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Interview of Jack P. Ruina by Finn Aaserud on 1991 August 8, Niels Bohr Library & Archives, American Institute of Physics, College Park, MD USA, www.aip.org/history-programs/niels-bohr-library/oral-histories/35154
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In this interview Jack Ruina discusses topics such as: his work with the JASON group; his family background; choosing electrical engineering; Hugh Wolfe; Charles Townes; working with radar systems during World War II; Polytechnical Institute of Brooklyn; Hughes Aircraft; Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT); Chalmers Sherwin and George Newell; Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA); United States Department of Defense; anti-ballistic missiles (ABM); Harold Brown; Herb York; Francis Low; Eugene Wigner; Institute for Defense Analysis (IDA); Charles Herzfeld; Murray Gell-Mann; attending Pugwash meetings; Al Rubenstein; Jim Killian; John Foster; Hal Lewis; Max Taylor; Gordon MacDonald; Keith Brueckner; Dick Bissell; Hermann Bondi; Lewis Branscomb; Richard Garwin; Jerry Wiesner.
So we are in the apartment of Dr. Jack Ruina on the 8th of August, 1991 and its 10:15 in the evening in fact, and we've come back from a nice dinner.
And wine. And I would like to talk to you about your experience with the JASON group primarily. But first, if you don't mind, I would like to ask you a little bit, just a little, about your earlier career. And your entry in the American Men and Women of Physics says that you were born in Ryanair, Poland on the 19th of August, 1923. And I just wanted to ask you about the circumstances for your moving to this country and how that happened.
Well, I'm the youngest of nine children, and my family just all left Poland for America to seek their fortune. It was economic factors that brought them here.
When was it?
Well, I came in 1927, and we lived, you know, as immigrants. We lived in a small apartment in Brooklyn and finally lived in a somewhat larger place. I was raised in Brooklyn in New York, went to school in City College in New York, and went to the Army, and went to graduate school afterwards and then taught at Brown University, followed by Illinois, followed by MIT. But in that interim I had leaves of absence from first Illinois and then MIT to spend time in Washington.
Yes. So you came at the tender of 4?
At the tender age of 3 1/2.
3 1/2. So what was the background of your parents?
Oh, my father was a small merchant in a small town. We're Jewish, so we were raised in a sort of shtetl in Poland. I was the only one in my family who went to college. The rest had to work. By the time it got to me, the family was well enough to do that so I was able to go to school.
Yes. So, its luck as well as abilities you are implying.
Well, how come you chose electrical engineering, or engineering?
I think that during the war, in high school I was mostly interested in mathematics more than anything else. And then in college I liked physics. But to be in physics you had to get a Ph.D. and you know, you just knew that that took a lot of schooling, and I just couldn't see being able to do that. In engineering you could after four years get a job so I started out in mechanical engineering, but I took a course in electromagnetic theory, and I liked that so much I switched to electrical engineering.
Well, closer to physics too I suppose.
It was closer to physics. It wasn't that it was physics; it just appealed to me more. And then when I got out of the Army there was a G.I. Bill of Rights which allowed people who were veterans to go to school and, you know, supported you in school rather generously. So I was able to go to school.
During which period was that?
That was 1946 or '47 to '50.
Were there any teachers you would mention?
Yes. In City College there was one person whose course convinced me I should switch to electrical engineering, and he was a physics professor, Hugh Wolfe, who later became head of the Physics Department. He was active in the Physical Society, and he became head of the Physics Department at Cooper Union later, but it was his course in sort of elementary electromagnetic theory that made me switch to electrical engineering. In high school there were math teachers that were interesting, and math was a more interesting subject.
To what extent did the war influence you in any way in terms of career choice or educational choice?
Well, the war provided lots of opportunities for jobs. So in that sense. Also, I worked for a short while in the Bell system, and I was at Bell Labs, and that's where I met Charlie Townes. He also doesn't remember it, because I was a very young fellow, 21, and I was there to learn about a certain radar system, so I could work on designing test equipment for the radar, and he was a guru who was lecturing on how the system worked. And I remember once in the course of the conversation he said, "You know, you really ought to go back to graduate school after the war.” And I remember that conversation very well, and it may have influenced me in part. He doesn't remember it, but of course it was nothing to him. But I had a desk near his, and I remember after one long conversation he said, "You know, you really ought to go to graduate school after the war."
This was even before your B.S.?
No, right after my B.S. and before I went into the Army.
Okay. So after your B.S. you went to Bell.
I went to Bell for a short time, and then I was drafted. I was deferred while I was at the university because I was studying engineering and they needed engineers so I was deferred, but soon after I was drafted. So I did meet Charlie Townes, and then didn't see him again until many years later, like 1960.
And then you went to graduate school and you went to the Polytechnic Institute of Brooklyn where you got your Master’s degree.
In '49 and '51 respectively.
Yeah, well '50 I finished, the degree was dated in '51.
What was the kind of work you did for your Ph.D.?
Oh, an analysis of radar tracking systems and the effect of noise on a nonlinear system. It was a nonlinear system and just the behavior of radar tracking.
So you stayed with the radars.
So I stayed in that, in the noise theory and radars and communications, that's right.
So that was also a war product perhaps in a sense.
I forgot how I got onto that topic. Someone suggested it, and it seemed straightforward. What was appealing about the topic is that you sort of knew what it was and you knew that there was a problem there, and the question was to try to figure out what's really happening. It wasn't abstract. And then I was at Brown for several years. But while at Brown I would go away summers. And one summer, the first summer of '51, I worked for Hughes Aircraft in California. That was exciting to go to California for the first time, and they paid my way, and I had a child by then. The second summer I came to MIT because my wife was pregnant again and the doctor told her not to travel that far. And the third summer…
You had married in '47.
I married in '47. And the third summer I went to Illinois. Again a physicist was involved. While I was at MIT I gave a talk to some small group. The next day, in the men’s room in the next urinal, there was a man named Dave Falco who was a physics professor at Brandeis, who also was at MIT. He said, "You know the talk you gave yesterday. I think there are some people at Illinois that were doing something similar, and you ought to look up what they are doing," which I did. And I have since been corresponding with them and they invited me out, so I spent the next summer there.
Who were those people?
Chalmers Sherwin was one, and George Newell, who's died since then. And I always think of the chance. Because if on the way to the men's room somebody would have stopped me and talked to me or I had another cup of coffee and gone a little earlier or something I wouldn't have met Dave Falco and my whole life would have been different. It was this casual conversation, so I got involved with the Illinois people. They invited me out for the summer, and then later they invited me out to spend a year, which I did, and then I never came back to Brown.
And then you moved to Illinois for a long period.
So I moved to Illinois, and then the same man, Chalmers Sherwin, became Chief Scientist of the Air Force. And some years later, I guess, the Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Research and Development wanted somebody, a deputy for electronics. Sherwin recommended me and so I ended up going to Washington where I thought was gonna be one year. Once I was there, Herb York became the Director of Defense Research and Engineering because of Sputnik. They elevated an Under Secretary to a very high position, and he asked me to move over from the Air Force to be his Assistant Director for Air Defense, which included ballistic missile defense. And then I moved over to be Director of ARPA, and I ended up staying four years instead of one.
What were the circumstances for your going to Washington in the first place?
The Assistant Secretary invited me to come to be a deputy. And I was very conflicted about going, but it was a lark. It was saying, "Well, why not go to Washington for a year." You know, in the Army I was only a Corporal, and when I came down to discuss the job with him a big black limousine picked me up, a Colonel was in the car; I'd have a Colonel as an aid. I was gonna have the rank of a three-star General. It all looked like sort of a fun year to do and still work in technology, so we did it, thinking it's only one year.
This was in '59.
Started in '59. And then in '60 I moved over to the Secretary of Defense's Office. Then the job became serious.
And this was your first exposure to that kind of work.
To ABM and the bigger national issues.
Well how come you were asked? What was the connection that led to this?
Well, that was also a sort of funny circumstance. Well, I was the Deputy Assistant Secretary, and the Assistant Secretary was in Europe once when a big issue came up about what kind of transmitters… We were having trouble with the transmitters being put on a ballistic missile early warning system. The Secretary of the Defense's Office said the Air Force should solve that problem by itself. And the Assistant Secretary — called him up and he was in Europe and very busy: “You do the best you can. I can't get involved." So I worked very hard for a couple of weeks — or maybe less, I forgot — to decide what kind of transmitters to put on. And that was a big issue. The decision I finally made required throwing away $30 million worth of transmitters. And $30 million to me in those days — well, it's like maybe $200 million dollars now. Not a casual thing, but I went ahead and did that. And I guess that came to the attention of York and others, and so they thought I was the right guy to take the job up there. So it was that issue, the big issue of the transmitters for the early warning system.
So you went from the Air Force to the…
…Secretary of Defense's Office: Responsible for all of R&D for air defense, which included the ballistic missile defense.
And you were directly responsible. I mean, York was your…
…boss. But York left quickly and for most of that period Harold Brown was my boss.
But York from the outset.
York was the one who hired me.
How were the two to work with? What was the kind of relationship?
Very different, very different. York was a much more outgoing person, and I am very friendly with him to this day. We see each other often; he visited us in Wellfleet this summer, and so on. Harold Brown is much more reticent and reserved person, in many ways kind of shy. But he was a great boss to work for, because he supported you all the way. He always supported, and so it was a pleasure to work for him. But on a personal basis he was far more reserved than Herb was.
Well, I haven't gotten to talk to Brown yet. I probably should talk to him about JASON as well. I'm sure he had some…
Oh, I'm sure.
…experience with them.
Have you talked to York?
I have talked to York, yes, but very early in the project, so I was fairly green when I spoke to him.
But you see how York is a much more outgoing person.
Yes, yes. He seemed to be happy to talk about these things. So are there any particular projects or accomplishments you would mention?
Well, most of them were classified at the time and not particularly interesting now; ballistic missile defense decisions, to go ahead with certain kind of radars, and so on. The one thing that's interesting that relates to sort of basic science is that under the Ballistic Missile Defense Research Program at ARPA we were building a big radar in Puerto Rico, the Arrow Seebo (?) radar that you may know about. The original intent of the radar was to measure the properties of the ionosphere, particularly electron density profiles. The staff, the ARPA staff came to me and said they really can't justify that program anymore; it wasn't that important and was getting very expensive. On the other hand, my impression from talking to astronomers and people at Cornell, in particular, was that this was gonna be a marvelous instrument for planetary astronomy and that it was gonna be unique, the largest telescope of its kind. And so I felt very badly about closing down this facility, yet I couldn't justify it under Ballistic Missile Defense. So I remember going to Harold Brown and saying, "Harold, I really think we ought to keep it open and it means exaggerating a little bit about how important it is. It's not totally irrelevant; it was built for that purpose." He said, "You do what you think is best," and so we kept that facility open. And so I consider myself a hero for having that radar. Without me there'd be no radar. Because nobody in ARPA wanted it; they all said, you know, "Close it down, we need the money for other things."
And there were no other funding possibilities for that project?
Not at that point. Later on the NSF and so on got involved. Absolutely not.
When you talked to Brown about this, in what capacity was that then?
He was my boss. I was Director of ARPA.
You were Director of ARPA at the time, so this was after you’d become Director of AAPT.
And we were spending the money, and I just didn't feel comfortable justifying a program, you know, exaggerating its importance in one area and it really wasn't. So I felt I ought to talk to the boss about it, that's all. He was fully supportive.
So you became Director of the Advanced Research Projects Agency in 1961.
January 20th, the same day Kennedy became President.
Oh really? By coincidence, I suppose.
No, because it was a McNamara appointment. He became Secretary of Defense, and Herb York went to him and asked for his approval for my appointment, and so the appointment occurred that day. He didn't have any authority until that day.
And it was as the Director of ARPA that you learned about JASON for the first time. Is that correct?
To my knowledge I never heard of JASON. As I remember, I never heard of JASON before. Then I found out this group existed. And the only JASON that I knew was Francis Low. I knew names, of course, like, John Wheeler you know, but never met them.
But Francis Low you knew personally.
Yes, Wigner by name.
How did you learn about them? What was your first exposure to the group?
Well, I don't know what the first exposure was. We were funding them, so this was in our program. Somewhere along the line that came up. And then Charlie Townes came. He was then the Vice President of IDA and had the IDA responsibility, Institute for Defense Analysis responsibility, for JASON. I remember his coming. I forgot how the issue came up about a JASON meeting. He said, "Well, we don't want anybody from ARPA to attend except you." I was the only one who was gonna be permitted to attend. And I said, "What do you mean, we can't attend? We are paying for the whole thing. You can't say you're gonna have a private meeting when it’s the government that's paying for it." And again, I was just sort of impressed with what I thought was a rather naive attitude on his part. I was no bureaucrat, but I was enough of a bureaucrat to know, here's the government sponsor, you can't tell the government, "Sorry, you can't come to our meetings." And I said, "Charlie, you can't do that." So finally we agreed that we wouldn't open it up to everybody in ARPA but just people who are sort of scientific types like George Rathjens and so on. Now I don't know if that came first. And then I went to one meeting, and that's the first meeting I went to. I remember the Wigner incident that I told you about, that Wigner gave a talk, and I was so eager to hear this great man speak and he spoke on civil defense. I knew nothing about Wigner's background and interests in civil defense. I just heard, "Here's this great person gonna talk about civil defense." And I went out feeling that I had listened to a senile person speaking on the level of a high school student about the issues. I don't know if I was depressed or shocked. And I remember something like whispering to Francis Low saying, "What's wrong with this 'man?" And he said something like, "I think he's always been that way on this subject or something along those lines.” And he said that, "His physics is still very good;" something to that effect. And that was sort of a rude awakening that you can have.
What did you say essentially?
I forgot, but I remember just being surprised and shocked by this brilliant man in physics in a high school level discussion of civil defense.
Was this the first talk you heard in JASON completely?
Well, the first time I ever heard Wigner. I don't know if it was the first talk I heard in JASON or not, but it was the one that's memorable. [laughs]
How much did you have to do with JASON compared to other things?
Very little, very little. My budget was $300 million a year, which at the current number is like $1.2 billion. We were running a lot of programs, and a lot of them were in trouble. You know, there were big things going on, and JASON was a little peewee operation. It was something that probably would have interested me more. And the people in JASON are much more sort of my kind of people than industrial engineers and so on, but I didn't have time for that.
But still you made some use of them of course, and it was ARPA that paid for them.
ARPA paid for them. But that arrangement that ARPA should pay for them preceded me, and I think that was just a convenience. The arrangements were really made with York or whoever it was.
Yes, but that ARPA paid for them, to what extent did that mean that the projects that JASON worked with coincided with ARPA projects?
Oh, they coincided. They worked on problems related to ballistic missile defense, which was the big issue of the day. A lot of effort was related to ballistic missile defense. But I don't recall I personally having any involvement with asking them to work on special things or what have you. I don't recall that I had that kind of involvement.
What was the nature of your relationship with JASON? I mean, did you meet?
Very distant; except for the individuals. You know, since they were my kind of people. JASON may have cost us less than a million dollars a year out of three hundred million. There were big issues involved.
Were you involved at all with the choice of projects that JASON would work with in summer studies for example?
No, I don’t recall at all. They dealt with people down in ARPA and in other parts of the government and, you know, and then they chose. As I recall, they were fairly freewheeling. They almost chose their own problems, and there were problems galore. Most of it had to do with re-entry physics. The question of what happens with re-entering bodies. Can you measure mass from re-entry characteristics? Can you separate lightweight objects from heavy objects? Can you determine shape from radar measurements? And that sort of thing was done about three echelons below me administratively.
So you were never directly involved in the choice of projects?
No. I don't recall ever being involved in the choice of a project.
Did you go to any summer studies or other studies with JASON?
No, not until after I left the job. I think the first summer study I went to is '64. And that was in La Jolla. And that’s when I first met, got to know Murray, for example Murray Gell-Mann. I may have met him, but I really didn't know him. One interesting little contribution we made is that Charlie Herzfeld, who was then Director of ARPA, asked JASON what technology is on the horizon that will change the strategic picture in the world. And somehow I had the task of responding to that. So I gathered a little group of Murray, Freeman and LeLevier, I think, and talked about it. And we got a briefing or so. After a few days I wrote a letter to the government which then was later declassified, and I’m very proud of it because it said all these fancy things in ABM really are baloney SDI kinds of things. But there was one development, MIRVs, and that's gonna be important and that's gonna change things, and it's technically feasible. So that letter is in the open literature now.
And that was in nineteen sixty…
…four. And that's also when I guess I must have talked to Murray about the ABM issue, I'm not sure. Let me see if I've got my dates right. That was '64, yes, because the summer of '63 I left government. So I must have met Murray before that. That's something peculiar. Because Murray was in India in January of '64, and that's when that incident occurred that we had talked about; the first discussion with the Russians about ABM. So that preceded it.
At the Pugwash meeting.
That was a Pugwash meeting of January '64. So I must have known him before that. And somehow Carl Kayser and Murray and I were the ones to carry the ABM message, and I was the one who was the speaker. And then this incident of Mianchkov saying, "I don't quite understand what you're saying, and I think the translation must be bad," and "Why don't you write it down?" So we wrote down this little paper, which is, again, published. And the next day he says, "Well, you have a very peculiar logic. The translator did a good job after all, and there's a kind of peculiar logic, but politically makes no sense at all. The primary responsibility of every government is to defend its people. No government can say they are not gonna defend their people." You know things along those lines. But nevertheless we kept talking to them and talking to them for years, and then — this is non-JASON — in the winter of '67 we were in Moscow. A small group of people including Henry Kissinger was there — not in government. And they came to us and they said, "Your message is finally getting to the top. It's reaching the highest levels of government. Keep at it." And the next year they went along with it — they started going along with it.
So you think that was crucial in getting to the agreement in the first place.
No question about it. We educated a large group of Russian scientists on this whole issue.
But I would like to go back to your directorship of ARPA. You were director of ARPA for 18 months or how long was it?
No, from January of '61 until something like July of '63.
So it was more than that.
Two and a half years.
And during that whole period there was not one instance of your asking JASON for a specific project?
Surely people in ARPA did, but I don't recall that I did.
That’s my question. Now who in ARPA during that period was connected with JASON at a hands-on basis?
I really don't remember. The Ballistic Missile Defense Office in ARPA was probably more than any other. That was the biggest project we had and I just don't remember all the people who were down there doing it.
The Defender Project.
Well, that was run by Herzfeld at the time.
Later. I hired Herzfeld later. He came in a little later. Originally by Al Rubenstein.
And Herzfeld came in later. And Herzfeld probably did relate to JASON. I'm sure that was, again, his crowd, his kind of people.
Was that in the nature of your position that the head of ARPA did not communicate with JASON?
Yeah. I mean, not on the technical details, because it was like a university president worrying about what's going on in a physics laboratory. He knew there was a laboratory, he talked to the people once in a while, but he doesn't give them problems to do.
Who did JASON work for, if anybody?
I had the impression they worked for nobody. I mean people all over the Defense Department incidentally and the Secretary of Defense's Office had access to them. We just paid them, but they didn't work exclusively on our problems. And I'd say the only area that they did work that we had a responsibility for is ballistic missile defense. They did not — work on nuclear test detection to my knowledge — that was the second most important area — or chemical propellants, or fuel cells, or any of the things we were working on.
But I mean they must fit in somehow, if not in choice of projects then in the fate of the advice that they gave, the fate of the reports that they gave. I mean, what happened to the reports?
Well the reports went into the system. Again, it might be two echelons below me, and we're involved, and maybe in the industrial laboratories and so on that we're involved maybe, Los Alamos and Lincoln and whatnot. So it got fed into the system, but they were not issues that I remember that ever got to a high level of policy making in spite of what some of the JASONites recall that it did. It did not. They were the blue collar. Most efforts were the blue collar. Except there was a study in '63 that Murray again was involved in that did deal with some global issues, as I recall. That was in the summer of '63. I was already going out of the system by then.
Do you remember what that project was about?
It had to do with basically strategic military strategy, nuclear strategy.
Because I have the impression that Murray Gell-Mann presents the view that JASON should be a little more policy oriented.
Oh yes. I don't think he was at all interested in the blue collar work. And now as we're jogging the memory, I did encounter JASON in the summer of '63, and went to a meeting for a couple of days in the summer of '63.
When you were still director of ARPA.
When I was still director. And I remember Edward Teller coming to that meeting, or showing up and this great disgust some of the JASONites had. Some of them almost sort of walked out when he came in to participate in the meeting. And Teller has this characteristic trait, which I'm sure you know that when he is anywhere he dominates. No matter what the agenda is, it becomes his agenda. So that must have been in '63. Maybe in '62, but I remember one earlier meeting, some summer meeting somewhere.
What prompted you to go to that meeting, do you think? Was that just something you did because you hadn't done it for a long time?
My expectation is that it was a way of getting away from the office and having sort of nice discussions with interesting people rather than because of the importance of what they are doing to my life.
And do you remember what Teller talked about in particular?
No, I don't remember. And it was my first encounter with Teller in that kind of setting. In fact I invited him to give a talk at ARPA once and so on. I never saw him in sort of a small group dynamic.
So that was towards the end of your…
That was towards the end of my tenure.
…tenure in ARPA. Of course we have the ARPA history, so we shouldn't get into detail so late at night about ARPA.
We should go on with JASON. Let’s just say this. When you joined ARPA you were clear about that this would only be a chapter, a small chapter in your life, right?
Yes. I mean, I knew I was going back to the university.
And that was your intention and that was what you wanted to do.
And that's why in '63 I decided to leave. I thought I was gonna lose my sort of credentials.
And that was a very well prepared move.
Your successor was chosen well in time for his joining.
I remember going to Harold, saying, "I want to leave while I'm ahead." And he respected that. I was having a great time. I was enjoying the job and Kennedy was still President and was still very active. But I decided that I’d better go back or I'll lose… Well, first of all, I was still on leave from the University of Illinois, and Illinois was ready to take me back. If I stayed another year, I'm not sure. But then when I was going to go back to Illinois other opportunities came and I ended up going to MIT.
But almost immediately you went to the Institute for Defense Analysis.
Yes. You have to remember that in those days IDA was sponsored by universities. MIT was the key central sponsor and Jim Killian was the most important person on the board. It wasn't Killian who chose me necessarily, but when the issue came up, should I become president I spoke to Killian, it was sort of clear. He didn't say, “I'm forcing you to go, I'm pushing you,” but, "This is the right thing for you to do for MIT and so on." He said, "I would be happy if you went." So I sort of saw it as an MIT kind of job, and my wife and I had a lot of discussions whether to do it or not do it. And of course going to IDA was much easier than going to the government. Financially they took care of moving expenses and all kinds of… The salary was good, and everything was taken care of. And the job was not as demanding. In government I worked all the time. The hours were tremendous. In IDA it wasn't as demanding a job.
How would you describe the tasks of IDA as compared to the tasks at ARPA? How did the jobs differ?
Oh, IDA was a breeze. I mean, this was just a think tank. It was a group of people who under contract of the government were doing work, and I was able to go around and kibbutz with them and discuss what they're doing. I had no contracts; I had nobody coming in saying, "If you don't give us another $3 million we're gonna close up this shop," none of those things. I mean there was no authority. You're involved in anything except running a think tank. There is no comparison.
Of course, there was a relationship between IDA and ARPA, but it was not as strong as in the early days, of course; in 1964 when you joined.
Well, that's right. My government boss was Harold Brown again, rather than the ARPA director. He was the one I talked to most about issues. And then he became Secretary of the Air Force and Johnny Foster took over, and Johnny Foster was a different kind of person.
In what way?
Well, I thought of him as not being quite as mature on sort of the bigger picture, and he was sort of more of a boy scout than Harold was. And I didn't have difficulty with him, but it wasn't quite the same rapport I had with Harold.
John Foster became DDR&E after you joined the IDA?
Yes, in the middle of my time. He must have joined in '65.
'65 I think it was. But you worked with the DDR&E.
Yes, and the people in DDR&E. That's right.
Now JASON, of course, to come back to them, they were formerly at least a division of IDA.
That's right. The contract went to IDA.
Now does that mean that you were closer to JASON in IDA than you were in ARPA?
Yes. Well, I had more time, much more time, much more. In ARPA this was nothing of consequence, and it was an important part of the IDA.
What was the nature of the relationship in IDA? I mean, were you involved…
Well, I saw the people a lot more. I attended more meetings. I was more concerned about how they were handled administratively, you know, how often they worked, where they went in the summer. We considered should we have a permanent house, should we get a permanent housing for JASON. That was an issue I remember discussing with Goldberger, and one of the possibilities was to go to Woods Hole and buy a place, and have that as a meeting place every year. You know, little issues like that. I never was involved in things like that when I was in ARPA.
Who was chairman of JASON when you were in the Institute for Defense Analysis?
I think it was Goldberger.
I think he was for the whole period. I think Hal Lewis took over in '67.
Oh no, I never dealt with Lewis.
You never dealt with Hal Lewis.
Well, I've dealt with him but never in JASON. No, absolutely not.
Were you now involved in discussing the projects that JASON was taking up?
I think perhaps a little more, but not very much. At least I don't remember it.
You were not sort of a middle man between JASON and ARPA for example?
No, but remember by that time I had in the interim also been a JASON member.
Yes, well tell me about that.
I was actually a member of JASON. And it was at a JASON summer study in '64 that I was called by Washington offering me the job of being president. And that JASON summer study took place in Santa Barbara. And I remember my wife and I going for walks to discuss it and think about it, and should we do it, and shouldn't we do it. So it was a lot of thinking about that. That was the summer of '64. And I was a JASON member then, so I was already much more engaged.
What did you have time to do the short period you were a JASON member? What project or projects did you take part in?
Well, one of them was the one I mentioned to you, this looking at what new technologies would really make a difference in the strategic balance. Is there anything coming along that the government at a policy level should take into account? And the result of our deliberations was that MIRVS was the only one.
Aha. So that was in JASON you did that.
Yeah, yeah. In the letter, which as I said was published; it's in a book. The letter is in my office, I don't have it here. I have the book in which it was quoted. The letter said, you know, I have spent some time with Murray and Freeman and I mentioned two or three others, and we've been thinking about this and discussing it and looking at it, and this is the conclusion we've come to. And that was a JASON letter.
And that was actually published as a JASON report.
That was published. I don't know if it was published as a report; it was published as a long letter. And then a graduate student writing his Ph.D. thesis on MIRVS got it declassified with a few words missing which are very inconsequential.
How would you describe the role of JASON within IDA as compared with other divisions in IDA?
Well, they were much more aloof. There was interaction between IDA people. A lot of IDA people go to one of the JASON meetings and so on, because there were more scholarly types there rather than bureaucrats as there was in ARPA. But JASON always felt strongly about its independence. You know, it did what it wanted to do, and so on. But it was a much bigger part of IDA. It wasn't as responsive to government requests. The rest of IDA staff would work on specific tasks given by the government, and JASON did much less of that. They had to be convinced to work on a problem, rather than saying, "The contract says this is what you are supposed to do."
Was there ever any conflict about that? I mean, to what extent JASON could be independent?
Not during that period that I remember. As I recall, after my day, there were some issues about them wanting to work for other government sponsors other than the Defense Department, and there some questions always came up. Because the other people didn't have enough money to pay them, and how do you get some equity in payment versus work and all that. But I think that came after my day. I don't recall that these were an issue.
Yes. Well during your period the JASONs were paid entirely through ARPA, right?
I think so, I think so. The ARPA contract paid it. One issue that came up I remember, in an audit, was that the government auditors were complaining that we used to allow JASONites to rent cars. I remember having meetings with Johnny Foster about whether that should be permitted or not permitted. You know crazy things like that.
What kind of impact would you say that JASON has had? Would you say they have had a big impact, a small impact, and what kind of impact?
Well, measured against what? I'd say the impact was far greater than the dollar value. We look at the average dollar spent on ballistic missile defense, for example. The dollar spent in JASON had more consequence.
You spent a lot less dollars on JASON?
A lot less dollars. That's right. So the million dollars, if I can make up a number, went a lot further in terms of the consequence. They were very active and sort of esoteric - weapon systems, like Seesaw, particle beam weapons, and analysis. And were kind of a truth squad for many things. And from that point they are very useful; on an absolute scale, in terms of policy implications, or steering major programs. Like should we cancel Nike, Zeus or not. Do we shift the emphasis in the program from using phase ray radars or not using phase ray radars? They have had very little influence. So on an absolute scale; they didn't influence directions of major programs or policy considerations very much. Some of those individuals did years later; Goldberger on the strategic panel and so on, but not as JASON.
Just as an aside to become a lot more detailed, do you remember or could you tell me who were your predecessors and successors in IDA?
Sure. My predecessor was Dick Bissell as president, and before him Garry Norton. And my successor is Max Taylor.
Who was there for quite a quite a while.
And the vice president of research was Elliot Montroll and before him was Charlie Townes. And after him was Gordon McDonald. And I recruited Gordon McDonald. I can't say I recruited Max Taylor, but when he was chosen I spent some time with him travelling around, things like that. I didn’t recruit him; I don’t know how they got Taylor.
But you knew him at least.
I didn't know him before, but because of the transition I got to know him. I knew Dick Bissell, who I admired a great deal.
Keith Bruekner wasn't too happy about Dick Bissell, but that's another matter.
Well, Bissell is a strong minded guy. Had run big things, the U2 program in the CIA, and things like that.
He came from the CIA, didn't he?
Deputy Head of CIA Cuban missile crisis. Read the books, the early books on Kennedy by Sorenson or Schlesinger and you'll see Bissell's role.
He's prominent there. Well, I have accumulated some documentation on JASON and I have been to the MITNE Corporation for example, which has the unclassified records of JASON. I've come across a few documents where your name occurs. And one of them — unfortunately I did not bring the document itself — but one of them, and the most extensive, is a letter from David Sharp and John Wheeler to Goldberger and yourself dated the 14th of July 1965, when you were still president of IDA. And that letter stresses the importance of establishing JASON-like groups in the NATO countries, and they wanted to make an effort toward making that possible and I was wondering whether you remembered that.
Not at all.
So it was definitely not a big part of your agenda at the time.
Well, it didn't lead to anything.
I suspect it was because there was no sponsor. Was the letter answered?
I have not seen an answer to the letter. No, I have not. But that may not mean anything.
There must be an answer. I can't imagine we didn’t reply.
That's a point. But I have not come across it. Conceivably you could have had a meeting.
I don't remember. As you say, I suspect it didn't have a big impact on my psyche anyway.
Well Brian Littler had something to do with it.
Brian Littler in England?
I don't know him. The name doesn't even sound familiar.
Herman Bondi. But I know Herman Bondi from a different context, not that. Does Goldberger remember that letter? I'll bet he doesn't either.
Yes, I think he remembers. I don't remember how he responded to that. I'm sure I asked him. But I don't think it led to any big response from him either.
But since he was still at Princeton at the time, and so was Wheeler, they may have had discussions. The letter may have been a formal version of discussions they had.
Well, the letter was to Goldberger from Wheeler. I mean it was to Goldberger in his capacity as chairman of JASON and you in the capacity of president of IDA.
But he must have discussed it a lot with him and, you know, being in the same department at Princeton.
Goldberger may very well have been part of writing the letter for all we know. It's true. And your name also comes up in a few of the interviews I have had with other people. I am getting out of chronology now, but I interviewed Lewis Branscomb, who you probably know fairly well.
Sure. Still do.
And he predicted that you were going to say that JASON served to a great extent as a school for people, subsequently science policy involved.
Defense policy specifically, yeah. That was I think its most important contribution.
So more than the impact of the specific projects.
Yeah. That's on the national scene.
And I don't know if this will make anything click with you, or even if you agree. But Dick Garwin told me that as an assistant secretary for strategic systems he said that's probably not the title — that was the title that he remembered.
He was Assistant Director for Defense Systems.
He talked about your relationship with PSAC. And he said that Ruina used the threat of PSAC to get his folks in line. What's your response to that?
[laughs] No, I wouldn't put it the same way. There's an element of truth. It's a caricature. But you know much of what was going on in the federal government — and the Defense Department — I didn't agree with, especially along some military lines and so on, and neither did York or Brown. And I'd get my intellectual sustenance being there. I wouldn't say I was alone — there were other people of like mind — but much of the intellectual sustenance that sort of supported you, saying, "Your views are okay, and maybe the views of even the Pentagon are not" came from attending PSAC meetings. So, by going to PSAC meetings and getting involved with conversations there, I said, "Well, this is really the way I think.” So when I was a minority in the Pentagon, I had much more strength of my convictions because of the relationship over there. So I put it that way, rather than the way Garwin does [laughs] —
Well, it sort of corresponds with the presentation that the ARPA history gives, which introduces you as very close to PSAC and the views of PSAC.
And the people there.
And the people there. And that you got a lot from them, but that it didn't go all that much farther than that. Now, in order for me to get farther with my JASON study, I would need, I think, to treat one project or a set of projects that JASON worked with in some detail. From the definition of the problem through the work with the problem and then how the report and the proposals that JASON presented were acted on or not acted on in government; the fate of the work in that way. And in choosing such a problem or set of problems, I have to choose something that is representative of JASON work, but I also will have to choose something that I can have a chance of getting access to.
So it's a difficult balance there. So I was wondering whether from your standpoint you had any views on what I could hope to get to and that would show something about JASON.
Well, I think on the blue collar area, one possibility is to get some of the stuff that people like Ruderman and Freeman worked on in that period, '63-'64. They worked on ionospheric effects. That's one possibility. Another one which is sort of interesting is this whole business that started with Christofilos, whose name didn't even come up yet, on particle beam weapons.
It should have come up, you are implying.
Sure. But Christofilo’s basic idea, JASON's massaging it, getting discouraged about the possibilities, and I think that whole history should be totally unclassified and open by now. And there are a lot of people around who were involved. Harold Lewis was one I'm sure, I remember. So that thing — is that Project Seesaw — is an interesting one. What's good about it is because that was very exotic science, and it was thought of at first as being an important possibility in ABM and so on. And they put a damper on the whole thing and correctly so. So that’s one good one.
Did Christofilo put a damper on it?
I think he himself then later agreed to all the problems, the instabilities and whatnot that were involved, steering problems. Because they were talking about in those days charged particles, not the neutral particles.
So you would say that generally JASON was more careful or toning down the possibilities than presenting big schemes.
That's right, that's right, absolutely. So I think that's a possibility. And so if you talk to Ruderman or Treiman; they were involved in smaller issues that had to do with discrimination, decoy discrimination, and things like that. So those might be projects that are both physics and…
It's interesting that you say that, because when I spoke to Keith Brueckner, he said right off that charged particle beams would be good.
Yeah, because there's a beginning and an end to that story.
And I think Allan Peterson too. I mean he was also involved in these things. He was also involved in Seesaw, right?
I don't remember. I don't remember. I think Steve Weinberg may have been also.
He was. He was. I spoke to him about it. And what I find fascinating, or one of the things I find fascinating about this, is that the publications that he wrote about this are completely unclassified, and they even got into the periodical literature. But he didn't want to talk about it, for natural reasons, how this fit into the interests of the government, because that he viewed as completely classified. But it's interesting that he can write these articles on the same topic without any concern for classification, and that at the same time the articles fit into some kind of classified scheme. I find that fascinating.
Sure, but I can't imagine anything in Seesaw that couldn't be unclassified now, or declassified. Then of course they built a facility at Livermore. My impression was that Christofilos kept pushing and kept inventing around any difficulties. So I mean the whole thing is an interesting interplay of this fascinating person — Christofilos — JASON, very exotic physics, and an important national problem, ABM. And that's why it’s a good one.
A lot of things have to be drawn into that study.
And I would have suggested the McNamara wall, except that that really isn't JASON.
No. And we haven't gotten to that yet. That's right. I'm glad you mentioned that. You are probably sorry you mentioned that, because it's getting late at night.
That's okay. Let's just do that and…
I would be very grateful if you could elaborate on that.
Well, let me tell you my involvement and my memory of the whole event.
I was president of IDA, but I was ready to leave that also to come back, because it was a 2-year leave and so on. And I got a call; probably Zacharias, probably Jerry Zacharias, but it may have been Jerry Wiesner. He said, "Are you gonna be coming up to Boston?" and "We'd like to talk to you about something." And I don't recall if I took a special trip or not. It's being recorded now?
And I don't remember if I took a special trip, but I remember meeting up here and I think it probably was Zacharias and Wiesner and Kistiakowsky that I met with. I don't know who else.
When are we talking about now?
We are talking about probably early spring of ’66. But maybe Nierenberg’s article would have more detail as to the timing. And apparently they had had earlier discussions with Yarmolinski, who was a special assistant to McNamara. And I think it was Yarmolinski that came up here — and Adam would be a good person to talk to about this to ask the help of these guys to do something about the bombing. "What can we do to stop the bombing? What can we do to stop the need for bombing?" And the bombing wasn't doing very much good. And so they wanted to do some kind of summer study, and they asked me would IDA be willing to be the sponsor. They decided the universities shouldn't be because it was classified and the universities shouldn't be doing classified work. They needed some other sponsor, and I, I think, agreed quite readily. And then the question was, how is it going to be organized and so on. And I don't know how we ended up with Dana Hall. I had never heard of Dana Hall before — Dana Hall which is a girl's school in Wellesley. And then we got the money from the government to do it. I mean, there was no question that government money was coming if McNamara was interested. And we had to do it under security, so we had to have guards and safes and so on. And the question is, "What are you gonna tell people is going on there?" I mean here's this nice little town, Wellesley. And as I recall, it was my idea to say, "Well, gee, we have a JASON study," which was then on the West coast. We might want to invite some of the JASON people involved anyway. “Why don't we call this JASON East?" And I remember that's the reason it was called JASON East. JASON had a history, not that the average shopkeeper Wellesley knew about, but there was a history of JASON, and we were just having JASON here. And JASON always got guards and safes. And then some of the JASON guys – some, my guess is maybe a quarter of them — got involved one way or the other in this operation here. I attended meetings for a while, a few of them. I kept flying back and forth from Washington. And I remember people like Murray were very involved. He really couldn’t get along with Gerry Zacharias, quite understandably. Both of them have their ways of doing business, but Zacharias was a very difficult guy to work with. And Kisti couldn't get along with Zacharias either. Charlie Lordson was there. So the big guns were the older people: Kistiakowsky, Lauritsen, and Zacharias. The JASONites were sort of recruited, some of them. So it wasn't a JASON study. And then what emerged was what became DCPG (?) and all that sort of thing.
And the summer study was in ’66?
Then I remember meeting with McNamara. That meeting was discussed in the Nierenberg paper. And McNamara was talking about how wasteful the bombing was. It was unnecessary; we've got to do something to stop it, and so on. I’m sort of surprised to hear some JASON people claiming it as being a JASON operation, as if the government went to JASON to get this thing. JASON had nothing to do with that.
I mean even the JASONs which did participate didn't do it in a JASON capacity.
That's right. They probably got paid through the normal JASON route, but the project was a non-JASON project. And that has a real interesting history, and things must have been written about that — about how well it worked and how well it didn't work, or what have you.
Well, I know that it's part of a history that's being written, or that has been written I think, on the history of the Presidential advisors. I know that there's a chapter there.
Oh, is that by this fellow…
Gregg Herken is his name.
I don't think he ever talked to me about that. He talked to me about other things.
I don't remember his talking about that one. He talked to me about… In his first book he had this thing all wrong, I think about the MX and the test ban issue, that's right — test ban during the Carter days. I sort of had some involvement in that regard, so that's what I remember having discussions with him about, but I don't remember this one.
Well that's surprising. I know that he has written a chapter on that, but other than that, there is very little written on it, except of course for everything that was written during the time against it, and The Pentagon Papers and all that.
What does The Pentagon Papers say about it? I never read The Pentagon Papers.
Well actually, to tell you the truth, I haven't gotten them myself. But I mean The Pentagon Papers are just official transcripts of official reports of what was happening.
I ought to go look that up.
I have to do that myself.
Well, that's it with my JASON involvements. Years later I did participate again one summer in JASON in La Jolla on the subject of air defense, new technologies in air defense, There was some study.
Which year was that? Do you remember?
I don't know. It must have been in the 70s. I think Goldberger was the chairman of that little study.
But you were not a JASON?
I was not a JASON then.
You were invited.
Yes. And La Jolla is a nice place, and I enjoyed doing it, and that was useful, maybe, I don't know.
But then were you a blue collar worker for that purpose?
No. Well, sort of. My chapter had to do with what the Soviets were doing —- semi-blue. [laughs]
Because there are very few things coming out of JASON as JASON that is not blue collar in that sense, isn't it? I mean, there are very few reports that have not been technical.
Anymore. Yeah. I think some of the white collars left more or less.
But I mean the work that even the white collars — such as Drell and others, Panofsky — did in JASON, they were more technical than anything else, right?
I don't think Panofsky was ever active in JASON. He was a member technically, but I never recall his involvement at all, except to come for a day or something like that. Drell was, but not Panofsky.
Was there a discussion in ARPA or in IDA or in JASON as far as you know it, to what extent JASON should be purely technical and to what extent it should try to treat things from a more science policy point of view?
There may have been, but I don't remember.
Okay, it's getting late, so…
 William A. Nierenberg, “DCPG - The Genesis of Concept.” Declassified 1971