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DoD Agrees to Investigation of Lincoln Lab Fraud

By Marcella Bombardieri

The U.S. Department of Defense has agreed to investigate allegations of fraud in missile defense research at MIT, three years after refusing to allow MIT access to the documents it needed for an independent probe.

MIT has come under harsh criticism, both within the university and from nationally known scientists, for appearing to acquiesce to the Pentagon.

An MIT official conceded yesterday that the Defense Department’s investigation would not be completely independent, but said it was a reasonable compromise.

“We wanted to conduct our own investigation, that was Plan A,” said associate provost Claude R. Canizares. “What we have here is Plan B.”

Canizares said that there is no timetable for completion of the investigation and that the Pentagon would share its conclusions with MIT.

Theodore A. Postol ’67, the professor who has spent years pursuing his allegations of fraud at MIT’s Lincoln Laboratory, condemned the new plan.

“It’s hard to believe people can be so clumsy and dishonest,” he said.

“What MIT is in effect doing is turning over responsibilities for oversight of its own academic operations to the Department of Defense.”

Defense Department spokeswoman Cheryl Irwin said it would be improper to discuss the investigation, but pointed out that the missile technology involved in the fraud allegations is not being used by the United States.

In 1997, the Pentagon conducted what it said was a successful test of an infrared missile sensor over the Pacific Ocean. Two scientists at the MIT-run Lincoln Lab were part of a team that evaluated the results and deemed them “basically sound.”

But Postol, known for exposing problems with US Army boasts about the Patriot missile during the Persian Gulf War, did his own analysis and concluded that the tests were so flawed that the Lincoln Lab scientists could not possibly have signed off on the data in good faith.

In 2003, an MIT professor’s inquiry concluded that the university should conduct a full investigation into Postol’s allegations. But the Missile Defense Agency, a division of the Pentagon, refused to allow MIT investigators access to the materials relating to the investigation.

In a letter to faculty Friday, Provost L. Rafael Reif said “the MIT administration has never ceased to press for a satisfactory conclusion,” and called the delay of three years “unfortunate.” He said MIT had been pursuing the issue with the highest levels of the U.S. Government.

Under MIT’s new agreement with the Department of Defense, the investigation will be conducted by a civilian Pentagon employee who is not associated with the Missile Defense Agency, Reif wrote.

He added that to assure an impartial investigation, the government agreed to use an outside consultant, Norman Augustine, former chairman and chief executive of Lockheed Martin Corp. and a former member of MIT’s board.

Postol, however, said Friday that Augustine, a former Army undersecretary, is biased. He referred to an opinion piece by Augustine in the Wall Street Journal shortly after the Gulf War, defending the Patriot missile against critics.

Augustine was traveling overseas Friday and could not be reached.