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Research mauy be classified

(Editor's note: On Monday, Oct. 21, Dr. James Ionson, director of the Innovative Science and Technology Office (IST) of the Reagan Administration's Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) spoke at MIT. Saleska, a senior in physics, was part of a panel of respondents. What follows is the second part of the text of his response to Ionson. The first part was printed in the Oct. 29 Tech.)

A concern that I cannot get over, despite all your assurances, Dr. Ionson, is the one about restrictions on the free and open exchange of scientific information. To allay the fears that research sponsored by your office might become classified, you maintain that it will be considered "fundamental research," thereby implying that it will be safe from becoming classified. Yet why then, is it still funded out of budget category 6.3?

Incidentally, I should explain that DOD funding to universities is divided into three categories: 6.1 (basic research), 6.2 (applied research), or 6.3 (applied toward actual implementation). Most DOD research on campus is 6.1. There is a general reluctance to accept 6.3 projects because of the relatively high probability that they will be classified or otherwise restricted. All of the money coming from Dr. Ionson's office is classified as 6.3.

The wording of memoranda coming from your office, Dr. Ionson, continues to be ambiguous. To quote from your Aug. 8 memorandum on university SDI research:

"Decisions regarding publication of the results of unclassified ... research performed on university campuses will normally be the responsibility of the university author. However, where there is a likelihood of disclosing operational capabilities ... or technologies unique and critical to defense programs, the contract will stipulate that the responsibility for the release of information resulting from [the] research belongs to the sponsoring office," -- that is, the Department of Defense (emphasis added).

This concerns me, especially since I already think that we are too close, here at MIT, to violating those standards of openness. There are now approximately forty graduate and undergraduate students working on theses or co-op program at Lincoln Labs -- and over seventy associated with Draper Labs. The purpose of this is to further education, and as such, should be open to all. Yet these are opportunities closed to the approximately one-third of all graduate students and the over ten percent of undergrads who are foreign nationals. Just to get inside the door at these places requires a security clearance -- and, as a result of President Reagan's policies, foreign nationals are not allowed security clearances.

This at a time when SDI already makes up 25 percent of the funding at Lincoln Labs, and when the MIT administration is seeking to strengthen its educational ties with Lincoln Labs. I was also surprised to find -- contrary to what I had thought earlier -- that, according to MIT policy, it is possible to have classified research on campus, if the Provost allows it.

According to the statement of Policy and Procedures, "it is the policy of the Institute ... that every research project within the academic structure of MIT (excluding Lincoln Laboratories) which requires a classification as to the source of funds, classification of the research results, or imposition of other restrictions on publication or access must receive the prior approval of the Provost, who shall seek the advice of the Faculty Policy Committee and will inform the Committee of all aprovals."

Given the hypersensitivity that the Reagan administration has shown in the past about the results of scientific research, I do not think it is unreasonable to have this concern. This administration doesn't even want to let the Soviets get a hold of Apple Computers. It certainly seems likely that a weapons program of this magnitude -- if it has anything to do with national security -- would be high on the list for possible classification.

It's fine right now -- ahead of time -- to claim on no uncertain terms that classified research will not be allowed. But I wonder, what's going to happen when some graduate student, who has been working for a number of years on his or her thesis, suddenly has his or her project classified? At that stage, all options are unpalatable, and I fear the temptation to allow classification will be very great.

Well, that's about all I'm going to say. I just have one more thing that I, as a student, would like to ask of the professors and administration of this place. And that is, don't we have an obligation to pay attention to the forseeable consequences of our work, and what other people -- especially those in positions of power -- want to do with it?

If you believe in SDI, if you think it is a reasonable and responsible research program that has a chance of achieving its purpose, then go ahead, do the best work on it that you can do. I may argue with your reasons, and I may try to change your mind, but at least I can respect your integrity in taking the money.

But if you don't believe in it -- if you think that it will bankrupt the country or endanger life on this planet, then you have no business taking the money. Especially those of you who are tenured. You people probably have more freedom than anybody else in this place. I know graduate students and post-docs who really believe that SDI is wrong, but cannot sign that pledge because it could mean the end of their job, the end of their work. But you, the tenured faculty, have the freedom and security to push for other sources of funding or to change the direction of your work. Don't you therefore also have the responsibility to do so?

Finally, to those of you who are indifferent or unaware of the politics of the SDI program, but are interested in the funds: aren't you obligated first to educate yourselves, and make an informed decision? It is possible, of course, for you to do nothing, and accept uncritically the research priorities defined by those in power. But you must also recognize that by doing so, you are already making a political judgement -- for your own political indifference will not translate, in the real world, into an equivalent lack of political significance.

I am reminded of a remark of Albert Einstein, which many of you have probably heard:

"The unleashed power of the atom has changed everything save our modes of thinking, and thus, we drift towards unparalleled catastrophe."

SDI is still the old mode of thinking -- it seeks to solve what is essentially a complex and human problem with a quick and easy "technology fix."

And so, we, as scientists and engineers have the responsibility to think in new modes, no longer to concern ourselves only with our own personal interests, but also to start taking a little more responsibility for the consequences of what we do.