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Scientists Cite Problems Multiplying From Los Alamos-China Spy Scandal

By Earl Lane

The flap over alleged nuclear spying by China has complicated efforts by scientists to reverse a ban on Indian physicists from experiments at Brookhaven National Laboratory and the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory, a leader of one of the experiments said Tuesday.

Paul Grannis, a physicist at the State University of New York at Stony Brook and a driving force at the DZero experiment at Fermilab, cited a general climate of suspicion of foreign-born researchers growing out of a congressional investigation and media accounts of alleged Chinese espionage at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico.

Last year, well before concerns about possible spying at Los Alamos became public, the Clinton administration imposed travel restrictions on many scientists from India and Pakistan in the wake of nuclear bomb tests by both countries. For India, the sanctions applied to numerous institutions, including civilian nuclear centers and institutes doing basic research.

U.S. physicists have been arguing, without success, that their Indian collaborators on the DZero experiment and the PHENIX experiment at Brookhaven work on basic non-defense research at their home institutions. DZero is a house-sized detector that sifts the debris of subatomic collisions for clues to the behavior of matter.

Widespread publicity about the probe of possible spying by a Chinese-American scientist at Los Alamos, who has denied passing any secrets to China and has not been charged with any crime, has not helped matters, Grannis said.

“It’s been very difficult, in the context of the spy case,” he said, to press the administration for loosening restrictions on Indian scientists. Grannis was interviewed after he addressed a Washington meeting Tuesday on scientific freedom and national security. It was sponsored by the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Indian researchers from the Tata Institute for Fundamental Research in Bombay have contributed $500,000 worth of particle-detector equipment for inclusion in an upgraded DZero experiment at Fermilab. But the State Department has prevented Indian researchers from traveling to the United States to help oversee assembly and use of the equipment. The experiment, using the world’s most powerful existing particle accelerator, is expected to resume next year.

At Brookhaven, Indian collaborators, principally from the Bhabha Atomic Research Center in Bombay, have contributed about $300,000 worth of equipment for the PHENIX experiment at the lab’s new Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider. PHENIX also is a large detector designed to sort through the debris from high-energy collisions at the ion collider.