The military, political, and economic preeminence of the United States during the post-World War II era is based to a substantial degree on its superior rate of achievement in science and technology, as well as on its capacity to translate these achievements into products and processes that contribute to economic prosperity and the national defense. The success of the U.S. scientific enterprise has been facilitated by many factors, important among them the opportunity for American scientists and engineers to pursue their research—and to communicate with each other—in a free and open environment.
During the last two administrations, however, concern has arisen that the characteristically open U.S. scientific community has served as one of the channels through which critical information and know-how are flowing to the Soviet Union and to other potential adversary countries; openness in science is thus perceived to present short-term national security risks in addition to its longer-term national security benefits in improved U.S. military technology. Recent statements by senior administration officials have referred with alarm to the amount of information flowing from the United States to the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. Deputy Secretary of Defense Frank Carlucci stated that
in our considered view…the [scientific] exchanges to date, in the main, have not been reciprocal. Rather, it is quite apparent the Soviets exploit scientific exchanges as well as a variety of other means in a highly orchestrated, centrally directed effort aimed at gathering the technical information required to enhance their military posture [“Scientific Exchanges and U.S. National Security,” Science, Vol. 215, January 8, 1982, p. 140].
This view has been expressed even more forcefully by Assistant Secretary of Commerce Lawrence J.Brady:
Operating out of embassies, consulates, and so-called “business delegations,” KGB operatives have blanketed the developed capitalist countries with a network that operates like a gigantic vacuum cleaner, sucking up formulas, patents, blueprints and know-how with frightening precision. We
believe these operations rank higher in priority even than the collection of military intelligence…. This network seeks to exploit the “soft underbelly”—the individuals who, out of idealism or greed, fall victim to intelligence schemes; our traditions of an open press and unrestricted access to knowledge; and finally, the desire of academia to jealously preserve its prerogatives as a community of scholars unencumbered by government regulation. Certainly, these freedoms provide the underpinning of the American way of life. It is time, however, to ask what price we must pay if we are unable to protect our secrets? [“Taking Back the Rope: Technology Transfer and U.S. Security,” speech before the Association of Former Intelligence Officers, Washington, D.C., March 29, 1982, pp. 5–6].
The same dilemma was the focus of a speech by Admiral B.R.Inman, then Deputy Director of the Central Intelligence Agency, before the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science:
There is an overlap between technological information and national security which inevitably produces tension. This tension results from the scientist’s desire for unconstrained research and publication on the one hand, and the federal government’s need to protect certain information from potential foreign adversaries who might use that information against this nation. Both are powerful forces. Thus, it should not be a surprise that finding a workable and just balance between them is quite difficult [“National Security and Technical Information,” speech before AAAS, Washington, D.C., January 7, 1982, p. 1],
Why the recent concern? Administration officials and members of Congress began to question whether the nation’s long-standing mechanisms for protecting militarily relevant secrets is still adequate, given the convergence of several independent recent trends in military technology (see Appendix B for the historical context of the current public debate).
Four perceived trends may explain the new sense of alarm. First, it is perceived that, at least in some important areas of military technology, the U.S. lead over the Soviet Union is diminishing. Since American security in the post-World War II era has depended largely on technological superiority, the possible erosion of that edge is seen as significant. It is also perceived that—owing in part to the difficulties of nurturing scientific and technological growth in a closed society—the relative Soviet gains would not have been possible without the absorption of Western technologies. Those who take this view cite the high priority given by Eastern bloc intelligence services to the collection—by both overt and covert means—of scientific and technical information from the United States and its allies.
Second, it is argued that as military systems become more pervasively high-technology undertakings, the separation between military operations and scientific research is quickly narrowed. Along with technical sophistication—e.g., state-of-the-art guidance systems, lasers, improved cryptographic capabilities—comes the inevitable fact that scientists working at the research frontier are closer to military applications than they may have intended to be. Furthermore, various external factors seem to be pushing some universities deeper into applications-oriented research.
Third, a steadily increasing share of these technologies is dual-use in nature; that is, they have both military and nonmilitary applications. Much of the research in these dual-use areas is supported by commercial interests for exclusively nonmilitary purposes; examples include domestic microelectronics research, industrial robotics, and the developing interest in cryptographic research as a way to safeguard computer files. Two aspects of this perceived trend are significant: (1) in some areas of dual-use research, the government has lost its past monopoly on new knowledge—and its traditional leakage controls (classification and conditions written into research contracts) thus may have become insufficient, and (2) more and more researchers in the private academic and industrial communities who have been unaware of national security implications in their work find themselves confronted with potential restrictions on the dissemination of their findings.
Fourth, recent American foreign policy has had the effect of further expanding the already large number of potential leakage channels. East-West detente in the 1970s resulted in a significant expansion of trade with Communist nations, which has included technology agreements. The fear is that dual-use technologies may be inadvertently transferred in the process. In addition, scientific and other exchange programs with Eastern bloc nations and the People’s Republic of China multiplied during the 1970s. Concerns about foreign abuse of these exchange programs for intelligence purposes also began to multiply, particularly in view of the concurrent perception that American universities were shifting toward research that is closer to technological frontiers.
The controls that had evolved earlier had concentrated on hardware and on technical information (e.g., troop movements, weapons manuals, blueprints) for which the national security implications were obvious. That system relied heavily on classification of documents and an export licensing system for physical products. The new trends that officials see in transfer of technology indicate a different focus—one that includes some scientific communications and some control of foreign scientific visitors. Much of the recent controversy can be interpreted as the result of government attempts to extend its controls to these new areas. For example, university researchers in microelectronics working under DOD contracts have been informed that dissemination of their results would be subject to existing export control regulations; permission for specific foreign scientific visits has been abruptly denied; papers have been withdrawn on short notice from international
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.