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National Research Council Recommends Science-Security Policies

Science and Security in a Post 9/11 WorldScientists and security experts gathered yesterday on Capitol Hill to present a National Research Council report, “Science and Security in a Post 9/11 World.” The report, which was mandated by Congress, suggests ways of balancing the goals of security and economic vitality in the context of science policy.

The 9/11 attacks ignited fears that terrorists could enroll in U.S. universities and use the scientific and technical knowledge they acquire to attack economic, political, and cultural targets in the United States. Policymakers responded with new regulations, such as restrictions on student visas. The NRC, a private institution that focuses on government science, technology, and health policy advice, subsequently became concerned that such policy responses to 9/11 were actually a perverse liability, rather than an asset, to U.S. security and competitiveness. The new report reflects an attempt to revise these policies.

Jacques Gansler, Vice President for Research at the University of Maryland, argued during his presentation that many trade, export, and science policies in the United States currently fail to reflect the realities of a globalized world. U.S. leadership depends on global collaboration, he said. He lamented the fact that the United States is no longer the world leader in the field of quantum computing–an increasingly vital instrument for both security and competitiveness–and he described the irony that policies which purported to strengthen security actually caused the dulling of the U.S. competitive edge in quantum computing.

Drawing attention to the culture of fear which he said has largely dominated U.S. security discourse after 9/11, Gansler also described a failed Pentagon proposal to require researchers in universities to wear badges identifying them as U.S. nationals or non-nationals. “We tried that sort of thing with the Star of David, and it didn’t work,” he quipped. Finally, Gansler called for full implementation of NSDD-189, a directive introduced by Ronald Reagan (and subsequently endorsed by Condoleezza Rice). NSDD-189 requires results of scientific research to “remain unrestricted” to the maximum possible extent.

Alice Gast, President of Lehigh University, explained the report’s policy recommendations in further detail. Most important, she said, is a recommendation to create a new, high-level Science and Security Commission to be co-chaired by the National Security Adviser and the Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy. Gast explained that successful dialogues between scientists and security experts have occurred in the past, but they have been too “reactive.” Institutionalizing the dialogue between the security and science communities, she said, would enable the federal government to efficiently organize a team of science-security policy advisers with security clearances necessary for discussing sensitive issues.

The report also expresses concern about the categorization of some scientific information as “sensitive but unclassified.” According to the NRC, widespread use of this category betrays the spirit of openness and collaboration articulated in NSDD-189, and requires researchers to spend time worrying about which of their research results can and cannot be published. Gerald Epstein, a Senior Fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, reminded the audience that some security risks must be accepted, especially if they are necessary to foster technical innovation.

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