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In footnotes or endnotes please cite AIP interviews like this:
Interview of E. A. Frieman by Finn Aaserud on 1986 June 25,
Niels Bohr Library & Archives, American Institute of Physics,
College Park, MD USA,
For multiple citations, "AIP" is the preferred abbreviation for the location.
In this interview E. A. Frieman discusses topics such as: being a member of JASON; Princeton University; John Wheeler; Los Alamos National Laboratory; Ken Watson; Keith Brueckner, Murph Goldberger; Francis Low; Geoff Chew; Lyman Spitzer; Charles Townes; Project Matterhorn; Edward Teller; Stanford Research Institute (SRI); Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA); Herbert York; Dick Garwin; Department of Defense; Department of Energy; Stan Flatte; Strategic Defense Initiative.
OK, do you have any papers, any recorded memories of your own career? Where would they be if you have it?
I’ve moved around so much, and in the process, most of my papers are gone.
Not even at the institutions you’ve been at? There must be something there?
I know there were things at Princeton. I think when I left Princeton, they were put in storage for a while and then destroyed. For a while I had things from the government. I have a few of those around somewhere. It’s gone.
It’s gone, it’s irretrievable.
I’m afraid so.
That’s of course a loss, particularly for my JASON study. Well, it might be restricted material anyway. What about publications which are not mentioned in your bibliography? Are there such ones for example, reports that are only half published, so to speak?
I haven’t looked at that, but there probably are.
JASON reports, for example?
I never even listed those.
I notice, for example, that there is only one publication here that is not entirely technical. I was wondering if you had others of those. You probably wrote down lectures, for example.
That’s correct, but I never kept that stuff. I’m sorry now, I have to admit.
Willie Fouder, where is he now?
Willie Fouder, great man. He in fact helped me enormously early on. He nourished the first publication on that list on proton reaction. I gave that paper at the American Physical Society. It was a ten minute paper at that time, and the basic point in that paper was about the results that Hans Bethe had on whether it was the carbon cycle or reactions in the sun which dominated. My new calculations said that his original conclusion was wrong. So here I was a young graduate student, getting up and making these statements in public. I thought I was going to get slaughtered, and Willie Fowler came to my rescue.
From the Audience?
Yes it was extremely nice of him.
OK, let’s start. We’re in Ed Frieman’s office in La Jolla, on the 25th of June, 1986, and we’re going to talk mainly about your JASON involvement. We’re going to spend a short hour on that, and I’m glad that you gave me this time in spite of your work in getting established as the new Director of Scripps. Because of the limited time I’m skipping all the questions relating to the pre-JASON period… I’ll jump right into JASON. Then the first question would be, what was the background and your motivation for joining JASON, and who approached you?
OK. Let’s see. I went to Princeton in 1952 directly out of graduate school. I went to Princeton and at that time I worked originally for Johnny Wheeler. That was in the nuclear weapons program. That led to my going to Los Alamos. I’d never been there before, and I guess I was just a few years behind the group that was active at Los Alamos during the war. At that time I was only 17 or 18. At Los Alamos I met a number of the people whom I worked with later on. The people that I worked closely with in those days were Ken Watson, Keith Brueckner, Murph Goldberger, Francis Low, Geoff Chew. And then I had some really marvelous interactions with Fermi and Bethe. Those were all at Los Alamos through the fifties, in the ‘summers and in other areas. After the nuclear weapons project at Princeton was completed, Lyman Spitzer asked me to become head of the theoretical division of the other part of it, which was working on fusion research which at that time was classified.
When was that?
That was 1954. I had been at Princeton for a couple of years, and when the Johnny Wheeler project was terminated, I went over to the other project; as I said worked, under Lyman Spitzer. But during those times I remained as a consultant at Los Alamos. The previous kind of work was where I met all these people “and began to get involved in a number of these defense related activities. Then when JASON was formed about 1960, I was invited by Murph Goldberger and Ken Watson, Keith and others to join. That was the origin of it. I guess basically I felt at the time, and I guess I still do, that scientifically trained people who have the talent to be able to devote themselves to areas of importance to the National Security of the country, should do so. Within limits — not to distort your academic life and so forth. But I felt that’s an important thing to do, so when the chance came to join JASON, I did it.
You jumped on it.
I don’t know whether I jumped on it. It was almost an adiabatic transition from the earlier days at Los Alamos. It was just a different way of organizing the whole thing. In those times the Institute for Defense Analyses was formed. Charlie Townes was then the first Vice President for Research.
The second, Al Hill was the first.
Excuse me. You are correct. I only knew Al Hill slightly. I’ve known Charlie much more over the years and interacted with him. I became clear that there was a sense in the country that these were important things to do, and so it seemed like the appropriate thing to do. Tha was the beginning of my involvement in the whole thing.
So you were not directly involved in those very first plans — I believe of, Brueckner, Watson and Goldberger creating a private consulting firm.
I think was aware of that, because I was friendly with them, but I was not involved in those early discussions. Johnny Wheeler was involved and wanted to create something which I think they called at one point, Project Sunshine or something. I’ve forgotten the name.
Initiation the Laboratory? I understood that you had an idea of creating a laboratory for war research that was more basic than Los Alamos.
I was not involved in that.
Project 137, that’s right. Again, I was aware that discussions like that were going on. My feeling at the time was that it was not appropriate for academic scientists to get involved with a profit making organization in doing these kinds of defense related things. If you’re going to get involved, it should be in some not-for-profit cases. So when JASON was formed, basically as part of a not-for-profit, I felt sort of comfortable with that. That’s when I got involved.
So the adiabatic transition, as you call it, got started at Princeton.
It started at Princeton. It continued during those years. There was a summer session at Los Alamos in, 1956 — with as I mentioned, Murph Goldberger, Franciss Low, Geoff Chew, Ken Watson, Keith Brueckner, and others — and it was over a period of quite a number of months. Basically we were looking at plasma physics, which at that time was sort of classified.
That was Matterhorn?
It was part of Project Matterhorn, but it was the part that was being carried out during a special summer study at Los Alamos in 1956, which has now of course been published and open.
The Sherwood Conferences?
Right. But that 1956 session was quite distinct. As I remember it, Ken Watson was on leave of absence; I don’t remember where he was at that time, whether it was Illinois or Wisconsin. He went to Los Alamos for a period of six months, and in that summer — I believe it was the summer of either 1955 or 1956 — it was just a huge collection of people brought in to work on these problems. Conrad Longmeyer was there then, Marshall Rosenbluth, and others.
These are very strongly overlapping groups?
That’s right. You see the same names coming up. That’s why I say it’s almost adiabatic in its formation.
How common was it that physicists of your generation took that road towards a stronger involvement? Was it restricted to the Sherwood group or was it more general than that? That’ a general question, of course.
I don’t know. I find it hard to recollect precisely what the favor was. In those years it was basically sort of pre-Vietnam and post Korea. There wasn’t the flavor that one had in the sixties when this was all sort of terrible and dirty, people asked, “ Why are you involved in that?” There was a general feeling following Sputnik that this was an appropriate thing to be doing. Some people chose to do it, others didn’t, but nobody sort of hassled you over it. We didn’t get into long political discussions about it and so on and so forth.
No conflicts on campus?
No. The major conflict, of course, was over the whole Oppenheimer situation. People then were responding to McCarthyism and all of those trends. But the issue was not anti-government, as it was in the Vietnam era. I think many of the people in the physics community felt that Oppenheimer had been done in by Edward Teller and that this was just a personal attack and it was just wrong. I remember being at Princeton before all of that became public, and we were suddenly told one day that Oppenheimer’s name had been removed from the access list. We had no idea why. But all of us working in those days sent a letter that we all signed protesting it. It wasn’t until later, as events unfolded, that we really saw what was going on.
Nobody or very few I think fell off that process because of that development.
Your tenure in JASON, has that been continuous throughout?
Yes, except for the time when I was in the government. Then of course, I had to step down. So I was in JASON through the summer of 1979. That fall I started my tenure in Washington, and stayed on through about March 1981. During that time, I would visit JASON as a government official, from the other side, but I had no involvement. After I left the government I rejoined JASON and I’ve had a situation — because of the situation here at SAIC (Science Applications International Corporation) — that any of the fees that JASON pays I don’t take; I just turn it over to the company. So it’s been a different kind of relationship.
So you’re still formally a member?
I’m still a member. I’ve been extremely careful of course to avoid conflict of interest, so in those areas where JASON may be doing something in which SAIC is involved, I just stay away from it.
But that’s relatively clear-cut, I gather.
One has to be very sensitive to these issues.
Well, we’ve come to the present now. How typical or untypical a member of JASON do you regard yourself?
Oh, I’m probably somewhat untypical, in the following sense. Some years ago, in the early seventies, JASON got involved in the issues relating to the Navy and its under seas deterrent, which are very sensitive matters. This, I think basically is a problem for people in JASON, because it was originally formed with the notion in mind that the most use to the government of a group like JASON would be if the people had no potential conflicts. Therefore they could be given information sort of across the board, including proprietary information from companies or very sensitive information from the government. That, in fact, has proved not to be true, for a number of reasons; there are programs that the government has and carries out which are extremely sensitive, and they have therefore in many cases refused to have broad access throughout JASON. This leads to a situation where you find some people in JASON who have access to certain information, and others don’t. That creates a certain amount of difficulty, which I think we’ve lived with, but it’s still not a pleasant situation. It’s not a situation which I think we’ve ever resolved. It’s just one that continues. Early on I became involved in such things and sort of felt that it was extremely important to the country that some group of JASONs get involved. I’ve done that, and it takes you to a certain extent out of the mainstream of what JASON is doing, just because of these security barriers.
Yes, but that was mostly Navy stuff. That’s a particularly sensitive organization.
Yes, right. From the point of view of view of where we are now, it should be quite clear that the potential for that exists in many other areas, but we’ve avoided it because the government has chosen to clear no JASON in many other areas.
No, it’s actually not a recent development. It’s existed all along. But in some sense JASON wasn’t aware of it. I mean, you don’t know what you don’t know.
But it was in the Seventies. Before that it was more across the board?
Of course JASON was created along with the developments after Sputnik: government institutions like ARPA, was created in direct response to that.
That’s absolutely right.
ARPA I guess is a case in point. That was the main or maybe the sole supporter of JASON during that period. But wouldn’t you say that JASON was a response to that?
In miniature it was a response to that.
Yes, the institutionalization probably was, but the interest wasn’t. Were you involved in any discussion before or when JASON was set up, as to other possible responses, other possible institutional reflections, of this involvement?
I was not. As I said, I was aware of various discussions, and I think at that time I talked to Murph and Ken Watson and a few others. But I didn’t get involved in the formulation of all of this and the particular way it was going to go.
Was there a strong discussion internally or externally?
From what I found out later, the answer is yes. There had been lots of discussion going on. But as I say, I just wasn’t involved with it, so I can’t really say anything.
I think Brueckner indicated that Bethe for example had had some other ideas.
Later on it became clear that there were many people with different models of how this should work and what should be done and so on and so forth. As I remember it somehow when Charlie Townes went to IDA, that was really in a sense the initiation of the whole thing, because then there was an organization that could be a home for all of this which made sense. At that point, as I recollect it, most of the other discussions just stopped, and people said, “OK, this is it.” This is the way we’re going to do it.”
I had that impression, too. I think Townes had a very clear conception of JASON from the very beginning.
That’s right. And then when Keith Brueckner took over that position at IDA, it just followed along.
What about JASON as a generational thing? To what extent was it an expression of the new generation of physicists’ involvement in such matters?
There was clearly an aspect of that. At the time I came in a number of people, maybe Watson, Goldberger, Francis Low, etc. They’re all a few years older than I — felt that our generation should now begin to make a contribution in these areas, and that this was one way to do it.
Of course there was also an older generation seeking to get the younger generation exposed.
That’s absolutely true.
Wheeler, and Wigner. I suppose.
Yes, that’s exactly true.
I suppose Teller was also involved then.
Well, Teller was involved, but he was much more involved in the early fifties, after the Oppenheimer situation, in getting Livermore established. So at that time he was encouraging all of us to leave wherever we were and come to Livermore and work for him. Many of us did not.
But he was a Senior Advisor, wasn’t he?
Yes, he was certainly a senior advisor, wasn’t he?
I don’t know how involved a senior advisor was. He may have been more honorary than anything else. We could get back to that.
It’s been a mixed role over the years, in-terms of the senior advisors.
JASON was more a result of a physicists’ concept of what should be done than say of the defense establishment for example?
That’s quite correct. The prevailing opinion at that time amongst the physicists was that the defense establishment did not have any sort of a clear conception of what technology could do for it. I think with some arrogance — the physicists — felt they could help in this regard. And I think in fact at that time there was a fair amount of truth in that. Coming out of World War II, the people one saw in the government at high levels were not trained technologists, and after the first nuclear events and with everything in a state of tremendous flux, there was a amongst the physicists that they could make a real contribution. And one can see it, in many many cases. The kinds of things that have been brought up to JASON over the years are — many of them — things which are just outrageous. Somebody will bring a paper to JASON which says, “Maxwell’s equations aren’t valid at sea.” Any physicist could immediately say, “Well, that’s utter nonsense,” and immediately give an answer, whereas in some halls of government somebody will say, “Oh that’s very interesting, maybe there’s a new effect here we can capitalize on.” So there’s a funny aspect in which JASON is used like a set of referees, as you bring stuff to PHYS REV LETTERS and they say, “That is utter nonsense, don’t that.”
Of course, you may not always be believed. That’s absolutely true. Some of these things pop up over and over again. So the purpose of JASON was pretty clear from the outset.
What about the organizational structure or the extent to which that exists? There is some structure to it, now at least.
Yes. The structure in those days was much looser. There was always a chairman. There was always a steering committee. And then there was interaction with whichever was the home organization, whether it was IDA or then Stanford Research Institute or then MITRE. So actually, part of the structure changed when I became chairman.
Which was when?
Gosh, I don’t remember the years. I was afraid you were going to ask me that! It was before Bill Nierenberg. I guess it was two chairmen ago. Originally Murph was the chairman. He was chairman for quite a while, about seven years. Then Hal Lewis became chairman, and he was chairman, it seemed, like forever. Then there was a short period when Ken Watson was chairman. Then I followed Ken Watson. At that point the organization had begun to grow.
That was under SRI, then.
That was under SRI, that’s correct. We had to leave IDA because of the ceiling issue. All of us felt that it was unfair to stay at IDA because we were just penalizing that organization.
Too many people?
Yes, during the time I was chairman, it became clear that we needed tighter controls on our finances and administration and so on and so forth. JASON was not our primary activity and we really weren’t watching it very carefully and things could very easily get out of control. So I set up a finance committee and a membership committee and a program committee and put a little bit of structure into it, which continues to exist. But it’s always been a rather loosely knit structure, and it’s worked that way. Nobody will tell you, “You must work on such and such.” It’s up to people to volunteer.
But to some extent you have different classes of members, right? You have the steering committee, then the rest of the group, some of whom at least never get up to that level in the structure.
That’s right, but that’s again very loose. After people have been in JASON a while, they’re asked to be on the steering committee, and it’s no great honor; it’s more of a burden. Nobody’s looking to be on the steering committee.
But you have more of a sense of why, and you have more of a connection with the sponsors when you are on the steering committee.
I think that’s actually much more these days with what’s called the program committee. You see, the program committee consists of the chairmen; they are the people who are basically responsible for going to a particular agency and sort of negotiating in general what problems will be worked on, what the general level of funding is, and so on and so forth. There are usually one or two people who are assigned as members of the program committee to work with DARPA, DOE, NSF — whatever the agency may be. They are responsible for the contacts with that agency. Those people aren’t necessarily members of the steering committee. Sometimes there’s overlap.
When did that entity arise?
That’s what I put into place. You see, just as you mentioned earlier, originally the major interactions were with ARPA, so it was trivial — you go to ARPA and you say, “Now we’re going to do this and such and so on and so forth.” In fact, in those days if we did work on problems that came from the Air Force, ARPA would pay for it. Well, you can’t do that these days. We needed all sorts of accountability, and therefore, as the number of agencies that we were working for increased, we were finding it impossible to keep all of the money straight. If somebody’s working on a problem for ARPA, for the Army, the Navy, the Air Force, and so on. You have to get the charging route straightened out. That’s why I had to put all of this structure in place.
That was about 1975? And if he was there a couple of years, it should be around 1975.
That sounds right, because I think Dick Garwin followed me, and he was in for about two years, and then Bill Nierenberg followed Dick — So it was in that time period. I served for three years.
Would you mention any particularly important people as opposed to unimportant people?
In JASON? Yes, it’s not that kind of a group. You know, in any group the sociology of the situation makes some people natural leaders and others not. That occurs in JASON just as anywhere else, but we don’t think of the members as first class citizens and second class citizens.
How did people become members in the first place? And has that selection process or whatever one might call it changed over the years?
I think it’s been pretty much the same over the years. It was always people in JASON suggesting names to whatever — in the early days it was just to the steering committee, the steering committee making decisions as to whether such a person should be asked. Whether he would like to join. They’d be brought in on sort of a probationary period, and then if things worked out they would stay on.
There was some kind of formality.
Yes, it was always. I guess I just formalized it in terms of a membership committee. The basic reason for doing that, as I said earlier, was that things were sort of getting out of control a little bit. What we found in those days was that the members or the steering committee were devoting an awful lot of their time to just administrative stuff, and that’s not what JASON is all about. I created all this stuff so as to spread the work around, so that everybody would do a little bit and do more useful work in the process.
And more efficiently.
To some extent at least JASON was a group of people that collaborated both within and without that context.
That’s correct. By and large there was always a sizeable contingent from Princeton and a sizeable contingent from Cambridge and a sizeable contingent from California and so on and so forth. People just tended to bring their friends in. They took people they thought were smart and who were interested and could do something.
And that has worked positively for the most part?
There are always good people you miss and so on and so forth. Over a period of time, people’s emphasis in life changes, and some people say, “OK, I’ve done this for a while, it’s time to move on.”
But generally speaking the membership has been remarkably constant, I would say.
It’s been quite stable. I think clearly the most troubling time was during the Vietnam era, and that has left its scars on many many people.
Did people actually leave for ideological or idealistic reasons?
Oh yes, absolutely. Some of them left and never came back. Others left and did come back. It was a time of soul searching and struggling for many people.
Selection of projects, as opposed to people? Could you say a little bit about how that was done — different methods, different times?
OK. In the very early days, before I got on the steering committee, it was never quite clear to me how that was done. It was always an issue of a lot of negotiation, but it was done in a more personal way when Murph was the chairman. He would — Herb York was head of DARPA — go into Herb’s office and say, “Herb, what are your problems? What can we help with?” And so on and so forth. So again, initially there was this sort of very loose Structure. Over the years it has gradually become more formalized. Again, it’s just been an adiabatic transition, which I think, has become personalized, in the following sense: you may be working with a given agency — say you’re working with somebody in the midlevel or upper level in that agency — and you establish a very close relationship with that person will naturally think of JASON as something to which he or she will turn. When that person leaves, you’ve got trouble. You have to sort of reestablish a whole new set of relationships. And there have been times in particular agencies where these relationships have been excellent, and at times they’ve been extremely poor. It isn’t in any sense a clean cut and uniform relationship.
The personalized aspect is something that hasn’t changed in that sense.
It was personalized and it is still personalized.
So the response to JASON, positive or negative, does not necessarily follow the administration. It follows more persons in lower levels in the agencies.
It’s a mix of the two. Let me say that — and I’m sure you will get involved in this with others — Dick Garwin, as much as I love him, is a very controversial figure. There are cases where in dealing with a government agency, they will say, “I will not deal with you, JASON, because Dick is there.” And so we have taken the position, “OK, you won’t deal with us, we won’t work for you; that’s it. We’re not going to get rid of Dick on that basis.” So it is not only on this personal level. There is an ideological bent or cast to it. We saw it in the Nixon Administration, and it changes as a function of administration. That whole area of the influence of ideology on science policy is, I’m sure, something you’ll get into, but I sure have seen it up close in two administrations, and it’s a very intriguing subject.
What about different kinds of projects? Obviously you have done different kinds of things like specific projects coming out of JASON, and evaluations of other groups’ work. The latter is probably more of a new thing than the former, because agencies have got more scientific expenses on their own. Could you expand on that?
It’s a mix, you see. Let me turn it around the other way and say that there’s basically been an adiabatic change in that also. For instance, when JASON works with a particular agency, take the Department of Energy as an example, over-a period of time, then there is more and more interaction at different levels. So, the people at DOE finally say, “Well, gee, those guys are really doing a good job for me and I’m going to need such and such done, and I really am going to turn to them.” As things evolve over a period of time, you find the kinds of problems that the agency will ask you to undertake changing as a function of time. And it’s a very interesting phenomenon, because as they learn to trust you — and as they see that when they give you something, you will turn in something that they find useful and beneficial and so on — they will pile it on more. So that what one finds now is that the totality of what JASON is being asked to do by all of these agencies is far more than JASON can handle, I don’t know a factor of 1 ½ to 2.
The nature of the problem changes, then?
The nature of the problem changes. There are problems that occasionally JASON is asked to look at which I think are completely inappropriate to JASON, such as looking at a weapons system. JASON is a collection of physicists and mathematicians and the odd chemist and whatever; it knows very little about engineering of big systems. Again, physicists are arrogant, and they say “We know everything.” But in fact when you try to look at a major weapons system, it’s composed of lots of little bits and pieces, all of which have a whole set of problems, and most of the problems from a physicist’s point of view are rather dull. So it’s just completely inappropriate. So again, another part of the selection process is the filtering: what are problems that JASON can work on which are appropriate? For example, the issue of detection of submarines by neutrinos keeps on corning up and being re-invented. Everybody thinks you can do that, and I don’t know how many times JASON has looked at it. There’s almost no other place that the government can turn to — except if it goes to a national laboratory university — to get an answer to that kind of thing, so that’s an appropriate JASON problem. JASON can look at that and give somebody an answer in the space of an hour and show him why what’s being proposed is crazy. So there are things that are really very peculiarly appropriate to really a spectrum of things, and there are things that are really peculiarly inappropriate to JASON, such as these big systems kinds of things.
And like the electronic barrier, which is the most well-known.
Right. Well, SDI as a totality is another one. Why should JASON look at SDI as system? What JASON should be looking at is “Does this particular space based laser make any sense in of physics”?
That’s also the difference between technical advice and science policy advice.
And JASON has always contributed the former, not the latter, I think.
I think every time we get involved in science policy, we misstep. JASON is not and should not be a science policy generating kind of organization.
To the extent that we can talk about it, what do you consider the main projects during your tenure in JASON? What was most important by any kind of definition?
Well, as I’ve said, speaking not for JASON but for myself, the major arena that I’ve been involved with in JASON over the years are issues involving the Navy. I think that JASON has made extremely important contributions in that regard, which are unsung in public circles and will remain that way, which is fine. Nevertheless, I think it’s fair to say that JASON is quite well recognized in sufficiently high circles for the contributions they’ve made there, and is continually asked for advice in that regard. I can’t go into any more detail, but that is true.
No, for natural reasons, of course.
Let me just finish up on that point that I wanted to mention. It really refers back to something we were talking about earlier. Again, it’s part of this adiabatic change over a period of time. What has happened is, I think, really quite obvious. Over the years, as the whole defense establishment and so on and so forth has grown, they’ve created large numbers of companies, of people, of institutions — MITRE and Aerospace and so on and so forth. There are large numbers of really highly qualified technically trained people working outside of the Defense Department for its contractors, so that the uniqueness that JASON once had, when there were very few people working on these problems, is no longer there. So I think there is an issue, as one goes forward into the future, what is the role for JASON? The rest of the world has changed. If you want to be a singularity in the background and the background is coming up, you’ve got to do something else. I think that is sort of the challenge for the future.
It’s not becoming an anachronism?
That’s correct. You want to make sure that you are not becoming an anachronism.
During the period we are talking about, to what extent have JASON projects been or not been related to academic physics work — the physics that the physicists in JASON have been doing in Academia? What is the relationship? Do you have examples?
I would say that early on the notion was that by and large, when they came to JASON, people would work on the problems in physics or applied physics or what have you which had essentially no bearing on their academic research. Again it was primarily a policy issue, so that a JASON by working in JASON would not enhance his ability to do research at his home institution, or vice versa. It was a matter of keeping things clean. Over the years that has eroded, and in some cases, it’s just impossible to do. A man like Walter Munk deals with oceanography, and it doesn’t make sense for him to come to JASON and work on solid state physics. It doesn’t make any sense whatsoever. So that tension has existed throughout the years. All the years that I was at Princeton, I was a plasma physicist, as you can see. When I went to JASON, I didn’t do plasma physics or anything that had any relationship to anything I was working on at Princeton. However, I did do things that might have to do with particle beams, where I used my training as a plasma physicist in working on something for JASON. What has happened over the years is that there are some people in JASON whose careers have been changed dramatically by their membership in JASON. Stan Flatte is an example; he is an high energy experimentalist, and he’s now essentially become an oceanographer or an acoustician because of all the work he’s done in JASON. So it’s had a profound effect on some people.
Ken Watson perhaps, to some extent also.
Ken Watson to some extent also. That’s certainly true.
What about yourself?
Not really. As I said, all the years when I was doing things through JASON, and starting in the seventies, through the Navy, had really no interaction with things I was doing at Princeton.
JASON is an interdisciplinary experience. A lot of people have pointed out to me that one of the attractions of JASON was that it exposed people, particularly the high energy physicists, to a variety of problems. They have pointed that out as a very positive thing about JASON.
I completely agree. It’s sort of obvious, but it’s certainly in fact true. It’s led me into other areas which I really wouldn’t have got involved in otherwise, and it’s been an enormous learning experience. I enjoy interacting with my fellow JASONites on specific problems.
So, in your specific case too that is the case. I’ll do some fishing now for my own good. I’m going to deal with JASON from a general point of view. However, think it would be good to have some sense for what they do concretely. Would you think of any particular project during these first years that could serve as a case study, both because it is important and of course because it is accessible to an unclassified Norwegian. Would you have any suggestions on what could serve as a typical, good, and important case?
I don’t know I’d have to look through the archives. I’m sure that many of the things that we worked on years ago are basically declassified now. But what those are, I just don’t know.
Or things that can be declassified.
Yes. So I really hesitate to give you an answer.
You don’t have to do it today.
I’ll give you one example. It occurred back in the days basically of the ABM debate, where as part of many things that were going on in the government, JASON was very heavily involved in understanding re-entry physics and all the rest of it. I think it’s fair to say that JASON reports did get to rather high levels of the government and convinced many people that this whole system really didn’t make any sense. There was no way that one could actually do what was being called for. So I think that that is basically an important study. At the time it led to the conclusions which were basically agreed upon by many others, and I suspect that much of that — I don’t know what fraction of it — is sort of open these days. I haven’t looked myself.
Up to the ABM treaty perhaps or something like that.
That of course has obvious implications today. It might not be quite as easy today to make that argument.
Right. If there’s a good case study to be made, I think that’s one. The barrier is all out in the PENTAGON PAPERS!? I don’t know what one could say about it to shed any new light on that.
Well, I think that’s the tip of the iceberg too. Of course it was important for JASON during that period — was probably the main task of JASON during those, three or four years but also quite a few JASONs have indicated to me that it was untypical as JASON work.
Completely untypical. It’s rare, you see, these days that a very large fraction of the total number of JASONs would get involved in one project. That’s basically why those were untypical. In that ABM issue, a very large number of people did participate, because it was really going very hot and heavy.
These were partial projects in connection with the general issue?
Yes. All sorts of things that were going on: looking at the radars, computing and re-entry physics, nuclear effects, and all the rest of it.
That has more obvious science policy implications too than other things.
That’s right. I think that that’s a good case study, and I think that you probably can find an enormous amount of information available on that.
I’m glad you say that. Generally speaking, what was the mode of collaboration, and the way work was divided up within JASON? Has that changed over the years?
It has changed somewhat. As I said, once the so called program committee came in, then it sort of emerged that there were natural task leader. All of this is negotiated throughout the spring and so on. Then we have a spring meeting where many of these things are discussed. People sort of sign up for particular projects at that time. In the early days, before that program committee was put into place, all of that was done by the steering committee. There would be a steering committee meeting, and all of these topics would be brought up. Various people were sort of nominated and they’d say, “You do that, you do the other,” to sort of lead the tasks. So it has changed.
Of course the Vietnam thing made a difference. From then on, have there been cases in which people have chosen different problems or have been given different task according to political views?
I think the answer is, probably yes, but I think it’s minor. There are clearly some people who feel that SDI doesn’t make any sense, and so they don’t work on it. I don’t see a large political, ideological structure. Everybody in JASON sort of knows what everybody else thinks about things. This is all discussed freely, either at lunch or whatever, and there really isn’t any tension involved in it. I think the one area which I did refer to earlier which is just the area of clearances, creates more of a problem.
Let’ discuss that, then. What’s a physicist’s response to that kind of the demand for secrecy? Obviously that’s very contrary to a physicist’s natural inclinations.
Well, I think there are sort of two levels of that. I think everybody who joins JASON knows that the only way that they can in fact join and be a full time members is to hold a clearance, so that’s basically a prerequisite. If you’ve got problems with that up front, then don’t join. There’s no middle way. Once you’re there, I think by and large the people in JASON understand what the rules and regulations are and they live with it. I think what tends to upset people is the situation that exists when this is done for political reasons. In other words, somebody may be excluded from having a special access clearance because that person thinks thus and such. That troubles people. It always has and it always will. I think, occasions like that continue to arise, and to the best we are able in JASON, we try to deal with it. But everybody recognizes that that is a problem. It’s one of the prices you pay for doing this kind of research. So what I’m saying is that I think I would change the emphasis that you gave it of the natural inclination of physicists to just talk. I think the natural inclination of those in JASON is to discuss things with each other and not to go beyond it. They understand what the rules are, and they’ve agreed to live with it. As far as I know, in all the years that JASON has existed, there’s never been a real security violation on the part of JASON. We didn’t do the PENTAGON PAPER; Daniel Ellsberg did. So as I say, I think the thing that’s troublesome is that once you are in this structure, then there are clearance, and clearances on top of that, and those sometimes are dealt with in ways that are capricious. And people think it’s unfair.
Would you care to mention examples of that? Are there examples that come to mind?
Well, as I said earlier, I think that there have been areas where all of JASON has been excluded because there are one or two people in JASON who are not thought of as being ideologically pure in any given administration.
It’s a collective punishment on the part of some bureaucrat because he thinks Mr. X has done something. And that, we believe, is just basically unfair.
So there has been no attempt to punish specific people for having specific political views. Or maybe JASON would respond to that by making it impossible.
Well, we have. As I said, one of our members who is continually in that sort of difficulty is Dick, and we all gather around and protect Dick. I think we all feel that occasionally Dick gets overwrought and says things in public which he shouldn’t, because he tends to get people pretty well riled up. But on the other hand, I do not know of any case where Dick has ever said anything in public that violated security. So therefore the government cannot, as far as I’m concerned, make an accusation against Dick Garwin; that he has violated the security regulations. So why are they upset with him? They’re clearly upset with him, therefore, on ideological grounds. It’s the only thing left.
Of course there is always the problem that if you’re in an advisory position for example, in addition to JASON, then to what extent can you use information that you got through JASON?
There’s no prescription on that.
No, there’s not, but that’s a very sensitive issue.
I mean, when I’m at meetings of the White House Science Council, and we’re dealing with classified subjects, I draw on my knowledge from everywhere. There’s nothing that says I can’t do that, as long as I stay within the security guidelines. If somebody violates them, that’s a completely different scenario.
But that hasn’t happened yet.
That has really not happened. There have been, you know inadvertent cases, that’s just sort of an accident.
But the general tendency of JASONs is more to keep out of the public eye than be in it.
That kind of activity might create some internal friction from that point of view.
Yes, but that’s separate.
Well, that’s a result of Vietnam to a great extent, I suppose. I don’t know how that was before.
I don’t know. Vietnam, you know, was such a soul searing experience for so many people. I think it left its mark on everybody, except the younger JASONs who weren’t even involved in those days.
But those wounds have essentially been healed? There’s no negative response to JASON, would you say, within the physics community now? Do you have that insider — outsider discussion that you had so prominently at that time?
It’s really unfair for me to comment, because I really haven’t been in a position to get very much involved in it. I can only say that for instance, when I talk to the graduate students here at UCSD — I’ve been an Adjunct Professor these last five years — it’s never an issue which comes up. The students will get exercised these days about the Strategic Defense Initiative as a whole, and they will sign these statements saying they refuse to work on it and so on and so forth. But it’s not a JASON issue.
JASONs are not collectively accused of being murderers.
Right. Those days are gone.
Well, the uniqueness of JASON — how unique has JASON been and how unique is it, as the kind of organization it is?
I think that was the point I was making earlier. I think it was unique in its origins. Over the years some of its uniqueness, if you will — if you can measure uniqueness on some scale of from 1 to 10 — has tended to erode, because there are just lots of smart people out there who are doing things which are similar. But I think there is still a few unique attributes to JASON. Number one, I think the government still feels that it can come to JASON and get an unbiased answer to a problem, because there’s no reason for any bias. Secondly, they can get answers to some deep physics problems that even involve general relativity, which has happened. The contractor will come in and say, “Gee, I think that your satellite isn’t working right because you forgot to take into account this relativistic correction.” For some JASONs this kind of thing is their bread and butter. They do it every day, so they can go, bang, and give a calculation and answer that, whereas if you go to the general contractor community, you won’t get an answer. In fact, there have been discoveries that have been made in JASON on particular pieces of physics and applications which I think were quite unique. So I think on a scale of uniqueness — I’m trying to indicate that there are more smart people out there doing all sorts of things — I think JASON is still very unique.
RAND of course existed from early on. Would you make any comparison with RAND? I’ll just throw this out.
No, the physics part of RAND disappeared a long time ago.
Maybe we should skip some questions here: I have too many obviously. But one important question that I have to address is the impact of JASON, both how great it may have been at what times, and how possible that kind of thing can be measured. Do you have any comments or ideas about that?
Well, that’s a difficult one to answer. As I say, I think there are a number of cases in JASON’s 26 year history where what JASON has done has made a real difference. Many of them are really not accessible, I’m afraid. But it’s changed things.
Would you say they’re inaccessible to the extent that an unclassified study would be seriously tilted?
Well, no. An unclassified study wouldn’t even discuss the issues; so it’s not tilted, it’s just absent.
There are some things that are unclassified.
So my question is, if the whole spectrum were considered, would those unclassified things be so much less important or irrelevant compared to the classified things that the whole picture would change?
That’s hard to answer. Let me say the following. There is sort of a common misunderstanding on classification. I think most responsible government officials will not allow an unclassified piece of whatever to go out which is saying something which they know from classified information is just plain wrong; that’s basically dishonest. So what you’d tend to find is just an absence of discussion either one way or the other. What I’m trying to say is that classified information won’t say what you believe to be true is in fact false. It will change things. Anyhow, I don’t know how far we can pursue this. I’d simply say that there have been cases — and a fair number over the years — where what JASON has done has made a real contribution. We tried to talk about one case study, the ABM study, where it’s basically pretty much open and which is in a sense representative. And there are many others like that.
We were also talking about the Navy material of course which is obviously inaccessible. So I guess I’m asking whether you think this kind of project on my part makes sense, and whether it could say something.
I think it would make more sense in terms of a case study where you can examine in detail in fact what the JASON report said and how it had some influence on science policy. I mean, I can sit here and tell you, and you can say, “I believe him or I don’t.” There’s just no way to prove it. So it’s not terribly profitable.
I need that kind of independent information for interviews the other way too. I need to pick some document out of the hat and say, “Look at this. Remember this?” So I think that kind of documentation and interviews can very well complement each other.
I guess the administrators are a good source for that. I had a good interview with David Katcher by the way.
Yes, he is. I had a very long good interview. I haven’t spoken to Jack Martin, but he succeeded Katcher.
Yes, and as I said, Joel Bengston succeeded Jack Martin and he’s here on the fifth floor. He was there for quite a while.
Martin wasn’t there for long, right? Who was administrator when you became chairman? That was Bengston?
Let’s see. No. It was Bob Leonard.
So Bengston had left already then.
No, you see, Bengston was at IDA, and when the transition from IDA to SRI took place. Then Bengston stayed with IDA because he was an IDA employee. So when we went to SRI, they chased us — SRI people — and at that time I brought in Don Levine and I hired him. I don’t know whether you’ve talked to Don.
No, I haven’t.
You should. He’s an enormous resource. He’s in Washington. He just left. He stepped down not too long ago.
I think it’s very good to get that perspective.
Right and he lived through lots of very tough times with me. He was just enormously helpful. The administrators were there every day and had to deal with it all.
They serve as a bridge to some extent between the physicists and the contractors, of course.
The other people you really have to try to talk to, who aren’t on your list — if you want to try to get a rounded version — are some of the DARPA directors — the ex-directors. They were the ones who had to deal with JASON from the other side — for the government side. They’ll tell you about their frustrations and whether they thought it was any good or not. What I think is interesting from a science policy or general point of view is that if you now look at the various government advisory panels, you would find quite a sprinkling of JASONs — the younger ones. In fact, that’s coming back to one of your earlier points that the World War II generation thought they should bring the next generation in. That next generation then was me and my colleagues, and you’ve sort of done it. Then were marching down to the next ones below us, the Will Happer’s and Bill Press and the rest of them. You now see them popping up all over the government advisory committee structure.
That was another question that I skipped: JASON as a springboard.
It is. If you ask what JASON has done over the years, it’s really trained that part of a generation of people to do these kinds of things, so that they become responsible citizens in that regard.
That might overall be the most important accomplishment.
It could. You know, from a historical perspective that may be true.
Well, it hasn’t been entirely successful in that, because the average age now is significantly higher than when it started.
That’s right. That’s why people like me are beating up on the generation down to take in more young ones.
Well, I guess Will Happer represents a new generation.
Absolutely. Will was my choice for chairman this time around. I think he’s excellent.
This is really the first time that a newcomer becomes the chairman, right?
Does that imply a new beginning in some way?
I hope there will be. I really expect that the Will Happer’s generation within very few years will have complete control of JASON. We’ll have a different set of goals and objectives and motives and so on and so forth. I think it’s extremely healthy.
And you think the anachronism can be avoided?
I think it’s the only way to avoid it. But I do think it can be avoided.
It’s hard times too now f or science advice generally, I suppose.
That’s another issue, a whole other issue. I’ve lived through two years of science advice with Carter and then all the years with Reagan. Very interesting. Very, very interesting.
I’ m sure it must be. That’s a whole other subject —
A whole other subject, right.
— to go on with. Well, thank you very much.