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Interview of Richard Garwin et al. by David Zierler on January 30, February 6, 13, 20 & 27, 2021,
Niels Bohr Library & Archives, American Institute of Physics,
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In this interview Dr. Kenneth Watson, Dr. Richard Garwin, Dr. Curtis Callan, and Dr. Roy Schwitters participate in a roundtable discussion on the origins and early history of the JASON scientific advisory group. Watson, an emeritus from University of California San Diego Scripps Institution of Oceanography, discusses the early efforts of Charles Townes and Marvin Stern in forming JASON. Garwin, IBM Fellow Emeritus at the IBM Thomas J. Watson Research Laboratory of IBM, reflects upon IDA, the management organization that allowed for the formation of the JASON group. Callan, Professor of Physics at Princeton University, discusses the Charney Report and the sponsorship of Ari Patrinos of the Department of Energy, and his relationship with JASON. Schwitters, Regents Professor Emeritus from University of Texas Austin, and Garwin detail JASON’s 1980 report on tunnel detection. The group reflects upon the launch of Sputnik in 1957, and how it added urgency to the creation of JASON. Watson and Garwin discuss the early agenda of JASON and their focus on detection of missile launches, nuclear effects, and Nick Christofilos work with particle beam weapons. They discuss the involvement of JASON in the Vietnam War effort and how some members were targeted by protestors for their involvement. Watson and Schwitters reflect on the presence of Claire Max and the time it took to get more women involved in JASON in face of the traditional “boys club” atmosphere that was present in professional circles at the time. Garwin speaks about the development of the sonic boom report. Callen talks about his study on neutrino detection and the purpose of JASON in a post-Cold War era. He also discusses JASONs work on CHAMMP, Computer Hardware, Advanced Mathematics and Model Physics. The group describes the Human Genome project of the late 1990s. Schwitters and Garwin discuss how JASON can offer independent judgment in ways U.S. Intelligence agencies cannot, such as in 2009 when they were commissioned to study North Korean nuclear capability. Lastly, Watson speaks about how he believes GPS will become an important issue of study for JASON in the future, a point which is furthered by Garwin who also cites cybersecurity in general as a main focal point for JASON moving forward.
This is David Zierler, oral historian for the American Institute of Physics. It is January 30, 2021. I am so happy to be here with Dr. Kenneth Watson, Dr. Richard Garwin, Dr. Curtis Callan, and Dr. Roy Schwitters, for a roundtable discussion on the origins and early history of the JASON scientific advisory group. Gentlemen, it’s great to see you all. Thank you so much for joining me. What I’d like to do to get started is let’s first, for researchers, who will be gaining so much value from this discussion, to get a sense and to provide some narrative bookends with your respective perspectives and associations with JASON, let’s go around first and tell me please your current or most recent institutional affiliation and title, and the institutional affiliation and title that you had and the year in which you joined JASON. So, Ken, let’s start with you.
I am emeritus. I'm 99 years old. I am an emeritus from University of California San Diego Scripps Institution of Oceanography. My career was really at UC Berkeley, and when I was 60 years old, I was offered to take a lab directorship at Scripps. That was a lot of fun. So, I worked very hard to learn a little oceanography during that time (laughter).
I should mention—maybe it’s quite relevant—and although it’s personal, I've had two very serious accidents in my life, which have changed it. The first one, I was in an automobile accident, head-on collision at speeds—and my mother was driving. I had a severely fractured skull. Everybody in the other car was killed, poor people. But a piece of bone the size of a 50-cent piece was driven into my head. And in Des Moines, the first surgeon said he wouldn't even touch me; I would die if he tried to pull that bone out of my brain. Any rate, it was done. My parents were told—I didn’t know this—that I’d be very lucky if I could even function in society (laughter). But any rate, for the next school year, I was kind of an invalid. They were told if I bumped my head, I could die, so I was taken to school, picked up, and so forth. So, for a couple of years, I was treated very carefully.
Any rate, my other problem was a medical oversight. I began to have very strange problems. I began to be paralyzed in the morning. My doctor just ignored it. But for eight years, I had various kinds of symptoms. Sometimes I was just tired and very weak, had feelings of faintness, amnesia, and then blind spells. After eight years as a semi invalid, I was given a pacemaker, which restored me to normal living. Sorry to bother you with this, but it did isolate me at a very critical time in my life--when I retired.
And to take it back to the beginning, the question for the beginning of your career as it relates to JASON, what was your institutional affiliation and title when you joined? You were part of the beginning of JASON in 1959 and 1960. Where were you then?
I was at UC Berkeley, but the background for JASON was the Los Alamos laboratory. Los Alamos had a policy of summer programs. Besides people who had been there during the war, they invited some young people from the Midwest for the summer break--I was at the University of Wisconsin. They actually paid a good consulting fee and families loved it. Los Alamos was a great place. On the first day, my supervisor, Bob Christy, from Stanford, came in with a huge stack of books, and he said, “Anybody at Los Alamos has to know how to make an atomic bomb. Read these. I'll give you three weeks. And then you will be an expert-- come back with questions.”
I went back in two weeks. He said, “Questions?” and I said, “No, I got an idea for something.” He and I worked it out, and it was converted to hardware. That changed my life unexpectedly, because I suddenly became one of the boys. I was interested in what they did at Los Alamos. I began to be invited to come to technical meetings in the winter and I went back several summers in a row. I became involved with the controlled fusion program, which is where I met Ed Frieman, Marshall Rosenbluth, Edward Teller. Teller began asking me if I would like to go back to Berkeley, where I had had a very good time as a postdoc. It was there that I had met Marvin Goldberger, Herb York, Harold Brown, and many other physicists.
So, I left Wisconsin for Berkeley at a very critical time for our country. The Soviet launch of Sputnik was a national wakeup call and we were trying desperately to catch up with the Russians.
Another very strange characteristic at the time—the physics department in Berkeley decided to give Teller an assistant professor position whose only job was to take his classes when he was gone. Teller offered this to me, and the department agreed to it. I began to be invited to serve on national panels. The fact that I could go and have my classes taken care of was important—also, there was a driver for transportation to the airport.
When I reached Berkeley also, I received a lot of consulting offers--Convair was first. I got Goldberger and Brueckner to come out there.
The physics department faculty members in Berkeley could give up a third of their time, and go to the Lawrence Berkeley Lab. I, with many of my colleagues, did that, which meant I had one-third time for non-departmental activities. I began to go out to the Livermore Lab. I had an office there, as well as one up on the hill in Berkeley. At the Livermore Lab, I was useful. I was welcomed, partly because many of the physicists there felt very isolated from campus and I brought them contact for seminars and other activities on campus. Much of my activity there was not JASON-related. For example, I got to know Nick Christofilos quite well. Among the things that happened, Nick suggested creating an artificial Van Allen belt with nuclear explosions. Teller asked me to chair a committee to decide whether Livermore should take this up and do the experiment. This was in 1958, I believe, and there were three explosions. These received a lot of publicity. I was a member of several advisory committees, was in Washington DC frequently, and happily an active member of the Berkeley Physics Department.
Dick, let’s turn to you next. The question is your current title and institutional affiliation, the year you joined JASON, and your title and institutional affiliation then
I am IBM Fellow Emeritus at the IBM Thomas J. Watson Research Laboratory of IBM since 1993, when I retired at age 65, having been with IBM 40 years. I joined JASON in 1966. I had briefed JASON at its first summer study in 1960 or thereabouts, when it was working on ballistic missile defense and observation of the nuclear explosion impact on the ionosphere and on radar detection and things like that. Because I was with the President’s Science Advisory Committee at the time. When I joined JASON, I had the same job, except you drop the “emeritus;” I was IBM Fellow at IBM, but at the small IBM Watson Scientific Research Laboratory at Columbia University at 612 West 115th Street, having joined IBM in December 1952.
I had been for three years on the faculty at the University of Chicago in physics, and I had worked at Los Alamos every summer, with my family, beginning in 1950, many summers. I went there with Enrico Fermi and on his advice, and I shared an office with him in the summer of 1950. He had been my thesis supervisor at Chicago. I was an experimental, not a theoretical physicist, so I learned all about nuclear weapons. Marshall Rosenbluth was already there, who had been a fellow graduate student. I think he got his PhD in 1948. I got mine in ’49. And so we were friends and worked together, wrote a paper on the Snowplow model of the Z-pinch.
But I was mostly involved in nuclear design and nuclear weapons, devising new procedures for observing our nuclear weapons explosions. When I got there the second summer, I think probably in May 1951, I asked Edward Teller, whom I knew on the faculty at Chicago and from my summer at Los Alamos in 1950. We couldn't talk about classified materials at Chicago, so I asked him at Los Alamos in May 1951 what had happened at Los Alamos since we had been together there in August 1950. Edward said he had written a secret paper with Stan Ulam March 9, 1951. He added that he dearly wanted me to design an irrefutable experiment that would prove his newly invented concept of radiation implosion--a classified term for many years, but now declassified. I did that, and on July 25, 1951, published my design for what was to be the MIKE test of November 1, 1952, at 11 megatons, which demonstrated clearly that radiation implosion could be used for making thermonuclear weapons.
When I joined IBM, I became involved with people in Cambridge, Mass, from Harvard and MIT, on air defense of the United States, and on policy as well. That led me to the nascent President’s Science Advisory Committee, PSAC. So as soon as PSAC was created in 1957, I was a consultant to it, and head of some panels of PSAC, each of which met two days a month. I was very busy in Washington, spending sort of half my time, mostly ever since then, in what’s now the Eisenhower Executive Office Building-- the EEOB.
When JASON was created, I was told about it by Murph Goldberger, who said they weren’t having industrial people, so that’s why they didn't invite me to join. I really couldn't have, anyhow, because I was with PSAC, and who knew what JASON was going to be? But I could brief them, and did, every year, on topics that I had been working on with the Strategic Military Panel of PSAC, or my Military Aircraft Panel, or my Antisubmarine Warfare Panel, and so on. By 1966, I guess, JASON was comfortable with inviting a few industrial scientists, and I was by then comfortable with the people and the procedures of JASON, so I joined. I don’t remember whether it was before or after the Santa Barbara study that led to the air-supported barrier for preventing North Vietnamese infiltration into South Vietnam. I worked extensively on that, and with JASON ever since. I think I've covered everything.
Very good. Okay, Curt, let’s move to you. Same question.
I'm currently Professor of Physics at Princeton University, and I believe I was asked to join JASON in Fall of 1967 or something like that, at which point I was a young assistant professor in the Physics Department at Harvard. And I had no particular qualifications (laughter) as far as nuclear weaponry or technology associated with national security was concerned. Whatever I learned about such matters, I learned through JASON (laughter) in the course of a long association. Does that cover it all?
Who asked you to join? What was your entrée to JASON?
My thesis advisor, Sam Treiman. Actually, I knew two people who were connected. I knew Murph Goldberger and Sam Treiman. Murph I believe was one of the founders of JASON. In any case, both Murph and Sam were professors of physics at Princeton, and I did my PhD at Princeton. And I don’t know why they were looking for a young, innocent theoretical physicist to join JASON, but they settled on me, for some reason. And others followed (laughter).
Very good. Okay, Roy, over to you.
I am now Regents Professor Emeritus from University of Texas Austin, as of almost exactly one year ago. Got into JASON, actually, due to talking with friends Bill Press and Will Happer. Will was my boss when he was head of Office of Science at the DOE, during the era of the “Supercollider” (Superconducting Super Collider--SSC--project of the US Dept. of Energy, probably best referenced as SSC). I had left Harvard, moved to Texas with my family, to build the SSC, and then it was cancelled in I guess 1994. And fortunately, I had a very helpful position at the University of Texas Austin that had been made available at the time I joined the laboratory, came to Texas, and that gave me a great deal of freedom. And frankly, I have to just say, I found that invitation to join JASON and then coming out and meeting the group and getting to work on things in roughly—it must have been ’96—to be, frankly, an intellectual lease on life for me, after the collider project. And I've been enjoying it ever since.
Wonderful. Okay, well, thank you all. What I’d like to do now is to establish a bit of historical context that works up to the situation leading to the origins of JASON in 1959 and 1960. And so probably this is a question more for Ken and Dick, but of course Curt and Roy, you can chime in as well if you have ideas about this. I’d like to get a sense of the infrastructure, the intellectual infrastructure, prior to the creation of JASON, earlier in the decade, in the 1950s. What mechanisms or modes were there for a free flow of ideas between academic scientists who had things to say of national security import? And what lacked in that regard that would have suggested that there was a need for a group that ultimately would become JASON? So, the question really is, what progenitors were there to what would ultimately become the JASON scientific advisory group?
I can say something--in 1957 that there was an exodus from the Midwest. Murray Gell-Mann went from Chicago to Caltech, Brueckner from Indiana to Pennsylvania, Goldberger from Chicago to Princeton. And I went to Berkeley from Wisconsin. We were all quite close friends then. Murray used to be a houseguest of ours in Wisconsin when we were there, because it was a short drive.
Keith and Murph had the idea of forming a private consulting company. We had all started consulting with Convair but had the idea of having much more freedom in creating a private defense contracting company. They asked me and Murray if we would join them. We decided to do it.
This was incorporated as Theoretical Physics Incorporated. We began to ask some of our colleagues to join us. The idea was that we would establish a very competent staff of scientists who would do defense contracting that we could control ourselves. And so, we did incorporate. That was about the time of Project 137 in 1938, which for Murph and me was a very moving experience. Project 137 strongly influenced us. Soon after Project 137 there was a meeting at Endicott House, MIT. Nick Christofilos and Val Fitch were there. We met with General McCormick, to discuss what could be done to continue the momentum from Project 137. There, there was a great deal of discussion of Nick’s project Bassoon. The conclusion from the meeting was that the National Defense Lab, which Wheeler and York proposed, would not fly because you couldn't get an outstanding staff in those days. Most young physicists were interested in their careers and did not want to give these up. The meeting at Endicott House suggested that there might be support for a JASON like effort.
Any rate, they were very excited by Project Bassoon, low frequency communication with submarines. This developed a life of it’s own, but also was seen as showing what might be done with an enthusiastic group of young scientists. Then, in the summer of ’58, as I recall, Murph, Keith and I were at Los Alamos for a couple of weeks. Charlie Townes and Marvin Stern came to ask if we would be willing to convert our public company into a non-profit. Murph and I agreed to that. Keith was never very happy about it, because he had hoped to make a lot of money (laughter) with the private company. I don’t think he ever completely forgave us. But at any rate, it was at this point, we had an agreement.
Marvin Stern was a very interesting guy (laughter). I had known him at Convair, and then he became a lobbyist for General Dynamics, in Washington. I saw a lot of him there for some reason or other. I was on the PSAC Strategic Weapons panel and I had other commitments in Washington. So, Marvin Stern and I had dinner together in Washington one night a month. He was a fascinating storyteller (laughter). I remember one time, he showed me his little book of call girls that the company gave him. It was not quite what you might think. He said, “These are airline stewardesses.” And they were very sophisticated people who could be taken to the White House dinners and other formal events. And it was very easy to recruit them. First of all, they had no requirement to have sex. That was their own decision. But the thing was, they were sophisticated, educated escorts for men who needed an escort. And for them, it was a chance to meet important people and go to important events. So, it was no problem recruiting (laughter). That was among the many tricks that Marvin Stern had up his sleeve. But at any rate, he and Charlie Townes persuaded us to help form a JASON. Following that, Murph and Murray and Keith and I talked it over, and decided that Murph would be chairman.
Very good. Dick, what did you want to add to that?
I have an orthogonal view. I think what Ken has said is great, and I fully support it, what I know of it. Ken, give me the name of the lobbyist again. I knew him, but I didn’t hear well enough to place him.
Say it again slowly.
Yes, Marvin Stern.
He was everywhere. It was he and Charlie Townes who came to Los Alamos to talk us into forming JASON and giving up our private company.
Okay, so I got everything except his name. And now I remember him very well.
So, here’s my understanding. Of course, I was involved with Los Alamos every summer. And I'm not a person with great research thoughts. I don’t create new fields of study and so on. I solve problems. And—
One day, some of us were talking to Fermi, and he said, “Dick Garwin is the smartest physicist I know.”
(laughter) Thank you. I read that in 1981. And of course, Fermi had died in 1954. So, I couldn't ask him how he came to such a bizarre conclusion. We could talk a long time about that, but I don’t want to. [What I saw in 1981: Richard Garwin: Defense Adviser and Critic, by ELIOT MARSHALL, Science 15 May 1981:Vol. 212, Issue 4496, pp. 763-766 DOI: 10.1126/science.212.4496.763 “According to Marvin Goldberger, another of Fermi's graduate students and now president of the California Institute of Technology, the great physicist declared Garwin to be ‘the only true genius I have ever met.’” RLG continues: So, this discussion with Fermi and Watson’s “some of us” was likely the same one recounted by Murph via Eliot Marshall’s reportage in 1981.]
So, I was much involved in continuing one of the big programs of the United States of the four begun during World War II—the nuclear weapon, anti-submarine warfare, development of radar, and a smaller one on proximity fuse. I may have missed something. Of course, there were sub programs like enrichment and plutonium production and things like that. So, I learned all about those things the first week or so in the summer of 1950, by reading in the classified report library the weekly progress reports of each group at Los Alamos during the war.
My late wife, Lois, and I were married in ’47, and went to Los Alamos in 1950. Our son, Jeffrey, had been born in November, 1949. So, he was six months old and I was always really busy at home, and with my job at the university.
I found that I didn't like the sociology of particle physics, in which I was expected to work with a group of six people and negotiate six weeks in advance, so I left that field in December 1952, to go to this small IBM laboratory at Columbia University-- the IBM Watson Scientific Laboratory--which had been a computing laboratory up to that time. Then they expanded it to solid state, and I worked on liquid and solid helium-3 and helium-4 and superconductors. Now, of course, in particle physics one works with 600 people and defines one’s work six year in advance, so I’m glad I made the change.
I had moved to IBM so I could do my own research, and so I could work also on technology that would be of use in these new fields. I had some ideas and began to work on them right away, some of them involving the superconductors that I was using in my basic research. But if you work for a company, they have other ideas! IBM leaders wanted to fit in well with the academic and technical community in the United States, and Emanuel Piore soon became associated with the company, as Director of Research.
In any case, the company asked me to take a year off from my research to go to Cambridge, Mass, to work on Project LAMP LIGHT, led by Jerrold Zacharias and Jerome Wiesner of MIT, with the goal of extending the lines of defense of the United States and Canada from the land barrier across Canada, radars and interceptors, to the sea lines of approach of Soviet bombers. I wasn’t going to do that, having just moved to IBM to do research and technology application to computers. So, I negotiated with IBM—I would do LAMP LIGHT Tuesdays through Thursdays, and the rest of the time, I would do my own work at IBM.
At LAMP LIGHT I met many people who had been involved in non-nuclear weapon activities during the war-- radar, ASW, proximity fuze. By then I knew from Los Alamos the ones who had been involved in wartime nuclear weapons. But there I met those—Ed Purcell, Jerry Wiesner—who worked on radar. When the Los Alamos Laboratory opened in March 1943, the radar program at MIT had been operating for several years, and some, like Wiesner and Hans Bethe, moved from MIT to Los Alamos.
They were well-connected, because the people who had worked in the war effort continued to consult with the organizations with which they had worked—many with the newly formed U.S. Air Force, and some of them seemed to have informal connections, for instance ZORC, Z-O-R-C, which stood for Zacharias-Oppenheimer-Rabi—I.I. Rabi from Columbia University Physics—and Charlie Lauritsen. Two Lauritsens-- Charles and his son Tom, so Charlie Lauritsen. These people had a lot of influence with the Air Force in particular, and they helped create the Tactical Air Command within USAF, creating competition with the Strategic Air Command--SAC.
At the University of Chicago, in early 1951, I was asked to go to Korea for a month during the Korean War, together with a Chicago chemistry professor, Joe Mayer, who was part of this informal group working with the Air Force and considering USAF roles other than nuclear attack or retaliation on the USSR. We went to Korea for three weeks to observe USAF operations during the active war, and then to Japan for a week to talk to people there, and then came back. I then worked for a while at Yerkes Observatory, trying to build one of the things I decided from my visit to Korea would be important, an image intensifier-- an electron-multiplying image-retaining vacuum tubes-- which later JASON worked on as well. But this was 1951, long before JASON’s creation. The part that relates to JASON is primarily that I knew these people well and became involved with them and could readily meet with them during the Santa Barbara summer study in 1966. Of course, by then I had worked with the Charles River crowd on PSAC for some 9 years.
A few years after our trip to Korea -- in March 1954, -- at the request of President Eisenhower, the Scientific Advisory Committee of the Office of Defense Mobilization formed the Technological Capabilities Panel--TCP, a 42-person panel under James Killian, the president of MIT, who had degrees in business administration and engineering administration. My activity under the TCP was led by Dr. William O. Baker, a chemist from Bell Labs, Vice President-research; the Baker Panel dealt with an aspect of the work of the National Security Agency.
Later I was involved in the sequel to one of the TCP subpanels-- a small intelligence panel led by Edwin Land, the head of Polaroid—a very smart person. He often said he didn't want to be part of a committee that wouldn't fit into a taxicab. So in 1960, having been on the fringes of imagery intelligence for years, I joined the (Edwin H.) Land Panel on Overhead Intelligence, which met several times a year for two days, and had major involvement, especially with the classified imaging satellites, and I was involved separately with the electronic intelligence satellites and radar satellites at that time.
Many of these scientists and engineers who had worked during WW II, with intense participation and rapid learning, were looking for a way to bring younger people to be knowledgeable of national defense and security, and to be able to contribute. So, when PSAC was formed in 1957 or so, with its panel structure, maybe of a dozen standing or ad hoc panels, we brought people in as panel members. About half of them were old hands from the war, and real experts in the field, and half were novices who we thought individually might be able to contribute.
That didn't work so well. There were a couple of them who caught on, like Charlie Slichter, from University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana. But mostly they didn't stick in their involvement in national security. And so, the PSAC members like Charlie Townes and others, especially at Princeton—Eugene Wigner also—they felt—
Say it again, Curt?
Wasn’t Johnny Wheeler one of the people that—?
Yes, John Wheeler and Wigner. Johnny was more vigorous in his advocacy and more flexible in his scheming.
Yes, Wigner cheered it on, but Wheeler was a real innovator.
So, they tried to create technical summer studies and whatnot. And ultimately, that didn't go very far until Charlie Townes was Vice President of IDA for two years, I think, in Washington. There he could actually spend some of the money from the Joint Chiefs of Staff that IDA was getting for studies by the Weapons Systems Evaluation Group--WSEG.
Can you give us a thumbnail of how IDA came to be? Because I know that it was the home for JASON when I joined.
It was Charlie Townes as Vice President.
Yeah, but I mean, when was IDA founded? What was the motivation?
Oh. IDA was founded in order to do studies for the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
That was one of its main purposes. And I forget the name -- WSEG.
There was a special category for these. I think RAND was one of these non-profit semi-government agencies.
Yes, it was an FCRC, was its old name, and maybe an intermediate name. It was WSEG of IDA that did work for the Joint Chiefs. So, they could easily fund JASON. They had money they could spend. You didn't have to get an appropriation. And that worked well, so IDA was our management organization that convened the JASON group.
Of course, I wasn’t there at the beginning. I knew about it from my PSAC colleagues forming JASON, especially from Goldberger, who was on PSAC. Murph had been at Chicago when I was there as faculty member before he went to Princeton in 1957.
During the Vietnam War, there was a senator who was very clever, but very much against the war; he did all he could to make it difficult for academics to contribute to the war effort. Like insisting that the contract with any academic, specify that what they were working on was directly relevant to the defense program. Many would like to say, “I'm doing basic research. If the Defense Department wants to use it, fine.” But no, they had to attest that it was directly relevant to the Vietnam War.
Are you talking about Mike Mansfield and the Mansfield Amendment?
Yes, the Mansfield Amendment.
That was later, was it not? That was sometime in the seventies.
I think it was in the sixties at the height of the Vietnam War. We can look it up. The result of that was—that’s why we left IDA, I believe, because IDA explained that the JASON funding would now come out of the WSEG budget. I chaired the JASON Steering Committee at that time, and I believe that Curt was Vice-chair. That’s why we had to leave IDA. IDA was willing to keep us on, but I was involved with that decision as Chair of the JASON steering committee at the time we moved from IDA to what had been Stanford Research Institute but now, in view of the anti-military sentiment, became just plain SRI, which must have been in the late sixties, therefore, because I wasn’t a member until ’66. That’s why we left IDA, because the internal competition for funds with WSEG imposed by the Mansfield Amendment. Anyhow, so that’s [Unintelligible].
Dick, could I jump in? Since we have Ken and we're trying to extract a lot of this history with Ken as well, when did you meet Ken, first? That early time, we talked about a lot at the time of the JASON 50th anniversary, where we had a really good set of discussions on IDA. And another question just buried in here was Johnny Wheeler. I mean, he was an important guy with the project he was forming, and yet in the end, as far as I could tell, he never became a JASON member. But back to the point, when did you first meet Ken?
I think probably during one of his summers at Los Alamos.
At Los Alamos, yes.
I knew Murph very well, and Murph may even have had us over for dinner or something. So that’s when I met Ken and Keith Brueckner.
Let’s broaden out the discussion a little and bring in the Cold War. I'm curious, from an outsider’s perspective, if you look at the chronology, Sputnik in 1957 and then the real origins of JASON in ’58 and ’59, to what extent did Sputnik specifically add urgency to the creation or the need of a scientific advisory group that would ultimately become JASON? And to what extent was JASON’s path already sort of foreordained even before Sputnik?
I mentioned that when I went to Berkeley, largely because of Sputnik, the Physics Department allocated one assistant professor position just to take Teller’s and my classes. That was a physicist, Al Glassgold, a good physicist, but he had nothing to do except his research and to take our classes. Now, that’s sort of unimaginable for a public university to actually give up an assistant professorship for nothing but taking the classes of two guys who went to Washington.
Yeah, well, Sputnik was October 4, 1957. Eisenhower was president. And the President’s Science Advisory Committee actually issued a report. It was written by Ed Purcell and Edwin Land, and also a very capable person, Frank Bello, from Fortune magazine. https://www.nap.edu/read/9977/chapter/12 of which this is an excerpt;
They both served on the original President's Science Advisory Committee that began under President Eisenhower in response to the Soviet Sputnik revelations. There, Purcell chaired the subcommittee on space and he and Land wrote, with the participation of Frank Bello, formerly of Fortune magazine, a pamphlet sometimes called the “Space Primer” to educate as many people as possible about the possibilities of space Exploration.
The primer said, “Here’s what this means.” Of course, we were delighted when the Russians launched Sputnik, because we were trying to make a case that space overflight was legal. And when the Russians did it first—the Soviets were the ones we were most worried about, having just in 1956 begun the U-2 aircraft overflights (which I knew about, although I wasn’t supposed to know about it, because I was with Luis Alvarez on a special committee to review some of the National Security Agency, NSA, activities). So, we learned about that.
Eisenhower created PSAC because he didn't trust the generals. He wanted his own scientists. He didn't trust the Defense Department scientists either. And of course, people had to do more about space, and so we looked at that, and there was [unintelligible]. Then JASON scientific community now was really interested in what space could be used for, and how to defend against it. So that was the beginning of the ballistic missile program, and the ballistic missile activities. I got into that through my contacts at Los Alamos, and then with Hans Bethe, who I knew well from there, and his contacts with Arthur Kantrowitz at Avco-Everett Research Lab.
I remember flying to Albuquerque and talking to generals there about a moon base and explaining why a moon base would not help national security (laughter). I remember telling them, “I had to come here to talk to you. If you could read, I wouldn't have to give you this talk!” (Laughter) Anyhow, that’s not a way to facilitate communication.
I had kind of a strange experience as to how mixed things were. There was a period when the University of California Berkeley made an agreement that no more classified work would be done on campus. During this time, I had a CIA office which they camouflaged as a cleaning supply office, and a secretary in there. The university had no problem with that, but it was camouflaged so nobody knew there was a classified office.
A question about the niche that the JASON group filled. Before Sputnik, of course, RAND was in the business of providing scientific expertise to the government, national security expertise to the government. So, the question there is, what was the specific need that RAND and perhaps other organizations were not providing, that necessitated the need for a new group that would ultimately become JASON?
It was informal and independent, and less subject to—so when you have any organization, you have organizational liability and thoughts for the growth and the persistence of the organization. JASON was going to be different. But mostly, JASON would be a way to involve, temporarily, people whose careers were outside, especially academics, and whose integrity and whose reputation was established because of their work that they did, on their research, initially physicists, experimental and theoretical. Then also mathematicians and chemists, and of course now computer scientists and biologists and so on. And so that was the idea. And it worked pretty well, I think. And there’s still a niche (laughter) that needs to be filled.
I would guess that RAND, for example, felt that there was no need for such an organization (laughter). You said the problem was that organizations have internal imperatives. Well, JASON was, in my interactions with it at the beginning, splendidly disorganized (laughter). It certainly fulfilled the requirement of bringing people together on a rather episodic basis. Just a fraction of their life was devoted to it. But it was certainly a very different format from all of the committees to address specific technological problems of relevance to national security. It felt more like a physics department. Clearly, there had to be a topic that somebody in government was interested in hearing about from us, but the parameters and the framing of the question were left very, very vague. We just kicked things around and tried to do something meaningful and useful and intellectually coherent, while amusing ourselves intellectually.
We had one RAND employee, Bob Le Levier, on JASON. We actually had quite a few interactions with RAND personnel--Dick Latter, for example. Bob LeLevier was actually in the physics section at RAND, and an early JASON member.
I think that Dick Latter was never a JASON member. I worked with him. Dick Latter. I worked with both Dick and Al on my PSAC work, and also in representing the United States in Geneva at some negotiations in 1958 and ’59.
Yeah, I was with the High-Altitude negotiations in Geneva along with Panofsky and Latter. I knew Dick reasonably well during the war at the Naval Research Lab.
David asked about the—how shall I put it—the Cold War motivation for JASON. I was just thinking about that. And as I remember my early years with JASON, one of the activities, or one of the questions, that was most frequently addressed in our meetings had to do with ballistic missile defense. I don’t know when that became a focus. I know that just before I joined, there was a big study, STRAT-X I think it was called, on ICBM technology. I seem to recall that the physics and technology of accurate targeting was involved. I don’t know the details, but I know that Sam and Murph were engaged in that study when they asked me to join JASON. And ballistic missile defense eventually brought together a whole constellation of physics issues. I'm not sure that JASON was necessary in order to address them. Probably not, but it certainly was a subject that was addressed—it arose very frequently. It was the scientific framework for many of the things that JASON spent most of its energy on.
I think ABM was probably one of the major issues that JASON pursued through the years. There were often proposals to actually deploy ABM systems. We repeatedly concluded that it was not militarily, or technically cost-effective to deploy the systems as proposed.
JASON has never worked on strategy, at least formally. We tried a little bit, in regard to Southeast Asia. But the President’s Scientific Advisory Committee did have an important role in this regard and would each year issue a Ballistic Missile Defense Top Secret document for the National Security Advisor. So, for Henry Kissinger in the Nixon Administration, and so on. And at that time, Sid Drell was head of the Strategic Military Panel, PSAC. But I think Murph Goldberger had been head for a while. And I was with these people from the very beginning in 1957 until ’73 and contributed to this annual report.
So, you can see what happened to that particular report. At the beginning of the Nixon Administration in—January of ’68—because it has been declassified, and Henry Kissinger’s annotation on it to his aide—“We must find a way to keep JASON out of strategy” (laughter). And it wasn’t strategy; this was just saying what the capability of the proposed deployment would be and saying that it couldn't fulfill this capability. You can read it yourself. But JASON didn't go that far. We looked at “Red-out”, that is at what the nuclear explosions would do to create a large background so that infrared-detecting satellites could not see the launch of ballistic missiles, for instance. That was one of the very early JASON studies. As I say, I would come and brief JASON in the summer study, on what I knew about the various things that they said they were considering, before I became a member.
There were many specific technical issues. The ABM program led to a lot of advanced electronics: radar, phased array radars, and so forth. And JASON often got involved in specific technical details, which were scientific or engineering problems. We had Allen Peterson in JASON, almost from the beginning. He was an electrical engineer at Stanford.
To Dick’s comment that Eisenhower did not trust the generals, that begs the question if that negated any possibility that the expertise that JASON ultimately would provide could ever be an in-house proposition? In other words, that DARPA, for example, would bring in academic scientists into the government to provide the kind of expertise that ultimately would become JASON. Was anyone aware of any idea that perhaps this advisory group would be an in-house, in-government operation at any point?
From the beginning, in 1957 or so, the President’s Science Advisory Committee tried to structure the government so it would have inherent capability. And I think it was PSAC that devised DARPA, or ARPA, as the case may be, and also the arms control agency to do something in the State Department. But it becomes bureaucratized, and DARPA is interested in its particular novel programs, very interested in that. And I'm not saying that they're not extremely useful or valuable, but people felt there was a need for JASON. JASON was created. It’s up to historians, not us, to say whether it was a good idea or could have been done better.
Was there any single individual in the Eisenhower administration—in the executive branch, not the Pentagon—who we understand as a driving force that supported the notion of JASON?
Oh, yeah, everybody did. Everybody on the President’s Science Advisory Committee with experience in World War II felt the lack of a pipeline from academia to knowledgeable scientists and engineers working in national security, available for consultation or perhaps involved in consulting with contractors or whatever. When you consult with contractors, for the most part they're interested in their programs and in keeping other people from competing with them, and so on.
I did a lot of consulting, not to make money—in fact, I didn't make any money at all. Went to IBM, the $35-a-day PSAC and whatever. So, a similar amount from the CIA. But the consulting I did was on tiger teams. That is, the Land Panel would be involved formally for the government in visiting various contractors, secret contracts, for development of advanced aircraft or satellites or other things. And then the organizations themselves said, “We’d like to hear more from you, and you, and you. Can you join the tiger team?” So I did, some for CIA, maybe for Air Force, on satellites, as did some other people from the President's Science Advisory Committee for its panels, or engineering types. And so we would go out, and there would be no holds barred discussion of the state of the program. They had better answer, frankly; people from the government were at these sessions. People—the contractors’ administrations were at these sessions. You could bring up anything and make major changes. There were quite a few groups where you would say something and there would be dead silence. Then after lunch, they would come back and say, “Thanks for raising that. It would have failed” (laughter).
Let’s go back to the origins of Project 137. What is your understanding of where that idea came from? And were people like Johnny Wheeler and Eugene Wigner—
It was Johnny Wheeler, I think. And probably Charlie Townes.
That’s the question. It came from them? They were not asked by the Pentagon or anyone in the government to start this series?
They were interested in forming a new national laboratory of excellent scientists devoted to defense. There was the idea that they could stimulate people to work at a national laboratory. I think this was the motivation for Project 137. I was invited a little bit late. Johnny had put it together. He showed the list to Teller, and Teller suggested that he add Tom Ypsilantis and me. I don’t know if Tom ever was in JASON for a while or not. He had a joint Greek-U.S. citizenship. Tom was a real European jet-setter, flying from Berkeley to Europe on week-ends.
Who are you speaking of, Ken? Say it slowly and loudly. Whom are you speaking of? You said Teller wanted to invite who? Whom?
Oh. Me and Tom Ypsilantis. He was a professor at Berkeley.
Say his last name again. Tom who?
Y-P-S-I—Ypsilantis. That was when there was a monarchy in Greece. The queen of Greece was in San Francisco and she came across the Bay to tell Tom that his mother sent greetings (laughter).
He had a joint citizenship.
All right, thank you. So, David, are you getting all the answers you need?
Absolutely. Let me ask a question about the politics of the founding fathers. Historians like to call this period a general Cold War consensus. Were there any—?
No, there was no consensus. There was no Cold War. People were interested in these—topics.
Well, so my question is, were people united by the idea that scientists needed to be put in the service of the national defense? Was that something that maybe not overtly said, but was something that really was felt at the foundation as a motivation for these scientists to become involved in this group?
Well, I felt that scientists needed to contribute, because otherwise we would be insecure against all kinds of threats.
Well, certainly John Wheeler’s purpose with 137 was to stimulate interest in this.
John Wheeler was a real Cold Warrior.
I was about to say—yes (laughter).
As was Edward Teller.
And as was Eugene Wigner, I believe.
Oh, especially, yeah.
And so, what was the operation whereby it went from a singular event to the idea that this should be an ongoing summer study? Because that question right there, if I understand correctly, that’s really the origin story of JASON. That it’s not just a standalone summer study?
That was the general need for having a pipeline of people to be involved.
Right after the Project 137, there was a meeting at Endicott House at MIT, that General McCormick had called, and the subject was forming something like JASON. Murph couldn't make it, but Val Fitch, Christofilos and I were the only three Jason prospects there. The people we met there were quite supportive of a JASON-like organization.
What year was that, Ken? That meeting at Endicott House?
It was right after Project 137, a follow up to try to keep something alive and going. And unfortunately, not many 137 people came—too many were busy.
Was Project 137 a classified project?
Very much so. We got intelligence briefings. It was a very highly classified meeting.
Who was the sponsor?
It was Herb York, DARPA. Herb was newly head of ARPA or DARPA. It was ARPA then, I guess. Herb York and Johnny Wheeler ran the meeting sessions.
Curt, you were asking—?
Was Project 137 a one-off summer study activity, or was it repeated?
It was two weeks in Washington before air conditioning. It was really hot.
But was it repeated? Was it a one-off?
No, it was just one event. It was never intended to be a series of studies. At the time, they hoped to get the National Defense Laboratory launched. And very quickly it was evident that none of us was ready to give up our careers at our universities. They could not get the level of people they wanted at a new laboratory. And so, the fallback was something like JASON.
So, when did the concept of a standing organization that would do a series of summer studies in which topics not specified in advance would be studied by a group of outsiders coming together for several weeks in some location—? Eventually the whole thing settled down in La Jolla. That was the first summer study that I ever participated in.
It was said that there had been previous summers in which a similar group had gotten together for a few weeks in a variety of places. Woods Hole was mentioned as a much-liked location, I think.
Yeah, Woods Hole. It would oscillate half the time on the East Coast, half the time on the West Coast.
When did that oscillation begin?
The first summer study was in Berkeley up on the hill at the Lawrence Lab. It was thrown together hurriedly. I don’t know whether it was official or not, but it was considered a JASON study. Lew (Lewis) Branscomb was there as a member.
That was when? That was ’61 or something like that?
I think it may have been ’60. I don’t know.
I think ’60. I'm not gonna say it for sure. Was that in Maine?
Ah yes, yes. So, there were several places where this organization, which was no longer Project 137 would meet. What was it? Was it called JASON?
It was JASON. It was JASON. If you go to the—if you look—
It was called Project Sunrise for a while there.
If you look up JASON, and Project 137, takes you to a Wikipedia page. And it says, “Early history. In 1958, a military-issues physics summer study program named Project 137 was launched by physicists John Archibald Wheeler, Eugene Wigner, and Oskar Morganstern (laughter). Participants included Murph Goldberger, Kenneth Watson, Nick Christofilos, and Keith Brueckner.” And then “Out of that program came the idea of a permanent institute of advanced scientific research, a proposed National Defense Institute, on behalf of the Department of Defense. Wheeler was offered a position by DARPA’s Herb York, but turned it down.” And so on. So, you learn a lot there. Murph Goldberger also turned down the request. So, that's what Ken was saying; nobody wanted to leave their university position.
To Curt’s question, though, how do we go from this idea that we should not have a one-off summer study and that this should become a recurring event—how does that exactly get formalized? Is there an MOE? Is there a white paper?
Read the next paragraph. “However, in December ’59, Marvin Stern, Charles Townes, Keith Brueckner, Ken Watson, and Murph Goldberger met in Los Alamos, where several of them had been working on nuclear-rocket research—"
There was an East Coast group of people who had started having summer studies. They were more ad hoc each year. I forget the name of it. But that was an experience of some of the people who later proposed JASON, of having annual summer studies: each time different people.
But the way I read this, the idea came from people like Marvin Stern and Charlie Townes, but it was because of the support of the IDA that allowed JASON to exist. That’s the basic idea.
Well, somebody had to provide money.
Herb York was very enthusiastic from the beginning, and he certainly had an influential role in it.
And so by now having JASON that was formalized with support by the IDA, a recurring schedule—Ken, I guess this is a question for you—what perhaps were some of the bureaucratic challenges that posed themselves immediately in terms of ensuring that this would be a group that was relevant and that would have its focus on the most pressing national security issues of the day?
I think one of the toughest bureaucratic challenges was that all JASONs had the same clearances. Getting the clearances was not easy. Later on, when there were limited access, highly classified studies, all JASONs didn't have all clearances. But in the beginning, all JASONs had the same clearances.
Was the clearance Sensitive Compartmented Information—was the SCI clearance in existence at that point?
I don’t know.
Well, the equivalent was, yes. And even though JASONs had all clearances, they didn't (laughter). I mean, there were things which were not known. And I'm sure that some of you know things that I don’t know, too.
Let me butt in at this point. At least in my experience—which came later—this was always a principle that we wanted to maintain—that everybody should, in principle, be able to participate in any study that he or she was interested in. And for the most part, that was possible. There were a few instances—at least when I was dealing with this problem—where we were unable to get everyone cleared who wanted to be involved. That could lead to bad sociology, if you didn't have a good reason to exclude a member from some study.
These things are always more complicated. We may all have had a basic intelligence clearance—I forget the name—but when people get into their subcategories, you're working on something, and you get a special clearance that nobody else in JASON may have.
Absolutely. But that still needed to be managed.
From its inception, was the idea that JASON would lie dormant for most of the academic year and would reanimate in the summer? Or was there from the beginning the idea that there would always be ongoing activity in JASON around the calendar, around the year?
No, it was a strictly summer study.
There were individual meetings during the year to which JASONs could be invited as JASONs.
And then for a long time, we've had a three-day meeting in Washington in the Spring and in the Fall, the JASON Spring meeting and the JASON winter meeting. And a Fall meeting. And there we have outside speakers, a full program for two days or so. And with a large audience of the defense and intelligence folks in the community, not only from Washington, who would be cleared and participate. So that has continued for a long time. So that was an [unintelligible] we wouldn't be unaware. And more recently, the Spring meeting has really become very much a planning meeting for summer study.
I can see an immediate logistical challenge that might present itself, as this was coming into existence. Given the fact that the scientists were going back to their home institutions, operating obviously in an unclassified environment without access to classified material, the challenge would seem to me that when you came together, infrequently as it was, there would need to be a significant amount of catchup in terms of reading classified reports, becoming on top of all the issues—
We never solved that problem. That question really answers itself. No. And the intelligence community and the defense department, ever since 1955 to my knowledge, has not solved the problem of communicating the classified material, even by a telephone call, to the average consultant. I used to have, in my office, a secure phone. But it was replaced, because two generations of technology. And they cost about $7,000 each or so. And people are unhappy about the environment in which you use a secure phone, all of which can be and should be solved by rising occasional participation that it is. But you should move on to get more information from Ken, rather than explore—anyhow.
Did you want to comment on the logistical challenge of JASON participants most of the time not having access to classified information?
Hard to tell. I always did, through Livermore. Actually, at one point, I had a classified office on the Berkeley campus. But it was true I had to handle too much paperwork, and I gave that up. But I had a driver to take me out to Livermore anytime I wanted to go. I usually went about every two weeks, out there. So, I had a somewhat different experience.
Was there anyone in the government who was providing security oversight? There’s always concern about leakage of classified information, procedures that would allow for this information to get out. What were some of the oversight issues that might have ensured that JASON always operated in a secure environment?
I think that was IDA and then Stanford Research Institute. I don’t think we worried much about that. Is that right, Dick?
Yeah, that’s right. That’s the role of the management organization. So, they interpret, and they hire guards and whatnot, and they do whatever is required by the rules.
A more fun question—the name JASON. We could look at Wikipedia. I’d like to know if you can verify that—
That was Mildred Goldberger who did it.
That’s your memory?
You can ask her.
That Mildred suggested the name JASON is well-known. Nobody liked Sunrise.
(Laughter) Who came up with Project Sunrise? Was that DARPA?
I think it was a computer in the Pentagon, I understand, (laughter) that generates names. So, we heard.
Was the original purview of JASON exclusive to physicists, or were there other scientists from other disciplines involved?
We had Allan Petersen, electrical engineer from Stanford. He was in quite early.
Any biologists or chemists?
Yeah, we had a chemist from Chicago for a long time. Now we have many biologists and a couple of chemists.
But that was not at the beginning.
And who set the agenda in the early years? The first meetings, who set the agenda? Who would decide what the topics to discuss would be?
That was at the winter study, and at the Spring/Fall break, in which we had briefings. And on the basis of the briefings, we made our decisions on what we’d like to undertake.
Were there any representatives from the government that would be at these meetings, or it was strictly JASON members?
Well, we had briefers. These things are always complex. You make friendships with the people who are in the government. You talk informally.
Ken, in your memory, what were the big issues of concern for JASON in those early years? What were the main topics at the top of the agenda in 1960, 1961?
I lost you.
I was asking Ken, what were the top-line agenda items in 1960 and 1961?
I'm trying to remember. Do you, Dick?
I think it was “Red-out” -- (not “blackout” of missile-launch infrared signal but swamping it with the continental-scale atmospheric effects of a space nuclear explosion) things like that. Detection of missile launches.
Yeah. Nuclear effects were a very large part of the discussions.
And radar of the ionization from nuclear explosions, high-altitude nuclear explosions.
And Nick had started particle beam research. We spent a lot of time on particle beams as weapons.
Yeah, Nick Christofilos was a great inventor, strong focusing independently. And not only particle beam weapons, but also the enormous communication systems, extremely low frequency, communicating with submarines submerged in sea water in the oceans of the world. He was a great inventor.
Was there any thought given to the idea that JASON should be a secret organization? Not just that its work was classified, but that its existence should not be acknowledged?
Oh, I don’t think so.
No, because academics and—no.
After all, that’s hardly possible. Our families got together in the summer. We all made friends with people at Woods Hole and others who were there.
Well, some of the things that we do are not acknowledged.
But our existence was certainly acknowledged.
And to go back to the briefers from the government, what kinds of briefers and from what agencies? Who would arrange for them to be a part of these meetings?
Well, we would, or the person who was interested in the contract. So, JASON has had a single management organization and it has gotten a single contract from the government, but that contract is a way to amass funding and individual projects. So, we used to work on maybe five projects in the summertime. Now it’s up to 15 or so, over the decades. And people who want an answer, they're responsible for providing the information (laughter) and access to it. And sometimes this is not so easy, because sometimes the people in the government organization who want the answer are not the people who are in charge of the existing programs. And those who are in charge of the existing programs see a threat from a free look at the options, a judgment that what they're doing is not worth continuing, or better redirected or whatever. So, sometimes we do have difficulty getting the information that we need. But our other contacts typically help us to identify other people, maybe even outsiders, who can fill us in.
Does JASON have a constitution or other kind of foundational document?
Yes, I wrote several constitutions. But obviously I couldn't have written the first one, because it was before I joined.
Yeah. So, who did write that first constitution?
I’d tell you if I knew.
I didn't know we had one (laughter).
We've got one (laughter).
And presumably, in that first constitution, questions about who could be a member, those were the kinds of things that were fleshed out from the beginning?
Oh, it’s not so rigid. There’s a steering committee, and the steering committee, or membership committee, decides who’s to be offered membership. And I remember from the constitution, the early constitution was that no computing work would be done. Nobody would use computers.
The question of who were members flared occasionally. There were times—there was a crisis once when DARPA wanted to give some contractors membership in JASON, and they actually threatened to drop JASON. That was Steve Lukasik, head of DARPA at the time. We refused to take a proposed member, and he said, “Well, I'll just close the contract.” Then DDR&E stepped in and said, “You can’t do that. We'll take it over if you do.” Anyway, so we won. And we've always insisted that we cannot be told to take members. But that has been controversial. We always won on that issue.
And that piece of history repeated itself when Tony Tether became the head of DARPA and wanted to put a couple of people on JASON.
Tony Tether was head of DARPA—and remind me, this would have been in the George W. Bush Administration.
It was in the Rumsfeld era in the Defense Department.
Right and extended to Robert Gates.
Okay, well, Steve Lukasik was the one I remember, that he was head of DARPA. [Dick: Ken is recounting a different, earlier, crisis -- not contradicting or adding to the Tony Tether problem, for which he was no longer a JASON member] That was a real crisis for us. Because he was going to put us out of existence.
Yeah, this was around Fall, 2001, [Dick comments: Roy is confusing things, believing that Ken was speaking about the Tony Tether crisis, which was tipped favorably on Saturday, 03/23/2001 when I spoke by telephone with Sec Def Donald Rumsfeld and he handed the phone to E.C. (Pete) Aldridge. Roy should have said “...around Fall and Winter 2000-2001] it was a real serious threat. Fortunately, we found other sponsors who wanted the organization to keep going.
We tried to resist that, and none of our efforts would work. And finally, I had worked with Don Rumsfeld in 1998 on the Commission to Assess the Ballistic Missile Threat to the United States. That was the six or eight months of heavy involvement, half time. And so, I arranged with his secretary (whom I knew from that previous involvement) in the George W. Bush Administration when he was Secretary of Defense—I arranged with Rumsfeld’s secretary that he should call me. And I sent him a fax, laying out the problem, and asked that he call me on Saturday morning. And he did. And so, I said, “Look, JASON is a couple million dollars a year. This is worth five minutes of your time.” So, he had had—let’s see—the head of DDR&E, for acquisitions and whatnot, in his office, to talk on the phone call. And they said getting Tony Tether to reverse his views was impossible. And Rumsfeld was not responsible, as Tether had said, for mandating that JASON take these three people on as members. Rumsfeld denied that. And so, Ron Sega, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering and former astronaut, said, “I'll do it.” He ranked above Tony Tether, so rather than reporting to DARPA, JASON reported higher in the Defense Department. And that problem was solved, except that we made a dedicated enemy of Tony Tether and other folks.
Well, we also found some very strong support in DoD that we continue to work with these days.
Yes, that’s good.
Relative to so many other advisory groups, JASON began and has stayed small. Was that baked into the beginning? Was the plan always for JASON to remain small?
It’s as large I think as they could handle a group. If it gets to be too big, people don’t know each other. There has been a rapport in JASON which is a very strong part of it. We respected each other. If it gets to be too big, it’s loose, and a different kind of organization.
And small enough—the idea that when JASON met, it would be small enough that everybody can take part in a single meeting?
Yes, very much so.
And Roy, was your experience later on that that has always remained the case? That JASON was small enough—?
I completely agree with that. Yeah, it’s a very intense human experience. You get to know people in different ways, working on different kinds of problems, and it’s frankly very interesting. I think it (JASON) has a certain scale size that works for reasons Ken outlined, and it’s hard to duplicate, as has been tried in a few other situations.
We all knew each other. We could speak freely with each other. We communicated pretty well. If it’s too big, there is a problem of communicating, understanding each other. So, I think it’s probably optimal size.
So, the actual mechanics of the meetings was one meeting where everybody was involved? Are there breakout sessions? How did these things work?
Well, in the summer study, there were often meetings with everybody involved. We had briefings. We also broke into groups of individuals working on specific projects.
But those are multiweek meetings. And a good number of people stay a good fraction of the time. So, you're interacting and having new ideas outside of the specific charge of a given study and learning things. I think the thing that most of the members explained to me is just how much you learn in this process. And we do encourage members, to the extent the security rules will work, to go around and learn about other things going on.
Well, the early days, that’s of historical interest. But things have evolved with the personal computer. And what I've always been interested in is groupware that is a way for people to interact. And so that has been my particular interest. So, we, early on, my experience actually with Edwin Land and the President's Science Advisory Committee, we bought with cash from his pocket, on the spot via someone going to a local store, a projector for documents, an “opaque projector” which used to be great, clunky things. But now with the displays separated from the imaging with a video camera, so you just have an easel—an ELMO. You have something that views the easel. People want to present something; they bring it along and they raise their hand. They're recognized. They go up and put it on the easel, on this little thing, and then the picture is on the screen, so everybody can see what that person has brought to the meeting in the form of copies or a copy of a document, or something that they've just that moment done—an equation or a chart and so on. So, these things change over the decades.
And you've got to talk about what we're doing now, and if you're interested in how it happened—well, that’s not what we're talking about here, but that’s what we do now. And yeah, there are limits on what you can bring into—we only have, in La Jolla, three—now we have four—meeting rooms. So that’s the number of meetings that can happen at the same time. Except people can get together in their offices typically with as many as three, four, five people standing up, chatting, using a blackboard or looking now on a computer screen, and so on.
But yes, so it’s a—we don’t know enough really about one another aside from the work we do, the JASON studies, together. So, a lot of what Ken has been telling you, I didn't know. A lot of the tricks that people know and use in their studies. I don’t mean the fancy WKB approximations or something, solving integral—differential equations. I mean how they make notes and file things and conduct an efficient operation. We don’t share that, in my opinion, sufficiently. But we are what we are, and we try to improve.
Dick, as you say, the constitutions were never overly rigid. But I wonder if there were certain procedural questions that needed to be worked out.
No, nobody has read the constitutions, so the answer is they had no effect.
Were there procedural questions, for example like the ways in which JASON members could and could not interact with the media? Were things like that spelled out, or were people using their own best judgment?
That’s not in the constitutions. That’s in bylaws and what people say, and whatnot. And you know, we've had a couple of problems with members who have been fired as a result or retired. And some of them fired twice (laughter). Because they go outside and they appeal to things that were already settled within JASON, about the JASON internal operation.
I think that’s an important part of what Ken was saying. Again, it has a certain scale size. So, you have, over limited parts of a year, you have very intense personal interactions on technical matters. And Dick is absolutely right; we've had a few cases where there were just non-recoverable animosities that had to be managed, to secure the institution.
What about more existential questions? Not procedural questions, but questions about where the line between an advisory role and an advocacy role is. In other words, were there documents or was there a general understanding that there were certain places that JASON would not go, as they related to the budget, as they related to political events and things like that? How did JASON as a group deal with these kinds of questions?
We don’t do it (laughter). We are a technical organization. We respond to the people who have asked us for advice. Especially in recent years, it has always been the case that the report that we write belongs to the people who have paid for it. And without referring to those reports, we can do things individually. If you do it too effectively or too fully, then people who don’t pay much attention to the details of what you're doing and how you're not using the information you got from JASON may decide to attack JASON as a result. So, the JASON management, that is our head of the steering committee or the—who’s the JASON lead? What do we call that?
Well, the chair of the steering committee.
The chair of the steering committee, or the vice chair of the steering committee. Or the membership committee may talk to a JASON and say, “Look, what you're doing is imperiling the organization. Can you modify that or be more gentle?” Or something. “Or clearly distance yourself from the information you get from JASON.” But mostly people do that well enough so that they don’t need to vet that information.
We were small enough that we had understandings about what we could do—generally, it worked pretty well: our understandings of what our limits were, and what we could do, I think. We had remarkably few difficulties over such questions of advocacy. And as you said, we're a technical organization who reviewed and made recommendations mostly on technical questions, nothing on political questions or advocacy.
That is the center of the bylaws. We do technical studies, sponsored by the U.S. government. Sometimes we'll even bring in an outside expert or something, not a member, to add to the experience. But I guess the key point, another point that is taken very seriously, is people not involved in the study also perform peer review on the reports that are being done. And they take that job pretty seriously, during the final preparations of a written report that gets submitted to the government.
And the Vietnam era stretched this a bit. There was another East Coast group studying Vietnam, and we wrote joint reports a time or two, as I recall. I personally did not like the involvement with Vietnam; I did not see it primarily as involving technical questions. Murray Gell-Mann used to call our work on Vietnam “globaloney.” And I did not feel I was technically qualified for this, so I stayed out. I didn't even get the clearances for that. It was not an objection; it was just simply I didn't think it met my technical ability to get involved. It wasn’t a criticism of the others who did. But we had a lot of outside people. We had a French journalist, Bernard Falk or something like that, with us for a summer study.
Did JASON formalize any processes to track how well the advice it gave in the form of its reports to the U.S. government were implemented?
Well, because it’s not technical. And it’s not dependent on what we do. We don’t know how to write better. Anyhow, the person whose name I was—who was in Rumsfeld’s office for that telephone call was Pete Aldridge. He was head of a large number of things in the Defense Department, including for a while—let’s see, what did they call it—but anyhow, he was the one who took over sponsorship of JASON. [RFS detail: Under Aldridge, was Ron Sega, Assistant Secretary for Defense Research and Engineering, outranking Tether. Sega took on responsibility for JASON.]
Dick, this is to say that JASON organizationally was aloof from the entire policy process, once the advice was submitted.
Aloof sounds sort of negative to me, but we were not involved, no (laughter). And we did not track it. Maybe aloof, but I would prefer a less pejorative word.
Yeah, but the way we say it now, at least in the words, is the sponsor owns the report. But we try to encourage the broadest distribution possible. And sometimes the sponsors do that very well, and sometimes it doesn't see the light of day.
So, this is to say that the way that JASON might define success has nothing to do with whether or not the advice it gives is implemented.
I'll let them speak. I've gotta say, one of the things that I find most satisfying is that we have long-time relationships with some sponsors. If new ideas come out, and these people will keep coming back, and they're iterative and have new ideas, and I'll take the positive side of that one. It’s very rewarding.
Ken or Dick, would you like to comment on that question?
I've been out of JASON for quite a while now.
The way that Roy defined success in his response, does that strike you as that’s how it started for JASON?
Everything is a little bit more complex in that you get to know people, your sponsors, personally. You talk to them informally as well as formally. And so, this question of follow-up and so forth, I think it—it works because it works often (laughter).
I think for the last portion of our talk today, let’s talk about the transition into the Kennedy Administration. We can pick up with this question next week, but just to start that conversation, to what extent is a change in presidential administration, is that felt, within JASON?
It didn't used to be, no.
Not much, not much.
Even for an administration that denies science (laughter) like the most recent one, it doesn't make much difference. Of course, at the end here, they put their own people into the Defense Department, and they may have begun to purge everything except, I don’t know, the food supplier or something.
Even the funding of science didn’t change in this administration very much.
Okay. Well, we'll pick it up. Perhaps next week, we will get into the 1960s and the work that JASON did during the Vietnam era.
If you could send the topics in advance, that would be helpful.
That’s probably a good idea, so we can prepare a bit for it.
All right, thank you. Goodbye.
[End of Origins of JASON Roundtable 1]
[Start of Origins of JASON Roundtable II]
This is David Zierler, oral historian for the American Institute of Physics. It is February 6, 2021. I'm so happy to be back for round two of our discussion on the origins of JASON with Kenneth Watson, Dick Garwin, Roy Schwitters, and Curt Callan, who should be joining us shortly. What I’d like to do today, to get started is, for our first session, we set the stage for the origins of JASON. And now that we're in the Kennedy administration, JASON is entering into its early maturity, and it’s starting to take on advisory work in a regular capacity. And so, I’d like to ask Dick and Ken specifically, sort of an overall structural question, which is, was there an overall structure by which JASON would take on particular advisory projects? Or was it from the beginning always an ad hoc procedure regarding where ideas came from, how they would be approved for study, and what the mechanisms were for studying them?
My view is it was pretty much ad hoc. That we of course got suggestions from ARPA, DARPA, and so forth, but at our winter study, at our meetings during the year, we discussed what we thought was interesting. But the JASON people had their own suggestions, I think. So, by consensus—the steering committee made the final decisions, but with much discussion. We were pretty open talking to each other. We got to know each other pretty well.
So, by consensus, it was really an informal operation. There wasn’t an official vote tally or anything like that, about what to study.
As I indicated, I wasn’t a member until 1966, and so I really don’t know about that. However, I did meet with JASON during the summer studies to provide what information I had. I did have Murph Goldberger particularly as a close friend, one of the organizers. But I can’t tell you whether there was a steering committee or a formal consideration of what should be studied, or if it was just reactive. We’d have to rely on Ken for that.
I think the steering committee informed ARPA what we were undertaking, but the steering committee made a decision with much discussion of the JASON members. We were not all that formal. We were mostly equals who knew each other professionally anyway. And we tended to choose things I think we found interesting, often.
Let’s get started with the specific studies. So ,as I understand, the first major advisory study that JASON did was the summer study in 1962 of laser ABM. Ken, is that your recollection as well, that that was the first significant study that JASON took on?
I don’t remember. There was that, and also the particle beam ABM. I think we spent more time on the particle beam, maybe, than the laser study. The particle beam had very interesting physics in it, maybe more than the laser: ionization chemistry, plasma physics, hydrodynamic stability, etc.
Well, let’s start with the laser ABM summer study. So where, in your recollection, where did that idea first come from? Who proposed to study laser ABM?
I think we had heard briefings. I remember briefings from the Air Force, in which there were a number of Air Force contract people who were very enthusiastic and pushing it very hard.
Do you recall some of the principal conclusions of the study? What JASON advised?
I don’t. I don’t think we were very enthusiastic about it (laughter) in the end. There was always a question of a laser with enough power. You load a big laser on an airplane, and the plane would just be able to take off. And there were questions of propagation in the atmosphere also.
How far along did the concept of laser ABMs go?
I think it was resurrected at least by the Air Force, occasionally. I don’t remember much enthusiasm from Jason. As I said, the particle beam was interesting to us. Partly, because Nick Christofilos pushed it vigorously. His interest in plasma physics was (laughter) part of this.
Yeah. There were all the problems of thermal blooming or whatever. You have a powerful laser beam generated in the atmosphere, and it heats the atmosphere, and so diverges. So, there are all those problems for the laser approach.
Anyhow, let me just read you the first few studies. So ,1960, Scattering of Radio Waves by Electrons above the Ionosphere. And that was Ed Salpeter. And then there’s the Infrared Radiation from the Atmosphere Resulting from High Altitudes—nuclear tests. That’s Sid Drell and Mal Ruderman and others. And then there was from 1961—more 1961 studies—Theory of Artificial Satellites in terms of Orbital—something-or-other. And then Plasma Density Fluctuations in a Magnetic fFeld. Detection of Nuclear Explosions, Dick Latter. And Electromagnetic wake following a pulse of charged particles, and Stability of a relativistic beam in a plasma. And Radar detection by free electron scattering. And Radar Interferometer, Nick Christofilos. And Determination of radar target size by interferometry, Murph Goldberger and others. And Norman Kroll, Appendix: single pulse size determination, and things like that. So, I mean, they were technical things. The point is really mostly I never knew what happened with these studies. I think Ken had more extensive and informal connections in the industry and RAND and things like that. I was too busy doing other things. And then there was Reentry Effects at High Altitudes, Francis Low. And HGT, Hanbury Brown Twiss Primer. Murph Goldberger, Hal Lewis and others.
Dick Latter and I wrote a review article on the high-altitude tests, essentially testing from space, weapons, at that time. I actually spent a summer in Geneva. Panofsky was the leader of our group, and we were given some kind of diplomatic status to negotiate directly with the Russians.
Ken, what would have been some of the military applications of particle beam weapons? How might that have actually played out on the battlefield?
Well, first the mechanism is that you bore a hole in the atmosphere with it. That you heat the atmosphere, the density goes down, and the beam can penetrate. And the beam is strong enough just to be lethal. A very intense beam that would destroy a missile.
So, the atmosphere is about two billion electron volts of energy loss for a singly charged particle going through the atmosphere, the undisturbed atmosphere. And at the height at which airplanes fly—but you couldn't put these things on airplanes—it would be a third of that. So, you can’t afford either to lose that energy or to have the scattering induced by the atmosphere. So, it’s a complicated thing, but the beam—the whole idea is that the beam could go so far and make—expand the atmosphere by the thermal expansion. And then the next pulse, it would go farther, or maybe later in that pulse. But it has all kinds of instabilities as a result. And those are just wonderful for theorists to look at, to have a lot of fun.
Yes, we spent a lot of time on that. The questions of stability. And of course we just called it boring a hole in the atmosphere. But as you say, there was a lot of possible work (laughter) of interest. And I think Nick kept that going.
Did JASON consider some of the environmental or atmospheric events if this was a feasible technology to pursue?
You mean the particle beam?
I don’t think there are any long-term atmospheric effects. Essentially, you heat the atmosphere locally, the beam goes through, and then the atmosphere returns. I don’t remember any environmental effects were considered interesting.
Was JASON considering particle beams on a hypothetical level, or was the technology there, where this could be pursued if there was the support?
Well, I think the technology was pretty close. There was a question of the technology of accelerators. I don’t think they had been built with the required intensity—but I don’t think this was considered so much of a problem. The problems were really stability of the hole, and would the beam be deflected—was it essentially a stable thing? That the beam bores a hole, and then destroys a missle. Several papers on beam-plasma-atmosphere stability were published in the open literature by Jason members at this time.
And there are all kinds of things that come up after you say it’s possible in principle, if you do that, and I'm familiar with a lot of them in the semiconductor information technology industry. But you can see some of them in the current pandemic vaccine programs, where you solve the big problem, or what looked like the big problem of developing a vaccine and testing it, and then you're faced with the practical problems of administering it and whatnot. And so any of those could have killed it. And there are other things, simple problems of bending the beam, because you've got to point in different directions from a fixed source. And the different energy particles in the beam bend differently. And so that’s a minor point, but (laughter) it’s a major problem to achromatize this or whatever, if that’s what you're going to do. And you want also to not have the beam chrome or made parallel in the new direction and expand in size, for instance, not diverging in size, for instance.
The particle accelerator emits them all in a narrow energy range. This question of theory and practicality in physics is often not clear cut. I think fusion reactors are an excellent example of the difference between knowing how to do it in principle (laughter) and the actual building of them.
What were JASON’s conclusions on the feasibility of particle beams? What did it advise?
I don’t know. You can read those things. That has been declassified. And all the declassified ones, I think, are posted by Steve Aftergood. But I don’t have time to read them (laughter).
I think it was considered probably feasible in principle, but whether it was economically, militarily useful or not?
Clearly not useful, because it would be unique and easily destroyed by a single nuclear explosion.
Well, it wouldn't be unique. You would build them all over the country, to defend the country. Particle accelerators were of interest for basic physics of particles and also in the fusion program.
Last time I looked at any of this, we still had an airborne laser, flying around on a 747. A chemical laser which—
There are of course a variety of programs of airborne lasers to shoot down missiles, to find other airplanes and so forth.
Let’s move on. What was JASON’s involvement, if at all, before, during, and in the immediate aftermath of the Cuban Missile Crisis?
Well, the Cuban Missile Crisis was 1962 or so. I was not a member of JASON. I was a member of the President's Science Advisory Committee. I was part of the Land Panel on overhead reconnaissance, and I had clearance for satellite photography as well as for airborne photography. But, you know, we didn't see any of that. That was a war, or potential war, and confined to different channels than the technology for developing and testing such stuff.
So, my own role in the Cuban Missile Crisis really was a couple of meetings with—I'm sorry, his name has slipped my mind, but I know him perfectly well—Leo Szilard. I had dinner with him in New York City, and over dinner we argued about whether the Soviets had nuclear weapons in Cuba, as had been stated by a Republican New York congressman. And I said, “Of course they do, why shouldn't they? They've got nothing to lose.” And Leo said no, they don’t, because—I've recounted this—but we were both wrong. They did have something to lose. Because we forced them to take them out of Cuba. And we did have something to lose. We, as a result, had to take our nuclear weapons out of Italy and Turkey.
But those were due to be taken out anyway, as I recall.
Well, there are all kinds of stories told about that including the denial by the Gang of Four in their New York Times Magazine publication that there had been no deal. They went to their deaths, all four of them, maintaining that. And I complained to President Kennedy’s National Security Advisor whom I knew very well, who was then head of the Ford Foundation, that they hadn’t told the straight story (laughter). Didn't do me any good.
Ken, was your recollection—was JASON involved in advisory work regarding the Cuban Missile Crisis at all, on an advisory or institutional level?
I think that was too short of—that happened in too short a time for JASON to respond. JASON I don’t think undertook, new programs except through the summer, beginning in the summer. They may continue, but I don’t think JASON did any sudden studies.
What about in the aftermath, in terms of lessons learned? Was there any work for JASON to do there, lessons learned from the Cuban Missile Crisis?
I don’t think as JASON, no.
Let’s move on to the development of ballistic missile early warning systems. What was JASON’s involvement in that?
Well, that would continue through much of JASON’s history (laughter), particularly through an ARPA panel that many of us were on. I was chairman of that for a while. Bell Labs was a leading proponent of this, and they developed I think the most elaborate systems. And JASON’s role really in this was largely to say, “It’s not economically feasible. It will not work. It’s not cost-benefit.” And so forth.
So, JASON’s role was largely to tamp down the proposals to deploy. There were many proposals to deploy. And of course, this program was useful for the country in the sense that it developed a lot of radar technology, signal processing, and computers. It was a huge program and continued for years. And we were asked repeatedly to review specific proposals of contractors. The most persistent was from Bell Laboratories.
So, there was an argument about whether or not the system was feasible, whether it would work.
No, no, no. We did technical work, or JASON did technical work. So, in 1962, the JASON reports were Some considerations relating to active defense by Ben Alexander and Ken Watson. Electron attachment by additives in hot air. So that’s to reduce the visibility—radar visibility of things. Anomalous Radar Absorption cross-sections, Ken Case and Ed Treiman. Experimental test of a radar interferometer, Val Fitch, Leon Lederman. S. Courtenay Wright. Proposed system to detect launching of long-range missiles, Sid Drell, Foley, and Ruderman. That was infrared, I believe. And so that was 1962. And then JASON visiting group, Walter Munk, Val Fitch, Don Glaser, Bob Gomer, Henry Kendall, Matt Sands, David Katcher, Dick Garwin, Wetzstein, and Christofilos. And Memo to Ken Watson re hydrodynamic computation by somebody Hayes. These are all 1962. And Comparative usefulness of ABM systems by H. Hall and R. LeLevier I don’t remember who else. R. LeLevier is. And Microwave breakdown, Norman Kroll. And A note on the utility of the Mura beam for instability studies, Hal Lewis. And Two-stream instability in finite beams, Ed Frieman, Murph Goldberger, Ken Watson, Steve Weinberg, and Marshall Rosenbluth. And Appendix on: single pulse size determination, Norman Kroll. Only one more in ’62—Comparison of several popular forms of ballistic missile defense, Biberman. So that’s what was done in 1962. So, it wasn’t a matter of advising what’s the best; it was technical work.
And mostly it was largely in the end we—our advice was that it was not economically cost-effective and would not work well enough to make it worth deploying.
In ’63, there were Anomalous Radar Absorption cross-sections, Ken Case and Ed Frieman, and Report of IDA laser summer study with Keith Brueckner, Drell, Watson, Peterson and Townes, in two volumes. And Qualitative scaling law for laser beam interaction, Keith Brueckner. And Note on the Acoustic Signal, Hal Lewis. That’s probably from ballistic missile launch, which is still important.
Ken, it’s interesting that you note that JASON commented on the economic feasibility of ballistic missile early warning systems. That that would be JASON’s purview to comment on economic considerations.
Well, if it costs you $100 to destroy a $1 missile (laughter), they can out build you. Say you have a 50% chance of kill, there’s a chance of their building more, and whether your defense will—they can keep building attack and we can keep building defense, and does the cost run out of control, and then they just spend—for half the money, they can beat you for a half or a third of the money you spend, by building more. And if you build more, you run yourself in the hole economically. The economics are a very important tradeoff.
Besides the contractors, who of course would be boosters for these programs, who in the government really supported the concept of a ballistic missile early warning system? Either in the administration or Congress, what names might stick out in your memory as some of the major political boosters of this program?
Only random remembrance, but there were all kinds of people, important people. Because everybody wants to be defended, and why not? So, we have to find out whether it’s possible, and what the implications are. So, in 1963, we did a lot of that. So, in 1963, Note on the Acoustic Signal, that was Hal Lewis. Method of optical discrimination, David Caldwell. Instability of an intense optical beam, Keith Brueckner. And others including Ken. Instability—no, Critique of a novel submarine detection system, Henry Kendall. That’s another piece of work. Analysis of radar observations on a Mark-VI reentry vehicle, Sam Treiman, Ed Salpeter, Courtenay Wright. Long-Range Acoustic Propagation in the Atmosphere, Hayes. Backscatter of electromagnetic radiation from a turbulent—whatever—Treiman, Salpeter. Hard point defense by high velocity gunfire, Henry Foley, Blankenbeckler, Sessler. And Radar analysis of wakes by interferometer techniques, Sam Treiman, Steve Weinberg. Anomalous Radar Absorption cross-sections, Ken Case, Ed Frieman. Ultraviolet detection systems, Caldwell. A possible method of detecting missile launchers, David Caldwell. And Some comments on the White Sands interferometry experiment, Zachariasen, Blankenbeckler, Low. And City defenses and the dynamics of warfare, Tom Schelling. Radiation escape from a high-altitude fireball, Keith Brueckner. And Doctrines of interceptor use, Keith Brueckner.
So, you know, JASON did its best. And JASON was not involved in battling for, against, or anything like that. And Ken Watson in ’63 wrote a memo to Brueckner, Montroll, and Kroll—Note on the interaction of—something. Notes on the strategic implications of missile defense, Murray Gell-Mann, a big picture person. Bob Gomer. Bill Nierenberg, Tom Schelling, Pete Scoville, and T. Wolfe. And Penetration of an intense optical beam through the atmosphere, again, Keith Brueckner in 1963. Those are the 1963 topics and communications.
Was JASON involved in preparations running up to the Limited Test Ban Treaty in August 1963?
Not so much, no. I was. I was, in 1958, on some U.S. negotiating team with the United Nations for six weeks in Geneva. And I met a lot of the people from RAND Corporation at the time. So that was pre-JASON. But no, we became, if not friends, at least colleagues, as a result. Dick Latter, Al Latter, and other people from RAND.
I was involved with the high-altitude test ban. I think I said I spent a summer in Geneva. But that was not through JASON. I had a one third appointment each year at the Lawrence Berkeley Lab. And it was through that, the AEC asked me to do that. AEC or whatever the name.
And I worked closely with Hans Bethe on PSAC in its preparations for the limited test ban, 1963. In fact, we had a PSAC meeting called to meet specially to advise the president on the Limited Test Ban Treaty. I remember, because I had to return a day early from Paris. The White House paid for the change of ticket, but my wife had to stay in Paris another day for our regular departure. But I was involved a lot in the underground testing with the Latters’ (brothers Albert and Richard) big hole decoupling concept that Hans Bethe at first did not believe, but then when he did the analysis he supported. And all the preparation and implications of those activities. And in discussion with the Russians about them, with the Soviets about them.
When did JASON start to look at the effects of large nuclear explosions? When did that start?
Well, I found a report on it, of large nuclear explosions in the atmosphere. And I think I mentioned it already. I'll find it again. But let me tell you what’s happening in 1964. In 1964, we had ad hoc Experimental Payloads for Titan III Test Launches. Imaging Tubes. David Caldwell. Comments on IDA optical discrimination meeting, Caldwell. Chopped beam instability growth rates, Keith Brueckner. Heating of air by nuclear radiation, Keith Brueckner. Beam chopping, Brueckner. Beam experiments, Brueckner. Earth Cavity Detection, Bill Nierenberg. Human smog as an ambush detector, Hal Lewis. Decoy numbers for defense system penetration, Keith Brueckner. Seismic decoupling, a letter to Robert Frosch, Hal Lewis, Sam Treiman. Nuclear interference, Keith Brueckner. Notes on underwater problems, Hugh Bradner. The inventor of the wet suit, really. Detonation of mines by RF energy—radio frequency energy—Leon Lederman. Considerations of missile vulnerability and penetration. Muench. Comments on boron filament development, Bernd Mathias, Bob Gomer—our chemists. Lethal radii versus weight, Muench. Comments on self-trapping in the generation and transmission—Charlie Townes. Analytic theory of maximum reentry conditions, Keith Brueckner. Further results on maximum reentry conditions, Brueckner. Further Comments on Boron Filament Development, Bob Gomer. The Game, Keith Brueckner. Better Sausage (unchopped), Hal Lewis. That’s instabilities. Viscosity in seismic decoupling, Hal Lewis, Sam Treiman. Excitation of—so those are decoupling of underground nuclear explosions—Excitation of hypersonic vibration, by means of—electrostatic something or other, Norman Kroll. In ’63 actually—Note on acoustic waves accompanying missile launch, Ken Case, Ed Frieman. Multiple scattering in the diffusion approximation, Sam Treiman, Ed Salpeter. The hose instability dispersion relation, Weinberg. Atmospheric Penetration by a Laser Beam, Brueckner. That’s again 1964. Anyhow, so still working on particle beams and laser beam defenses, because there were some people pushing them.
We should note that some fraction of JASON worked in black programs which don’t show. Allan Peterson was our first non-physicist: an electrical engineer at Stanford. He was active, but I don’t think he did anything but black programs.
There are many detailed things. For instance, going back to 1964, BASSOON, which was a Nick Christofilos thing—when was BASSOON again, Ken?
It began in Project 137, and it developed, as discussed earlier, a number of us went to Endicott House at MIT to discuss forming an organization. Here Nick talked about that. Val Fitch and I wrote a little paper on this, saying we thought it looked feasible enough to be worth studying.
Okay, then in ’64, related to Vietnam, we had Night vision for counterinsurgents, Caldwell. Image intensifiers for missile observations, Dave Caldwell. Water waves from large nuclear explosions, Fred Zachariasen. Time correlation for wake radar return, Salpeter and Treiman. E.M. Pulses from high-altitude nuclear explosions, Branscomb, LeLevier. Preliminary thoughts on a space fleet, Christofilos. That was ’64.
Appendix to C-3 to S-166—I don’t know what that—Ken Watson and Joel Bengston. A comparison of neutron and gamma-ray energy deposition, Joel Bengston, Cook, and Sharp. Direct generation by intense radiation of current within—something or other, Andy Sessler. The Electromagnetic fields generator, Bob LeLevier, Hal Lewis, Ken Watson. A comment on future weapons systems, Jack Ruina. That’s 1964. Drag and propulsion of large satellites in the ionosphere. Drell and then—Foley, Ruderman and Drell. So that’s space, the propulsion engine, 1964. Working paper on internal warfare, Bill Nierenberg, Murray Gell-Mann, Bob Gomer, Katcher, Kendall, Lederman, Lewis, Matthias, and others. So that’s getting into Vietnam stuff.
Topics related to missile penetration, report of the IDA—something or other. Adelman, Bengston, Branscomb, Brueckner, LeLevier, Peterson, Sessler. And Excerpt from BASSOON. The below-commitment B-C penetrating tactic, Blankenbecler and Cook. And that’s various approaches to missile penetration in the presence of defense. And more of those in ’64. Comments on research and development, Bengston et cetera. Chemical discrimination in midcourse, Brueckner. Note on spatial correlation effects, radar return, Salpeter and Treiman. A Letter to Peter Auer on Beam Stability Experiments, Christofilos. Whistlers as a launch base early warning system—Fred Zachariasen, Cook, Sharp. And Estimated number of multipaths from a stochastic surface, Jack Martin in ’65. So that’s I guess antisubmarine warfare. And Some aspects of hypersonic air flow over cones, Ken Watson, Steve Weinberg, about high-velocity reentry vehicles. And Breakdown near a conical re-entry body, Goldberger, Treiman, Watson, Case. And Birdnesting control. That’s Blankenbecler and Cook, for dispensing of chaff, in the atmosphere. No, in space. Stimulated raman effect in the atmosphere, Kroll. And Excitation of hypersonic vibration by means of photoelastic coupling of high-intensity light waves. Kroll. So that’s anti-submarine warfare. And Sea surface acoustic reverberation theory, Jack Martin and others. Anyhow, so that’s more antisubmarine warfare and stuff like that.
That’s a good segue into JASON’s work with regard to Vietnam. So, let’s start first with the McNamara line, the electronic barrier. What was JASON’s initial work on this?
Well, JASON had a long preliminary period of hearing briefings. I think Murray Gell-Mann brought a French correspondent, Bernard for a summer study. So, we had considerable preparation before we did other than just got briefings on it. I do remember that Murray introduced the term “globaloney” for the JASON activities in this (laughter).
Well, I was much involved in the President's Science Advisory Committee. We even had a Vietnam panel. And a Military Aircraft Panel and Naval Warfare Panels were also involved. We had people over from the National Security Council and talked with them about what they knew and wanted. There was a lot of happy talk, and little institutional memory. So PSAC tried to be that for the National Security Council, especially in view of the fact that we had Spurgeon Keeny, who was both staff to PSAC and in the Office of Science and Technology, and also staff to the National Security Council. So, he served as a good go-between. So, there was a lot of that. And I briefed JASON in summer studies a few times. And then as indicated in that Sy Deitchman comment to Ann Finkbeiner, the author of the 2006 book, The JASONS, in 1966 to try to bring JASON up to date on what we were doing with PSAC regarding Vietnam.
And by 1966, you were part of JASON?
I don’t remember when I became a member. I think it was probably before the summer study, but I'm not sure. I could look it up, but it’s probably on microfiche. But in ’66, now—so here were the JASON reports. Relaxation processes in gas streams, Steve Weinberg. Note on beam instabilities. Hose Results. Tactical nuclear weapons in Southeast Asia, Bob Gomer, Steve Weinberg, Courtenay Wright, Freeman Dyson. Time and Frequency Characteristics of an Acoustic Signal, Jack Martin. Singular Solution of Certain Integral Equations, Ken Case. That’s probably antisubmarine warfare. General Theory of Resistive Bean Instabilities, back to particle beams. Acoustic Reverberation at the Sea Surface. That’s Jack Martin. Interdiction of Trucks from the Air at Night, by David Caldwell.
And then ’67, Use of Optics in Hard-Point Defense. Explosively Produced Fletchettes. And Air-sown Mines for the Massive Barrier, Val Fitch, Leon Lederman. Manned Barrier Systems: A Preliminary Study, Charlie Lauritsen, Matt Sands, Tommy Lauritsen. So, there was JASON East in 1966, and it got the name JASON East so that IDA could manage it more effectively via a single funder grant. But there was not all that much—maybe Ken remembers—interaction between JASON East and West. I think I was the main point of contact.
Air-Supported Anti-Infiltration Barrier, that’s still 1966, by Deitchman, Val Fitch, Murray Gell-Mann, Henry Kendall, Leon Lederman, Harris Mayer, Bill Nierenberg, Zachariasen, George Zweig, David Caldwell Roger Dashen Murph Goldberger, Gordon MacDonald, Hal Lewis, R. Blankenbecler; And Blackout system implications, Muench and Ben Alexander, Joel Bengston, Branscomb, Brueckner, Delany, Freedman, Hebel, Hendricks, Ise, LeLevier. And Tactical Nuclear Weapons in Southeast Asia, ’66, Bob Gomer, Weinberg, Wright, and Dyson. Opacity of the Upper Atmosphere at 15 Microns—Chamberlain. The Airplow, Steve Weinberg. And I think that could mean two things. There was an airplow for digging up mines, but I think that was much later.
Ground Heating by Thermal Pulse, Hal Lewis. Addendum to Research Paper, Bassoon IV and so on. And then I'm into 1967. IDA/JASON BMD Discrimination Study, JASON Laser Summer Study. Hard Point Defense. So, the Thailand Study Group - JASON Summer Study, 1967—so the deployment of the air-supported barrier was kind of February 1968, and was the result of a decision that McNamara made in the Fall of 1966. So, a number of JASONs, including Gordon MacDonald and so on were involved in that meeting with McNamara. And what we wanted was joint full-time military civilian scientists and operational people to study the feasibility of the air-supported barrier. But McNamara instead made the decision to deploy, to proceed, and to give the job to the defense communication agency under a code name Defense Communication Planning Group.
And so, I was involved with Gordon MacDonald very closely in our monthly PSAC meetings, and the panel meetings of various things PSAC, but not so much with JASON, the involvement of which was confined to summer studies, as far as I was concerned. That’s all I want to say at the moment.
So, there was a 1973 report, The Bombing of North Vietnam, Volumes I to IV, G. MacDonald L. Blair C. Fritz J. Ponturo P. Schwietzer M. Gell-Mann M. Goldberger G. Kistiakowsky H. Lewis E. Wilson A. Yarmolinsky.
Can you jump in on a JASON sociological question? I guess I'm not really familiar with this period of JASON East and JASON West and so on. And I just wonder, Ken, can you illuminate that? At some point, the summer studies certainly went to La Jolla.
Let me answer that first. And then we'll hear from Ken. JASON East was a totally different thing. It was self-organized by the Cambridge River crowd, at MIT, and Harvard people. So, they were used to doing summer studies. And so they were saying, “Well, we can build a barrier across the demilitarized zone” and so on. So that’s what they were fixed on. That’s the only thing they were doing. And they were politically very well connected and got funding from IDA. But then IDA decided to call them JASON East. That’s their only relation to JASON that I know of.
They actually were meeting before they were involved with JASON at all. That was an independent study, wasn’t it, almost every summer?
I'm sorry. I didn't understand the words.
They had summer studies for years, I understood.
Oh, yes, they would have summer studies, the first of which I think was on antisubmarine warfare in the 1950s. And so, they perfected the art of summer studies. I participated in a yearlong summer study called—anyhow, it was for extending the air defense of the United States and Canada from the barriers across Canada to the sea lines of approach of Soviet nuclear-armed bombers. That was sort of the first thing I did in IBM. And I spent half my time Tuesday through Thursday working on that in the Cambridge hinterlands and met a lot of wonderful people. And my first interaction beyond nuclear weapons with national security programs of the United States. But it was from the summer study experience which was by then quite mature.
Ken, the JASON report of August 1966 made specific tactical and strategic analyses about the extent to which the U.S. bombing campaign of North Vietnam was effective in stopping North Vietnam’s ability to launch incursions into the South. My question is, what was JASON telling either the secretary of defense or the joint chiefs of staff, that they didn't already know?
Well, they just didn't believe it, what they learned. It’s like the lack of intelligence on the January 6th assault on the Congress. There was a lot of information, but it was just so far from people’s understanding that they put it out of their mind. So, there were all kinds of reports from Vietnam on counting dead Viet Cong, VCs, and so on. And the metric—McNamara was a big believer in metrics and whatnot, and so they served up metrics that satisfied them. And the National Security Council, although had a lot of intelligent people, it was sort of far from their ken—pardon me, word—but their knowledge (laughter) as well.
So, we had them over. We tried to talk with these people. In 1965, my Military Aircraft Panel had the assistant secretaries of each of the services in and asked them what they most needed in Vietnam. And they told us, but they were impeded from getting any of these things, because McNamara, for budgetary reasons, had made the decision that there would be no research and development done in support of Vietnam, because the war, for planning purposes, would end next July 1st whatever—whatever the year was. It would end the next July 1st. So, there was nothing you could do on time.
And we had all kinds of things which would have been very useful, which had we had—Paul Horowitz—would have been implemented immediately in five copies and sent over to Vietnam and proved its worth. But we decided ourselves and so on, an answer to these expressed needs. But they just didn't believe what was going on. I remember, for instance, I went with my secretary—executive secretary of the Military Aircraft Panel—to talk with the Chief of Staff of the Air Force, during Vietnam. And I said to him, “Do you know how many of your bombs are deploying within 100 feet of the target?” And he said, “Well, 70%” or something like that. I said, “Half of them, we have no idea where they land. The other half land within 700 feet of the target. And the only ones that fall within 100 feet of the target are the ones that are directed by the bomb-laying radar left over from World War II, and operated out of Thailand, to oversee the command dropping and level bombs on targets.”
And so how are you going to get the appropriate investment for development when people believe the wrong thing? So my message to him was, “Look, you've got to have this Global Positioning System to guide the bombs right to the target. And you've got to implement a separated reconnaissance versus strike system.” They were pushing for reconnaissance/strike jet aircraft instead of the Navy on the Ho Chi Minh Trail in Laos, and also to deliver some munitions. So, what were we telling them that they didn't know? What they weren’t told, and people who told them were often selected for not knowing.
I complained to one of the generals, a very capable person, whose name you’d recognize if I remember his name—I said, “Look, my PSAC panels get these people who come over and they waste our time.” And he said, “Well, they're doing their job, Dick. You don’t understand. The purpose of a military briefing is not to convey information. It’s to fill time.” (Laughter) And so we got them to deliver the day ahead, their briefing charts, in 18, 20 hard copies or whatever, so we could all look through it simultaneously, and say, “Thank you very much. Now let’s discuss this.” And then they stopped sending people who knew—who knew anything. Only people who knew the party line.
But eventually, we got more knowledgeable liaisons in people to be almost full time in support of our panels. And one of them was Zumwalt. Time with our—I forget whether it was—but I think it was the Naval Warfare Panel. And from there, he was selected to head the Brown Water Navy in Vietnam, and from there he was appointed Chief of Staff, CNO—Chief of Naval Operations, which is the name for the Navy Chief of Staff. And so, he wrote me a note. I congratulated him and he said, “Well, thanks, Dick. I'm off and running on Captor mines, and cruise missiles.” They had been pet programs of the Naval Warfare Panel that I had led for some 16 years. So that was my involvement, but that informed JASON, too.
As Roy called it, another sociological kind of question—when JASON decided to propose two alternative barriers to prevent NVA infiltration, is this to suggest that most JASON members at the time believed that the war was winnable?
No. No, no, no. Nobody believed the war was winnable. But why do you say two alternative barriers? What were they?
No, no, no, not alternative barriers; two barriers. One, and then the other.
What were they?
The coastal barrier that would go inland from the demilitarized zone—
No, no. JASON had nothing to do with that. That was JASON East. It was just the name was given to them. JASON itself had nothing to do with JASON East. We did not believe in that. Obviously, you could prevent infiltration, but that wouldn't help, so we needed to have the air-supported barrier in Laos, because we were not allowed to put boots on the ground there. And the laying of ordinance and attacking North Vietnamese people going through Laos was of dubious legality in international law. But all we could do was maybe point that out. We did not propose—JASON had nothing to do with the DMZ, demilitarized zone barrier!
If no one believed the war was winnable, did JASON ever consider putting out a report that stated as much?
How could we do that? There was no way that we could show that the bombing campaign in North Vietnam was not doing a job. And that was largely Gordon MacDonald’s passion. But we supported that. And so, McNamara then shifted the bombing to the panhandle, to the southern portion of North Vietnam, and not to the capital. And so on. So no, we have no credibility on whether the war was winnable, or what the war was! I proposed arming every adult South Vietnamese with a rifle and let them vote that way.
I think a lot of people thought the war wasn’t winnable. On the day that President Johnson made a public announcement that we were going to quit advising and become part of the fighters in the war, I was at a meeting at Otis Air Force Base. We broke for lunch at the Officers Club, and there we heard this. I sat at lunch with Sy Deitchman, and Roland Meyerott of Lockheed, who I knew fairly well. When Johnson said this, Sy Deitchman said, “At the beginning, there will be a lot of enthusiasm in the country, but this war is unwinnable. As the death toll comes and the cost goes up, it’s going to tear the country apart.”
Rollie Meyerott said, “We're ignoring our real problem. The Soviets are the real threat to the United States. This is pretty irrelevant. But it’s going to draw money from it. It’s going to hurt the strategic programs very much.” In fact, at one point, the enrollment in engineering at UCLA fell by a factor of two, because of the lack of funding for the strategic programs. Any rate, both Deitchman and Meyerott were very negative about this and had a good understanding that it was very likely not a war that would be winnable; it would just drag out and become messy.
Do you remember the name of the Lockheed person, Ken?
Okay, thank you
So, he called that pretty well. He said it’s going to devastate the strategic programs financially.
Yeah, there’s a lot of that. Other people, other countries have long-term views of some of these things. And the Soviet Union was not interested in a good future for the United States, so distraction was something that they were in favor of. And we were always looking at Soviet support for North Vietnam as if it were supporting the activity in Vietnam. But it was really, as you say, for this other purpose. It was for diverting the United States and causing internal disruption, if they understood that. Just as—no, I don’t want to take us too far afield here.
JASONs had a lot of harassments at home due to protests, as I recall, during Vietnam.
What was JASON’s involvement around considerations for using tactical nuclear weapons in Vietnam?
I was not involved with that. But I think JASON got blamed for recommending it, because for some reason or other, there was a press release that JASON was recommending tactical weapons. But there certainly was no recommendation from JASON for this.
That’s right. Questions come up, and you've got to answer them. So, you have a report that says Evaluation of the Use of Tactical Nuclear Weapons in Vietnam or whatever, and the answer may be, “This is a stupid idea.” But in order to answer that question, you can’t just say it’s a stupid idea. You've got to ask what would be the result and so on. So, I didn't work on that. I think it was before my time.
I know there was a report or two on it. But essentially, it was a detailed analysis that it would not be—
I think you can find it on the Steve Aftergood site. But, you know, you could spend your entire life looking at those things, and I've got other things to do.
I remember one detail was a proposal that nuclear weapons would blow trees down all along the trail, so they would be out in the open. But [laugh] you can plant new trees, you can put barriers up and so forth. There were responses that they could take alternate routes, and so forth.
Another sociological question—given how unpopular the war was, especially because so many of the JASON participants were professors at universities where these things were so controversial, was there anyone in JASON who refused to be a part of any advisory work having to do with Vietnam? Did those kinds of debates ever come up when JASON convened?
Some people resigned.
Well, some people had a very hard time. The ones at Columbia in New York, Columbia University, had real problems. I know Mal Ruderman had a hard time, at home. They were picketed.
Another question like last time about the transition in presidential administrations. Was JASON’s advisory work—was there any tangible difference when the Nixon administration took over? Was JASON called on any more or less as a result?
Well, Nixon fired PSAC because there were too many Democrats on it. I had been on the strategic panel of it [laugh] and of course we got fired along with PSAC itself.
But what about with regard to JASON, which was independent?
No effect, as far as I know.
So, the study on Tactical Nuclear Weapons in Southeast Asia is on the FAS site. It’s study S-266—Dyson, Gomer, Weinberg, and Courtenay Wright. And so, you can read the whole thing there. It was initially Secret. It has I don’t know how many pages. But you can read it there.
Let’s move on to Project Seesaw. Ken, I know you were involved in that. You were listed among the authors. What were the origins of Project Seesaw? Who came up with the idea?
I forget. I remember the name, but I forget. Was that the particle beam?
No. This was drilling tunnels under the continent. Oh yes, yes—particle beams. So you drill tunnels under the continent, and then particle beams could possibly be accelerated and aimed at missiles that were incoming.
Well, I think digging the tunnels were—putting accelerators in tunnels, I think that was done in Geneva, for example, also. I think a tunnel was just a place where the accelerator was out of the way [laugh] of the surface, and not interfering with that valuable surface land.
It looks like Nick Christofilos was the one who was primarily behind this.
I think that’s probably right, because he kept bringing it up and kept it going. There were a lot of technical problems that were fairly interesting, relating to plasma physics, and accelerators.xx
Ken, I think there were also some concerns about the vulnerability of the American electrical grid. Do you recall working on that at all?
I've worked on that a lot. And I gave—there’s a JASON report of 2011, which is also on the Steve Aftergood site, and that’s Severe space weather impact on the electrical grid. And that’s always mixed with the question of space nuclear explosions and the electromagnetic pulse -- EMP, E1 which is a sharp, sort-time electrical pulse from space nuclear explosion, or the E3, that is the one that comes from the expansion of the conducting plasma sphere in space, making a field-free “bubble” in the Earth’s magnetic field, and the heave of that highly conducting plasma sphere upward and along the Earth’s magnetic field lines toward the magnetic equator. And that is the time of the order of seconds to tens of seconds that can be easily protected against. It tends to burn out transformers on the few hundred long-distance extremely high voltage power transmission lines. But all you need to do is to pull the plug, that is to short the transmission line, and it automatically disconnects and protects the transformers. Because what every transmission line is happy to do is survive a short circuit [laugh] and fight again. So this is a big problem, because there are people politically who want to have missile defense and really want to have preemptive destruction of missiles in other countries before they can be launched. And they mix this with the claimed infeasibility of countering electrical grid destruction.
What other work did JASON do regarding novel concepts of nuclear defense? What other ideas were considered in the late 1960s and early 1970s?
Well, you don’t need novel concepts. You just have to decide what your problem is. The argument was, our minutemen are vulnerable because the Soviets have these accurate SS9 missiles with multiple warheads. So, the leader of the defense intellectuals, Ambassador—
When the first Minutemen wing was coming online, IDA or the division of IDA asked me to chair a committee to study the reliability for mutual destruction. And that was on the survivability of any Soviet attack. And we were about—any rate, our conclusion was that under no conceivable way of Soviet attack, were we—with our basing, were we so vulnerable that we could not meet the mutual assured destruction criteria. That committee was an ad hoc committee, but it turned into a permanent ARPA committee.
Yeah, well, so anyhow, the question was, what do you do for this Minuteman vulnerability? And so, this came to a head in the Jimmy Carter Administration. And so that was ’77, when he took office. And they set up some panels or whatever. But JASON was involved in that, and I had been with the Strategic Military Panel, and the Military Aircraft Panel. But if the problem is the vulnerability of—it was then 1,000 or 1,050 minuteman silos—to accurate Soviet missiles. You have point defense of the silos, because the silos are 2,000 pounds per square inch hard, more than 100 atmospheres. And so the attacking nuclear weapon has to get really close in order to explode to damage the silo and the contained missiles. And so it’s easy using specialized machine guns or flechettes or even gravel thrown into the air by buried explosives under heaps of gravel, to prevent the intact nuclear weapon from getting that close. The Air Force and the Army was in charge of our Ballistic Missile Defense, and despite pushing from JASON, but especially from PSAC, to consider single silo defense, the Army would never do that with their enormous resources. The closest they would get is two-silo defense. So they would have—how costly is it to deploy defenses of two silos or three silos or a wing of 50 Minutemen. And that meant that they had to cover the couple of miles between silos rather than the few hundred meters of keep-out range. And so, they never got the right answer, and they did it intentionally. Because they are really less interested in defending the United States against this fictional threat than they are in their programs.
Well, in our study, it was essentially a matter of numerics, taking into account—so the Soviets can kill any Minuteman missile with one missile. Before they were merged, multiple reentry vehicles, it was a matter of the accuracy of the Soviet missiles, and that essentially they could not statistically get all our missiles, and then they wouldn't have any left anyway to attack the country. So, it ended up principally so each silo—the silos are far enough apart that they can get only one missile with—one Minuteman with one missile. And the accuracy of the Soviet weapons were such that they wouldn't have enough to destroy our Minutemen and destroy the country. So that no matter what they did, that they would not come out ahead. That was pretty well-accepted. Our committee was well-accepted. It was turned from an ad hoc committee into a permanent committee. That was the western division of IDA.
There was further analysis by the National Academy Committee on International Security and Arms Control, CISAC, and I wrote much of the Appendix of that report. And it was to see what the Soviet Union could actually do in order to improve their reliability of destruction of Minuteman silos. Because you know, you've got to do a good technical job. And so a large fraction of the unreliability comes in launch failures on the Soviet side, that they know about immediately. And so if—and people had imagined that the Soviets might have a system that would determine where and when their nuclear weapons detonated. In fact, I have a JASON report on that, Bombs That Squeak. It’s an unclassified JASON report, that was really very important. But that's 30 minutes later. But most of the failures come within a minute during the boost phase, and they know immediately, if they care, that they've had a launch failure.
And then the question is, do programs have a reserve missile kept for that purpose? So, you only need the 5%—you don’t need to double the force for reliability. You need to increase it by 5% in order to compensate launch failures that you know about immediately. So there’s a lot of that. But it’s a long story. And very few people are interested in paying that attention. They would rather talk about how we don’t have enough missiles, we don’t have enough budget, and so on. But more missiles and more budget don’t buy more security.
Was JASON involved at all in President Carter’s decision to shelf production of neutron bombs?
No. Neutron bomb, you know, was developed as really the short-range ABM system in the one deployment we had. There was the long-range exoatmospheric nuclear explosion. The idea was to break up large clusters of incoming missiles that you could not discriminate from their penetration aids in space. You know, a thousand kilometers away. So this was a five-megaton thermonuclear explosion, tested underground in Alaska. But the short-range endoatmospheric interceptor on the Sprint missile was two kilotons, one kiloton of fission essentially and one kiloton of fusion, fast-burning fusion deuterium, tritium yield. And that produced largely 14 MeV neutrons that would penetrate well through the atmosphere to a distance of kilometers and destroy a single Soviet nuclear explosion on its way to destroy a Minuteman silo. But we didn't need it. If we wanted to keep it from destroying that silo, we could have done it anyway. So that system was deployed for a few days before the Congress pulled the budget on it, and it was abandoned. Maybe it was deployed for a month or two. Not clear (laughter).
Let’s move on to the detection of submarine movements. What was JASON’s involvement in using airborne sensors for this?
That’s something we can’t talk about much. And it’s something you would like to do. JASON was involved in maintaining the invulnerability of our own strategic submarines, that is, the ones that have the submarine-launched ballistic missiles. And to a lesser extent, I was more trying to detect other people’s submarines, including their ballistic missile launching submarines. You would like to do that. There are many, many ways. The Charles River crowd, from the very beginning, has been involved in that. And JASON had a very good, highly technical effort to look at such things. But I advise that we shouldn't say anything more about that. Sorry.
What about acoustic backscatter? Are we able to talk about that?
In what? I mean, acoustic backscatter from people, or from submarines, or what?
Oh yeah, well, of course that was the crux of World War II antisubmarine warfare. So, ultimately we deployed these very long-range SOSUS systems—sound surveillance, and something or other, the low-frequency something. Anyhow, so those were dedicated arrays that worked in the very low audio, sub-audio range, where the sound propagates across the entire ocean. And people had analog systems, “waterfall” charts and whatnot, to look for submarine noises. And then when you went out to hunt a submarine and to destroy it with a torpedo or a depth charge, you had to locate it closely, because the effective range of these things is measured in feet.
And so that was acoustic backscatter in high frequency range, so that you could get the distance to the submarine, but you could also get the angle in depth and azimuth, in order to find where the submarine was, and to plan launch of your homing torpedo or of the depth charge of which you would need many, in order to destroy the submarine. So, we looked at those things. We looked at means for quieting—the reflection—absorbing or diverting the reflected energy and so on. You'll find reports with that title. Some of them have no doubt been declassified. We were not the leaders in that. Some of the other countries may have done a better job.
For today’s agenda, I think that rounds out the technical questions I had. Let’s finish up today with a discussion more on the sociological side, and how JASON may have changed as it was becoming a more mature organization. My first question there is the extent to which the chairs of JASON really set the tone for the overall organization. So, for example, when Harold Lewis took over from Murph Goldberger in 1966, how significant was that overall, in terms of how JASON operated, the kinds of advisory work that it took on? What would it mean for the chair to switch over?
Well, Murph and Hal had very distinct personalities. There were differences in essentially our meeting conversations. I don’t think it had a great deal to do with the topics we chose. I don’t know. Dick, do you have any opinion?
No. They were very different (laughter).
Did procedures change at all, in terms of the kinds of people that should be brought into JASON, as JASON’s purview expanded?
Yeah. Essentially the field of the people. We were initially physicists. And I'm not on it, but now—Dick will have to comment on it—I think it’s very different people, professionally.
Ken, when did you take over as chair?
Oh, (laughter) I don’t remember the year, no.
Do you remember the circumstances that you were selected?
Yeah. Something happened, and they suddenly needed a new person. I was not very enthusiastic about it, because I was involved then with a small company that we had been—and I was very uneasy about it. And it was Dick who persuaded me to do it (laughter).
So, who was the previous chair, Ken?
Hal, I think.
Hal Lewis? Uh-huh.
There was some kind of a flare-up, some problem or other. I don’t know. I don’t remember it. But nobody wanted to be chair, for a period of—
So, it’s not so different from an academic department, in a sense.
(Laughter) Sometimes, I guess.
Well, you deal with the same sort of people in your department [laugh], because JASON being the academics.
Well, they are the same people! (laughter).
I think that’s a good anal…it’s not an analogy; it’s a fact (laughter).
I was chair for two years of my normal three-year term. And I think there were lots of people who were happy to be a chair following me. [laugh]
And sort of a very broad, overarching question—in what ways did the Vietnam War change JASON’s focus? In other words, JASON starts as a result of the Cold War, and then you have the Vietnam War within the Cold War. So obviously now, you're dealing with two sets of issues that overlap in certain places but have nothing to do with each other in others. I'm curious generally how that affected JASON.
During the Vietnam War, many JASONs suffered very serious problems from protestors. Their families were attacked. And particularly I think the Columbia Physics Department was barricaded, locked—had protestors prevented anybody coming in or out. Had to pass food in for several days through a secret window. (Laughter) But many JASONs had a terrible time. I was in Berkeley. You might think Berkeley was a bad place. In fact, I never had a class interrupted. I stayed away from the Sproul Hall Plaza. And although Teller and I one morning had spray painted in front of our house—I had “Kenneth Watson, War Criminal” and Edward had “Edward Teller, War Criminal” (laughter) painted in our street. But I notified, when I went to work, the AEC security, and they had the Berkeley police—my wife said the Berkeley police came out immediately. But that was the only thing. And I never had a class interrupted and so forth. But I didn't go looking for trouble (laughter).
Roy, I'm curious about your perspective. During these years, you're in graduate school and then postdoc, and then you're a young faculty member. To what extent were you aware of JASON’s activities and what did that mean to you, as a physicist who also had these interests in national security issues?
Well, I was busy doing a lot of other things there, in that period, in my own career, and quite happily engaged. But no, I had good friends, a number of people in JASON, that I knew, right from the get-go. I was aware of it. And frankly in my career, what happened was the supercollider project, which was a total commitment, and then it was just totally removed. And so personally, I was at loose ends. And I asked some of my friends in JASON, would there be any interest in—is there anything to be done there? I didn't know much about it. And I got engaged, and frankly it was a lease on life for me. Just the quality of the people, the debate, like you've heard here, the ideas, the rigor. All of those great things. And it was just a different discussion than the confines of high-energy collider physics. So again, it made a huge difference in my life. I was chair for a number of years (laughter). And again, as stated here, I think the chairman of a department is quite a good analogy. You don’t get a lot of points with your colleagues in JASON for being JASON chair.
Yeah, particularly if you try to improve the operation. I remember that I sent out a memo asking people to do a self-evaluation of what they had done for JASON and how they could do better. And that was not popular. Then I also felt that in order to renew JASON, we should change 10% per year of our people. That meant despite the fact that they were doing useful things, 10% would leave and be replaced by 10% or 15% new people. That was not popular, either.
And I think that’s what led to mutual termination of my three-year term at two years. So, I was trying to remember who was in favor of these Minutemen defense programs and so on. It was Paul Nitze, who was the leading defense intellectual. Ambassador Nitze. I would meet with him Harvard sponsored largely program at Aspen, Colorado—Aspen Strategy Group—and whatnot. So, we knew one another very well.
And later, after he was then brought back into the State Department as an advisor, I would meet with him from—let’s see—from the President's Science Advisory Committee, and elsewhere, together with Charlie Townes and Pief Panofsky and so on, and go over some of these things. It was in the post-PSAC era. It was after the Star Wars March 23, 1983 announcement. But Paul Nitze was a very competent person, an experienced diplomat. Always ready to write the first draft of something, in Aspen. Because that would control the terms of reference. And he was honest, but he was not a technical person. And so, he was at the mercy of people like Seymour Weiss, Jasper Welch. Nitze was not a technical person, either. And they were the originator of Team B, for instance to have a much less charitable picture of the Soviets. This was at the time when intelligence said, “Look, we've been making a mistake all along. The Soviet Union has been spending twice as much of its GDP on military things as we thought.” And so that was touted as, “Be very afraid. The Soviet Union has doubled its expenditures.” No. The Soviet Union hadn’t done anything (laughter). We just had a new number for it. I remember testifying to the Joint Economic Committee of Congress—this, of course, is post-
You mentioned Jasper Welch. I met him. He was a student at Teller Tech (UC Davis) at Livermore. He got his PhD there. He and I actually wrote a book together, published by Addison-Wesley on nuclear weapons technology. The book was used for new employees for a long time at Livermore.
Yeah, he briefed JASON pretty regularly, I remember, when I was chair, at the Bishop’s School for Girls, in downtown La Jolla, for instance. He was the one who explained how you couldn't get a nuclear-armed air-launched cruise missile with a range of 1,500 kilometers. And that very day, one had been launched, not from an Air Force airplane, but from a Navy A-6, just as a way of getting cheap launch. Instead of submarine launch, nuclear-armed cruise missiles. They were testing—air-dropped. And it already had been accomplished-- it would fit very nicely into the existing and the future Air Force planes. But it was the Air Force position that you didn't want to have an air-launched cruise missile for your nuclear weapons. You wanted to have bombers that would deliver the air-launched cruise missile, maybe a short-range ballistic missile rather than a cruise missile. But he was smart enough to know better.
Gentlemen, I think that’s a good stopping point. I think next week, we'll pick up on JASON’s work in the 1980s, and then we'll probably work our way up to when Roy got involved with JASON.
Okay, you might look at the—
I'm supposed to be just a fly on the wall (laughter).
You might look at the Steve Aftergood site, because you can answer your own questions there on many of these topics.
Yes, it’s a useful site. Very good.
Just a question for Dick on this. You were reading all those titles. Were you reading off of the Aftergood site, or through some of the files that Alice Hawkins put together?
It’s the reports on XLSX. I can send it to you.
[End JASON Roundtable II]
[Begin JASON Roundtable III]
This is David Zierler, oral historian for the American Institute of Physics. It is February 13th, 2021. I am so happy to be back for my discussion with Ken Watson, Dick Garwin, Roy Schwitters, and Curt Callan on the origins and later years of the JASON Scientific Advisory Group. I’d like to start this morning, Curt, with you. I’d like you to set the stage a little about the offer and what you knew about JASON prior to you formally joining.
Well, I really didn't know anything about it. I guess I had had my PhD for three years or something like that, and my PhD mentors, Sam Treiman and Murph Goldberger, told me that I was being invited to join, and that it would be an interesting experience. And that was all I knew. The idea of—how shall I put it?—pursuing things scientific and technological in a context that was far removed from the abstract arena I was used to struck me as interesting.
And I just enjoyed it. My first summer study was very intense, and I worked on a very broad problem as part of a large group, and it was actually an interesting experience, intellectually speaking. The general topic was how do you detect submarines under the ocean by means other than listening to the noise that they make. And so, this involved a wide range of phenomena and a wide range of scientific ideas. There was a large group working on it, and there were people who were expert in all kinds of things. Ken was there. He was our internal wave theoretical expert. Walter Munk was the organizer of this particular study. He was a very charismatic oceanographer, and very good at eliciting contributions from people who were experts in something useful, but who didn't know anything about oceanography. He educated us (laughter) about the ocean at the same time as we may have educated him—I think that was not necessarily the right word—about partial differential equations and Maxwell’s equations and so on.
It was just an exciting cultural experience in which a team of people who were all scientists of high level in a variety of fields getting together on a topic that, in the end, seemed to embrace all of these different spheres of scientific knowledge in a practical way. And the fact that this was while the Vietnam War was going on actually had no observable impact on my interest [laugh] in what I was doing, or my ability to do it. So, I guess you would say that I was relatively apolitical. I certainly was against the war in Vietnam, but I did not feel, then or now, that theatrical gestures of protest were particularly useful.
So, I found JASON to be intellectually engaging that first summer. There were ups and downs, but the richness of the scientific topics, along with the engagement with people whose intellects I enjoyed and respected. that made it satisfying. It was a much larger, so to say, scope of type of science, and type of scientists, than I would have normally engaged with in my official research world. So, I just found it a very, very attractive, very engaging opening on a wider world of science, and then ultimately technology.
Curt, coming to JASON essentially tabula rasa, was your sense that anti-Vietnam sentiment and more broadly the concern by the late 1960s by many people in American society that there was an unholy alliance developing between science and the defense industry, was your sense that these concerns were largely peripheral, both formally and informally, during the JASON summer studies?
Oh, yeah. Well, they were definitely peripheral to me. The studies where—how shall I put it?—really existential concerns entered the discussion had to do with the world of nuclear weapons and anti-ballistic missile defense, and ballistic missile strategy, and mutually assured destruction and so on. The question of whether the reliance of our country on nuclear weapons, and large numbers of nuclear weapons, had gone beyond the bounds of the reasonable and the defensible certainly entered my mind. But I never had the sense that by resigning from JASON, I would bring the country back to its senses. I had the feeling that even if I disagreed with some of the policies that the U.S. government was pursuing, that bringing—how shall I put it—well-founded scientific advice into the considerations of the government was something that couldn't do any harm.
And I was not worried about the harm to my reputation that would arise from me associating myself with this group, because I respected the people who were there. They were people whose judgment I found worthy of respect. I think it’s not that we agreed on everything, to be sure, but it’s rather that I found that these were people who were thoughtful, highly intelligent, very well informed. And I couldn't see how, by associating with them and working with them on projects that they found worthy of their attention, I was doing myself any harm, or even the country. There were others who felt differently, to be sure, but they had probably already resigned by the time [laugh] that I joined.
Curt, the big mystery to you, when you were first asked to join, as in why you of all people—did that become more clear in terms of the kinds of work you were doing with JASON and how it may or may not have related to your own research agenda at the time?
No, it didn't relate to my own research agenda at all. It was just that I discovered over time that, although I got into physics, theoretical physics, because of an intense interest in a very focused aspect of it—it was what we call elementary particle physics, or with large quotation marks around it “fundamental physics”—my interests in that always stayed very, very strong, but I discovered I was really curious about the larger world. You know, how does an airplane stay up? (Laughter) How does a submarine move through the water? Things like that.
Classical physics was not something that I had wasted…I'm sorry, expended … too much time and energy on, except as it’s something you had to learn in order to make your way to the frontier in trying to get launched on a physics career. But it’s really interesting stuff! And spending six or seven weeks every year immersed deeply in it was something that I just found rewarding. And as I say, the thing that probably made it most rewarding to me, more than anything else, was the other people who were there. They were people whom I really enjoyed interacting with. They were and are people of high intelligence, good morals—no question about it—and that was it, basically.
Dick, what would you want to add?
Well, that was the whole idea of founding JASON, was to bring in people, smart people, who could learn about national security matters and be able to contribute. And when you bring them in, you bring them in from the outside, people who have had no contact with such things, and on the basis of recommendations from people who knew them. So, it’s a great success in this case.
And that raises an important point. I can ask everybody this. Everyone’s sense is, the process of inviting people to JASON generally had very little to do with their own research expertise. It was more a general appreciation of what they could bring—brought broadly to JASON. Is that correct? That’s the right idea?
I think so. Although there came a time when JASON began to invite people who were not physicists. And that was particularly in biology.
And that had a lot of upside. We were taken to biology school. My lab partner was Freeman Dyson, and we tried to do PCR, and we blew it completely, and learned a hell of a lot in that process.
And it was really exciting, with serious biologists (laughter). So, it’s just part of the same theme that Curt was saying. You just learn things that you've heard about and want to know more about.
And this was true even for highly specialized or technical reports? Even if there was somebody who was known to be a leader in the field, they wouldn't necessarily be invited specifically for their expertise?
Bringing a person into JASON takes a while. Sometimes we would bring in people as advisors, for instance, on a particular topic, and some of them signed papers, some of them didn't, depending on whether they had conflicts of interest. But yes, when we had a task that we didn't feel up to, there was a whole body of knowledge out there—yes, we contacted people who were experts in the field, and brought them in, one way or another. Sometimes we just listened to them. Sometimes we asked them to help study.
Let’s now bring the conversation to the post-Vietnam area, and another sort of broad overarching question. Curt, as you noted, all of the heated rhetoric really did not make its way into JASON’s identity and internal deliberations when you joined. So, let’s bring that same perspective to the post-Vietnam era, the post-Nixon era, a very different climate in Congress. In what ways, if at all, did JASON change, really at a foundational or existential level, as a result of its advisory work during the Vietnam War era? Or really is the answer simply “not much”? And that’s a question for anybody who would like to jump in.
The experiences during the Vietnam War were very intense for some people, for others. I was in Berkeley and I had almost no problems. I never had a class interrupted. But particularly the ones in New York, Columbia University, had very, very severe problems for their families and themselves.
Did the end of the Vietnam War essentially allow for more bandwidth or head space or whatever metaphor you might want to use that would allow JASON to return to its more foundational work with regard to the competition with the Soviet Union?
I think after the Vietnam War, we gradually did.
Curt, you look like you're pontificating on this question.
No, no, no. I was reflecting. So, what happened? I mean, at some level, there came a time—I don’t know exactly whether there was a transition or this was just a slow roll—where there were particular government departments and particular people within the department who had developed satisfactory or helpful relations with JASON, and they would come to us with problems.
I think by and large, we tried to be helpful to those people and those agencies. There was DOD, there was DOE. And over time, I guess we developed a procedure for organizing these relations. The major activity of JASON was a summer study that lasted seven, eight weeks, something like that, and there had to be preparation for it. One of the things that had to be done was to find out what sponsors would be interested in having us do a study on what question. And then, there would be a back and forth between the JASON management and potential sponsors. They would say, “We really need to know about this.” And we would say, “That sounds interesting, but we don’t think we could be helpful on this thing. But we might be helpful on this other variation of the question.”
I mean, the details of that are a little bit vague in my mind, but we developed a stable, as it were, of sponsors, that included, for a long time, DARPA—I guess it was ARPA and then DARPA—and other technology-heavy defense-related agencies. And what we worked on in large measure responded to their perceived needs. And then we wandered eventually afield from things that were directly national security. Like climate, right? The modeling of climate and climate change. And that probably was due to interest of individual JASON members, like Gordon MacDonald, for example. He wanted us to work on it, he thought it was an important problem, and he managed to elicit from sponsors largely in the Department of Energy, an interest in us doing such a study.
So, largely I think we responded to things that the relevant parts of the U.S. government thought were problems that they needed help on. And to a lesser extent but a significant extent over time, we developed activities in things that were interesting to us, not collectively necessarily, but to individual JASON members with a certain amount of—how shall I put it?—credibility within the group. And the first example that I can think of that really is climate.
We became involved with the question of the general circulation computer models for climate. That was a good technical problem for JASON. And we began—we met a number of people. We had a trip to the Miller Laboratory in Boulder, where some of the principal people were, let’s see Ed Lorenz in Cambridge was an expert in chaos theory. And the general circulation models were technically interesting. And generally, our conclusions were rather negative about their reliability, principally because they vastly oversimplify the world. But at any rate, that was fun. It was interesting technically.
Yeah, and as time went on, that developed into a relationship with Ari Patrinos in I forget exactly which office of the DOE. And now the time frame is slipping from me. I guess it would have been in the eighties. And it became clear that actual experimental input of some specific kind would be necessary in order to validate computer models of the general atmospheric circulation. And there was some back and forth over a period of years between a senior program manager within DOE and the group of JASONs who were interested in the problem that Ken just mentioned, to try to develop programs that the DOE would then fund and carry out, to improve this question of reliability by bringing in the right kind of experimental data that could be used to improve and validate, so to say, the guts of what went into the approximations that are inevitably made use of in modeling the atmosphere.
There’s no way you can model it at, as it were, the atomistic level. You have to have some kind of closure on scales below the minimum scale you can handle with the power of your computational system. That scale is, to date at any rate, a scale which is very much larger (laughter) than the actual physical processes that cause dissipation and entropy generation in the atmosphere. So, you have to have some kind of modeling of physical processes that you simply can’t simulate. And therefore you had better do some experiments, an intelligent set of experiments, experiments that are designed to answer the question that you need to get an answer to, in order to make your general circulation computer models more realistic, as close to realistic as you can get.
I recall Burt Richter wrote a book on—one of the very early technical books [On climate. Burt Richter’s book is titled Beyond Smoke and Mirrors: Climate Change and Energy in the 21st Century, published in 2010. He definitely got especially interested in the topic from early studies he worked on in JASON involving atmospheric CO2]—but it was not a bad book, but it was very early.
Along those lines, let me share my screen and point out a couple of reports. So, people see that? So anyhow, I don’t show all the reports. I decided I would show the ones from 1967, the summer study of ’72, and ’77, so five years apart. And so here’s a conventional thing--Effects of plasticity on the implosion of a spherical shell, Keith Brueckner and Sharp. Is that David Sharp? And then Some elementary considerations—and this is Keith Brueckner himself, and let’s see, what was it?—elementary considerations. I guess if I click on it, it shows up, up here—"on no-fission thermonuclear weapon. And then, Review of STRAT-X Report. So, I led that. I don’t know whether there were any coworkers not listed. STRAT-X was the future of strategic weapons, a government study that we were looking at.
Here’s Vietnam II, Thailand Study Group. Mechanism for the production by submarines of an observable wake. And so that was one of—I'd been involved with the President's Science Advisory Committee for a long time already on this sort of thing, and with the Charles River crowd. So, this was the vortex rings—vortex lines due to lift. Submarines like to hold themselves down so if something goes wrong with their propulsion, they float to the surface rather than sinking. And so in holding themselves down, they produce vortex lines, essentially wingtip vortices, that go up to the surface. And depending on the thermocline, they can reach the surface and have visible effects.
And here’s BMD Discriminant Physics Study. Here’s a Laser Summer Study again. Bob LeLevier, Charles Townes, Norman Kroll were involved. More STRAT-X. And Mutual Assured Destruction Report with Matt Sands, Harris Mayer, Henry Foley. Sonar signal processing, Blankenbecler. Long-range direction finding of radio stations—counterintuitive for many JASONs. Ground heating by thermal pulse, a detail of how the explosion of a nuclear weapon heats the ground. And then Opacity of the upper atmosphere at 15 microns, Joe Chamberlain. Selected topics in high-altitude blackout—that is, radar. Manned barrier systems—so this was from the JASON East, so it was Charlie Lauritsen, Tom Lauritsen, Matt Sands. Air-sown mines from the massive barrier—Val Fitch and Leon Lederman. So that’s a hangover from the 1966 summer study. And what this is, I don’t remember. Explosively produced flechettes and Use of optics in hard-point defense—of silos or whatever. And Additional comments on criticism of IDA, David Caldwell.
So, we worked on things that we were paid to work on, and everybody understood that the purpose was to provide a report, not really a briefing but a report, with equations and whatnot. So there wasn’t a lot of philosophical discussion. If there was, it was by individuals on their own time, and often in their own spaces. And then ’72, five years later, here are the various things we were talking about. And there are some of them—here’s Curt and Fred Zachariasen—Surface strain of an internal wave background—so what’s happening in the oceans. Here’s Stratospheric Nitric Oxide Production from Past Nuclear Explosions, Henry Foley and Mal Ruderman. And I'm sure Mal still remembers this. And then the various things of laser propagation with Marshall Rosenbluth. And comments on sub-low frequency satellite communication technology developments. And Walter Munk led a study with Bill Nierenberg. Here’s Eliminating nitric oxide from jet-engines, how you do that in order to avoid catalytically destroying ozone in the atmosphere.
And surface-to-air missile upgrade for ABM. And then in 1977, five years later—so we had moved on. Here’s ’77. Problems in Transition from Laminar to Turbulent Flow. General problem with us. Ocean Variability and Acoustic Ranging, Carl Wunsch and Walter Munk. Scattering of Sound by Internal Waves, a longtime interest of JASON. Laser Propulsion Study, Perkins and Dyson, our Princeton group. [laugh] And terminal-defense improvements on bomber penetration. Suitability of aqueous solutions of rare earth ions—and stuff like that. Will Happer, Bob Novick. Rare earth ions for magnetic field measurements. Hydrodynamics 1977. Curt was involved in this. So that’s again ocean submarine studies and stuff like that. Anyhow, that’s what we had. Here is Quenching of NO+ Vibrational Radiation by N2 in the Upper Atmosphere. And Detection of cruise missiles and aircraft by large systems of intercorrelated acoustic arrays.
So, some of them have a sponsor listed, and many of them don’t. And surely every one of these things had a sponsor.
That’s right. These are imperfectly recorded, at the time.
Right (laughter). The archiving was not a major concern at the time.
That’s right. Yes, I see that. Thank you.
Dick, a broad question. As you note that JASON concerned itself with what it was paid to study, in the ten to 15 years since its birth, and as it was approaching maturity—very broadly conceived, were the people or the agencies that commission these studies—to what extent had they changed, and to what extent were they essentially the same—it was the same commissioning structure that went all the way back to the beginning in ’59 and ’60?
Well, Ken and Dick will know, but ARPA, or course, was an extremely important part of the sponsorship of the original JASON, I believe, and they continued to sponsor studies for a very long time. But there were changes over the years, as you say. ARPA—who was the first Director of ARPA, Dick? Was it Charlie Townes? I can’t hear you. Your mic seems to be off.
No, Herb York was the first Director.
Charlie never had any government role. He was Vice President of IDA.
I'm sorry, that’s what I got mixed up with. But the initial ARPA was, so to say, open to asking questions of the JASON group. As time went on, ARPA became more—how shall I put it—well, inward-looking.
Sometimes they didn't want the answers and they—
That was the point that we had to deal with, eventually.
ARPA had other roles. That is, they would be a conduit for money from the other parts of the government. And they actively solicited that, which is important. And that's what has been, in recent decades, less rigorous on the part of the government.
This intergovernmental, or interagency, intragovernmental solicitation, looking for important topics for JASON to do. But yes, the government transformed itself over the years. The Atomic Energy Commission was replaced by maybe ERDA, the Energy Research and Development Agency, and by the Department of Energy. And then there was NNSA, the National Nuclear Security Agency, that was created in part at Sid Drell’s instigation and chaired by various people. Then there was the Homeland Security after 2001, which acquired a whole lot of things. So yes. And the government grew, and they didn't all have a knowledge of JASON or what JASON could do. But we managed. I was not in favor myself of doing these unclassified studies of climate change and so on. I was wrong. But I was not in favor, because I felt that we were competing directly with universities that should be sponsored to be doing these studies. But universities in general don’t have the ability to focus a task force.
Yeah, that’s exactly right, Dick. That is a curious feature. So the key was that universities can provide faculty members running a research program that responds to some specific needs, it’s hard for them to get together a sort of standing group that has broad competence in science in general to be able to look at some problem at a high level, or even the output of a research enterprise, looking at it at a well-conceived meta level. I guess the National Academy can; they do studies. But they're very different in nature from the JASON studies. They’re peculiar mixtures of sort of highly focused technical or scientific analysis with equations and graphs (laughter) followed by general recommendations such as, “Well, you really ought to focus on the following issue—this is a critical element that you're only peripherally looking at, and you really should concentrate serious effort on this one to see whether or not the ultimate goal is in fact achievable given the laws of nature and the properties of materials and the like.”
I think JASON really has been a great success. And, you know, there are many things less than optimum about it, but I have been involved with universities from Chicago to Columbia to Harvard and so on. And I was actually a permanent professor at Harvard, but I resigned from that role, because I felt that it was more important for me to work with JASON and with people in Washington, and I couldn't do a proper job of being a Harvard professor and doing that. But at Columbia, I tried to create an interdepartmental organization to work on things, and the university was absolutely resistant to doing that sort of thing, or to being asked to do something specific on a time scale. And government is that way, too. You’d think that the Department of Energy could have a task force or whatever. But everybody is in her own or his own pigsty, or whatever you call it—
(Laughter) Sandbox, Dick. Sandbox.
Speak for yourself, Dick (laughter).
And they really resent doing that. So that’s the main thing. And JASON, that’s its reason for existence. It tries to do a good job. We have some social interaction, try to keep people focused. We don’t always succeed. There are JASONs who have their play pens, and they'll work on that particular differential equation no matter what.
No matter what!
Dick, administrative inertia aside, I mean, I'll just note editorially, even best case scenario, if a university put all of its interest into supporting the kind of unclassified work that JASON otherwise would have done—I mean, JASON, just as a collection of talent, is going to far surpass anything that one particular university can summon its own faculty to do, right? Isn’t that a fair reason why JASON would do unclassified work?
Yeah. They would be interdepartmental, and they should bring in people from other universities. And this would be in the summer, when people didn't used to have other things to do. And of course, the two-career family, as women had higher levels of employment, became a problem for JASONs to join together. So anyhow, yeah, so the whole idea was to have a focused experience of people, in order to bring new talent to bear on national security or international security, including climate challenges. JASON has had that flexibility and sponsorship, and I think succeeded reasonably well.
Let’s engage in some high-level questions and answers on some of the more prominent studies during the post-Vietnam era through the Reagan administration. Let’s start with the laser propulsion study in Summer 1977. The first sentence says, “Laser propulsion is an idea that may produce a revolution in space technology.” My question there is, in the years preceding this study, what was the excitement surrounding laser propulsion? And to what extent did its applications have both military and NASA/space exploration value? Or was it primarily one or the other?
Dick, how do I use lasers to propel me in space? (laughter)
Well, the idea typically is to use ground-based lasers to begin with, in order to provide the energy from the ground, transport it to the would-be satellite or space probe or whatever, simply ablating stuff or heating stuff, which is being evaporated from the laser. So, you don’t have to carry the fuel. You don’t have to carry the nuclear reactor transported through the atmosphere on a laser beam in order to heat the stuff.
Well, this is to do things in Earth orbit, low or otherwise.
Or to experiment—yes. Well, now of course, you have the Breakthrough Starshot program, to have very thin flakes accelerated to a good fraction of the speed of light before they reach the distance to the moon. So just in a few minutes, you accelerate things at 10,000 G’s to 30,000 km/s -- 10% of the speed of light. Of course, they're very thin. You're using the momentum of the photons. But the laser propulsion we were talking about was ablation. And, you know, some people said, “Lasers are wonderful; let’s use them for everything. Let’s use them for this.” And then the analysis says, “Yes, but, all you're doing really is to move the energy source, which for ground-based lasers is essentially free, in some cases” from being imbedded in the mass to be expelled (rocket fuel-- either solid or liquid, and mono propellant like hydrazine or bipropellant such as kerosene and LOX) to the ground. The rocket fuel is not only mass to be expelled, but you've got internal energy in the separated fuels. And when you bring it together and expel the mass, it’s already hot. So, the laser propulsion has an advantage only if you can heat things hotter in the exhaust by lasers from the ground than by fuel from the inside. So that’s the burden of that study to discuss these things, and then to ask about the stability of propagation through the atmosphere and stuff like that. That study is available—
Presumably, it came to relatively negative conclusions about this application?
Well, the report suggested there should be ongoing feasibility studies. But I guess the question there was, to what extent was this continued to be looked at, and what were the conclusions three, five years down the line?
There were technological enthusiasts who funded the study. But they didn't want to have a failure in a big expenditure. And so, we were telling them, “Here’s what you have to know, and here’s how it has to come out, if it’s going to be productive.” So, I haven't reviewed it recently. So, you can do wonderful things. And my whole idea myself was to use—when I worked on nuclear propulsion at Los Alamos in the 1960s, space nuclear propulsion, Project Rover, they had graphite or refractory metal reactors, uranium-fueled reactors, a couple gigawatt thermal power. And of course, the propulsion material of interest is hydrogen, because you get the highest exhaust velocity for a given temperature in hydrogen given-
It was essential for that program that there be partial dissociation of hydrogen, which got the Isp up.
That's right. And there are two aspects to the partial dissociation. One is that you have hydrogen atoms rather than hydrogen molecules, and so for a given temperature, they go faster by the square root of two, than the hydrogen molecules. And the other—my dream—was that you could provoke, you could catalyze, recombination in the exhaust stream, so that you would be then getting additional energy by this enormous four volts or whatever it is, recombination energy, to further heat the directed exhaust stream. I proposed using CCM or whatever. It’s a three-body process, of course. And I don’t know that there were ever any theoretical calculations or experiments. I lost track of the field.
Bernd Matthias I believe was a JASON member at the time. He worked almost full-time on the ceramic problem. They needed a temperature to reach partial dissociation. And that engine was successful. I think it has been started up twice, and then shut down. But then there was no more—it was to take an expedition to Mars and return, was the purpose of the Rover engine. The engine was successful, but the Mars program was cancelled.
This was Bernd Matthias, you were saying?
Yeah, he was a good friend of mine. Yeah. And of course, then we had the nuclear explosion propulsion project. I forget the name [Project Orion]. Everybody knows it. That Freeman Dyson and Marshall Rosenbluth and other—
—worked on with General Atomics and Ted Taylor, so that you would have hundreds of small thermonuclear explosions being popped out, one at a time, from your spaceship, which would have 500 people on it going to Mars. And there would be a pusher plate on the back of the spaceship through which the nuclear explosive would be ejected, sort of one a second, and explode. And it turned out—people had done the experiments, and if you coat the pusher plate with grease, despite having a nearby nuclear explosion and very high-velocity debris scouring the pusher plate, you don’t erode it. And so, this thing is on springs, and it gets a sharp impulse, but it’s strong enough to withstand it, collapses the springs, comes back, and is caught at its original position. If you don’t catch it, it flies away (laughter) and your day is ruined.
Five hundred people’s day. And so on. And Freeman was a big enthusiast of this. But eventually—
[crosstalk] Freeman. This was a little more ambitious than just Mars. I think they saw themselves going beyond the solar system.
Freeman always made a point that of course it had the added benefit of using up all the nukes on Earth- able to fly, so—
If you've ever been out to the facility, where we worked in the summers in La Jolla, the central building is built on a model of that spaceship. It’s quite interesting.
I didn't know that.
It was Project Orion, Dick.
Project Orion. That was it.
Let’s move on to 1978, the sonic boom report. My understanding is that part of the origination for this report was that there was some widespread public anxiety about what these sonic booms were, and the extent to which they were a public health emergency or perhaps even a national security emergency. So, my question there is, to what extent did ARPA feel a duty to provide answers? And what might JASON have found out that ARPA didn't know already?
Well, I don’t know the answer to—did ARPA sponsor that study?
Okay. Well, that’s good, because ARPA was our general sponsor. I brought that in. There was the problem of the Concorde and I was much involved for the President's Science Advisory Committee in the 1960s with my Military Aircraft Panel, and with the executive secretary of both my Military Aircraft Panel and the Naval Warfare Panel, Vincent V. McRae, who was a Black mathematician, PhD mathematician, and played a very important role in the Office of Science and Technology as executive secretary of various things, and vetting the white papers from the Defense Department, the budget papers, before they went to the president. So I had access to those white papers.
And McNamara, as Secretary of Defense, was a favorite of Lyndon Johnson when Johnson took over as president. And McNamara had been asked by Johnson personally to look into the commercial supersonic transport program. I was also involved with that in the 1960s. And by then—you want to hear this story? In 1960, I was made a member of the Overhead Reconnaissance Panel, chaired by Edwin Land, that had been created as a residue of the Technological Capabilities Panel in 1955 or ’56. And so Overhead Reconnaissance Panel played a very important role in the invention, approval, and conduct of photographic reconnaissance from space, of Earth from space. All this was very secret at the time. Totally different classification systems and so on.
So, in 1960, we were looking in the Military Aircraft Panel at a Mach 3 air defense intercepting airplane that would intercept Russian bombers. The Air Force said that they could provide one within eight months. And I had this enormous room of two offices and a 30-foot-long conference table in the Executive Office Building lined with generals, colonels, admirals, captains, and so on, whom we invited to come and listen all day to the one-hour presentations by other people. And so the Air Force representative asked me to have a 10-minute halt. So, they took me into the corridor and briefed me on the fact that they had had flying for more than a year, a titanium Mach 3 aircraft, which was the CIA A-12 that became the SR-71, which was announced by President Johnson, and so on. So, I came back into the room and I no longer regarded the one year time scale for the Mach 3 prototype of the interceptor as bizarre, because it was already flying, something I hadn’t known.
So anyhow, the United States had a lot of proponents of commercial supersonic transport aircraft. And our proposal, the U.S. proposal, was contracted by the Department of Transportation or maybe before that, the FAA, to Boeing for the airframe, and to General Electric for the engines, the turbine engines. And so, McNamara would write reports on this to President Johnson highly-classified, but they were governmental reports. And I would see these and be able to comment on them and bring them to the President's Science Advisory Committee.
But then there were test flights of the Concorde aircraft. And the argument in the United States was gold flow. If the French and British program developed a successful, then the United States would buy 500 of them, and our people who would them would have to pay this enormous amount of money, and we couldn't tolerate the gold flow. This totally ignored the economics of the airline industry—that all of the profit is in the operation, not in the building of the aircraft. Anyhow.
So, we had a one-month rapid response committee that was given to me at the advent of the Nixon Administration, so in January 1969. And another quick response report panel that was given to Murph Goldberger on the feasibility of the national ballistic missile defense. And the Science Advisor at the time who had been the President of Caltech, Lee DuBridge, had a Press conference and he explained proudly that he had these commissions from the president, and he looked forward to sharing the results in a month or two with the Press. Well, neither panel report was favorable to the government program, and eventually the Congress sued to get it, and the later Science Advisor, Ed—of Bell Labs, a good friend of mine whose last name was—Ed David—Ed David, Bell Labs, Science Advisor to Nixon—wouldn't give it to the Press. But eventually, through the goodness of their heart, they made it available, rather than have a court judgment.
But that wasn’t—so later, the French/British aircraft began to fly, more or less commercially. They couldn't fly over the United States because of the intense sonic boom. And it flew subsonically as it came to Kennedy or wherever the test flights were. But on these flights, there were sonic booms experienced hundreds of kilometers away from the flight path. And the head of the Federation of American Scientists, a mathematician who was very smart, correlated that with the arrival time of the aircraft, and said, “Must be coming from the Concorde.” And of course, the industry said, “Couldn't be. Couldn't be.” So, I looked at it, and I developed a thought as to how it could happen. That is, you could have two sonic booms this way, on either side, because you could have propagation of the ongoing shockwave from the Mach 2 aircraft up through the thermosphere, where the velocity of sound increases. So, my analogy—
—is what happens in the ocean, where you have—
—a difference in velocity versus depth. Here, because of the very great temperature range in the thermosphere, the velocity of the air molecules and therefore of sound is much greater than at the cruise altitude of the Concorde. And so by Snell’s law, you have the sine of the angle, with respect to the vertical, for each sound “ray” traveling away from the vicinity of the Concorde in flight, that, multiplied by the index of refraction (the reciprocal of the speed of sound) is a constant of the motion as the ray travels to higher altitude. And so, there’s a turning point at some maximum altitude for rays initially launched above the horizontal, and then it comes down, again, just as we have the convergence zones for sound in the ocean.
So, because of my pre-JASON and JASON work, I realized that this must happen for Concorde aircraft noise and sonic boom. Furthermore, you have also the downward sonic boom, which is reflected at the surface of the ocean, with angle of incidence equal angle of reflection goes up again. And it too turns from its upward path in the thermosphere, at the same altitude. And so you have two successive sonic booms, spaced well apart, in Newfoundland or wherever, as the aircraft is traveling toward Kennedy Airport in New York or toward Dulles near Washington . Long ways away from the United States.
So, I only had this half-baked idea, which I put numbers to, and I remember having a Press conference at the FAS early on, and then going out to the Naval Research Laboratory to talk with them about them, and listening to the radio as I was arriving at the Naval Research Laboratory, and hearing the story [laugh] that had been broadcast on NPR. Anyhow. So, then I brought it to JASON, because this was a matter of current interest, as something that JASON should understand. And so, JASON put people to work on this, and developed a reasonable theory of it, which pretty much agreed, I guess. I didn't pay much attention to that; I had moved on to other things.
But that was DARPA at its best, looking at a matter of current interest that really did have some applicability to whether supersonic flight, commercial flight, could happen. And I think the industry responded very quickly despite denying that it was happening by moving the flight path (laughter).
We touched previously on JASON and carbon dioxide and climate change studies. Just to set some historical context here before I get to my question, of course the scientific concern over carbon dioxide and climate really goes all the way back to 19th century Sweden, and of course we can credit perhaps Roger Revelle in the 1950s with some sustained study in the modern era. And then in terms of climate change becoming a matter of public concern, perhaps we have to go forward to 1988 and Jim Hansen’s famous testimony in Congress.
I'm curious, in 1979, when JASON became involved in studying these things, if there was specifically a national security component to it. In other words, did the military recognize at that point, at least on a conceptual basis, that the effects of climate change long-term might pose strategic threats to the United States? Was that one of the reasons why JASON specifically got involved in the topic?
Well, as Curt says, Gordon MacDonald was very foresighted. Freeman Dyson, as I recall, picked that up and made a model. Arrhenius had done that around 1900, I guess.
That was 1890s, and there was a scare—at that time, the question arose, was there going to be a problem? But the amount of emission in the 1890s was not adequate to cause a concern. So, it was forgotten about.
Especially if you're in Sweden (laughter).
Well, also, there was just prior to the excitement over global warming, there was a real concern about global cooling and another Ice Age. And there were preparations for a major study of this, and it was converted to a study of global warming [laugh] very quickly.
Yes, I worked with the National Academy on a big book on climate change and what to do about it.["Policy Implications of Greenhouse Warming: Mitigation, Adaptation, and the Science Base" (1992)]
We looked at countering climate change by shooting naval shells, for instance, to explode in the stratosphere and dispensing sulfur dioxide or sulfur as a result, and so on, in order to change the albedo of the Earth. And actually, things in orbit, and balloons, and oriented flakes or small needles—black carbon now, and things like that. So that must have been 1987 (published 1992) or thereabouts.
Now, you mentioned National Academy studies. Yes, the National Academy can respond to the government, and very rarely, takes its own initiative to get more support on these things, if it had the guts. But their scales are a year or two years, typically. I did two or three National Academy studies, and I did them in six weeks. One of them was responding to the 1972 Nixon-Gorbachev Summit in Moscow in 1972, when they signed the ABM treaty and the Limited Offensive Agreement. But they signed at the same time an Agreement on Cooperation in the Field of Science and Technology. That had many sub-agreements, each of which automatically renewed for five years, at every five-year point, except that the parent agreement expired in five years, unless it was actively renewed. So, I think Frank Press, as Science Advisor to President Carter, asked the Academy to study that. I was appointed to head that committee.
And so, yeah, I didn't want to spend a lot of time, I didn't want to support a lot of Academy staff for two years on this, and devised a way to evaluate the utility to the United States of all these hundreds of cooperative works from the previous five years. That is, we would get a list of all the people who were involved. I would have a committee that was a third that size. Each one would call three people and ask for testimony. And they didn't have to fill out a form. They would get the forms and be prepared, and then they would receive a telephone call from their peers. And we had an enormous 90-some percent response, and the report was done. Finally, the Academy sent somebody to sit with my secretary for a day or so, so we could put this in order for an Academy report.
And I did the same on—I guess it was a global warming thing, where we met in a summer study for two weeks at Scripps, in one of the buildings there, and at the end of the day, would dictate or write- by then I guess we had fax machines, and so on—and would send them to my office, and my secretary would put the report together. So, it’s possible to do these things in the Academy quickly, but their internal incentives don’t favor that. And sometimes really you need to do more work than what’s required.
But I don’t think our sponsors for those original studies were defense agencies, were they?
I don’t think so.
What I forget is who exactly (laughter) asked us, in about 1980, to look at this problem?
I don’t remember. I'll look it up. But eventually, the Department of Defense realized that this could affect what they're doing, both the nature of the tundra, for instance, in Arctic work. Also, the anti-submarine warfare and submarine security people were worried about freshwater from the melting of glaciers and of the sea ice changing the sound velocity profile, the SVP. And the temperature change, as well. Because these are only tiny effects, because of the—Snell’s law involves the sine of the angle. But really these things go—the cosine is important, and that’s one minus the square of the whatever parameter you're talking about, change of it, divided by the total. Anyhow, so it’s really important, these small—there’s only a 3% or so velocity difference between the fastest sound wave in the ocean sound channel and the slowest sound wave at the surface. But that’s responsible for all of the behavior, the acoustic behavior, in the ocean. And not only from submarines, but from whales and internal waves and everything like that.
Charney. The Charney Report. The Charney study.
I was just trying to recall—the stimulus was—I mean, the first scientific—how shall I put it—GCM study of adding CO2 to the atmosphere, wasn’t that Manabe and Wetherald? And that was in the late sixties. And then somewhere in the late seventies, there was the Charney—ad hoc National Academy of Sciences report authored by Jule Charney et al. And that was in—1979. Carbon Dioxide and Climate: A Scientific Assessment. It was kind of ten years after Manabe and Wetherald. And probably the level of sophistication of the actual general circulation model that’s being used to draw conclusions had not advanced very much in those ten years. [pause] Dick has gone to look something up, apparently (laughter). Anyway, the sponsors of the work on climate-related issues that went on for a good ten years, maybe more, were, when things settled down for the long run, in an office in the Department of Energy, the office run by Ari Patrinos. Do you remember him, Roy?
He was the ideal JASON sponsor (laughter). He wanted us to answer scientific questions or help him develop a program to answer real scientific questions. And he relied on us to help him essentially craft the research agenda that he would then go out to the scientific community and attempt to elicit interest. He didn't ask us to do the research, but he asked us to help him design the program for which he would put out calls for proposals, and get academic science, or scientific institutions in general, to contract to undertake research programs that would take years. I thought that was a very good use of JASON, because we couldn't actually do the detailed research that would lead to data output and well-crafted research papers summarizing what was learned, but we could, on a kind of, so to say, short-term hit job approach, help him decide, what are the real questions that need to be attacked, and what would be the best way to go about attacking them if you tried to get academic scientists or non-profit scientific institutions to go after them.
What was his background? Did he have a scientific background?
Oh, yeah. He was, I believe, a molecular biologist. And I do not recall how he got into the DOE game, quite frankly. But he was a smart guy, and very effective—in fact, he exists. You could talk to him.
Absolutely. He exists. And you should.
I think after DOE, he went to Pomona College or something like that? He founded a—
I'm not sure about that. He was working with—oh, the very heavy-duty biologist up on the Hill in La Jolla.
Craig Venter. Yeah, Craig Venter.
Oh, he was working with Craig Venter?
Absolutely, yeah. And that’s where I last saw him.
Yeah. And he’s just—I put him high on my list of sponsors. We had a few others very much like him, who were real—quite good bureaucrats, really closet science geeks. They loved spending time with the group. And then just as Curt said, they had this balance. They knew we weren’t going to pick these up as our professional ten-months-a-year research job, but we could point him where he wanted to go.
By the way, he was the sponsor within DOE of the Human Genome Project.
That is correct.
And he got JASON involved in similar kinds of studies to usefully provide advice and guidance on how to organize that project, the one that was being run by DOE. Of course, Craig Venter got in there first, by essentially—well, it was a long story—but it couldn't have been done, I think, in the end, without both of these organizations, the fast-shooting cowboy Craig Venter and the lumbering U.S. government bureaucratic giant, the DOE (laughter). But Ari helped—he shaped, and I think intelligently, the U.S. government Human Genome Project. And he got us involved not in—I know that we did summer studies for him on the Genome Project.
But DOE’s initiative was eclipsed, I guess, by NIH. I don’t know much about this, but that was my own take. But yes, I agree that Craig Venter, with his scattershot approach, revolutionary.
Shotgun sequencing, as they call it (laughter).
Yeah, it was thought you can’t possibly do that for three billion base pairs. But, you can.
They did. Yep.
Let’s move on to JASON’s 1980 report on tunnel detection. If I understand correctly, the immediate cause that prompted this study was the issue of North Korean tunneling in and around the DMZ. My question is, to what extent did the DOD see this as a problem unique to the North Korean peninsula, and to what extent did it see it in strategic terms, that tunneling detection would be useful in any variety of military theatres?
Well, certainly our border with Mexico, as a peripheral issue.
Yeah, that’s not really a DOD problem. And so that’s one of the reasons why this field has lagged. But it’s really embarrassing when North Korean troops show up in South Korea uninvited—
And even in Israel, really embarrassing, when terrorists show up on Israeli soil, unannounced. So, it’s not something that JASON has A, worked on very much, or B, been very successful at. We revisit it every once in a while. There are things that can be done. For instance, there’s big acoustic mismatch between the tunnel and the Earth. Whatever you do. And we know this from our work in the ocean. And you have an enormous amount of noise in the Earth. Seismic noise, all kinds of things. It’s just there. Automobile noise, everything. And that’s usually regarded as something that interferes with your sensitive detection of sounds coming from the tunnel, or a reflection of stuff that you radiate the tunnel with. But if you use this acoustic energy and you correlate for long, straight tunnels, you might be able to do something. So, one could visit this again, with another group of JASONs, and maybe a consultant or two, who would have a new look at tunnel detection. But that’s the sort of thing that we were involved in. And tunnels often have rail lines in them, and so there are electrical currents. Sometimes they have lights and whatnot, and temperature. But it takes a very long time for the temperature scar to come to the surface.
You can have also air. I mean, things penetrate the Earth.
And cosmic rays, Dick. Cosmic ray muons.
Yeah, but usually you have to go under the tunnel. That’s good for looking for tunnels in your backyard. But it’s not good for looking at—
There are ways—we've had this discussion—there are ways you can do it.
Yes, there are. And for instance, we could have a cross-tunnel. So, on the border—
—it would be no problem just to dig down, deeper than any incoming tunnel, so like 150 feet or so, and then have an open pathway that we could put one of Roy’s neutrino detectors-
Muon detector, sorry.
I'm sorry, muon detector. For enhanced images of the tunnel, right. Yeah, so—
Yeah, it was surprising—that was a case where, again, ideas came out of JASON. This was later on, much later on.
Yes, for a totally different application. Right.
Different applications. But the professionals, at least in my experience on this, the people who are really into going after tunnels, were happy with what they had, (laughter) it seemed to me.
Yeah, in general. Like the beginning of World War II, where a 10% gain in explosive energy was a prize. But a factor thousand—
Thousand, yeah (laughter).
—from a one-ton bomb to a kiloton -- or a factor 10,000 or so to the Hiroshima or Nagasaki bombs --, they couldn't imagine what they would do with that.
That’s the year JASON was commissioned to do a study on visible chemical lasers. My question is, what was the state of research in visible chemical lasers at that time, and what was the possible net benefit from a national security perspective on continuing development in this field?
I missed the adjective. What comes before “chemical”?
Visible. Visible chemical lasers.
Chemical lasers in the visible, as opposed to the IR, I suppose.
Yeah. Visible light—
I think that the idea is that for a given size mirror, and the atmosphere by definition is transparent in the visible, too, whereas there are regions where it’s not transparent in the infrared. So it’s easier to get infrared chemical lasers, but if you can get a visible chemical laser at, say, 0.53 micron wavelength in the green, at half micron or so, compared with two or ten microns, then the beam can be focused much more sharply by diffraction limitations, by a factor of 20 compared with the ten-micron CO2 laser, by a factor of six, squared actually, because that’s the linear angular extent. And the amount of energy you can get on a target at distance goes as one over the square of the angular extent for a given diameter of the assumed-perfect mirror at the source. So, enormous benefits achievable with the visible chemical laser. And the chemistry is so that you can have few which is a very good way of storing energy. And we knew how to make chemical lasers very well. Anyhow, that was the idea. I didn't work on it.
Curt, a question for you. The next study that I wanted to ask about—reversible logic as a strategy for computing. This goes back to my earlier question—the extent to which people were invited onto JASON because of their specific research agenda. Was this the beginning of you starting to think about the import of computers? Before your interest in biology, even for physics, to what extent was this report a function of what you had already been thinking about in your capacity as a scientist? Or was this really the beginning or part of the beginning for your work in this field generally?
Whom are you asking?
This is for Curt, who’s the author of that study.
Oh (laughter). Well, let’s see—what year was that?
This was ’84. January ’84. First of all, you might explain. What is reversible logic as it relates to computing and strategy?
Well, let’s see. Normally, you have to erase bits in order to compute, and there’s an energy cost to that. So, somewhere in the early eighties, people were thinking about —possibly inspired by things that Feynman had written—other physical instantiations or frameworks for doing computing. And reversible logic was one of the things that came up. Reversible is not what it’s not called that anymore. I forget exactly why. And I don’t know how we got into that. This had nothing to do with anything that I was working on in my scientific life. It was actually probably more inspired by the interest in quantum computing that was growing at that point; I think that was actually one of the motivations for the study. I don’t remember very much about it. Who were the other authors? I’d have to look it up again.
You and you alone. That’s why all eyes are on you with this one. This is a sole-author study.
Aha. Well, I guess somebody posed this as a problem for us to look into—should we look into this? Maybe we were a little bit like Google. That is to say, at Google, you're supposed to spend whatever it is, 80% of your time, doing what you're told to work on, but you're also given demerits if you don’t spend the other x percent of your time thinking about something new and different that you haven't been asked to work on. Okay? (Laughter) So, I think this was in the context of, well, we can waste some of our manpower on an unfunded project that’s interesting. And who dreamed it up? I don’t know. It might have been—it could have been Gordon MacDonald, who was always alert to interesting new things. And I remember there was a paper—by Feynman, was it?—sometime in the early eighties on—let’s see—
I think I can add something to this.
Can you add something to this, Dick?
In 1972, IBM Research hired Charles Bennett.
Charlie Bennett, yes!
From the Argonne Laboratory. And the reason we hired him is that Rolf Landauer, a theoretical physicist at IBM, long-time theoretical physicist, who was in fact Deputy Director of Research, had been working on the bounds of computing and what is the minimal energy associated with a logic operation. And he had half kT as the minimum 0.5 kT. [The abbreviation for kiloton is kt; that for knot -- one nautical mile per hour -- is also kt or sometimes kn. The energy “corresponding to” a single degree of freedom at temperature T is 0.5 kT, in which k does not stand for kilo but is the symbol for the Boltzman constant per particle when multiplied by Avogadro’s Number, it is R, so that 0.5 RT is an energy per mole of particles] And he was working hard on how you would actually approach 0.5 kT of energy at the computer temperature, T. So, you could convert that to teraflop seconds or whatever, easily. I'm not on that train of logic anymore and don’t have at fingertips the number of bit-wise logical operations required for, e.g., multiplying a pair of 32-bit integers. But Charlie Bennett at the Argonne had done something totally different. He said, if you have reversible computing, then you don’t erase anything. And he pointed out that it’s in the erasing—as Curt said, the erasing of bits—that you—it doesn't take energy to do that necessarily, but it generates entropy. And so, entropy at a finite temperature corresponds to energy, and so you have to expend that much energy for computation.
But Charles Bennett said, “You don’t need to do that, and here are two ways of avoiding that.” So, he had Maxwell’s demon things. And so, what he did was to have reversible logic gates. And these things—one of his approaches was that it was driven by a small excess of ATP, or some other energy source, but just a tiny excess, in a biological system. And so, you would copy a gene or an RNA or whatever you're copying, and you would preserve the original. And by doing this, under logical control, it wouldn't take any energy, and at the end, you could just erase the partial sums and whatnot, but at the end, you could have a big energy step that you would fall off, so there would be a definite signal when the computation was complete. And so, you would have 100 kT or something to do these millions of operations. But you’d pay the inherent price on then creating a clean slate.
Which was called garbage collection.
Say it again?
Yes, that’s right.
You do the garbage collection, all at once, at the very end. Yeah.
That’s right. And then he had another approach using billiard balls, which is easier to explain to some people. And so, you would have these billiard ball collisions, and you'd have amplification that way because of the angle from a billiard ball. But you have to go and read the original papers, which of course are much more difficult to create than to understand with a proper explanation these days. So, Charlie Bennett was also made an IBM Fellow and did wonderful things, in quantum computing as well. This has nothing to do with quantum computing.
No, it’s virtue, if it had any, was that the one kT per bit manipulation could be avoided, or put off to some later date, or something like that. Most of us had a general interest in computation, if only because of the recognition that we needed to do more and more of it. Whether the motivation was just scientific computing in general or general circulation models that had more fidelity—I'm not sure what was the driving impulse.
But in the early eighties, there were several ideas floating around. There was Charlie Bennett. There was Fredkin and Toffoli, who had picked up on the idea of reversible computing. And the goal was simply to get around the dissipation issue. And this was not a practical concern at the time, and I don’t think it’s a practical concern at the moment. In my memory—I’d have to reread this report—this has nothing to do with quantum computing, but quantum computing was vaguely in the air at the same time.
And I remember working out something having to do with a quantum implementation of these gates (laughter). I'm not sure why I did that. I believe it was a study that was not asked for by anybody, and probably was ignored by everybody as a result (laughter). It was ahead of its time in the sense that these were ideas that clearly eventually could be important. They were practically not on anybody’s front burner at the moment. And I was just—I was curious. I wanted to learn a bit more about it.
I think it was at the 40th anniversary of the creation of Los Alamos, so in 1983, that there was this famous talk by—sorry, a Caltech person—
—by Dick Feynman, right. And so, he talked about the room at the bottom, but he also talked about quantum computing, some vague approach.
Just a narrow question on intellectual history—to foreshadow to your interest in computational biology, would this have been the kind of early study that might have fostered those interests? Or do you tend to think of these things in separate terms?
Well, this was just about physics, not biology. Right? Because the substrate for all of these ideas—that was the whole point --- were physical entities, atoms or billiard balls, and it had absolutely nothing to do with biology. Although the truth is, at some later date, there was a bit of enthusiasm about DNA computing. That must have been a good ten years later. The idea being that information can be stored in linear—is stored in linear DNA molecules—and it’s possible to invent reactions that, in effect, carry out manipulations on this information and transform it to something else. And there was a brief shining moment in which people imagined doing extremely large-scale computations in a vat of strings of DNA, which were then subject—
We're doing it right now! (laughter)
Well, yes, indeed (laughter). You're talking about the Moderna vaccine or the Pfizer vaccine, perhaps?
No, I'm talking about our talking. Our thinking (laughter).
(Laughter) Okay! Yeah. So—no, no—to me, this was a chapter in physics, and the people writing these papers were Feynman and Landauer and Bennett. You know, these were all card-carrying physicists asking physicist-type questions about—how shall I put it?— how computation is necessarily instantiated in a physical system. I mean, you can see this in the work on developing potential realizations of quantum computing. It’s all about what is the physical substrate. Is it beams of light? Is it two-dimensional bizarre phase materials? Et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.
And so, this was in an unbelievably primitive stage of thinking about these things. Again, what was interesting was, I don’t know who put me on to this, and maybe when we went to DARPA in the Spring to ask for questions that they would be interested in having us work on, maybe somebody at DARPA said, “Well, there’s this business about reversible computing. Maybe it would be good to do a study on that.” Since I was the only one listed as an author, that meant that nobody else was interested in this, or felt that they had much more urgent things to do. So, I had a fine summer, reading papers by Landauer and Bennett and Fredkin. I think I probably even read the paper by Feynman. And just trying to reproduce the arguments and restate them in some kind of accessible form for my colleagues. I'm not aware of having had any truly interesting idea as I did this. This was early days.
That same year, JASON commissioned a small study, or at least JASON was commissioned to do a small study on speech recognition. The report I have from that does not specify the commissioning agency, so I guess I could just ask generally, what were the potential military and/or national security implications for improving science as it related to speech recognition?
For whom is this a question?
For the group. Because no one here was an author on that paper.
And what was the year?
Usually that came from either a counterterrorism or from earlier on, National Security Agency. The National Security Agency—
Depends on what you mean by speech recognition. Does it mean automatic transcription of speech into text?
Yeah, we've had both of those.
You've had both—yeah.
One of the questions is, is anybody speaking? So, the microphone is picking up noise; is anybody speaking?
That had a simple consequence; you can turn on the recording device when somebody is speaking, and not waste all that valuable recording material, in the old days, when somebody isn’t speaking. And the other is looking for individual words or statements in what’s being said, so you could forward that particular portion of the recording to a human analyst and say, “Here’s somebody talking about Netanyahu” or “Here’s somebody talking about- And then there’s another—a speaker recognition. So, you would like to enrich your ore of intelligence by forwarding to a specialist every time Ken Watson is speaking in your recording. So, one of those.
This study that I'm referring to takes special interest in both non-linear systems and bispectral analysis as it relates to speech research.
Yeah, that’s sort of a hobby horse of Gordon MacDonald.
Yes, yes, yes! You're right. The bispectrum. Right.
I call it a hobby horse because I don’t know anything about it. But it came in many times. And I believe he refers to Wigner in the analysis.
Let’s break up the technical discussion for a moment. Another sociological question. In 1983, Claire Max became the first woman JASON. And I'm curious what the larger circumstances were surrounding this appointment. Specifically, was there a directed discussion based around the idea that really it’s 1983 and there should be a woman? Or was Claire invited on like any other, because of her talents and abilities, and it just so happened that she was the person at that time that integrated, at least on a gender basis, JASON, as a-
I think both. I think she was a student of Rip Perkins, so Rip recommended—
She was at the Livermore Laboratory. Her field was plasma physics. But she was running the climate program at Livermore. That may have been one of the reasons she was brought in, although climate was not a major thing. But she became an expert on essentially the computational models. She ran a program of comparing different computational models in connection with climate. And that was centered at Livermore, the DOE.
Was there an internal perception that JASON was a boys’ club, so to speak, and that was problematic on some level?
Mm. Help us out here, Dick and Ken. I would imagine there must have been a significant element of that. That it was time to make an effort. On the other hand, (laughter) Claire joined—she was invited to JASON on the strength of her accomplishments. That’s for sure.
Although on that basis, there certainly could have been many women prior to 1983—
There could have been, yeah.
—that could have been asked to join.
Of course, she had all the clearances. She was familiar with military science because of Livermore. That may have brought her to our attention.
That’s almost certainly the case. I hadn’t realized—I simply did not remember that. She got her PhD in ’72, and she joined Livermore in ’74. And she joined JASON around 1980, you say?
1983, I believe.
She was very active when she came, in the plasma physics program.
There isn’t good data on this. Is everyone’s recollection that after Claire, there were a steady influx of women into JASON? Or was she the sole woman for at least a while?
We can check that. I mean, I came in considerably later than what you're talking about. And Claire, I can assure you, was very outspoken on the paucity of women in JASON when I got there. And she was very strong on those points. And I know—my sense was—and I just may be wrong; I was new in the organization—and that finally I think the old boys realized this was not acceptable and had to change. And it still took a while to find people who could sign up.
Remember the important—one fact here is the sticking coefficient, we called it, of people being able to find the time and put in the summers and put up with this. And you know, to Claire’s great credit, she did all of the above, and her scientific work was just outstanding. But she was indefatigable on getting more women in, and we did! It took a while. But I don’t think the numbers started going up much until, you know, after 2000.
To broaden that same question out, to the extent that JASON was aware of some diversity challenges, what about questions about inviting Black physicists to JASON, and members of other underrepresented groups?
I certainly heard it in these latter discussions, but it—and it has changed a lot. It’s changed somewhat. Put it that way.
Perhaps we can understand this like the comparison between being a department chair and being the chair of JASON. These trends in JASON follow the same trends, more or less, as they do in academic departments with regard to diversity as well.
Probably, because most of us are in an academic environment in our primary employment.
Well, and that’s where we're recruiting from.
And that is where we're recruiting from, by and large. That’s correct.
National—well, scientific arms of the national labs, and of course they were beginning to do the same sorts of things.
Right. Yeah, so the diversification was—okay, so certainly bringing more women scientists in, that was something which was, as you say, Claire was the first, and Claire was very outspoken from the very beginning that there should be more. And I think Roy is also right that the (delta N)/(delta T) -- rate of increase of female JASONs -- remained pretty small until the 2000s. I think there were two or three other—when did Ellen join? Ellen Williams must have joined—
Must have been about the time I came in. I forgot.
Yeah, so I think Ellen would have joined-
I think we had Sally Ride before that.
I think we had Sally Ride before that.
We did have Sally Ride, yes. And she—
We did have Sally Ride, but—well, actually—
She resigned, actually.
—Ellen and Sally Ride came in at pretty nearly the same time. Because I remember a party at my house where both of them were present. Right. And then the other diversification issue that I think was probably felt more urgently and pushed on us by our sponsors probably was disciplinary. That is to say, we needed—when biology became an important science and/or technology, then there became a very urgent need to bring biologists in. Fortunately, there are an awfully lot of women in biology, in academia. So, I think many of the women we recruited in the last couple of decades were actually from the world of biology. From the world of physics, there were some, starting with—
I said astronomy, astrophysics. There has been—
Yeah. Yeah, yeah.
To round out our discussion for today, we could return to a few more technical subjects.
Yeah, please do. I'm going to have to leave shortly.
Yeah. I don’t know if the acronyms are spoken out or if you go by the letters—is it JOWIP and SARSEX?
Say this again?
JOWIP and SARSEX. This is on surface wave modulation mechanisms. This is a 1986 study.
This might be a bit narrow for the purposes of our discussion.
May well be. SARSEX—was this—it sounds like—well, so there were probably—it sounds like the acronym for an experiment carried out perhaps by some arm of the Navy, NRL perhaps, or APL. Basically, examining the surface wave spectrum using SAR. Using radar.
There was a small miniature submarine, and there was a tower off the coast of San Diego, operated by the Navy, and they turned it over to my laboratory at Scripps.
And they put radar on the tower. It was about a mile offshore. They ran this small submarine under. It was a DARPA experiment, but my laboratory was not actively involved. I don’t remember what came of it. One night we had a big storm and that tower, which had been there for years, was gone the next morning. Fortunately, nobody spent the night on it (laughter).
(Laughter) I see. I don’t recall this report, but it could very well have been commentary on the experimental program of a kind that Ken was just describing. The contractors or national lab employees who would have run the experiment probably came to us and presented the data and their conclusions from it, and we probably offered our opinions as to whether their conclusions were justified, interesting, and so on. I think it must have been a relatively low-key sort of project.
Last topic for today. Curt, this was something that you were an author of, so hopefully you have a little more to say on this one. This is the study that you did with Dyson and Treiman in 1988 on neutrino detection. My question there is, this obviously is a field that physicists all over are studying. So, the question there is, what else may have JASON brought to this? And what might the military or other commissioning agencies have been interested in with regard to neutrino detection and military applications or security?
Well, I'll say two things. First of all, all nuclear submarines—not all submarines even today are nuclear—but all nuclear submarines are pumping out neutrinos all the time. So, you might say, well, couldn't I detect the presence of a submarine, or even localize roughly where it is by detecting the neutrinos that emerge from it? And then I believe, even there was some thought of communicating (laughter) to submarines making use of neutrinos.
Now, the first reaction of most physicists is, well, we know that the experiments that we do to detect neutrinos in pursuit of understanding the properties of neutrinos as elementary particles involve rather large masses of stuff. You know, volumes of water, volumes of scintillator, or what have you. It’s not something that you can readily imagine being carried along on a submarine. But on the other hand, it’s worth having a look at.
The other thing that sticks in my mind here is that within the kind of ARPA orbit, where the goal of the enterprise is to look forward to new technologies that can do things—for the defense posture of the country that maybe one didn't think was possible before but is if you really stretch the technology to its limits—there are people in that world who get carried away, who think, gosh, neutrinos penetrate everything; we must be able to do something useful with them. So there are enthusiasts, and my recollection is that this report was written so as to provide a sober technical analysis of the realities of detecting neutrinos that could be used by program managers at DARPA to shoot down physically impossible projects or to decide only to pursue potential developments that were physically plausible.
I do remember an absolutely marvelous winter study that we had sometime—maybe it was the late eighties. There was a particular DARPA deputy director who was very susceptible to claims like, “Well, the vacuum has all of this energy. We must be able to extract it and power all of our machinery forevermore at zero cost.” And things like that. So, we had a session where we listened to ten proposals by people who by I think by most standards would be regarded as scientific cranks, but who had gotten the ear of the deputy director of DARPA. And so we listened patiently, and in each case, wrote out our sober estimate of the likelihood that what they were proposing was something that was either inconsistent with the laws of nature, or consistent, perhaps, with the laws of nature, but given the values of the parameters that govern the world we live in, not going to be realizable in any way that would be of practical interest.
So, I think this neutrino detection study wasn’t really a study. It was simply a laying out in what we might have hoped to be accessible language for a typical DARPA program manager what are the realities, from the point of view of basic science, of neutrino detection and neutrino generation, with an emphasis on, can you do something practically useful with this? And the answer is not “no.” On the other hand, the answer is, it’s very hard, and you require very, very special circumstances.
So, I do not have a copy of that report. I do not know exactly what we said. But I think we didn't try to do anything novel. We simply tried to package the basic physics of neutrinos in a format that could be used to directly assess, is this or that practical application that’s being proposed at all plausible?
Curt, that does get to the broader question, though, that the way that you characterize the flow of information, it’s you're bringing the state of extant research to the audience that JASON was commissioned to send this stuff to. In other words, you did not see your work with Dyson and Treiman in something like this as something that was necessarily new and advancing the field.
No, no, of course not.
No, no. Absolutely not.
Curt is just right. This is something that we returned to really quite frequently, because our sponsors over the years have been the submarine security people, who are responsible for the safety and security of our strategic ballistic missile-launching submarines. And also to a lesser extent the anti-submarine warfare people would like to find other submarines. Now, a submarine when its reactor is going at full power generates more than a megawatt of neutrinos. So, every red-blooded Russian, American, or whoever—
(Laughter) “You must be able to do something with this!”
That there must be a way! And in fact, we know, with a ton of material or so, how to detect a nuclear submarine, if it’s parked next to us. But there are other ways of detecting it more easily. And so, with the progress in this field, every decade or two decades, we're asked to look at it again, usually at the highest security level or whatever. So, we do. And so that’s one aspect of it. And the other is you mentioned communicating with submarines via neutrinos, and the best study I know came from CERN, with my late friend Georges Charpak and others. Because in these enormous accelerators, you have ultra-relativistic pi mesons that decay into neutrinos, monochromatic neutrinos. And because of the very high gamma—that is the ratio of the kinetic energy to the rest mass—there is a tiny cone for the neutrinos, that—at least a very high intensity peak forward. So, the neutrinos go through the Earth. Of course, they go through the sun. And so, there’s no problem in penetrating through the Earth, the core of the Earth, to a submarine in the Indian Ocean, to talk to it. The submarine then has to have a detector of these neutrinos, but they're very high-energy neutrinos, and they're easier to detect than some other neutrinos. But now you've got to point this thing. And so, you can’t bend this beam flexibly, and have it monochromatic. So, they talked about building the accelerator in the deep ocean and pointing it physically (laughter)—for instance, the linear accelerator pointing at the submarine, which sort of gives away where the submarine is, which is not the sort of thing you want to do. Anyhow, there’s lots of technical work here.
Right. But I think the content of that report probably relied on neutrino physics of a kind that was known to Fermi in the thirties. I think basically all you needed to know was what’s the basic interaction cross-section of a neutrino in a certain range of energies with a garden variety nucleus.
But what Dick said is really important. Dick said some program manager read something in Scientific American and had an idea, and slapped huge wrappers of classification around it, so we get a chance to see them. I did one of these once, and I remember I enjoyed my calculation. I had some fantastic thing, same kind of deal, and realized we could transmit a seven-digit phone number, I think, across the West Coast or something, with a 50-50 chance of getting the wrong number. I mean, it was just—you know, you could do that with just a tremendous technical output; it was just way out of any conceivable range (laughter).
Better ways to do this.
Yeah, much better ways to do this.
Well, on that note, gentlemen, I think that’s a great place to leave off for today.
While we're all here—
[End Origins of JASON Roundtable III]
[Begin Origins of JASON Roundtable IV]
This is David Zierler, oral historian for the American Institute of Physics. It is February 20, 2021. I'm so glad to be back with Ken Watson, Roy Schwitters, Curt Callan, and Dick Garwin for our ongoing conversation on JASON. Today, I’d like to start with where JASON was situated with the incoming Reagan administration and the revolution in nuclear arms policy. Let’s start first with a question on overall feasibility. I'm reminded of how, when JFK pledged to send a man to the moon by the end of the decade, of course there was no feasible technology to make that a reality in the early 1960s. So let’s think to Reagan and the feasibility of SDI when he announced it, and where JASON was in that larger realm of discussions between the Pentagon, the DOE, the national laboratories, particularly Livermore and Los Alamos, and where JASON and the scientists who were affiliated with JASON were most closely involved in those discussions. So, let’s start there.
Well, the Livermore Laboratory was strongly supporting it. Edward Teller, of course, was very noisily supporting it. And I forget the guy at Livermore—I can’t remember his name—that he was the technical advisor to Teller. Any rate, the Livermore Laboratory was strongly supporting it, as I recall.
Was that Jay Keyworth?
No, no, he was a physicist at the lab. He was in charge of the laboratory’s work on it. I just can’t place his name now.
Well, the analog really is very imperfect. Kennedy, when he announced the going to the moon, had a fully operative President's Science Advisory Committee that had been in place since the Eisenhower Administration. And one of the first things they did under Eisenhower, when Sputnik was launched, was to provide a little public report by Edwin Land and Ed Purcell about space. You know, what does space mean? Do these things flying over mean they can drop down on you? And whatnot. So, it was a very well-reasoned report, made together with a coauthor who was a writer for Life Magazine. His name escapes me. And that had been supported by deliberations in PSAC.
So, there had been discussions in PSAC as to how you would go to the moon before Kennedy announced it. And in fact, he did not choose the way preferred by PSAC which was to send the lunar lander from LEO rather than from orbit around the moon. But it was perfectly feasible. But it was a big program, and it was one of those things to do instead of war. So, it was a substitute for war. And Reagan was totally different. Reagan was influenced—and a lot of this is published through various detailed good books about it—but the Joint Chiefs—well, there was the PSAC report every year from the Strategic Military Panel, as to the feasibility of defense against nuclear armed missiles and bombers. Bombers were sort of old hat, so the fact that we couldn't defend against them was not news. People who were involved knew that. The public didn't. And then there was the missile threat. So, what was that and what could you do about it?
Well, Reagan, it turned out, before he ran for president, just hated the idea of nuclear destruction. And this was missed by most of the scientists who were involved. So, when he, in a famous broadcast with a live mic, said, “The bombing begins in five minutes.” The Soviets took that very seriously and went on alert. And so he was really scared by the prospect of nuclear destruction. And when the Joint Chiefs, looking at the possibility of preserving deterrence in the face of an evolving Soviet nuclear threat, was to have defense of the Minuteman silos. This was—the CNO, rather, felt that we should defend everything. He wasn’t very well informed. And Reagan picked that up.
So, Jay Keyworth, his Science Advisor, was faced with the couple of paragraphs that Reagan was proposing to add to his defense speech, his public television speech, March 23rd, 1983. And so, he asked a couple of people on his—PCAST, the President’s Council of Advisors of Science and Technology, namely I guess Ed David and Ed Frieman probably were the ones who were most closely involved. And they worked sort of full-time for a week, including weekends, trying to make those couple of paragraphs something that could possibly be done. And so, but they did. When Reagan proposed to render nuclear weapons imponent and obsolete. Of course, he was only talking about his famous fast flyers, the intercontinental ballistic missiles and the submarine launched ballistic missiles and wasn’t doing anything about air defense or whatever. And when you raised that question, supporters of SDI, they say, “Well, we know how to do that. That’s only a matter of deployment.” So, SDI was really just a research program, although the president thought it was something very different.
I was involved publicly but wasn’t a member of PCAST at the time. And I wrote my friends who were, to the extent that this was public after the speech. So, then individuals did various things. Teller was present in the White House at the time of the speech, as was Hans Bethe. He sat next to- And Teller was supportive, and Bethe didn't see how you could do it. And they broke it down into—when they finally got a little bit organized, there was one technical person in the government whose name I will remember; I knew him very well. He was sort of the youngest major in the Air Force and then the oldest colonel.
[crosstalk] Was that Greg Canavan?
No, Greg Canavan was at Los Alamos, and he worked Greg Canavan at Los Alamos. His pal at Livermore, whose name I will remember in a moment, also.
Lowell Wood. And they worked with this guy, the one person who was in the Strategic Defense Initiative, until General—begins with an “A”—came on board. Anyhow, so the Air Force major in SDI was letting contracts and having informal support. He had a person at NASA who was highly supportive as well. And then people started to do analyses. A committee was formed—Harold Agnew was vice chair, and I guess the head of the committee was Jim Fletcher, the president of the University of Utah, who I knew very well, a physicist from cosmic rays, was then twice head of NASA. And he was sort of a pushover for the other folks. But Harold Agnew eventually resigned, because he said, “These people are taking perfectly sensible research programs like neutral particle beams and saying that they can defend against nuclear arms flying through space. And that’s far from possible. ” And so, he quit (laughter).
So anyhow, that’s all I want to say at the moment. I'll try to remember the names of the people whom I've forgotten. So, Jay Keyworth, who was a Teller disciple, became Science Advisor to Reagan, early on. And he was a good guy. I debated him several times. I knew him very well. I went to Washington when he was first named, before he was approved as head of the Office of Science and Technology Policy. And I briefed him on all the things he didn't know about intelligence and defense. I spent a whole day with him (laughter). Anyway. So, but that doesn't say anything about JASON involvement.
Many people were saying that SDI was sort of crazy, but it was forcing the Soviets to spend into the brink of disaster, and that was the real reason for it.
Yeah, there were many arguments. Jeremy Stone was President of the Federation of American Scientists. He was a very capable mathematician but worked at the Hudson Institute. And he commented that one of his jobs at the Hudson Institute was to find reasons to support Minuteman basing. And so, about everything, he would make a page of pros and a page of cons. And he did that. And he said—and the management picked up the page of pros, or arguments in favor, and they left the other one on his desk (laughter). This was only somewhat exaggerated.
But Tom Watson, Sr., not in the defense business, said, about the people—he said there isn’t anybody so good that if you put all his merits on one piece of paper and deficits on another, that they shouldn't go straight to hell if you pick up one of them, or straight to heaven, if you pick up the other. And of course that- in the Defense Department and its consulting agencies as well.
Ken, when you say that some people were commenting that this was crazy, are you speaking more on the technological feasibility of SDI? Or on the administrative and budgetary impact, even on the U.S. military?
Both sides. Some one side some on- other. Some of them were well informed. Some of them weren’t.
And so just to be very clear, Dick, when you say that the analog to Kennedy and the Space Race is imperfect, it’s to say that—what, exactly? That Reagan—?
There was nothing unknown about the technology. It just had not been fully realized when Kennedy made that decision. And there were things that were really new that hadn’t been fully appreciated, but they were pretty well understood. The Van Allen belts, and the threat that would pose to the astronauts.
Of course, early on after Kennedy had made this announcement, he had the high-altitude nuclear test series, in July 1962. One of the explosions, Starfish Prime, which was 1.4 megatons of total yield, was exploded at an altitude of 400 kilometers. Although there had been science advice in the planning of the test, it turned out to be wrong -- in that the fission products and the plasma created a bubble in the Earth’s magnetic field and were squirted to higher altitude along the field lines as they weakened toward the magnetic equator, where decay electrons were injected sort of permanently into the Van Allen belt, so far as anybody knew at the time. I was brought to Washington for two weeks to resolve this problem, and had a four-on-one, hour-long meeting with President Kennedy, together with the head of the AEC—anyhow—and the President’s Science Advisor, Jerry Wiesner, and the Deputy National Security Advisor, Carl Kaysen, and so on. So, Kennedy said to Glenn Seaborg—because I had used the term “order of magnitude” which was new to Kennedy. And so, I explained that it was a factor of ten either way. Kennedy turned to Seaborg and said, “So, Glenn, when you tell me something, I should understand that it’s a factor of ten either way, when you—?” (Laughter) Anyhow. Okay.
So, and Kennedy was concerned that you wouldn't be able to fly the astronauts through the enhanced Van Allen belt. And that was true, but it turned out that we learned something new—that the Van Allen belts are very dynamic, and they're—this was a great experiment. You enhance them, and then they decay. And not gradually, but suddenly, at various times, by lightning storms, whistlers or whatever produce disturbances in the magnetic field. And that dumps the electrons into the atmosphere. So, it didn't pose a problem with the Apollo flights. It might have.
Let’s turn next to JASON’s advisory role in nuclear disarmament and diplomacy during the Reagan administration. First, to what extent, if at all, did JASON play an advisory role in the unveiling in June of 1982 of the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, or START? What role did JASON play in that?
JASON doesn't play any policy role! That I know of. Any policy role. So, all those questions are answered—we told you before, we don’t play a policy role. Individual JASONs may; JASON does not. So, there was the Reagan-Gorbachev meeting, and Reagan really wanted to get rid of these fast flyers, and Gorbachev said to him, “Well, let’s eliminate all nuclear weapons.” And Reagan thought that was a great idea. But his advisors who were with him at Reykjavik—because it was a small house they were meeting in—with the exception of George Schultz, were there to ride herd on Reagan, and “You can’t do this, because Gorbachev wants to eliminate SDI, the defense.” And Reagan said, “Well, we don’t need a defense if there aren’t any nuclear weapons.” I don’t know that Reagan said that exactly, in keeping with his views.
And they said, “They might bring back nuclear weapons and missiles, and you can’t give up research and demonstration.” That was persuasive, and Reagan was tired of being away from Nancy for so long and picked up his marbles and went home. And Gorbachev’s supporters, advisors, were not happy with getting rid of nuclear weapons, either. So, not at all clear that they could have signed such a deal. Not popular on either side.
So, if you look at our reports—that’s what JASON does. It writes reports. Although JASONs government and Ed Frieman became head of science or Department of Energy or whatever it was called at the time. So, I haven't sent around to everybody the list of reports, but I have every five years—we went through 1977, so I listed, for my own use, the 1982, ’87, ’92, and 97 reports. So ’82 is Reagan, pre-SDI. So, I'm going to look at that myself. Go ahead, please, while I look at anything relevant.
Did you send this list of reports to us, Dick?
I did not, but I will now.
Ah. This would be a tremendous help.
So, in 1982, we were talking about High-Power Generation of Microwave and Infrared Radiation, Space Power [System Study], Radical Computing, Speech Research, Direct Course and Dust Experiments, Photovoltaics. I'll send it. Heavy Ion Fusion. The Gain-Spread Excitation Theorem. JASON Review of the DARPA [Free Electron Laser] Program. Radiative Transfer Model for Underseas Optics [Applications]. And then ’87, we had very few reports. I don’t know what was going on in ’87. Free Electron Lasers, Ocean Backscatter, Processing [Correlated] Data by Neural Networks, Super Gain Arrays/Tomography, Tunnel Detection [Techniques]. So now I'm going to stop, and I'm going to send this to everybody now. Okay, and that’s what I'm going to do. So please, continue.
When did JASON get involved with verification technology as a result of the nuclear diplomacy of the Reagan era?
There’s a major report in October 1990, but I'm curious if the actual verification or at least informal discussions have been closer to, for example, INF, in 1987?
What’s the name of that report?
It’s called Verification Technology.
It’s the JSR 89. And that’s all I know.
Curt, you're listed as the third author.
Well, that doesn't mean anything. [laugh] That’s just alphabetic. But there’s a study leader listed, presumably.
That would be Drell.
Sid Drell. Yeah, this would be a Sid Drell thing. You would get answers to all of these questions from Sid very quickly. But there’s a small problem (laughter).
That’s a channel we have not yet perfected.
No, no, no. We should work on that. That would be an excellent—
The broader question there is, it doesn't seem, at least in terms of the reports that I was able to find, that JASON put out anything at least publicly during the Reagan administration itself. Obviously, verification issues were a huge part of the INF treaty. And so, I would have thought that JASON may have been involved a little earlier than this report at least was dated.
Well some reports in effect represented work that was done over several summers. But without some more documentation, I can’t tell you exactly what the history of verification technology was all about. And what the heck was I particularly interested in there? I would have to—these things were typically put together by a large group of people. There was a study leader who organized everybody. And in order to get something concrete done in a very finite period of time, the problem, whatever it was, was divided up into small pieces, and one or two people would go off, and somebody would be talking about synthetic aperture radar, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera, for the particular problem. And then these parts would be put together in an integrated document with an overarching executive summary; the orchestration of all that was the responsibility of the leader. But on verification technology, I would imagine that we received some briefings during the course of the year from appropriate people that would have helped us— it could well be that this report was something that gestated not over one summer but over several. If Dick has sent us the list, maybe that will get us to the—
Well, the title of that one was Dismantlement.
JASONs have various experiences, various knowledge of tools. And when a topic comes up that the government wants to pay us to work on, people get together because of their particular interest. Mostly they want to be effective. They want to contribute to something, to a report. Sometimes they want to contribute to a goal, but mostly they want to contribute to a report. [laugh] That's my experience.
And mostly they want to contribute their hobby horse to the report.
Right. That’s the operational reality (laughter).
Yeah. And so, the study leader has the responsibility, which they fulfill more or less well, of getting these things together to answer the question, answer the mail at least, and maybe to do something useful. Pointing out gaps that people should use new thoughts. But it’s very difficult. However, over the years, it turns out to be that it’s not only acceptable but wanted by the people who provide studies. And the people who ask for studies, very often, I would say mostly, want to confirm their prejudices. [laugh] And they're very unhappy if the report doesn't do that. But it’s a very fine line, and we don’t bend what we say, but we've got to answer the mail.
And they don’t want policy. They don’t want to be told what they should do, because they're in charge. I learned very early on something which I don’t always follow, is that when you write a letter or a report, it’s not to persuade the person to whom you are sending it. It’s to persuade the boss of the person to whom you are sending it. So, you've got to write them something that they can hand to somebody else and say, “These are exactly my thoughts. And I thought of it first, by the way.” (Laughter) That’s the very best kind of report.
The 1990 JASON summer study examined some technical questions that were raised by special operations command. This is a report that was commissioned by DARPA. I'm curious if JASON had ever done anything like this prior, something so specific with special operations.
I think the closest was probably in Vietnam, where we had some contact with people. But no, Special Operations—SOC—they're very closed-mouthed. But as I recall, I think in fact it was that study, they were very frank with us about various things. And we had an advisor from Livermore, retired I guess in La Jolla, was the inventor of the wet suit. And so, we could talk to-
That was Hugh Bradner.
Yeah. Hugh. And so, we had discussions with people, and talked about thermal control of the wet suit, because sometimes you're too warm; sometimes you're too cold. And there are things you can do. I don’t know if they've done them. We put them into our report. And I learned that for hour-long undersea missions, with a tractor that pulls you along, so you don’t have to swim for a long ways, they don’t eat. They don’t eat or drink. And yet, astronauts eat and drink. And you want to be careful how you do this, but there should be some—I thought there should be some R&D about how you do this, and then a decision about what you do.
Then there were the unclassified—I forgot the name of the maneuver, where—it begins with an “f”—where an airplane comes along at high speed—120 knots was the old speed—a couple hundred feet above you. You're in a clearing, a small clearing, incredibly small clearing of trees, or your back yard, and you have a rope held up by a balloon, and an airplane comes along and snags that, and reels you in. And this is really incredible technology which has been around since World War II and everybody does it. I've never been done to.
But the thing to realize is that when you get snatched in this way, you don’t get dragged along; you go up. It’s incredible! But that’s, if you look at it simply, that’s the result of an airplane snagging a line, totally flexible line, and acceleration is up! And if you don’t believe it, I can show you in five minutes why it’s true (laughter). So, we did that, and we did some other things for SOC. I don’t remember the rest of them.
Now that we're up to 1990, 1991, another sort of broad sociological question similar to the one I posed at the end of the Vietnam Era, and that is, either informally or formally, did JASON members engage in existential questions about what its purpose would be in the post-Cold War era?
I believe we had internal discussions. They were of course the water cooler or coffee pot kind. We even had some all-hands meetings where we discussed that. I think that there was a recognition that the nuclear weapons-associated issues were not going to go away, but there would be a whole host of other things that would come in and that great power competition would become more fragmented. I mean, we had the example of the first Gulf War before us in 1990 and 1991. So, things were happening, but nobody could really see clearly where this was going. Nobody had any idea that terrorism was going to become such a major concern.
It was obvious that tank battles on the great plains of Central Europe were not going to be important for the future of warfare. And I know we certainly had discussions and certainly had some studies that addressed, what was warfare going to be like? Especially as worldwide communications became more dense, as GPS allowed you to send things to precise places on the globe and know exactly where you wanted to send munitions, let’s say, because you had been able to look at them from above, in a persistent way. So yeah, there was a lot of discussion of where things would go, and what were the questions that we were going to find ourselves facing.
So, does anybody else remember (laughter) any of this? Dick and Ken? I'm just reflecting on, I don’t know, ’90 to ’95, when I was JASON chair. I know that at the beginning, one of the things—I said, “Well, okay, the Berlin Wall has come down. The bipolar competition between the Soviet Union and the United States is going to fade in its intensity and importance. What’s going to come up to replace it? And what are the kinds of scientific and technological questions that need to be addressed?” So, we did discuss that.
Exactly on that point, in the early 1990s, as the Cold War was ending, of course political scientists and historians were writing quite a bit about, with the end of the Cold War, there was now breathing room, or more head space—
You know what? Listen. The big thing—I joined JASON a little bit after that. But you know, 1992 was an eventful year in nuclear weapons, because the Rocky Flats facility was shut down, and we did our last underground nuclear test. And really that was then the beginning of, in my view at least, modern stockpile stewardship, which gave JASON a lot to do in nukes. I mean, if you just look through the reports, on how you still maintain whatever the country wanted, in terms of nukes, and not being able to test them at full force underground.
1992 or 1993 was the end of the Soviet Union, wasn’t it?
And when did the stockpile stewardship idea and plan take shape? I mean, yes, there was a long-running series of JASON studies that were relevant to that. In fact, well, but it was later in the nineties, and this was under—
What’s that? Go ahead. Finish your sentence.
The problem is I can’t, because I'm trying to remember—Sid and—oh, gosh—
Sid Drell was our leader in such things. And the stockpile stewardship program—so Vic Reis—
Vic Reis, exactly. I was trying to remember Vic. And this was when Vic was what? He had been head of DARPA, and then he reemerged as—what?
He was in NNSA then. Went over to DOE, and I believe he was running I guess what became-
He had an earlier existence as a White House Fellow, I think, together with Tom Johnson. Tom Johnson was an Army major, eventually a colonel. Trained as a physicist. Very good person. Was the staff eventually for the American Physical Society technical study on directed energy weapons. But the two of them together worked at the White House. Then Vic Reis was a highly political person, and he saw the end of testing as a threat to the nuclear weapons enterprise, and also to reliable nuclear weapons. So, he asked JASON to look at the question of maintaining stockpile without nuclear testing, nuclear explosion testing. And so that became the science-based stockpile stewardship program. There had been stockpile stewardship ever since we had nuclear weapons, but it was less formal, in the Atomic Energy Commission and its successors. But this was a science-based stockpile stewardship program. This was an opportunity for the three weapon laboratories—Los Alamos, then Livermore beginning in 1952, and Sandia from the very beginning—the non-nuclear part of the nuclear weapons enterprise—to build major facilities which persuaded them to sign on politically to support the total test ban (laughter). Which they did.
And I happened to be—you know, individual JASONs have different contacts with these things, but in a non-JASON role, I happened to be in the office of the Director of Sandia. I was a consultant to Sandia at the time, having retired from IBM. So, one of the things that I wanted to do was to have a little income, and so I was consultant to Sandia. So, I happened to be with the Director of Sandia at the time, while he was on a secure telephone call to the Director at Los Alamos and Livermore. And so, they were saying, “Okay, I will support NIF, the National Ignition Facility, at Livermore, and I'll support the radiographic dart—the dual access radiographic hydro test facility at Los Alamos. But you guys have to support my microelectronics center.”
So those are three programs that the weapon laboratories exchanged their support politically for the test ban. So, it greased the wheels, as a kind of pay to play. They had good intentions for these things, but they felt they probably couldn't get them except this opportunity to condition their support on these things. Anyhow. So that was my involvement there. And the laboratories, frankly, did not put enough ongoing effort into these things, using the dart at Los Alamos to get information, or using the NIF, the National Ignition Facility, to support the—
Dick, I think that’s a little bit unfair. I mean, I think these facilities took a long time to learn how to use and really how to be productive in that environment. And some of them have done very well. But first of all, Vic Reis’s role was head of defense programs in NNSA [https://carnegieendowment.org/email/Nuclear_Policy/files/bio-VicReis.pdf 1993-1999]
And Bob Peurifoy, retired as vice president of Sandia National Laboratories, Albuquerque.
And he’s a very savvy guy, indeed, cutting those deals (Vic Reis).
And he was very effective. And he was very influential and persistent, and that’s how JASON got into this enhanced role. Sid Drell, individually, had chaired a committee with Charlie Townes, and Johnny Foster, on the safety of deployed nuclear weapons. And they found some alarming things, like the artillery shells widely deployed in Europe were “one-point” unsafe. If the explosive in the nuclear artillery shell had detonated in the barrel of the gun that was firing it, there would have been a nuclear yield. And so, there was an emergency program to safe them permanently in their deployed condition and bring them all back. And so that gave Sid really a motivation to look at all of these things on a science-based approach. So, the use of advanced computers. That’s one of the reasons JASON did so much on advanced computing technologies and capabilities.
Dick, on that point, Vic Reis, one of his innovations was he recognized that absent nuclear testing, there would need to be supercomputer simulations of nuclear tests. JASON was involved in developing that technology?
On the periphery, because you know, we worked late, compared with other people. We have only a tiny budget. And people had a better understanding.
But we would typically meet with the lab folks and challenge them and just exchange ideas. There were a lot of great new ideas coming along in high-performance computing.
I never was deep into this, but I do remember the days when two labs would come, so to say, to engage in a gunfight at the O.K. Corral, during the summer study. And JASON would be the- JASON would be the moderator (laughter).
The target. The target.
And attempt to make peace. Yes, there were times when JASON was the target from both sides. Something like that. I mean, there was no way JASON could do any truly substantive work involving high-performance computing. But I guess we could, and did, play the role that we would play to our graduate students. We would say, “Well, it would be really a good idea to look at the following issue.” And they would go away for a year, and they would come back, having done reams and reams of calculations and experiments, and then the advisor would ask “But wait a minute (laughter). If you change this parameter by 10%, what would happen? Would it change the outcome entirely?” “Oh, Jesus, I never tried that.” (Laughter) Go back and calculate some more—(laughter). Our role was not so much quality control, but it was one of bringing in critical observation from the outside, from people who were technically astute enough to be able to see where groupthink was leading the whole team in one direction and ignoring the possibility that they were going down the wrong path. That’s my view of what we were up to in this area.
Roy, as you noted, of course just because the Cold War ended, nuclear issues with regard to supercomputing and verification, that by no means came to an end in the 1990s. To go back to the question that Curt was answering, though, my question is, with the end of the Cold War, was there a general sense that there were new definitions of international security? In other words, JASON became much more heavily involved in climate modeling in the 1990s. And with regard to public health and biology. So, the question is, was part of that simply that these were already matters of international security import, but the end of the Cold War essentially allowed head space, breathing room, new ways of conceptualizing international security?
These were subjects that people in JASON were interested in, and I guess the head space was for government agencies that wanted technical help or technical advice on how to pursue these areas. Somehow, the range of topics that we could imagine getting support to study over the summer did expand. There’s no doubt about that. We spent some time trying to get NASA to be interested in us, and we had some very early satellite studies that must have been supported by NASA. I remember there were some studies on small satellites, asking what are they good for? What could you do with them? The relationship with NASA was never very intense or deep, and I don’t think it lasted very long. But certainly there was the sense that we had better, if we wished to survive as an active group, we had better expand the range of topics that we are willing to dig into, and see whether we can get government sponsors to be interested in supporting us to look at these wider questions.
The climate story had been going on since the eighties. It was just bumbling along at a low level. I think it never was raised to a very extremely high level within the group. But there was always a small group that was interested in them, and there was a sponsor at DOE, Ari Patrinos, who was interested in what we had to contribute. And that kept going. But then that wasn’t directly a national security issue. It was just obviously important to the nation as a whole, and we had managed to acquire some kind of credibility with somebody who had responsibility for this area in government. And other such areas gradually opened up.
I'm curious the work that JASON did on CHAMMP, Computer Hardware, Advanced Mathematics and Model Physics. Was this a program that was specifically for climate change research, or did it have broader implications?
I believe it was largely in support of climate science. That is to say, the problem in climate modeling is a simulation problem, and the scale of the simulation is such that all kinds of issues, both hardware and computer science, and physical modeling, come in. And CHAMMP was a program which derived from our original interest in the climate problem. There was another related set of studies called ARM, I think—Atmospheric Radiation Monitoring, or something like that. And the question arose, if you learn things about energy transport in the atmosphere from ARM, how would you feed them into computer simulations of the general circulation? And I guess CHAMMP must have been an attempt to see what the then-developing supercomputer hardware that was coming online could do more specifically for general circulation modeling. These studies went on for a couple of years, and I'm sure that they had some impact on what the DOE decided to do in the way of supporting large, high-performance computing infrastructure.
Specifically ARM and some of those were very important to be able to validate the models.
In the laboratory. And these were pretty impressive, large-scale [laugh] experimental setups, to be able to do that. But it’s a very hard problem. It’s like studying nukes without ever testing them.
I don’t know what was the ultimate concrete outcome. The problem was that, I don’t know, at the time the general circulation models broke the atmosphere into ten-kilometer-square blocks, and maybe one-kilometer thick slices in altitude. Or maybe it was even more coarse. And the actual scale where dissipation happens in the atmosphere is at much, much smaller scales; meters, let’s say (laughter). And so how do you go from the scale at which the thing that you're ultimately trying to account for is actually happening, and replace what’s going on inside the large cubes that your computer can handle with some kind of approximate subgrid model that actually correctly instantiates what goes on in the atmosphere.
And includes all the butterflies in the big cube (laughter).
Yeah, yeah, yeah. So that was the idea I think behind ARM. Experiments were done, I believe, in which very detailed modeling of the—sorry, observation of the atmosphere was carried out, in a certain number of locations on the Earth, in the U.S. in particular, using all kinds of remote probes. Serious work was done. And whether that actually turned into a package that you could insert in a general circulation model that improved its performance, I've lost track of that at this point. But that whole area of general circulation modeling has just chugged along slowly with incremental progress over the years. And I am sure it has greatly advanced in its skill, possibly in part because of this program that Ari Patrinos was championing in the middle eighties, or maybe late eighties to early nineties.
To come back to a topic that we touched on briefly earlier, one of the developments in the 1990s, I think, is that new JASONs were increasingly coming from disciplines beyond physics. I'm curious if all of the work on climate change was what precipitated that.
I would say no. To my recollection, the people who actually worked most actively on the climate change related studies were people who had entered JASON before the nineties. Gordon MacDonald was a—how shall I put it—a major enthusiast and he was a major, so to say, organizer of efforts. And then there were various computer science experts who came in earlier. No, I would say that somehow the opening to biology, for example, certainly dramatically changed or dramatically expanded the range of disciplines that were inducted into JASON. And that started to happen in a big way, I think, in the late nineties.
Late nineties, yeah.
When did Ellen join?
Ellen joined a couple of years before me in the early 1990’s.
She came in just because, well, she was a condensed matter physicist—
Material science, yeah.
A material scientist of considerable repute. And I guess we must have decided that we needed—well, we did—needed materials scientists. And we got one or two. Sort of the biological invasion came a little bit later. But not—
Well, about the same time. That’s when Jerry Joyce joined too.
And how much of the so-called biological invasion was specifically related to DNA research and the Human Genome Project?
Oh, I think that was a big mover.
We must have had some studies on biological weapons. But I can’t recall exactly when. Certainly, the first major motivation for bringing biology into the group in a big way was the Human Genome Project. That’s for sure. Trying to look at—I was looking at Dick’s list.
That’s of course only every five years (laughter).
Yeah, it’s course-grained.
Why are you doing it only on—it’s pretty coarse grained. You happened to have those report lists every five years?
It’s pretty daunting to have the full thing. And I've eliminated the content from a few of the entries, but nothing that we're talking about.
Okay. Yeah, so I see a Human Genome Project report in ’97. And was that the first one?
Sounds about right.
I believe it was. Yeah, I guess the Human Genome—when did the actual “Hooray, we have sequenced the human genome” come—that was after 2000, right? The actual outcome?
Oh, yeah. I think that’s roughly when a number of us went up to Jerry Joyce’s lab, around ’97, to learn how to do pipetting.
The completion was declared in April of 2003.
2003, okay. So, this was in the early days, and somebody at DOE—and I'm wondering if it wasn’t Ari Patrinos again—
It was Ari, I'm sure.
—wanted a meta look at the strategies that were being adopted. So, we learned all about back—what do you call them—plasmids and cosmids and I forget what the name of the standard sequencer was in those days.
Dick, where did you get this lovely list? This is just dug out of your files?
Current JASONs can see the total list in a file, Reports.xlsx worksheet.
It’s the SharePoint.
On the SharePoint.
It’s the SharePoint system for unclassified material. And it’s reasonably complete.
To go back to the question of security issues, it’s interesting how DOE was so centrally involved in the Human Genome Project. And I can see why there would be a connection to JASON, but where is the international or national security import of the Human Genome Project that might better explain why JASON would be involved in an advisory capacity?
We had no—how shall I put it—founding document—no charter that said we could only work on things that had direct connection to national security in the military sense (laughter). We were free agents.
(Laughter) However, at least during the Cold War, almost exclusively, all JASON reports had some direct connection to these realms. It is notable that it does seem as if JASON really is expanding its portfolio after the Cold War.
Well, I think that’s correct. I think that’s fair. And I would say the one counterexample to expanding the portfolio only after the Cold War ended is the climate change story.
Sometimes people were willing to pay JASON for other things. So mostly government expenditures during the Cold War, or security and intelligence. And then afterwards, the government was looking for other ways to occupy themselves and to solve other problems. And so there was money available to ask JASON for guidance on some of these things.
On that point, the JASON Global Grid Study in July 1992, it seems to serve as a bridge. It seems as if there were national security implications to developing the global grid, and then also just opportunities to advance U.S. interests from a business and a telecommunications perspective as well.
No, nothing about U.S. interests. This was a technological fanatic who was bright in a lot of things. And I don’t remember whether he was in DARPA—
Which fanatic are you talking about?
The global grid. The global intelligence—
No, no, no, I remember the global grid. I even remember my contribution to that study (laughter).
Okay, what was that?
My contribution (laughter)—it was to ask could you possibly map the entire surface of the Earth? What would be the data storage, the data manipulation, the communications implications, of essentially locating every structure on the surface of the Earth for future uses, whether they be targeting or intelligence or what have you? It was a totally meta study. It was just making use of speed of light, orbits of satellites, accuracy of location, making use of GPS. It was based on numbers that were perfectly available. I had to ask computer scientists how many operations do you have to do in order to process per pixel in an image ... and so on and so on.
And, well, basically we concluded that yes, you could definitely do this. And it would stress the computational resources available, but given Moore’s law, surely manageable within a not very distant future if you wanted to do it. And you know, this was just—since the whole idea of global grid was simply to say, how does the ability to widely communicate and observe and locate, how does that affect, or how could that affect both military operations and I guess intelligence gathering, for that matter? And what would be the technological things that you needed most to hammer on to advance, in order to achieve some sort of global objective? But you said there was a fanatic behind this. And who was the fanatic?
Well, I'm trying to think of his name. He was either in- or DARPA.
His face is coming back to me, but not his name.
Exactly. And some communications technologies, some of them are direct streams of bits, and some segment the streams and send them by internet protocol-IP. And so, this was the something “to the desktop.” Essentially demanding 2gigabit/s communication to the user’s desktop. Lee H. Hammaarstrom was the USG official seized with this goal. I've recalled the name of the only employee of the SDIO in 1983 when it was first formed, and that was Simon P. Worden, “Pete” Worden. So, he was the one who contracted with Lowell Wood at Livermore and Greg Canavan at Los Alamos for technical support.
To come back to your question, how did we manage to wander so far afield from our original remit? And it was basically that, well, we had a certain, I don’t know, style of working, that could be applied to many government agencies, that could conceivably be useful to many government agencies other than the original main sponsors. And at the end of the Cold War, as the so to say historical relationships were being shaken up, we felt the need to essentially go out hunting, and talk to people in the Army, talk to people in NASA, talk to the people in as many government agencies as could conceivably be interested in our style of dealing with problems. In some cases, we did not get a positive response.
Roy, as you come into JASON at this point, do you detect this new entrepreneurial spirit that Curt is indicating? That JASON was self-consciously expanding its portfolio at this point?
I think so, yeah. It was growing. It was still technical. It was still purely technical. And it was still supporting of sponsors, good people at the government who are trying to do things. The one that came to my mind is a little bit later, was we mentioned last time or something with the fluff-up we had with Tony Tether and DARPA. But as soon as that was resolved—it took a little while—but we began working for DARPA or ARPA again. I remember—and Curt may have worked with her more than I did—Regina Dugan was a very dynamic leader there, and she had us doing things like humanitarian demining. I think my first summer in JASON, I went out in the parking lot with Freeman Dyson and probably some other notables [laugh], and we were going around and realizing that we had just blown ourselves up with a landmine, by our clumsy technique. So yeah—which I found frankly very appealing, to be able to look at those kinds of problems and see if, again, a group of people who sort of notice how to see through to a goal at the end of technical projects, could form a role here. So anyway, yes, that kind of stuff was clearly new to the group, and well received, I thought.
And probably much more unclassified. There was probably more ability to do these things?
Oh yeah, so a lot of it was unclassified. Yeah, more of it was unclassified, because clearly the numbers changed from Dick’s—well, he doesn't have the classified reports there, but they've gone—
I do. I have classified reports there.
But anyway, the fraction is roughly, what, half and half now, right, I would say, on reports, classified and unclassified. And yeah, that’s good. They get sent around more. People can read them. So that was my impression. It was growing ideas. I mean, the ARM idea, it was just wild to me to think you could sort of detect cubic miles of the Earth’s atmosphere and do something meaningful in an experiment there. It was pretty interesting stuff.
Curt, I'll return to you, and there’s no excuses on this, because you're chair of this report. Microsurveillance of the Urban Battlefield. My question there is, what were some of the technological challenges of the urban battlefield that precipitated this report? And I'm curious also if interest in the urban battlefield was, again, specifically an acknowledgement that post-Cold War, there’s not going to be any more major tank battles in Central Europe, and that the future of warfare would be increasingly urban and of a counterinsurgency nature.
Yeah. I mean, yes [laugh] to that question. I forget who actually commissioned us to do that study.
This was ARPA.
Yeah, okay. So, they must have had that in mind, also. So we said, okay, suppose you are a military unit and your goal is to successfully pass through, take control over, a city, against a hostile force that is not cooperating and not confronting you as an organized group, but is making use of snipers, and mines, and this, that, and the other thing. And I guess the idea was, the problem for the military unit is that of knowing what’s there and who’s moving around, and what’s happening. So, the idea was to—let’s see, this was in what? ’95, ’96, something like that?
So the idea was, could you imagine putting up on the fly the kind of system that the Chinese now have in place everywhere, and that the British have had in London—that is to say an optical surveillance system which allows some kind of comprehensive view of what’s going on in the city—could we do something like that. The scenario is that we're arriving in the city, we want to make use of drones, we want to make use of every modality that we can think of to put sensors, as widely distributed as deemed necessary, that can talk to each other and send information back to you. What kind of system could you imagine putting together that would work, so that you can drive down street X and know that the cross-street Y has a sniper nest concealed somewhere?
And so, the question was, well, microelectronics, what does that allow? Can you make a one cubic centimeter sized device that can both collect imagery and send it to you at some useful bit rate? And if it can, if you can imagine making such a thing, what are the issues involved with powering it, handling the information? So, the idea was simply to ask what you might need in order to play this game, in order to create a quickly-stood-up surveillance network that can be in effect degraded and reestablished as needed. What are the actual physical and information handling issues there? What are the realities of batteries and how long drones can stay in the air, and this that and the other thing. How small you can make a camera and the various electronics associated with it. How small you can make batteries. Can you do this?
So, that was what this was. It required getting together with people who know about microelectronics, optics, communications, networking, and so on to assess whether you could make such a system. And I have no idea whatever came of this. But we concluded (laughter) that yeah, you can do this. You actually could make such a system. It would be quite complex, and you’d want it to be as autonomous as you could possibly make it. And one didn't know whether artificial intelligence measures would be able to make—would make it possible for such complicated systems to work and hold together and function well, without so to say being held together by hand, by expert human minders. So that was what that was all about.
That’s an unclassified report, 19.
Utterly unclassified, as far as I know.
So, it may be available through Steve Aftergood’s site. But yes. And of course, there has been enormous progress in the density of microelectronics -- both in logic and especially in storage. Say from 16 kilobytes (kB) to 32 gigabytes (GB) for the same size and cost.
It was kind of fun.
I said it was actually quite a lot of fun. We basically made proposals that they should develop a whole bunch of different devices, and I don’t know whether anything came of it. Not directly.
A lot of development has happened over the years, so there are persistent surveillance drones with multiple high-resolution cameras that fly at 10,000 feet or so and look down at everything that’s happening. And these are used, actually, not only in foreign countries—
—but also in the United States. And then there are sniper locators. So, if you have distributed microphones, then the idea is—find people by-
I'm sure you contributed heavily to this report, Dick. I don’t remember.
Yeah, that’s right. So how does all this happen? Well, some of us have individual experiences. In the 1960s, my Military Aircraft Panel of PSAC was pushing very hard for the separation of surveillance reconnaissance on the one hand, from weapon delivery on the other. And we had a willing partner in the Defense Department, Bill Perry. And over the decades, he has continued, and his programs have continued. But what we wanted was what is GPS now, deployed in the 1970s. And we could see how that would be tremendously important for weapon delivery.
And what we didn't see was what Curt mentioned before—that you would have what everybody has now, Google Maps, where you see everything on Earth to an accuracy of ten meters or so, and everybody has access to that information. And so that is the reason why weapon delivery now against geographic coordinates, including the oblateness of the Earth and the terrain and so on, which is critically important, all of which were daunting problems in the 1960s. But what we needed it for was airborne weapon delivery. And all that was available then, if you would just put all of the reconnaissance information into a global map. But you didn't need the whole global map; you just needed the map of targets in GPS coordinate, not even in Earth coordinates, to do the job. But it took a very long time, not technically, but against the bureaucracy, to get the decisions made and this thing deployed. And that's the same with the urban battlefield. Wasn’t a high priority for the United States, and even when we became involved, and we had specific contracts—an Army general with a historic name came out to brief us, much too late, about—
Monty Meigs. JASON got to know Meigs well in his role in the early 2000’s as leader of JIEDDO--Joint IED Defense Organization--performing studies over several consecutive summers to find ways to protect US troops against improvised explosive devices in Iraq and Afghanistan. Very tough problem because IEDs are so simple, robust, and effective. Meigs retired as Commander in Chief, US Army Europe in 2002, was a professor and serious intellectual, returning to service to head up JIEDDO through 2007. [He is named for his great-great-great-granduncle, Quartermaster General Montgomery C. Meigs, the father of Arlington National Cemetery, and for his father Lieutenant Colonel Montgomery Meigs, a World War II tank commander who was killed in action one month before Meigs was born.]
Meigs. M-E-I-G-S. The person who designed the Capitol building, I guess, in Washington. Anyhow. So, about the expedient landmines in the environment. So, these things that were set up by the insurgents in Iraq in order to destroy American troops on the highways, eventually not just explosives but homemade shaped charged weapons that would penetrate even armored vehicles, detonated either by cell phones or by wires, and so on. And there was an interaction between the people who were designing these things and deploying them against us, and the people, not JASONs, but who were looking at it. And we had an occasional look at the problem and tried to contribute to the solution.
The idea that JASON was expanding its contacts in the government, with regard to the Human Genome Project, was JASON’s access point exclusively DOE, or was it working with NIH directly at this point?
Do you remember, Roy? I mean, I think it was exclusively DOE.
Yes, that’s my—I don’t remember. I really wasn’t in management yet (laughter). But it had to have been DOE both from just the contact—I mean, the people who knew us and trusted us with their funds. I don’t think we've ever had an NIH study, but I may be wrong on that. There may be something much more recent.
And would that suggest that JASON’s work was more on the computational side and not as much on the biological side? Or it was involved in biological considerations as well?
A lot of biology obviously was going to come out of the Genome Project, but the question was, are the actual operational steps that are going to be taken to sequence these molecules—is it all going to work? You have to do a lot of steps. They involve chemistry. They involve the organization of a large number of chemical steps.
One has to ask what is the error rate that you're actually going to be making, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. Somehow it wasn’t so much a biology issue; it was one of organizing a large research project with many parts that needed to be coordinated.
Information management is how I would describe it.
Yeah, the information management was important. Initially we were just advising Ari Patrinos on whether all of the important questions that you would have to answer were going to be answered or were being looked at systematically.
The first—if we look at genome, then the 1997 was for DOE, and there were several others in later years for DOE. But eventually we had one for OSD—the “hundred-dollar genome”, and one for one of the intelligence community, what would be the implications of genomes, of exploiting and so on. So it’s when people can recognize people at no cost essentially out of an enormous universe, that has implications for finding agents.
By the way, one of the ideas that was generated in that time, although we didn't see the forward importance as much as what happened, is the notion of just collecting community information. For example, it has happened now with the COVID, so that you can sample a larger group and then winnow down the actual infections and save time and effort.
There are two aspects to that.
And that came out of a couple of those studies, but I doubt that anybody read the report who actually started making it happen again. But that was a nifty idea.
Yeah, it was called sewer int.
Yeah, sewer INT.
Intelligence related to sewers. And now, quite a few university campuses are using that. They look at the outflow from each of the dorms and buildings as well as the total, not to find an individual particularly, because there might be many, but to determine the amount of the SARS-CoV-2 viral genome or portions of it. The city of Boston does that, for real-time information on the prevalence of COVID-19.
UCSD has been very active in this. I think the infection rate, they say at UCSD, is two tenths of a percent of the faculty and students.
And so. at two tenths of a percent, you can actually find the individual in a dorm who has it.
JASON was involved in a large study on counterproliferation in 1998 that focused on chemical and biological warfare. Had JASON done anything on CW and BW research during the Cold War, or this was exclusively a post-Cold War research initiative?
I was going to ask Dick-
I don’t remember. I don’t recall. I worked on these things for the President's Science Advisory Committee and for the 1969 Nixon decision to bar offensive BW research, and not only deployment, stockpiling, and use, but any research on such things that led to the Biological Weapons Convention. So, I go back a long way on that, but it’s mostly non-JASON work.
David, what’s your background, on that point?
This is a report, January ’98, counterproliferation, led by Lewis and Happer. And I'm curious there if the larger concern was non-state actors, or rogue states such as Iran and North Korea. And of course, it was before 9/11.
Well, if it has the name “proliferation,” it’s for rogue states or organized non-state actors.
In what ways was JASON’s work in atmospheric radiation after the Cold War different than what it had done during the Cold War?
Atmospheric radiation is mostly dealing with the weather and climate question. So that was our use for that term. So, we didn't do any of that during the Cold War. It was not related to the Cold War. There was a little bit on weather modification as a weapon, as to whether it would be useful against us. And so, people looked at that a little bit. Again, Gordon MacDonald, I think.
And was the impetus on remanufacture of nuclear weapons, was that entirely integrated within the stockpile stewardship program? Or that was a separate initiative?
No, it was in the stockpile stewardship.
I would guess so. Roy?
Yeah, purely stockpile stewardship. Remember, we (the US) didn't have a facility for making pits after 1992. So, it is a big deal, actually.
What were some of the technological challenges with regard to remanufacture?
It’s a very precise manufacturing activity. Very high standards and various dimensions of what has to be done, to make these things. And the facility that had really all the expertise at Rocky Flats was simply gone, so it had to be recreated. And it’s still in process.
There’s a study in May 2000 on molecular electronics. I wonder if somebody can help define what molecular electronics were, and what were some of the technical advances that made nanotechnology rise to the level of JASON study on it?
Well, molecular electronics was an early term (Westinghouse, I think) for ultimate density of integrated circuits, and how you deposit these things. I don’t remember—that’s probably an unclassified study, so you could probably read it.
I think that’s exactly right. You know, so much is happening, frankly, in the private sector on these, and what you can now buy to either plug into your TV set or something else is just astonishing (laughter).
But, you know, we were beginning to explore these broader connections, but the market out there has really been phenomenal. That, and with drones (laughter).
I'm curious if anybody knows the origin of the term “biofutures” as it was the subject of a summer study in 2000.
What is the term? Bio-what?
I still didn't understand. What is the last after “bio”? What comes?
Futures. F-U-T-U-R-E-S. Biofutures.
I suppose it’s about biological weapons and genome and things like that.
It was related to computer modeling of cellular biochemical networks.
Well, that’s what it’s about.
Another broad question—when 9/11 happened—similar question about the end of the Vietnam War, the end of the Cold War. What were people informally or more formally in JASON thinking about what JASON’s role might be in the post-9/11 era?
Well, one of the first things that happened is we were fired, just after 9/11, okay, (laughter) by—we talked about that briefly—by Tony Tether. And we went into a bit of a hiatus there, just to—and then we—it was actually, in my personal opinion, a very positive event. Our value to the government was being reexamined by serious people in the government, and we found some very good people to challenge and sponsor us.
Dick mentioned one of the very top-level people last time. But I was talking to people at the working level, and we ran into one particular incredibly dedicated person in the government, in many different roles. I’d just as soon not give his name here, who was quite skeptical when he first heard of JASON. And then in the end, he put together the team that supported us through this office of the defense deputy director of S&T. At that time, the head of that office was Ron Sega. And they put together a tighter knit to communication at the government level between the intel side and also the NNSA, the nuclear side as well as the Defense Department side. It was informal, but at least the heads of those offices that we had been working with talked to each other, and we could talk to them, all of them, and try to come up with good programs.
That started—I think basically it took—after 9/11, it took a couple of years to work out some of the ingredients. Oh, and it also directly brought in the CIA, which was very positive for us. Those studies were classified.
Tether’s decision to fire JASON was essentially unilateral? Were there other people involved?
I'm not sure. It was the head of the organization that was funding us, at that time, just said goodbye and pulled the funding. Then we talked to others who had also funded us over that time and put together a more robust coalition of these government agencies.
Roy, did JASON institutionally have a contingency plan in the event that something like this would happen, and was it well prepared to respond to Tether’s decision?
Probably like many contingency plans in JASON, no (laughter). As Dick would say.
And Tether controlled the entirety of JASON’s budget, or JASON had contracts with other agencies as well?
Well, as we have explained, the sponsoring agency not only has a study or two, sometimes, maybe none, but they are a passthrough in the government process. Or used to be interdepartmental transmission. So only one contract is necessary even though we may work for ten agencies, and that one contract then manages all of the tasks. So, it’s a matter of convenience on both sides and reduces enormous costs and makes something possible that would be really impossible otherwise. And the problem with Tony Tether was that he wanted JASONs to appoint three new JASONs, and they were people he knew, but they didn't come up through the usual approach. They didn’t pass the usual requirements. So, JASON said no, and people got their backs up. And when all else fails, fire JASON. So that’s what was done.
And I had a hand, ultimately, in resolving that, in a phone call to the Secretary of Defense on a Saturday morning, when I was going to Russia that afternoon, and so on. So that’s how we went from being sponsored by DARPA to being sponsored by the Office of the Secretary of Defense acquisition and—whatever—anyhow.
Dick, was this resolved quickly enough that there wasn’t sufficient time for JASONs to consider just disbanding the entire enterprise?
Yes. Well, no. People didn't know what we were going to do. Plan A was to get Tony Tether to change his mind. And plan B was to continue with somebody else if possible. So, because Tony Tether was in the Defense Department and was working for the undersecretary, who agreed to take us on—
He was actually under the DDR&E at that point.
Uh-huh. Anyhow. So, they had plenty of influence over him, but they decided rather than doing that, it’d be easier to change our locus of support in OSD. So, as Roy says, it was a step up, a better solution. It caused some storm.
But basically, the key scheduling milepost, we managed to absorb the shock and work out a good plan before the summer study, and the members—everybody hung together, and we had a summer study.
Was the transition to OSD from JASON’s perspective merely administrative or did it actually entail different kinds of work, different kinds of opportunities for JASON to take on?
No, it was just administrative.
Pretty much. Yeah.
And then how long did that relationship with OSD last?
Til about two years ago, I believe (laughter).
Oh, so it was OSD the entire time, from then?
It was OSD, with this—we called it the three-legged stool. It was OSD, yes, as a contract, with close consultation on both sides with DOE and the intel community. And then the process of moving, as Dick said, government money around, and getting it through OSD and so on. And it really wasn’t that different, because it was in the same basic office in the Pentagon; it was just one step higher, at that time.
And then—and I don’t know all the facts of what happened—what was it now?—two years ago—when basically OSD got out of the game, and NNSA took us over in toto. So that was a complicated one, and I was simply not involved in those processes. But that was—my impression was—Dick probably knows a lot more than I do—is it was much more difficult than what ended up resolving up the Tether fluff-up.
I think that’s a good stopping point for today.
I'm sending you a little note.
[End of Origins of JASON Roundtable IV]
[Start of Origins of JASON Roundtable V]
My computer upgraded itself last night, and naturally took me out of a usable operation space. So, pardon me if I putz around.
This is David Zierler, oral historian for the American Institute of Physics. It is February 27th, 2021. I'm so happy to be back with Ken Watson, Roy Schwitters, Dick Garwin, for our ongoing discussion of the origins and recent history of JASON. What we're going to do today is we're going to try to bring the conversation and the narrative right up to the present, covering the early 2000s right to JASON’s most recent advisory work. I'll start off with a question where we touched on last week, perhaps we can develop a little more, and that is the rupture with Tony Tether.
My question is, were the criticisms sufficiently substantive, and was the time that elapsed between the initial break and when JASON reestablished its connections—were either of those elements long enough that it precipitated internal even existential questions among JASON members about the ultimate purpose of its mission, whether even it should exist, who might take up support of JASON going forward. What kind of discussions, if at all, took place, as a result of Tether’s decision?
I was deeply involved in that with Steve Koonin who was chair at the time. I was vice chair. And it was mainly—well, the thing I remember is it was one of these all-hands-on-deck calls, strategies being developed, effort going on, on a daily basis, with two or three phone calls a day between Steve and me, and then of course there would be a lot with Dick and others in the group. So, I think Dick could probably better answer that. I didn't feel a very contemplative mode, then. It was trying to find, frankly, new sources of support in various paths. And what emerged—we can talk about that later—I think was a very satisfactory outcome. But it was not pretty.
I don’t think it involved JASONs very much. Only the leadership at the moment, and they called on prior chairs. It’s not something that you want to upset the troops about (laughter).
That’s certainly true.
That was my view. And you know, it just blew out of all proportion. People got their backs up. And you wish it hadn’t come to that, and that there had been more informal candid discussion. But I didn't know Tony Tether very well. I don’t know any of these people very well. So ultimately, when it came to my relation with—
Well, it was Don Rumsfeld, wasn’t it?
With Don Rumsfeld. It’s just that I have difficulty remembering names. Don Rumsfeld. I felt I could do something. So, I suggested that I arrange a telephone call with him. And I contacted his secretary, who I knew from the six months we had worked together in 1998 in the Rumsfeld Commission on Ballistic Missile Threat to the United States. And she was very accommodating. She arranged for him to call me on a Saturday morning, the next day. And so, he did.
And he had never—never told Tony Tether to put these people on JASON (laughter). And yet Tony Tether had told us that Rumsfeld had said that. So, you can’t go back to Tony Tether and say, “Here, Don Rumsfeld said he never said that.” Anyhow. So, Rumsfeld was talking at that time in his office with the person who was Tony Tether’s superior, actually, in the Defense Department. And rather than—
I can talk about that, Dick.
Well, rather than—I know you know the relations better than I do. But you don’t know the telephone call better than I do.
Because unusually, I didn't get to report on this before, because I was leaving for Moscow that afternoon. And so, I can’t find the report of the telephone conversation. I think I probably called [unintelligible] or Steve or whatever and reported that way. But anyhow, so we were now funded in the same way. And I don’t think that the troops were much involved or much concerned about it. Certainly, the leadership was. And you know more about that than I do, Roy.
Right. Well, it pointed out actually some interesting questions (laughter) for the folks we ended up working for in the Department of Defense. Namely, it was, as Dick already said, the next higher level up, who was the defense director of R&D at that time. I don’t know what the actual—I don’t think it had attained undersecretary status then, but it did later. But anyway, that was Ron Sega, and he was a fine guy, and he had an assistant by the name of Al Shaffer. And Al didn’t really know JASON but did his homework. I think Al is one of the finest members of the bureaucracy, only recently leaving it, at a very high level in the new Defense Department. But Al was very thorough and very careful about this group of scientists. He had not worked with us before. He then went on to and polled the community of people who had been working with JASON. He was very thorough in this. He told us exactly what he was doing. And he came to the conclusion that it was worthwhile to the country! And Ron Sega supported that.
And then they got into a bit of a folderol with Tether. Tether was showing org charts where he was above Ron Sega and vice versa. And of course, he was below Ron Sega in the system. And anyway, it worked out for us extremely well, because Shaffer became, I think just exactly the kind of critical friend you need in this kind of relationship in the government, where he was no-nonsense. He would call us up if there were problems from his point of view. And there were, and we had to fix them. And then on the other side, he put together the most stable funding pattern that I saw in my time in JASON, where he informally worked with the other main agencies that we dealt with, which would be NNSA and the intel community, to stay in communication. And were they getting the product they needed, and could they help to do all the things it takes to run such an operation. So, we had this senior government informal group who could at least plan a good fraction of a sensible annual budget for us. By no means the whole thing. We, JASON, would have to go out and find other sources of support, too, to do the full program. But it was a very stable—I called it the three-legged stool—that persisted until recently.
Yeah. The person who was with Don Rumsfeld in his office at the time and stepped up was Undersecretary of Defense E.C. “Pete” Aldridge. And so he was the one who said he would ensure funding of JASON. And I knew him quite well, because he had been Director of the National Reconnaissance Office before it was declassified, before its existence was declassified. He was head of NRO 1981 to 1988 and Secretary of the Air Force 1986-8. And he was responsible for insisting that there be expendable launch vehicles and not signing up to NASA Kool-Aid of the space shuttle (partially) reusable launch vehicles, for launching all defense payloads. This saved the National Reconnaissance and defense satellite programs when the NASA space shuttle was unavailable for years after the loss of the Challenger.
Was your sense that Tony Tether’s decision was essentially unilateral? That he made this decision on his own?
And maybe it’s hard to divine one’s intentions, but is it possible that Tether was only interested in severing JASON’s relationship with DARPA? Or was his motivation that JASON just simply should not be involved with DOD advisory work across the board?
I have no idea. I think more recently, our most recent existential crisis was with people who wanted JASON not to exist, because of the way they abruptly terminated funding and insisted on return of all of the documents and all that, which fortunately didn't happen.
Tony—the previous summer, end of summer study, Tony was in that position. And he came out for what we call the summer study wrap-up. That was our first chance to meet him and talk about things. And we actually at that point suggested to him—he had asked for or suggested a grand challenge engineering topic for Tony’s office that he liked very much. He put it into motion. It was an autonomous vehicle kind of race, if you will, amongst university groups, to build autonomous vehicles, that could go large distances and find their way and do useful things. And it was a great success, it was a great hit in the research community, and it was a great feather in his cap. So on that side, we thought we were off to a good start, although I just was reading (laughter) personally—and this is not very good input, but body language during the meeting when we first met him, and he seemed very, very nervous about, shall we say, just the kind of casual-appearing attitude of scientists who know each other well and work well together. And I think it started there.
Roy, can you go into a little more detail? You said that this presented JASON with new opportunities, after the Tony Tether issue. In what ways? Both budgeting, administrative, intellectual? In what ways did JASON actually turn out stronger as a result?
Well, I think it was having a government—the chief sponsors. This was the three-legged stool, which was the intelligence community, and now NNSA. And the Defense Department R&D side. These were the major sources of work and interesting things but not entirely. And it solidified our base for many years.
That’s right, that our sponsors really hadn’t talked together about JASON.
So, Al brought them together. And sometimes they met with us. Usually we met with them just individually, on the individual issues. But this put together—it changed, if you will, the sort of fundraising side of JASON to the point where we could go into different areas. We had an understanding that we could—and we would of course come up with good studies, but we had the chance to work them out with the prime, if you will, members. But then we met new people and new places, to fill out the full program. It was again 60% or so of a program in any given year, not 100% by any means. So, one had to go out and meet new folks and do new studies and move around. So, it was the administrative strength, I think, that it brought, and the sense of continuity (laughter) that’s really important when you're planning people’s summers and things, that there will actually be something to do!
Roy, as you mentioned, NNSA would become a major sponsor of JASON going forward.
Well, they were, by the way. I mean, they were deeply involved from the whole time I've been involved. But anyway, yeah, keep—they also just became a new kind of agency too, in that period.
So as I'm sure you know, the creation of NNSA and its mandate has been criticized by prominent people like Ernie Moniz who say things like, “It adds an unnecessary layer of bureaucracy, and it doesn't do anything to clarify the ultimate responsibility when issues happen with regard to nuclear security.” In other words, where exactly does the buck stop? I'm curious from JASON’s perspective, when NNSA commissions reports for JASON, if any of those confusions sort of are part of the process in terms of who ultimately are the consumers of JASON’s advisory work. Is it really only the NNSA, or to what extent is DOE invariably involved because of those confusions?
I don’t think there was any—look, I'm not aware of a wall between DOE and NNSA in this regard. Those reports of course have to be classified the right way. They go into the system. And we had good relations with both sides of the house.
Yeah. Well, let me say what I know about this, which isn’t nearly so detailed as what Roy knows about it. But NNSA was in part the creation of Sid Drell. Sid was much involved with nuclear weapons. He did the first nuclear weapons safety study on the deployed artillery shells in Europe that turned out not to be one-point safe. And so, he and Charlie Townes and Johnny Foster, and Robert Peurifoy from Sandia, maybe retired from Sandia, did a really important study, and this was very influential with the Congress and whatnot.
Anyhow, the nuclear weapon activity in DOE, or whatever DOE’s name was at that time, was much inhibited by all of the boilerplate and bureaucracy of DOE. Security, accounting, field offices, and all that. And so, people who were more involved than I was said, “This ought to be streamlined.” And so, the idea was to have an autonomous, semi-autonomous part of DOE, which would have all the nuclear weapons stuff. But DOE resisted this. And so, they maintained contracting. They maintained security aspects. They maintained personnel, rules, and all kinds of things, from—
Site offices. (NNSA controlled management offices co-located at national laboratory sites)
All kinds of things were still there. So, the NNSA never did realize the autonomy and streamlined activity, and it was an additional layer. But if DOE had stepped away and let NNSA be what it was hoped to be, we wouldn't have this complaint by Ernie Moniz. Fine guy, of course. Anyhow, that’s what happened. And the NNSA folks—we had a really good relation with them, and even though we often tell the laboratories, weapon laboratories, that what they're doing is not the right way or they don’t need this, or they should do something else or whatever, they respect us for it, I think. And it’s one way to settle their problems and really have a united front against JASON—maybe Livermore and Los Alamos—to maintain—but it really—going back to many decades before, before JASON existed and so on, to have to talk with an independent knowledgeable group means that they get their act together that they might otherwise not do, at the laboratory level. Because they can say, “Look, you're going to have to talk to JASON about this. Now let’s see what the situation is, and how you present it and whatnot.” And so, it helps them in their management role as well at the laboratory level, and at the NNSA level, too.
Let’s turn to some of the prominent summer studies that begin in the early 2000s. Let’s start first with the high-energy petawatt issue. What was the status—this is in 2002—what was the status of high-energy petawatt lasers at that point? Were they conceptual? Were they in operation?
Well, no. Petawatt lasers—I don’t know—now, those are short-pulse lasers by definition. And they aren’t necessarily high energy. They may be high power; that’s what a watt rating is. And I didn't have much to do with that. That was an independent academic development of people who would compress the pulse. That’s how you get these very short pulses, typically. And then of course as soon as they were invented, then people asked whether they could be used for weapons and how they could be used for- and how they propagate, how they interact, and whatnot. So, the high-power lasers, the high-energy lasers and high-power lasers, were mostly chemical, because that’s how you store a lot of energy and continue to put it onto a target. And so, JASON did have a lot to do with that over the years. But that was mostly an industrial activity and JASON was brought in to advise these things.
NNSA commissioned this report partly on the basis that these lasers could increase our understanding of nuclear weapons physics, which of course begs two questions. In what way could it increase our understanding? And what remained to be understood about nuclear weapons physics at that point?
What year was that?
Well, a lot of things remain to be understood (laughter), even still, about nuclear weapons physics. Take biology. I mean, we have eight billion people, and they're pretty successful. And we have enormous lack of understanding as to how people work biologically, psychologically, sociologically, and all that. And same thing; the more you look at nuclear weapons, the less you understand about how they really work. It’s like the centipede that worked very well until he started to think about which leg to move next. So that’s a problem when you try to understand these things from first principles, and you—rather than just continuing to do what you have done before and stay within the boundaries of what you've done, you extend, you tend to extend it, because there are people who say, “Well, we know all about this. We can extrapolate what we're doing.” And there are people who say, “We really don’t understand these things, and once you move outside the trodden path, you're going to fail spectacularly.” Fermi used to complain that there were not enough failures in nuclear testing (laughter).
If I could just chime in? Remember, the big news in the nukes, at least in my mind (laughter)—and it certainly came at my time, as just I hadn’t even been in JASON—it was 1992, when we stopped underground testing, and we lost the capability to build nuclear pits—the Rocky Flat capability. And so, the name of the game in nukes has been pretty clear, then, is how you navigate without underground testing to full yields of some components. And I think my impression, since I joined JASON, was quite confident this could be done by doing partial experimental analyses, and, comparably important, developing really a new class of computational tools to try to model all this physics in a comprehensive way. And that was starting in that same period. The early stockpile stewardship was basically computational.
And that created I think really interesting sociological discussions between different experts. That is, could you really compute your way out of something you don’t understand in a nuclear weapon? And how could you manage the confidence that these things will work, if ever called upon, which was the name of the game. And my own journey through there was pretty skeptical for a long time, until finally the—and it took several generations of computation, where I could start being convinced that they were beginning to see the kind of physics that would be crucial. And it’s a great story. But that’s a big story, putting all that together, and it’s still a work in progress.
Yeah. But I now understand what you're talking about on petawatt lasers. That’s really NIF, the National Ignition Facility. And so the idea is that because you have such a small sample—milligrams instead of a ton—so that’s ten to the minus three, that’s a factor of ten to the nine—and so the space scale and the time scale are both reduced by a factor of ten to the nine to the one third power, factor 1000. So, what’s a microsecond in a two-stage nuclear weapon is a nanosecond. And so, you have to put in the energy in order to get the—so you put in your megajoule in energy in ten to the minus nine seconds, and so you have ten to the 15 watts. And so that’s what you're talking about. And you want to tailor that pulse.
And these things were just done in a marvelous fashion, but it was much oversold as essential to the credibility of U.S. nuclear deterrence, to achieve ignition at NIF. Whereas we used to make the ground thump in Nevada, and it could be detected all over the world, now the credibility of U.S. nuclear weapons depended on demonstrating ignition in thermonuclear fuel, which of course we still have not done. And it’s so much easier, I know, since 1952, to do this at full scale than to do it at ten to the minus nine scale. So that was totally misguided in the beginning.
Well, it was more than the beginning, Dick. It was most of the current life of that system. That ignition was this magic event.
Became more and more misguided.
And I always—here’s my feeling about ignition: Either you have it or you don’t. And so, after you achieve it, so what? Just turn the machine off. It’s a really bad advertising gimmick that got them into lots of trouble. And turns out, they're learning how to use NIF in different ways, where they can create conditions that are relevant, and they can actually study them in the laboratory, but it’s not ignition. So, I think they put themselves in a terrible bind, right from the get-go. Fortunately, they got some young physicists who are using those systems now, and aren’t hung up by those words, and they're doing great work!
But it took a long time.
The other thing that has happened is that the dead hand of NIF, in preventing other approaches to burning thermonuclear fuel—
—for experimental purposes. So, that’s gone away, and so there are innovations elsewhere, especially at Sandia, for burning small amounts of thermonuclear fuel for weapons-supporting experiments.
The next year, in 2003, JASON was commissioned also by NNSA to look at advanced scientific computing and modeling for maintaining a safe and reliable nuclear deterrent. I wonder if you can explain some of the background there. In what ways does advanced computing enhance America’s nuclear deterrent?
Well, it’s a measure of how well you understand these subtle physics issues regarding nuclear performance that you can compute and compare in the laboratory. As Dick has already pointed out, the orders of magnitude are quite different, and there was a lot of skepticism of whether you’d be able to rely on that, in the early days.
Yeah. It lets you extrapolate from small experiments in the lab, above-ground experiments, to the nuclear weapon performance itself. So properly used, what it does is to maintain reliability, maintain confidence in existing nuclear weapons. It doesn't add to our capability. And that’s what we generally want to do is just maintain confidence in the ability to detonate a nuclear weapon through the entire stockpile to target sequence. You want to be able to compute corrosion, want to be able to determine how big a crack is significant in the flow of radiation or whatever. You want to know how to make the radiation case. There are all kinds of wonderful things to do here. But the original nuclear weapons were spherical, essentially, or didn't matter. Like the gun-type nuclear weapons could be modeled as a sphere. Didn't matter. And the two-stage nuclear weapons by definition are not one-dimensional. They're not spherical. Depending only on properties versus radius, which is the definition of a spherical nuclear weapon. A one-dimensional calculation of everything versus radius and time. Two-dimensional means that instead of being a function of radius, it’s a function, for instance, of radius from the axis vs. distance along the axis joining the primary and the secondary. And so that’s a two-dimensional calculation. Pressures, densities, velocities are no longer P(r) but P(r,z).
So maybe a hundred points would be a lot in the original Trinity weapon, Nagasaki implosion weapon. But in two dimensions, you'd have to have 100 by 100, 10,000 points. And now when you're talking about aging, corrosion, and things like that, the faults that come in—corrosion or whatever, or inevitable asymmetries in nuclear weapon fabrication—there are some things that aren’t actually symmetric. Instead of 10,000 points, now you need a million points. And in addition, the time scale has to be reduced. And so you have enormous increases in computational load, compared with the back of the envelope and the machine calculations that were done with battery relays and whatnot in the card program calculators in the 1940s, and then to the electronic calculators, and now up by orders and orders of magnitude—ten orders of magnitude—in the computational performance.
I could add a bit on that now. The other thing that—the other tool that’s here that has been exploited I think effectively is the test database. I mean, we had essentially a thousand tests, and many of them, especially leading up to the stoppage in the early nineties, were really well instrumented. Lots of data. And in those tests, there are broad ranges of parameters and things looked at. And naturally, the good news is, as Dick said, you've got to have some failures, you've got to have things that don’t work perfectly, to learn. And there were so-called anomalies. And there were those, are those. And personally, what I'm most impressed by in today’s world—and this is just the last couple of years—is that they have enough computational capability that they can model now whole suites, say 100 tests of a given type, that had their own little fluctuations or some anomalies, and you can largely understand the entire ensemble with that. That really changes the game, when you have that kind of—these are called whatever, unified or—basically where you have now a—you model the specific differences between these hundreds of tests, and you get, for the most part, pretty good understanding of the results now on these calculations.
By the way, these calculations, on the biggest supercomputers, can last months. So, they are themselves a huge investment. And you've got to get them right. But these so-called—oh, I've forgotten their term of art, where they have these families that they—it’s I guess a common model for a big suite of different underground tests, is pretty convincing.
Yeah. So the idea was a “button-to-boom” calculation, where you would—nowadays, you'd take the computer-aided design tools that define the nuclear weapon—you know, which we used to have in the form of mechanical drawings, and things were machined, with specified fillets -- the little radii rather than perfectly sharp corners -- and whatnot. But all that now is computer-aided design tools. You put that in, you do the zoning automatically and so on. You light the explosive at the detonation—at the detonators, and it goes through the high-explosive booster into the main explosive charge. Then it—all the U.S. nuclear weapons are hollow-boosted primaries. And so, you have to calculate that. You have to calculate the boost process. So, as the DT charge is compressed and heated by the implosion, and then by the nuclear reaction, how does it burn? How does it provoke more yield from the fission primary? How is that transferred in the form of soft x-rays to prepare the secondary? How does the secondary explode?
So, all those things, which were individual tools in the past, often one-dimensional or two-dimensional maybe, now are done really properly. And until recent years, there were substantial factors missing, and people would use rules of thumb. But now people understand—they understand the origin of those discrepancies, and so they're included in the code. And, we still have the equation-of-state questions. How do these equations of state work? That means when you have a certain temperature and pressure, what is the energy content, or vice versa, and so on. Still uncertainties.
What was the role of the stockpile stewardship program in this study? How were they involved?
Well, that was the overall container for all of this. That’s where it was put. The science-based stockpile stewardship program beginning in 1995 or so, by Vic Reis.
That’s right. That was the organizing principle. And we, JASON, had two or three—well, a couple of studies each summer, still do, on refinements of this, that, and the other aspects of this.
Some of them were boost campaigns to understand boost. And some were advanced computing initiative —ASCI.
Aging materials, you name it. There’s a bunch of that stuff that goes on. And in that sense, it is a working relationship with the labs. We can fight out and yell at each other at these meetings. We're trying to understand and translate their words into science that’s believable.
They have some very good people.
And several of them have worked with us routinely as essentially members of our study group. They may not sign the papers.
Roy, you mentioned earlier, or you alluded to the idea, that JASON increasingly became more involved in intelligence kinds of advisory work. I wonder if this is a development specifically related to the post-Tony Tether issue, or it was somewhat prior to that?
I don’t see a direct correlation there at all.
I think again, you're coming into a new era, where the world is different. Communications are different. How you protect your secrets are different. You have the computational tools, all of that. And we were working with various sides of it who had responsibilities, frankly either offensive or defensive, on managing information. And we had a great opportunity to work these complex new problems given the vulnerabilities out there, of tiny electronics, or people picking up signals, or people drilling holes into your building or various things like that (laughter). All of these are potential threats that we had a chance to work on and talk about with people over the years, and learn our—by learning ourselves, we really help our sponsors learn themselves, okay, what’s going on here, frankly. Although we occasionally make pretty good suggestions on how they do their business. But at least the overarching picture is that one, again, of a complex system, where now all the agencies of government have their security concerns about, you know, people talking on cell phones and whatnot (laughter) and what do you do about this. So that has been another major part of our activity.
There has also been a very big change over the decades in classification levels and how many people are admitted to these programs and whatnot. The name of the game in intelligence is compartmentation. You have a compartment, and people are not allowed to tell you what compartments they're in, or even the existence of certain kinds of information. And some of these things just change enormously over time. So individual JASONs over the years have had relations with various intelligence programs. And sometimes they can talk about them after the fact; sometimes they can’t. And we can see that, for instance, in the Bletchley Circle, or whatever, and what went on in codebreaking in Britain, and of course with the United States as well. So, I've been involved since 1960 in satellite intelligence, heavily involved, but nobody else in JASON was, for a good many years. And I wouldn't know maybe if they were unless I happened to see them in one of these classified circles (laughter).
So other people were involved, and I was involved since 1956 or so, with the National Security Agency. And in a six-month study which—the report of course is still secret and probably will be forever classified. But it’s out of the nascent Office of Science and Technology or whatever it was, the Technological Capabilities Panel sequelized as to U.S. capabilities in regard to Soviet communications and things like that. So gradually, the NRO, the National Reconnaissance Office—existence wasn’t declassified until 1995, and its programs really weren’t declassified—some of them in 1995, Corona film return satellite program, and the existence of some others. And we were able to say then that the film return satellites no longer flew and had been replaced by a near-real-time electro-optical system with radio communication, rather than sending reentry buckets (laughter) with film back to Earth as had happened from 1960 through 1972 Corona program, and for a couple of—the HEXAGON and GAMBIT programs, which were also declassified. Not the product, but you can see the vehicles themselves at the museum and whatnot.
Some of these things are declassified. And you never know without looking. For instance, you can look on the declassified NRO site and see what has been declassified. You see General Lew Allen, USAF Chief of Staff 1978-1982, complaining about me and Edwin Land in the early days of the electro-optical imaging programs as (laughter)—all kinds of interesting things. And then there are many other areas of intelligence. That is, finding out from denied territories or what’s going on, and we try to help with that technically. And we try to interpret what people find which is often ambiguous. And ambiguous in different ways.
But people used to say Edwin Land and Ed Purcell would say, “You can’t argue with a picture.” Well, in fact there are people who even in the old days would have, let’s see, not only camouflage to hide things, but inflatable devices that existed even in World War II—inflatable Army tanks so as to look as if you have forces where you don’t have forces, and such things. So sometimes people need help with such enigmas or interpretation. And the high-frequency gravitational waves was one of those. I happened to look that up just now. 2008, we had—you had it on your list.
Just one comment. A number of us became involved with the CIA back as far as the U-2 program. We were involved then. I think Allen Petersen too. I don’t remember others. I don’t remember others, but—
Luis Alvarez, too.
Yes. And Murph, I believe. I'm not quite sure.
Yeah, you never know. So, I worked with Luis Alvarez on this six-month study of NSA cryptographic work. And it was an education at the time.
And Ed Frieman and I got involved with an NSA program at some point.
I'm looking at the 2004 study on high-performance biocomputation. This is a theme we've touched on previously. I wonder at what point the role and input of biologists really reached maturity within JASON institutionally. And was that maturity primarily through the computation angle or were there other ways that biologists contributed?
I don’t think it was primarily computational.
No, I don’t.
We were asked to look at various things that biology could do for us. For instance, nowadays people sample viruses or RNA in sewers in order to determine how many people or how much virus, COVID-19 virus, SARS-CoV-2 virus, is in this particular dormitory, or this particular district in Boston, or whatever. And they do that very openly. But there’s that possibility, if you're looking for somebody in a particular town, you could sample the sewers and find the DNA from that person, fecal matter or whatever. So—
Yeah. But I think back to the sort of original question, I think JASON—I don’t know—my perspective, and I'm a card-carrying (laughter) physicist; I know very little biology—and it was an opportunity for us to learn a little bit. It was part of a group opportunity. I mentioned last time, we had a Biology 101 school for us. My lab partner was Freeman, which was great. We managed to blow all of our PCRs and everything. We never did a very good job of it, but we learned a lot. So, I think there was learning. Learning about—for the physics crowds, and the chemists there. And then again realizing obviously the information aspects of this, and how it fits in, and how you start thinking about them in a broader sense.
So, it was kind of a wave that came through the organization, with terrific new biologists. And they got involved, some of them, in nuclear matters, as well. And then when other really important biology questions come up, like Dick points out now, with coronaviruses and the like, they've sort of been exposed to the JASON treatment, I guess, of just a full flooding the idea space here to see if you can understand things better.
Yeah, and as was the case for Ken, for example, in developing expertise and interest in oceans and hydrodynamics. Some of the JASONs like Bill Press, an esteemed colleague, became a bioinformatician and so on, having been an astrophysicist and such.
Deputy director of a nuclear laboratory, which he got out of and came to biology!
Yeah, that’s right (laughter).
A very general question: I wonder if the increasing role of biologists in JASON indicated more that JASON’s fundamental goals were moving beyond the exclusive national security advising domain, or if it really meant that in a post-Cold War or even a post 9/11 era, the definitions of national security themselves were changing.
No, it was no change in our national security focus. There has always been possibility that life could end, not just with nuclear annihilation, but with biological efforts, either intended or unintended. And so, people were interested, should have been interested, in learning about such things, and JASON was interested in contributing. So, we needed new people with expertise, even though the old people had some interest in this.
Yep. Yep, it was always a national security focus.
Moving along to 2006, I'm looking at the report Engineering Microorganisms for Energy Production. My question is, I wonder if there was some level of cross-pollination—obviously this is a study that was commissioned by the Department of Energy. But in 2006, just the broader political winds, there was a lot of interest with regard to the War on Terror and the problems in the Middle East that the United States more generally needed to look for fuel sources beyond petroleum, specifically beyond Middle East petroleum. So, I wonder if a study like this, even though it was specifically commissioned by the DOE, there was a political interest beyond simply DOE’s interest of expanding American energy sources, that had a national security component to it as well?
You look for too much reason in this. Somebody in DOE had a hobby horse, and it was good. There’s nothing wrong with it. But that’s why it was. And maybe he—maybe it was Ari Patrinos. Maybe he had this idea, a broad picture and whatnot, of replacing oil. But JASON had no such views. This was something that people were willing to pay us to do, and it looked interesting, and so we gave it our best shot.
Could have been Steve Koonin (laughter).
Yeah (laughter). Could be, right.
Again, it takes two to tango. And so, when you're talking about—you know, like if you're involved in trying to set up a program for next year and all of that, at least my—well, all of our concerns are A, is it worthwhile to the government? B, is it technically robust? And C, is it something we can help with? So, you go through all—those are the kinds of considerations. And if it’s got some new twist, because it brings in bio-energy to this or whatnot, so much the better, because we learn more. So, it’s a balancing act between what capabilities we have, and sort of where we should be pointed. And an opportunity comes along, and again, when we learn things, that’s useful, because we can write them down, and hopefully other people can learn about it.
Yeah, and we have fun. And we work together. It’s really—much of it is a big extended family (laughter).
In 2008, the Department of Homeland Security commissioned a study on wind farms and radar. I'm curious if this was the first substantive interaction between JASON and Homeland Security?
Well, Homeland Security was created following the 2001 attacks. They brought all kinds of—15 agencies or something together, and set back progress for years, as a result of the reorganization. So, it was good that they were interested in air defense and such, and that was the question. You got these wind turbines and they're generating energy, but they are enormous things moving in the field of view of the radars, and they give all sorts of false signals, contamination. They make it more difficult to see enemy aircraft or intruding aircraft, even those that are shipping marijuana, for instance, and what can be done about it. So that’s what JASON was involved with. We didn't really care why.
Again, it’s a classic case of unintended consequences there, with the big wind farms.
I mean, it’s inherently a multidisciplinary question, when you combine the impact of wind farms on radar. And I wonder if the Department of Homeland Security, it makes sense that whereas wind farms might have been commissioned by DOE, and radar might have been commissioned by DOD, Homeland Security would have been the new agency that would think across these sectors.
That makes sense (laughter). It might even be true (laughter).
(Laughter) Human performance is a very interesting idea. The concept of a super soldier. I imagine this was among the more fun studies for JASON to get involved in.
Yeah. Yeah, I have to say, I think I was busy that year with something else (laughter). But it was fun, mainly because one of the things we do every summer, we have a wrap-up party amongst ourselves at the end of the summer. And Ellen was chairing that, I think, that study. And so, I had the opportunity to give her a nice little present at the end of the summer, and it was Velveeta cheese, because I thought that would destroy any human performance possible. But you know, again, we take on these sort of new—sometimes they might sound like quirky things, but you're exploring—with the tools and methods we know about, or we want to learn about, you're exploring them. What are the limits? Who knows? We certainly didn’t know. And so, it was a great opportunity. Then I think—did the Army support that one? I've forgotten who supported that study. Anyway, that’s what happens (laughter). We don’t really know where they're going to go! You get a study, and you tell the sponsor, “Well, here’s what we can do, and we'll write you a report.” But we don’t know what we're going to say. Some of them, it frightens them off. They go away, when we tell them that.
And we rarely know what happens to our recommendations.
Yeah! They disappear into the great government.
That same year, ODNI commissioned a study for JASON on high-frequency gravitational waves. Of course, when you hear about gravitational waves, you hear about LIGO. I wonder, seven years or so before the detection, what’s the connection, if at all, to gravitational waves before their detection?
Well, no, but there was no doubt about gravity waves. There had been a Nobel Prize already.
Gravitational waves. There’s gravity waves are- water waves. Different kinds of waves. Gravitational waves.
Yes. Of course, I have a long involvement in this field myself (laughter).
I know. Yes, you do.
I probably always get it wrong, having done experiments in the early 1970s, for detecting gravitational radiation claimed to have been detected by Joe Weber. But anyhow—and involved also in the LIGO program, not always to the satisfaction of the people who carried it out.
But in 2008, it was ODNI, the intelligence folks there were reports of big programs on utility of high-frequency gravitational waves. And by that, we don’t mean hundred hertz, as in LIGO, but you know, microwave frequencies and microwave wavelengths of gravity waves all travel. So, every ten gigahertz, three-centimeter wavelengths, and what could they do. So, they agreed to do that, and Doug Eardley was, as you can see on the document that’s posted on the FAS site, he was the lead author. So it was a very substantial 30-page unclassified report that gives our best understanding of this, which is that there is no “there” there, and that these things would take the entire—all the energy generated by power stations on Earth throughout the lifetime of the Earth to get a significant detection arge don’t understand yet how to even do.
But actually, there was, in addition to that report, which was a very good report, there was a classified annex, and the classified annex says this is a bizarre thing that happened, and here are our recommendations to ensure that we don’t go down such dead-end paths again. But it’s a classified report, so we can’t really say anything more about it, until it’s declassified.
Another highly classified report, of course, was the one in 2009, where JASON was commissioned to study the issue of North Korean nuclear capability. Obviously, this report remains highly redacted, so there’s probably not much we can talk about. But I'll just ask generally a previous question I've asked. It’s a good example—what is the kind of work in an area like this, where JASON can offer information or perspective that U.S. intelligence agencies can’t provide themselves?
Sometimes there are discrepancies, differences of views, among the intelligence agencies or the other departments. And so, they would like an independent judgment. So sometimes they turn to the National Academy of Sciences, but that takes typically a year and a half, and JASON can give a report in a few months, typically, or even quicker, a letter-report sometimes -- even in a few days.
Yeah, I think that’s it. It’s viewed as—we like to be viewed, we think we're viewed, as honest brokers, and we can try to help them. You know, you're educating a group in that area, studying North Korea, and they're probably not nuclear experts, and you try to tell them in straightforward ways what they should look out for, and what are the pitfalls and the like. Just help them in their job.
And the departments and agencies may not have people with the detailed training and background and, for that matter capability, that we have on JASON or can reach out to and talk to. So that’s important, too, to get world-class experts just for this particular question. And the agency can’t have them all the time on tap. And they can reach out to an individual consultant, then that’s what they get; they get an individual point of view. And with JASON, one hopes that one has internal criticism and review before the report is sent, and some kind of corporate—by corporate, I don’t mean company—but collective visibility.
Maybe you can answer this, maybe you can’t, but I'm curious—someone like Sieg Hecker went to North Korea on multiple occasions. Was JASON involved on any onsite visits to North Korea, or no comment?
No, no, we weren’t. We know about what Sieg Hecker saw and reported.
We talked to Sieg and were aware of that.
But we've looked at obtaining information from North Korea by various approaches. And I think some of them have even been quite helpful. Little questions. And we did look at how North Korea would enrich uranium for getting to 35, especially for two-stage weapons, for instance- And I think that was a very good report.
Dick, as you've reminded me over and over again, JASON is not involved in policy work. Strictly advisory work. We can look ahead to now, though, some 11 years later, where North Korea is now understood to be a nuclear power. In what ways has JASON’s advisory work enhanced American policy in preventing North Korea from obtaining more nuclear weapons, or getting to nuclear weapons more quickly than it otherwise would have?
Can’t say that it has at all.
Of course, the previous administration rejected intelligence, rejected science, rejected thinking. And the president, former president, relied on personal relationships, which of course guarantees that he is exploited by the other side. In fact, early on, the intelligence community gave a public statement that they had information—that’s how I know it, because I saw it in the New York Times —that they had information that foreign governments and intelligence agencies were capitalizing on the particular properties of that president—ignorance and narcissism. And you can bet that that would happen. There was no way that it wouldn't happen, that people in Russia and China as well as France and every place else would say, “Look, there’s this guy in charge, and we don’t have the same goals as the United States he does, and what can we do to exploit him?” And so—must have been a growth industry.
(Laughter) JASON couldn't help out on that one.
(Laughter) Moving along to 2010 when JASON took on the implications of the $100 genome, my first question is, what did this milestone mean in the broader endeavor of the overall Human Genome Project? What did it mean in terms of its accomplishments up to that point? And why would it have been the Office of the Secretary of Defense and not, say, the Department of Energy, that would have commissioned this report? What would have been the military’s interest in the reality or the near reality of $100 genome test and the idea that anyone could get one as a result?
Well, you have the military, and military—the genome has something to do with performance. And if you would understand that relationship, then sequencing everybody on your side would maybe help you to decide which people can stay up later, focus more, can be trained for this or that. And so, their performance could depend upon what you obtained from their genomics. Anybody who is in charge of a large number of people would be interested in using that for the benefit of their mission, if the information came along. So, the Department of Energy was interested in developing the techniques but not in using it to advance their mission. If we had a public health system in the United States, that should be interested (laughter) but we do have the active military and the veterans, too, and they have an enormous financial interest both in understanding these and exploiting it.
Dick, are you aware—has the military pursued the idea of mapping the genome of the entire military active and veteran community?
Have no idea. This is multiply not my- (laughter)
I mean, I haven't heard anything about it in the news. It seems like it hasn’t gone anywhere.
Well, the news has been dominated by totally other things.
That’s right. That’s right. Subsequently, JASON took on a study on the technical challenges of exascale computing. I wonder if anybody can touch on what those challenges were and why this is the next level of computing that’s even beyond the exponential growth that happened previously.
Well, it’s not beyond the exponential growth. It’s just continuing the exponential growth with time. And this is extremely frustrating to the people who have to carry it out. I know from 60 years ago when I was involved in my part, in IBM. So, people say this is the next three orders of magnitude, ten to the 18 ations per second, what would be involved. And first of all, you're going to have to build nuclear plants or some way to power these things. Then you're going to have to cool them. Then you have to find out how to do it and do it in a flexible way.
So, we have very good people in JASON—Bill Dally, Bill Press, other younger people—who work on such things. You have organization of the computing systems. You have decisions as to how much memory to put with the logic and whatnot. You have questions about powering off portions of the system that aren’t operating at a given time. And there are even such things as communicating with portions of the computer that are in liquid nitrogen or semiconductors or liquid helium, superconductors. The role of photonics communication logic. And all that. So, you think about those things. You give your best judgment about it. You tell people whether you think there’s a way, an approach to it, and if so, what it is. That’s what they did.
Yeah, but I think the exascale right now is sort of a big step in the sense—just what Dick was saying—largely because of the energy cost. And there aren’t great ideas for continuing that scaling up of computational capability with energy. So, you're talking about a major lab like a weapons lab, Livermore or something, who are world-class, and making big computers work efficiently. That’s very important. They really solved that problem in the previous generation on the weapons stuff. And so here we're at it again. And you know, you're talking a laboratory cost and power that could be a hundred million dollars a year. Suddenly, you're talking real money.
And of course, people who want to do such things maintain that the survival of the nation depends on their success.
And that’s not constructive. And it doesn't. And you don’t have to do all those computations. We haven't done them before. And there are different ways. There’s algorithmic approaches. For instance, I was instrumental in introducing the Fast Fourier Transform in 1963 that was as important in that branch of science and technology as was the invention of arithmetic compared with counting. Because if I have to add or multiply 1,024 by 166 by counting, I have to write down the 1,024 166 times and count them up. Whereas with arithmetic, with decimal arithmetic, it’s only the logarithm of the number that comes in. And it’s exactly the same way. The difference between the number itself for a Fourier transform and the logarithm of the number. Really it’s between n-squared and n log n. The ratio of work is n/(ln n) [j]Is “ln n” correct?[j] That’s not very big if you're talking about n=100, but if you're talking about n = a trillion -- n = 10^12, n-squared = 10^24 is a lot of counting by hand. For the old full Fourier transform one would have 10^12 multiplications of a trillion numbers, whereas with the FFT only (ln 10^12) = 3.3 x 12 = 40 multiplications of the trillion numbers. With a tiny teraflop-class computer that is only 40 seconds, and with a common petaflop computer 0.04 seconds.
But again, this is emerging as a real practical problem, coming forward here.
And one immediate question—does that mean our knowledge of our nuclear stockpile goes to hell in a handbasket? And it doesn't. And so, there are other ways you have to approach some of these problems. So, you know, it’s a big system question, to be sure, and then you try to just work your way through what are the implications in all directions. You can waste an awful lot of time and money on a big new computer, and then, do you really need it?
And in what ways, if at all, do the recent and ongoing advances in quantum computing—are they responsive to these challenges?
Different scale, at the moment. There’s still so much to be learned in quantum computing, I think.
Yeah, we have no idea what it’s good for, in general computing. And yeah, there has been a lot of progress. I'm very ignorant, but people are talking about 51 qubits. But really a substantial computing capability might be a million qubits. Then the question is, to define the question and the algorithms, quantum algorithms, I'm totally ignorant here.
More recently, in 2019, the NSF celebrated its 70th anniversary, and it commissioned a study on security as it relates to fundamental research, which is an interesting phrase. It draws the distinction between fundamental research and classified research. So, it seems that the phrase suggests fundamental research is all research that is open. Is that a fair definition?
Oh, boy. “Fundamental” is a very pregnant word, that if you use that wrong, even within your own physics friends, you'll get punched in the nose. So, I don’t know, I stay away from it.
It’s just a hierarchy—that some things are more important than others? Is that what you mean?
It certainly does. Different people may have properly different views on that topic.
The NSF maintains that all fundamental research is unclassified.
And that’s an interesting assertion. And JASON has actually done some studies recently for NSF, particularly about the sequestration of university research—of government-funded university research, where recurrently, year by year, decade by decade, there has been attempts by the Congress, for instance, that anything that’s paid for by the U.S. government should not be publicly available to other countries. But this totally violates the precept of everybody working together to advance fundamental knowledge and technique. And so, there’s a big nascent argument here, and NSF can’t take a public role in this, so they ask other people to provide analyses that they can then endorse, or criticize. So, it’s a very important JASON report from a year ago, last fall I guess it was.
So, by the NSF’s terminology, fundamental research would encompass both all basic science—you know, just science for the discovery of understanding nature—and applied science?
I mean, provided that it’s unclassified.
Well, some of these are tautological and—you can’t simplify. It’s a question. I'm not sure it’s a good question (laughter).
Is China the 800-pound gorilla in the room when it comes to fundamental research and issues of U.S. security?
Well, the U.S. response to China probably is. I personally think that people are getting way off the track, that we should regard China as a competitor, but as in sports. You're competing with somebody; you don’t go around trying to cripple them so that they can’t run the race. So, you say, a horse race or whatever, you don’t impair their horses, or your own horses, in order to win the bet. You improve the breed. You challenge one another. Do a better job. And yes, we ought to be exploiting China’s ability to manufacture at low cost and of high quality, the way we had Japan as a high quality manufacturer of electro-optical devices, for example, CD-ROMs, liquid crystal display screens and things like that, that they did really to very high capability, and properly dominated the industrial and international market. So, we ought to have the Chinese do that, be able to maintain some capability ourselves and try to exploit advances. But to regard everything that China does as bad for the United States, I think it’s totally wrong.
Clearly going to be a losing strategy (laughter).
Because of industrial espionage, Roy? Is that what you're thinking about?
Well, again, you should learn how to use it and exploit it. I mean, you know, you're just going to get further and further off the power curve, the knowledge curve.
For instance, in 1999, there was the Cox Committee report from the Congress. And it was initially focused on Chinese having obtained access information on the failure of the Chinese-supplied shroud/fairing of a Long March 2E space launch vehicle. The Chinese were launching a communication satellite for the Hughes -- a U.S. company. But it was later, by the intervention of Don Rumsfeld, who had been a congressman—instead of saying “The Chinese acquired this information about other things,” those responsible for the Cox seem to have done a word-processing replacement, and all those terms were changed from “acquired” to “stole”. The Chinese “stole” information. Whereas they could read it in the literature, in the unclassified scientific literature. That’s when this took off, and it has been that way ever since. As if the Chinese never acquire any information on their own; they only “steal” it from us. That’s not true; no doubt, China does steal a lot of information, but it generates and publishes a lot, too.
The Chinese have done a great job in building new universities, in bringing home talent. Sometimes they've overstepped the line and we can’t hold them to account individually, but that’s what we need. Proper negotiation from the current administration to get them to understand and comply with the international system. We needed that with Japan in the 1960s, too. The Japanese really didn't seem to understand patents and stealing—really stealing information and violating international norms and laws. But they stepped up to it and changed. And the Chinese should see the light, but we've got to negotiate with them about this. We have to understand it ourselves.
Moving up to the very recent present, two major reports that were commissioned last year, one on the impacts of large constellations of satellites, the issue there being that the number of low Earth-orbiting satellites were proliferating to the extent that it endangered, perhaps, the long-term viability of land-based telescopes. I wonder, projecting ahead, are the trends such that the viability of land-based telescopes really will be existentially challenged at some point, and we will only be able to rely on space-based telescopes?
Sorry, I was physically moving then, and fighting coronavirus and other things, so I just—I don’t know what came of the study. We saw a lot of interesting work that’s being done by the astronomy community in this. And I think it’s still an active area of discussion, isn’t it, Dick?
Well, there are at least three aspects of this. There’s one, never mind the ground-based telescopes, but the survival of satellites themselves.
You have these unregulated tens of thousands of satellites up there, only some fraction of which will be properly deorbited, and the rest will gradually collide with one another, and provide exponentially growing debris fields. That’s one aspect.
Another is the light pollution. So, these things have large cross-sections their solar cells, particularly, and so they—when they're illuminated by the sun, which is not the whole time. Because ground-based telescopes for the most part operate at night. And even though these satellites at 800 kilometers or 1,000 kilometers have a longer time of ation because they're high up and the sun’s rays go around the—anyhow, for obvious reasons, they have a shorter night than the people surface point where at 24-hour orbit or whatever they have only 45 minutes of hiding behind the shadow of the Earth. But anyhow, so we have to worry about that. It reduces the observing time. Yes. And they can reduce the amount of light reflected by appropriate management and treatment of the solar panels, for instance.
And then there’s the radio-astronomy spectrum contamination, because of the purpose of the satellite’s actual payload is to provide internet services to ground users, and there is also potential contamination from the intra-constellation information exchange. The question is, have the satellite providers been sufficiently careful about tailoring their spectrum? And so, we looked at those things. And given our advice— I'm glad NSF asked about this—they have equities. They have the Rubin telescope, which is their particular interest. And JASON had looked at large constellations before, but for redundancy and survivability, not for commercial reasons. I don’t think we ever talked about tens of thousands of satellites providing commercial internet service.
The last study I'll ask about was in August of last year, where JASON looked at best practices for returning to university environments and mitigating the risks due to COVID-19. I'm curious, because according to the executive summary, JASON commissioned itself to study this topic. This was not externally commissioned. I'm curious what the decision-making was there.
That, I know a little bit about. Yeah. The decision was simply, are we, JASON, doing the right thing here, and what do we have to worry about, as we work together, and go back to our home institutions. And that’s the sense that it was commissioned. And, you bet! So, we normally go out to the general—nowadays, since I've been in the group—to the General Atomics campus in La Jolla, to hold the studies. And the great news there was that General Atomics was doing a hell of a good job of managing that on their own site anyway. Still, it was a useful exercise, and people thought about it, and we limited the number of people and all of that. I have no idea whether anybody saw or read the report. But it was felt that the group was taking a very serious look at our own needs for JASON, and why not make this available to other universities? Simple as that.
I was not a principal writer of that, but I did have a lot to do with it. And I've been involved on my own with COVID-19 ever since February last year, a year ago. And that report is really very good. I've had occasion to look at it just now. And the entire country is missing a bet. And it became apparent only late last May, and evident really only in June, and then we promulgated it—Scott Kemp and I—in August and September, independently of JASON. There are two things that are involved. One is a paper that was published by a German group on May 26, 2020, was a time course of viral amounts of people who were infected with the disease. And it showed how it rises and then falls after a few days. But among the information that they published was the enormous range—can I share screen? I'll show you.
Was the enormous range of viral titers—okay, I'll find it in a moment. I'll just share my old screen. So, the enormous range of viral titers. And the easiest way for me to do this is just to go to the so-called Garwin Archive. Oh, sorry about that. So, some people have, when you swab their noses, they have a thousand virus particles per cubic centimeter of viral transport medium. The mode is about 100,000. But some of them have as much as a trillion, ten to the 12, such things.
So, let me go to the end here, and I'll back up a bit. Okay. So, this is a talk I gave January 27. And here’s what was published in that Charité paper. I'll get this Let’s see. So, here’s what they published. And they had a group of 3,000 people who had been infected, and who by reverse transcriptase PCR -- RT-PCR -- had their viral titer assessed in nasopharyngeal swab samples. And of those 3,000 people, 350 of them, this number, were in this bin, with about 5 x 10^5 virus particles per cubic centimeters. But some of them had 10^11, a hundred billion, per cubic centimeter. And some had even more.
So, here’s what I did. I sent them a letter on June 2, and this was then incorporated in the JASON report, and I multiplied. I multiplied the number of people in this bin by the number of particles, by the five times ten to the fifth. And in this bin, the number of people, 50 people, times—two times ten to the ten. And if you plot that, then here’s what you get. These people have essentially no virus load. These people couldn't communicate the disease if they wanted to. These people are super spreaders. And 2% of the people—we have just a recent, in the last days, publication by Sara Sawyer, a fellow JASON, and her group at Boulder, that confirms this.
And not only is this true for people who are infected with the disease and show symptoms, but it is equally true, the same numbers, for people who are asymptomatic and may never show symptoms. Anyhow, so here’s how the number of virus particles in a person change with time peaking at about five and a half days after infection. And here’s that same curve on a semi-log plot. This red curve is precisely the same numbers as the curve. But these other curves are the 2% least and the 2% most virus people. And there’s a factor, according to this model, and according to the data—10 to the 7th or more—between them.
What should you do? You should do testing, and you should not just for the people who have some virus, but people who have the amount of virus. Then once you do that, then you can reopen society just so everybody can be tested every day. And the key to that is this lateral flow test. Anyhow. So, Scott Kemp and I have been publishing this since mid-August, and this is a talk I gave—September 1st, actually, this one. And that’s what we should be doing! And it’s being done, actually, in Toronto. There’s a group of 12 companies there—stop sharing—12 companies there who are doing exactly this. They are taking daily tests, and they're not going to work if they show up positive. That’s what we ought to do.
UCSD, I think, is doing very well. They required weekly testing of students and staff, and their infection rate is two tenths of a percent on campus.
Yeah. That’s good. That’s right. And it should be done for every closed organization, for instance, all the Department of Energy laboratories. IBM, which has badged access. And people just have to do this. But it has been impossible with the previous administration that didn't really recognize that there was a pandemic. It didn't allow people to work on such things. Did not allow work to—simple things to exploit how the masks fit, and to test how well they do, far from it.
But to talk about air cleaners, clean air for podia, that is if somebody is giving a speech, they can have a kind of enclosing hood, so cleaned air can go into it. They don’t have to have anything between them and the audience. And people can wear powered air-purifying respirators. I bought 40 of them myself and gave them to friends and family. They're cute little things that you buy for $70 from Amazon.com. If you buy 80, share it with a friend, they cost $25 each, delivered from Shenzhen. And they work just great.
And they keep—because it’s cleaned air supplied to the inside of the mask, when you breathe in, any leakage is still outward purified air, and not inward. So, things like that. And you could really be opening up the country, but you've got to make that investment of monitoring, testing, instead of saying, “Well, this is optional.” So, JASON has been involved. We haven't done all that ourselves. And we'll see what we can do. But this summer, by then, a lot of people will have been vaccinated, and one hopes that the variants that are spreading more rapidly than the original version of COVID-19, that they're still susceptible to the vaccine.
Has JASON been involved with SARS-CoV-2 on an intelligence basis, with regard to where it originated?
No. Not to my knowledge. I've paid attention to this.
To go back to a previous question—
My judgment is that it originated in the normal progression from bat through animals probably in the wet market to people, and then community spread.
To go back to a previous question where the response was generally that these transitions were not particularly meaningful or important to JASON, the question of presidential transition. The point was well taken; it didn't really matter who was in office. I wonder, now that we're now into the Biden administration, given the Trump administration’s ahistorical approach to science, or rejection of science in so many ways, that actually has changed the trajectory where presidential transitions were not so meaningful to JASON. This is very much a present question. It’s one that’s ongoing. But I wonder even in the short term that Biden has been in office if JASON institutionally already detects a difference.
I have nothing to add, nothing to say.
Yeah, it’s like being an astronomer. Things happen. And the closest star is four light years away (laughter). And so, it hasn’t reached us yet. We happened to know that there was a presidential transition. But the thing that influences JASON hasn’t made its way through the system.
Point well taken. Well, we've worked up to the present, so for our last few minutes together, let’s think retrospectively a little bit. I know that there was no founding document or constitution of JASON, but there is of course a history and a tradition of JASON. In what ways has JASON remained true to its origins, and in what ways has it fundamentally changed over the years?
There was a constitution. There were successive constitutions. You can’t make an organization without having some kind of collective prescription. I wasn’t there for six years, but I wrote a couple of constitutions myself.
I don’t remember a written one. Obviously, there were. And at the beginning, we went through a considerable period of defining ourselves, I think.
Steve Koonin and I put together what we hoped to be a fairly complete statement, constitution—that wasn’t the term we used—but I think that’s still the operative document.
I think that JASON is very much now what was hoped for in the beginning, when we were looking—not myself, but other people like John and others, Charlie Townes, who were looking for new young people who could be brought into the national security area, would work for an extended period of time, and understand things deeply, and be available for emergencies. Now, we're not called upon enough in emergencies. We don’t have a short time response. So that doesn't exist. But the rest of it is there.
It has happened though, Dick. There have been—
Oh, yeah, it does. That’s right. Sometimes in the nuclear weapon area, we will be brought in. And I remember in the first Gulf War, the chief scientist for the Air Force, I guess, asked our views of what should be done. And some people wanted side-looking radar on bombs. The problem with side-looking synthetic aperture radar is that it looks to the side, but the bomb wants to get to the target. So, in fact, I wrote the report, a letter-report of just two pages, and said, “Whatever you do, put inertial navigation and GPS guidance on gravity bombs -- on the ordinary bombs.” And that’s what they did and used an enormous number of them to very good effect.
But the basic document on sort of JASON rules of order—I can’t even remember our name—first of all, we give it to everybody so they could read it. But more important, it’s got a couple of—it’s got the steering committee described, and it’s the tenure of the chair and vice chair, and those things, which is good. I think it has in it now explicitly—maybe not—at least it’s followed—the leadership has always followed the spirit of bringing new JASONs into the steering committee as soon as possible, to get them early involved. And then, most important, there is a membership committee that is quite active, usually three or four people, that tries to—that does make recommendations for new JASONs continuously, or certainly a number that annually is reviewed, shared with the whole group, and generally people go forward and show up! And on very rare occasions, we've had situations where there have been—I guess where things haven't worked out so well, and we've had to have discussions with members. But I don’t even remember any particular instance that’s worth talking about.
My last question, looking to the future. Obviously, we can’t predict where things are going, but perhaps by using the powers of extrapolation, what are some of the issues facing American national security, maybe over the next decade, which might suggest the kinds of projects JASON may take on and the new kinds of scientists it might bring on to meet those challenges?
I think GPS security is an important issue, which you begin to see a question raised in the news.
If I could go back a step, to JASON’s current health. I do agree with Ken’s suggestion of examining GPS security-- good suggestion. But I do think that the operating conditions of JASON are still somewhat fragile. They rely on close personal relationships. The summer studies, which go for several weeks each summer, and then we have other weekly meetings, well, that has been disrupted now, certainly big-time last summer, and probably again. In addition, professional lives of our members have changed a lot. So to get together and have sort of what I call “the JASON treatment” where you're together long enough over a period of time, and you get into a mode of question-asking and follow-up and so forth, with sponsors, and with experts in the field, and how you write reports—that’s what I call “the JASON treatment”—relies—and maybe—I'm probably wrong; it can probably find some other more remote way of functioning, but it’s that human interaction, and arguing over points, and both with and without the experts who are briefing us present, is an important part of the glue that holds it together. And that’s one I continually worried about, and fortunately, good young people show up and stay, and have been going to meetings, over long—over requisite periods of time. Certainly, a couple of weeks in the summer is sort of bare minimum to make an impact. And that’s still the fragile link in my mind.
In addition to GPS security, there’s just cybersecurity in general. And there’s the existence of the democratic society that allows these things to work, and people to get around, and the existence of civilization itself. And I think they are all of them critically imperiled. And you just can’t have something like JASON (laughter). if you don’t have a reasonably stable society. So, things are likely to become very bad, and it’s hard to do the planning, under those circumstances.
Gentlemen, I want to thank you all for participating in this roundtable. It has been incredible to hear all of your perspective. And I'm so glad we captured all of this for the historical record. So, thank you very much.
You're welcome. One thing that we do need, though, is to have—
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