Jack P. Ruina

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Interviewed by
Kai-Henrik Barth
Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Massachusetts
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Interview of Jack P. Ruina by Kai-Henrik Barth on 1998 May 29, Niels Bohr Library & Archives, American Institute of Physics, College Park, MD USA, www.aip.org/history-programs/niels-bohr-library/oral-histories/5903

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Interview focuses on Ruina's time as Directory of the Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA) from 1961 to 1963 and in particular ARPA's management of the Department of Defense's "Project Vela Uniform," which aimed at the improvement of seismic detection capabilities.


Summary: the interview focuses on Ruina’s time as Director of the Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA) from 1961 to 1963 and in particular ARPA's management of the Department of Defense's "Project Vela Uniform," which aimed at the improvement of seismic detection capabilities.

• before his time as ARPA director in 1961:

• professor of electrical engineering at U of Illinois and director of radar group

• came to Washington as Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for R&D

• Ruina had no government experience before that

• after that year invited by Herbert York (then DDRE) to be his assistant director for air defense: involved air defense, and more importantly: BMD [Ballistic Missile Defense]; much more exciting job, much more power; leave from Illinois continued

• after a while York asked R. to become director of ARPA: ARPA had money, one could do a lot, possibility to do what he thought was the right thing to do

• at ARPA:

• most significant program by far: BMD program DEFENDER; second most significant program: Vela

• R. totally unfamiliar with Vela issues and technologies when he came into the job; he was quite familiar with BMD and its technologies

• BMD + Vela research programs the only two which bordered on major policy issues for the nation; the others: neither President nor Secretary of Defense concerned about; so Ruina's only substantial dealings with the President on BMD; never talked with President about test detection, but spent a lot of time with McNamara and sometimes the Vice President and others (Carl Kaysen [?])

• interaction between ARPA director and White House (president, McNamara etc.):

• not a routine interaction at all, because one layer between: Harold Brown, DDRE

• first meeting with McNamara: he wanted introductory lecture on test detection: what are the issues? "The earth is round" primer; Carl Romney principal speaker; Harold Brown; McNamara invited John McCone (AEC), who was very much against test ban; lasted many hours

• meeting with people who were advising president on test detection: Bob Lovett, John McCoy [?], and Vice President (slept through the meeting); also lasted over an hour; by about 1962

• R. has no handwritten notes of this meeting

• meeting with White House person who dealt with test ban issues: Carl Kaysen; also got the briefing

• interaction with other agencies: arms control people, CIA

• chief technical person from the government: Carl Romney: good style, good briefings, most expert, access to data no other seismologist had; classified AFTAC [Air Force Technical Applications Center] net; nobody could argue with him

• important mistake that was made: number of earthquakes in Soviet Union; was estimated too high

• Romney pulled that as a total surprise at a meeting at the State Department; gave briefing, presented new number which was actually much closer to Russian number; how did this happen: dealt with conversion from a surface magnitude to a body magnitude, different conversion factor; at the meeting only few realized the importance of this factor: Spurgeon Keeny and Ruina approached Romney afterwards: that the new number was big news

• McNamara asked Ruina how this could have happened: Ruina wrote a letter of explanation, three pages [he is sure that he has that in his fifties, because not classified]; Ruina: this is what can happen, if only one person interprets data and no peer review, no replication: mistakes can occur

• AFTAC was perceived as too secretive: would give you data if you asked but would not open up their books: they would not deny you data (if you have clearance, of course, but they would never volunteer)

• Ruina: Frank Press could tell more about that

• R.: most refreshing thing when Carl brought in Jack Evernden; R.: Evemden a very excitable, volatile guy, shrill and shriek, but nobody contributed as much to advance seismology by just looking at the old data again: he was in the system, he had all the data; Evernden became an outspoken critic of the whole system, and was not effective from a policy point of view, because he was so emotional; reputation of being off the wall;

• after Ruina left government: he was still head of a seismic review panel (Seismic Capabilities Panels ??), two panels, cannot remember by who they were set up, State Dept. or CIA or ACDA [Arms Control and Disarmament Agency]: R. was chairman: review of where we stand on seismic detection [1964-66 probably; Ruina might have the reports in his files]; at that time Evernden was probably already in the system; the panels had the usual actors: Jack Oliver, Eugene Herrin, etc. [says later in the interview that Pete Scoville from ACDA probably established the two Seismic Capabilities Panels]

• inside ARP A-Vela:

• cannot remember any deep involvement with Vela; had to sign every ARPA Order though; doesn't recall any major issues involving Vela; WWSSN [World Wide Standard Seismograph Network], U research; he himself not involved in a major way on any program in Vela Uniform; he remembers involvement in Vela satellites

• Ruina brought in George Bing; Ruina had to sign fmla ARPA Order: authorization to spend the money; then the contract let out by some agency, Air Force, or NSF

• how specific were these ARPA orders? Ruina: very specific for major contracts such as Vela Satellites; how much room did the ARPA Order leave the contractors and service agents? R.: depends on the amount of contract monitoring

• example: ARICIBO radar, handled through AFCRL [Air Force Cambridge Research Laboratories], done through Cornell, many problems, trouble with contract agent; tension between AFCRL and Cornell of who runs the program: Ruina then took it away from AFCRL and gave it to AFOSR [Air Force Office of Scientific Research]

• Ruina's involvement (in VU) depends on the amount of trouble, if Congressman involved etc., if contractor is complaining, or scandal of some sort; with some projects which ran smoothly he never knew what was going on at all: he signed just the ARPA Order

• interaction between Ruina and Vela-Uniform program managers

• most of Ruina's dealings concerning VU with Bates, not with Don Clements and the other VU program managers; Bates was branch chief: not the statesman (although not quite as emotional as Evernden); Bates felt strongly that AFTAC was not playing fair with ARPA; Bates was not sympathetic with AFTAC or Carl Romney, Doyle Northrup; Ruina appreciated the fact that there was something wrong with the system, especially after the issue with the number of earthquakes in the Soviet Union; Bates was much more upset than Ruina about AFTAC

• Ruina: tension between AFTAC and Bates, not between AFTAC and ARPA in general, didn't extend to Ruina: Ruina says that Bates was accusatory of ARPA, unlike himself; Evernden even worse in this respect

• Ruina depended on AFT AC for expertise: he couldn't use Charley Bates for that; Romney was much better and had data first hand; in other ARPA programs: Ruina would often use ARPA director for briefings and Congressional testimony, but in this case Romney was the person to use, not Bates (not effective style); Bates testified about budget, but not to Secretary

• [mentions that he still is in contact with Romney and that Romney apparently writes a history of nuclear test detection, but couldn't get the money for it; Ruina recently called Romney to find out about what the government knows about the Indian 1998 tests; possible still stations which are classified, maybe in Pakistan]

• interaction between DDRE and Ruina as ARPA director:

• nobody in DDRE involved in Vela, except Harold Brown or Herbert York (both from Livermore, therefore interested in testing); Ruina: DDRE didn't shape Vela at all

• when Ruina came in, Vela already very structured: Uniform, Hotel, Sierra; not much room for a lot of manipulation and change; unlike DEFENDER; Ruina feels that his influence on Vela Uniform very small, unlike in other programs (influence of Vela satellites); Ruina says to the extent that he had no shaping influence on VU, York and Brown had even less

• WWSSN: negotiations with foreign departments of state to set it up: Ruina got only once involved: gave a talk in Bolivia to present why a WWSSN station in that country

• interaction with Bates: maybe once a week, but Ruina not quite sure; most of his time with DEFENDER and Vela: DEFENDER was half of ARPA, Vela half of the remainder

• how did Ruina's background in science influence his management of ARPA:

• Ruina: his background made him much friendlier to the academic community and less friendly to industrial community

• Ruina: says that he was maybe too respectful to outstanding scientists

• was there a relevancy debate already in mid-1960s? Yes, example ARECIBO: BMD people wanted to drop it, because for them not very important; Ruina was convinced that ARECIBO great for planetary astronomy, and some influence on BMD; and if ARPA would drop ARECIBO, nobody would pick it up; but he was uncomfortable because his own BMD people suggested to drop the project; but Brown backed him up; Ruina: you could have found relevancy in ARECIBO, you could have stretched its purpose to make it relevant for BMD (measurements of electron densities in ionosphere, etc.); it would not have been total fantasy

• on Barber Associates history of ARPA: [I summarized for him what the study says about his directorship]; Ruina argues that he shifted ARPA to quality: he was concerned about quality of work (in particular in DEFENDER)

• Ruina says that people like Frank Press, Carl Romney, Doyle Northrop, Eugene Herrin, Jack Oliver, Lynn Sykes (later), John T. Wilson had easy access to him, like others who were accomplished academic researchers; Ruina biased against industrial people (seemed more like sales people to him); there was a Washington in-crowd

• P. had little contact with Byerly crowd: Byerly was not involved; Leet from Harvard not very respected, and Ruina did not put effort into meeting him

• concerning Ruina's attitude about transferring projects out of ARPA to the Services: Vela U was never an issue for transferal (big issues were ARECIBO radar and materials science programs, not Vela): money came easier for ARPA than for other agencies: Ruina says that ARPA was never questioned in the Congress: Defense still sacred; sometimes problems with BOB concerning budget, but never with the Congress

• Ruina's influence on some of the Vela Uniform [VU] programs:

• research explosions: Gnome, Shoal, Salmon: he doesn't recall whether he was involved in initiating these explosions, doesn't remember any interactions with the State Department or White House: so apparently not involved

• so involved in DEFENDER, that little involved in VU; involved in seismic detection capabilities issues, but not so much in VU program itself

• if people like Press or Oliver had complained to him than he would have changed something in Vela U, then he would have done something, review project etc.; Ruina says that this never happened: his action never really required to run VU

• exception: some of the crustal studies: some questions raised to their relevancy for seismic detection; Ruina says that he felt as long it is good seismology, let it run; crustal studies not high priority, and Ruina never dealt with crustal studies people, which he takes as another indication of crustal studies low priority

• in 1961, VU structure already lined out: everything pretty structured; Ruina sounds as if he relied on people like Press and Oliver to define the program; VU was running smoothly so that Ruina did not have to intervene much and nobody was giving him a hard time about VU, he was not under pressure concerning VU

• in retrospect, he thinks, ARPA was probably spending too much money on Vela for what they got out of it; thinks that Jack Evernden did more singlehandedly than anything getting out of Vela: and he could do that because he had access to the data [Ruina has in print somewhere that he ridiculed what came out of Vela (besides more trained seismologists, better instruments etc.) compared to what Evernden did single-handedly]

• Ruina says that influence of Vela on seismology was tremendous, because of all the money: "selective diffusion into certain areas:" sowing the seeds [compare Vela with Materials Science program and radar]

• after Ruina left ARPA in 1963 he stayed in touch with Vela in the function of chairman of the two Seismic Capabilities panels; he stayed in touch with the test ban, but not with VU program per se (except with Vela satellites: he was chairman of panel that discussed flash in South Africa); on many committees that dealt with test ban.