem, because they might have something really novel to contribute. There's just this bureaucratic concern that somehow it will get out of my control because these guys are so smart and they know a lot of people.

Aaserud:

There's a balance there, in a sense.

Bengston:

Right, and in general it happened, therefore. They decided, "Yes, let's have these guys work on the problem.

Aaserud:

But to what extent has that balance been imbalanced over time, in one or the other direction?

Bengston:

It varies, from one group to another. I don't know what you're going to hear about what they do for the Navy, but you'll probably hear a bunch of blandness, I suspect.

Aaserud:

Yes, it's not much detail. Is that a function of the administration or lower levels?

Bengston:

Lower levels. Different parts of the Defense Department and the government work differently, though there has ben a proliferation of "black" programs generally in the last several years.

Aaserud:

And I think it's a question of personality too, to some extent—what person in the agency you're able to make contacts with. Are there other competing or collaborating bodies that you would compare JASON with—especially during your period, of course—That did similar work? Or was it so unique that that's bit a meaningful question? Bengston Well, as I said, it's such a combination of things that it really is unique. I mentioned the Defense Science Board and things like that. They do a lot less work and they tend to be much more global; this study looking at—government labs—that's a thing a Defense Science Board panel might also do, for example. But that's sort of atypical for JASON. The only other activities that I think might be at all like JASON are ones about which I know fairly little; that is, the weapons labs get consultants in for the summer and let them loose to do fairly wide ranging technical things. That's an analogy; that's the only analogy I can think of.

Aaserud:

JASON has consisted and still consists essentially of physicists and especially theoretical physicists. Do you think that physicists have been specifically suited for the task, or is it more by chance that it consists of that kind of people?

Bengston:

Well, I guess it's a result of the prior history, all right, starting with the development of nuclear weapons and radar. I think that physicists tend to a pretty good job at learning things. Particularly in applied fields that are, after all, based on classical physics. As concerns defense technology in general, there's much less relevance in biology or even in chemistry, let's say. The only direction in which more knowledge is needed than a fellow tends to acquire by getting a Phd in physics is in the practical matters that often are now in the domain of say electrical engineering.

A physicist can pick them up because he understands the fundamentals, but he may not know all the technology of, say, how big is a radar, right? How much does it have to weigh? And so forth and so on. He knows how the thing works, but it may take him a little while to figure out what the technology is, particularly if he's a theoretical physicist. If he's an experimentalist, he may have an appreciation already of the technology of some of these things, because he's worked on designing accelerators or what not and has to know some technology. So the only direction in which it might be desirable to have a little more practical view is a little more toward the engineering; it all grew out of physics.

Aaserud:

So you don't think it's entirely by chance. Any other group would not do the same job.

Bengston:

Obviously, there's also at least one mathematician in the group now, and he's worked out as member because he was able to work with physicists on problems. And there's always been at least one electrical engineer.

Aaserud:

Yes, that was from the beginning.

Bengston:

Yes. It's probably just that there hasn't been as aggressive a campaign to get in electrical engineers or computer scientists or what not as might have happened if personalities were different.

Aaserud:

JASON was established, at least to a great extent, as a recruiting ground for physicists into defense related questions and advice for the government. To what extent has it succeeded in that? To what extent has it been a springboard for other similar activities?

Bengston:

Well, for the individual members it obviously has. Murph Golberger and Hal Lewis probably first got into other government advisory panels at least partially because of JASON. Ed Frieman is a member of the Defense Science Board, and although he had an important position at the Plasma Physics Laboratory, I think his involvement in JASON had a lot to do with his getting into defense-related activities. And there are other guys whose involvement in government activities originated in JASON. For others, JASON involvement may just have increased their "opportunities" for participation in defense-related activities. I'm sure that although he's director of Scripps—part of Bill Nierenberg's involvement in government activities was related to the JASON thing, although much of it pre-dated his membership.

Aaserud:

Yes, I think a lot of it pre-dated JASON.

Bengston:

So it's all mixed up. In the early days of JASON, there was a pretty strong PSAC, so some JASONs probably would have gotten into advising the government through it, even without JASON. And there are, you know, other people; I'd have to go through a list and think about it. But clearly people have in some cases just developed different consulting relationships with other outfits; in other cases, they've developed new interests because of JASON.

Aaserud:

I think the main body of JASONs have seen it as important to maintain their relationship with academia.

Bengston:

Yes. And the majority have not changed their major research interest because of JASON.

Aaserud:

So it is a minority of JASONs who have gone from academic physics to science policy or advising full time, I think.

Bengston:

That's right.

Aaserud:

So it's that too. This is another question that we have touched upon but I'll ask it right on—the impact of JASON generally. What difference has it made over the period, especially during your tenure, of course. What is your sense of that?

Bengston:

Well, I guess it's often hard to know.

Aaserud:

Yes, it's a very hard question.

Bengston:

But there are examples of things where people struggled very hard, and it's not even clear yet what the impact is—for example, the ELF transmitter or Sanguine thing that Nick [Christophilos] was pushing for so many years. He invented it, in 1958, I guess, and they're still talking about whether they're going to deploy one or not. I don't know whether it will ever happen, and of course, when he was around, he was a real sparkplug and kept it moving. So that's an idea that was pushed into the system, and it's not clear it will ever get accepted. The NOx thing—that was an idea that was pushed into the system. It was sort of a scientific idea. And that was accepted because, it doesn't cost a billion dollars to implement it. You just have to say, "Yes, that's right.

I think there are other examples of scientific ideas that have been accepted in the system, and with a scientific idea, all you can say is, well, it happened sooner. As you know, you can't say it was never going to happen. If there were no Einstein, we'd still have relativity, probably. So there has been that impact of having things happen sooner. As far as a big effect on the system, I guess I have to say that I'm not sure that I know of many cases. There is this business of doing these studies for McNamara alluded to by David Katcher, presumably—and that was a big effect on the system. I think that the thing that Munk and so forth did on internal waves had a big effect on research in that area, which is different; again, it's a research thing that happened earlier otherwise.

So there are more of those, I believe, than there are things that really affect "policy." I think that for all the struggling with policy, it's not clear that I know of any case where you can say JASON turned the policy of the government around. But on the other hand, I have to point out to you that I've been in this professional study business for 24 years, and it's very hard in general to see anything happen in the Defense Department, because one advisor or one advisory group said that this is the way to go. Before it happens, it has to be sort of a consensus of a bunch of people to move that way, because there are so many ants pushing this damned log.

In that sense I can think of examples where JASON, by doing studies related to some of these issues of arms control, has had an impact on the thinking in the system. In fact, an example is this Midgetman. We had a study—I forget exactly when the study was (through it was in the late 1970s) in which one of the chapters wrote about what is now Midgetman. But does that prove that we had any influence in that? Well, maybe a little bit. If you wanted to be a salesman, you'd say, "Yes, sure."

But on the other hand, as a realist, I would say that it was just one of those things that we wrote about because it's been an idea that's been lying around for a long time. (Small mobile ICBMs were first studied by the Air Force in the early 1960s). We elaborated a little bit and pushed it. So yes, there was influence, but how do you measure it? I don't know.

Aaserud:

To the extent that it can be investigated, where would you suggest that one should go to answer such a question?

Bengston:

I don't know.

Aaserud:

Of course, it does not suffice to interview physicists. You might have had a closer sense of the communication with the agencies, but that's also not enough, of course. I guess one should investigate how the input moves.

Bengston:

Well, I'm thinking of things beyond this period; that's the trouble. I'm having a hard time getting back to that period: It's so long ago.

Aaserud:

That's a problem with my questions too, I suppose. They're too general to relate specifically to the specific experience, but I think we're talking about both things now. You did go through these projects. To come back to your specific involvement, how do you see your role in accomplishing any impact? To what extent were you involved in that and to what extent did you have a sense of whether you made a difference or not, in your communication with agencies or whatever?

Bengston:

Well, obviously I tried to make sure that our output got communicated to the people that I thought were the important ones in the government to learn about it. Of course, that includes passive things like getting them on the distribution list and sending them copies of reports. It also includes, where it really seemed to be important, trying to get to either see them myself or get somebody else to see them to talk about the results. That's life.

Aaserud:

There's not a particular case in which you would point to a success or the opposite?

Bengston:

No.

Aaserud:

Other persons to interview for that particular question—could you come up with say non-JASON members, specific people in agencies or people who have had some connection with JASON work?

Bengston:

You're going to talk to Jack Martin, aren't you?

Aaserud:

I will, in time.

Bengston:

As you understand, he's been on both sides of the issue; he was a customer and he was also within JASON.

Aaserud:

John Foster, I suppose.

Bengston:

You might talk to him. Other people—Jasper Welch was a customer. He was involved, and he was also a customer. A very smart guy.

Aaserud:

The name doesn't ring a bell immediately. Where was he at?

Bengston:

Well, he was a major general in the Air Force when he retired. He's now a member of the SAIC board of directors. And he was in something called Air Force Systems Analysis for a while, and he also was in Air Force R and D. He has a PhD in physics himself, so maybe you're talking to the wrong kind of person. But anyway he was within the government and so therefore appreciative of what goes on in these matters, and if he'll give you some time, it would be nice.

Aaserud:

That's a good; that's the kind of advice I need at this stage.

Bengston:

I don't know whom to suggest. You know, you ought to find somebody who was in ARPA at one time or another.

Aaserud:

I'm going to talk to Jack Ruina.

Bengston:

I think you also ought to talk to somebody nearer in time than Jack, because that was a long time ago.

Aaserud:

I'm thinking of concentrating on the first 10 to 15 years.

Bengston:

OK, well, then you ought to pick Steve Lukasik or Eb Rechtin I or Bob Frosch guess, right?

Aaserud:

Yes. What about JASON as an expanding experience for getting in contact with other kinds of people involved in these kinds of problems? Well, of course, you had contact with the government.

Bengston:

Well, you know, what it obviously did for the members was to get them to meet some people, or at least listen to some people who were in policy positions that were far from their standard experience.

Aaserud:

But there was a whole variety of people invited for briefings, right?

Bengston:

Yes.

Aaserud:

They were not only people in government. There was, for example, the guy who lectured on Vietnam in that very early period; that was before your time. But I'm sure that a whole variety of people were invited.

Bengston:

Oh, sure. But generally people who were representative of what the government was interested in. I can't find that meeting schedule here; I don't know where it is.

Aaserud:

That's another useful thing, of course. That would be interesting to have. You mean the meetings during your period?

Bengston:

Yes.

Aaserud:

Where were the meetings during your period? They fluctuated from East to West essentially?

Bengston:

You're talking about the summers?

Aaserud:

Well, of course that was the big thing.

Bengston:

The summers, I guess they were all in La Jolla. 1969 was in Boulder and the rest were in La Jolla.

Aaserud:

So there's a long tradition for that.

Bengston:

Right.

Aaserud:

They started out going from East to West, I think.

Bengston:

Yes.

Aaserud:

But then La Jolla became the permanent base.

Bengston:

Correct.

Aaserud:

I have exhausted more or less my questions. You're welcome to come with any additions or something I haven't asked that you might like to expand on or add.

Bengston:

You should certainly talk to Herb York and Al Flax about their perceptions of effectiveness of JASON.