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Scientific Communication and National Security
scientific meetings at government insistence;1 consideration was given to removing the exemption for basic research in the executive order on classification; heightened enforcement efforts have detained foreign students returning home; and universities have been asked to help monitor and enforce restrictions on the movements of foreign scientists and foreign students on campus.
The current situation creates large dilemmas for U.S. policymakers. The U.S. military establishment wants to end the flow of militarily sensitive information to the Soviet Union, but finds that the controls available may also slow down the development of the United States’ own military capabilities. This nation wants to keep its economy strong and to help other nations acquire know-how for their own economic growth, but there is fear that some of that know-how will later be turned to military ends that may endanger U.S. security.
In the heat of the current debate, it should be remembered that science contributes to several national goals that we all share, including the maintenance of U.S. military and economic strength, and a system of higher education and the pursuit of knowledge that serves as a world standard of excellence; U.S. research also may contribute to Soviet military strength. The Panel on Scientific Communication and National Security has attempted to make an initial net assessment of the extent and seriousness of U.S. technological losses, the effectiveness of present control mechanisms in dealing with the problem, and the costs of imposing controls on open scientific communication. In the process, the Panel has examined the problem from a broad range of perspectives in as comprehensive and objective a fashion as possible. It has sought to develop solutions that will provide maximum benefits, both in terms of maintaining the health of the U.S. scientific enterprise and safeguarding national security, while incurring minimum national costs.
Since the Panel concluded its deliberations, the Department of Defense moved to prevent the oral presentation of unclassified papers at an international scientific meeting. Many researchers attending the 26th annual international technical symposium of the Society of Photo-Optical Engineers in San Diego, California, were informed only days before the session that their presentations might violate existing contractual obligations or export control regulations. Noting the presence of Russian and East European visitors at the symposium, DOD officials feared that scheduled papers—on such topics as optical technologies used in laser communications and infrared optics—would be of military significance. Government officials were also present at the meeting to personally warn speakers. In all, over 150 of the planned 626 scheduled papers were withdrawn. The incident has aroused confusion and controversy, particularly over the timing of the government’s actions. Most of the papers that were withdrawn were to be presented by government employees or else involved work funded by DOD, raising the question of why timely review by funding officers had not been possible.