Collaboration in National Security and Classified Research
The growing importance of national security issues and the scientific challenges to be addressed in this arena were raised as an important but potentially problematic area of collaborative research by several participants at the workshop. In addressing this topic, the first point made by presenters, echoed by many participants in the breakout sessions, is the importance of understanding the difference between national security research and classified research. Researchers are in general prohibited from working on classified research while in university facilities. However a significant portion of research relevant to national security challenges is actually unclassified and provides some opportunity for collaborative research. Trewhella pointed out the importance of idea sharing and peer review, embedded in unclassified research, in helping to maintain high-quality research activities in the classified arena. Unclassified research has significant inherent quality controls, demanded first because of the peer-reviewed competition required to obtain a grant and then because of the added review requirements to actually publish the research results. This same quality of science is highly desirable in classified work, but the same open mechanisms for ensuring quality cannot be implemented because of the closed nature of the work. Thus, to maintain the highest quality of research in a classified environment, researchers who operate in a classified world must be allowed to compete and be peer-reviewed in an unclassified environment, where their fundamental concepts, ideas, and approaches can be vetted by the community of scientists, before these ideas are brought to the classified world. Competitive, peer-reviewed, unclassified research in basic science provides an important quality check
for classified work and also provides a more attractive career opportunity for scientists who are interested in the problems and programs of the classified world.1
David Mao from the Carnegie Institute of Washington described a specific set of projects in high-pressure physics and chemistry that demonstrated the power of this leverage between the classified and unclassified areas in basic sciences. His experience here has been that although universities do not participate directly in classified work, their understanding and knowledge, particularly in the theoretical area, have been of great value to the broader direction of defense programs.
Miriam John from Sandia National Laboratories pointed out that despite these ongoing relationships, there is a strong perception that “scientific collaborations between the NNSA (National Nuclear Security Administration) labs and industry, universities and foreign scientists have dramatically declined.” The reality is that although the barriers to those collaborations are greater than they have ever been in the past (including new requirements governing visits by foreign nationals, conference attendance, and use of LDRD funds), labs such as Sandia have worked hard to maintain healthy foreign national postdoctoral and visitor programs. Even in the weapons program (e.g., the ASCI), the role of academic collaborative research remains strong. This interaction is critical to keeping the research quality and standards high in the classified arena and maintaining connection for researchers in the classified world with the broader scientific community.
While there are synergies that can be attained through appropriate interactions among researchers in the classified and unclassified arenas, according to Trewhella, capitalizing on these benefits requires the following systems to be put in place:
Effective processes for compartmentalizing the research and creating and maintaining barriers between what is open and what must be kept secret
Effective review mechanisms in all partitions
Strong partnerships with the best universities—focus on key skills
Strategic targeting of collaborations in open research areas that support national security S&T needs
Access issues were also raised as an important element in allowing workers to gather, share insights, and review research. Most of the labs are employing a “graded approach for site access” with specific visitor policies that allow open access to at least a small portion of the laboratory.