[ISN] Pentagon alienating elite science advisers

From: InfoSec News (isnat_private)
Date: Tue May 14 2002 - 00:18:14 PDT

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    Forwarded from: William Knowles <wkat_private>
    By Jim Puzzanghera
    Mercury News Washington Bureau
    May 13, 2002
    WASHINGTON - For more than 40 years, an elite group of academic 
    scientists has provided the federal government with largely classified 
    advice on the most vital issues of national security. Every summer 
    they have met behind closed doors for almost two months near San 
    Diego, emerging with judgments that have helped shape the nation's 
    policies -- from ending nuclear testing to preparing for the danger of 
    But when the Pentagon tried to redirect the group, known simply as 
    ``Jason,'' toward information technology and force it to accept 
    Silicon Valley executives in its ranks, the scientists balked. And now 
    this highly secret group of advisers and the independent science-based 
    analysis it provides may be in jeopardy.
    Many in the scientific community say the federal government still 
    desperately needs such unbiased assessments, especially in a time of 
    war. Some have criticized the Bush administration for endangering this 
    unique source of analysis for classified national security projects. 
    Some of the group's findings are at odds with the administration on 
    two key issues: the feasibility of a national missile-defense system 
    and the potential need to resume nuclear testing to ensure the weapons 
    stockpile remains usable.
    ``The Jasons are a national resource. Republican and Democratic 
    presidents have found their advice invaluable. It's a real shame,'' 
    said Joseph Cirincione, a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment 
    for International Peace, a Washington think tank. ``These are not 
    defense critics, these are technical experts who are providing their 
    technical assessment of things ranging from `star wars' weaponry to 
    designs for defensive armor.''
    Source of dispute
    The dispute, according to members of Jason, stems from an attempt by 
    the director of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, known 
    as DARPA, to force the traditionally self-selecting group to accept 
    three members. Among the three are two executives from Silicon Valley, 
    one from an Internet-related company and another from a computer firm, 
    said one member of the group, who, like other Jason members, declined 
    to name the individuals. The third person is an engineer from the 
    Washington, D.C., area.
    The Jasons, named after the mythical Jason and the Argonauts, said the 
    three did not meet the group's rigid standards, which include having 
    significant research accomplishments, being a tenured professor at a 
    research university and being willing to commit to a lengthy annual 
    summer research session. When the group refused to accept the three 
    earlier this year, DARPA revoked its $1.5 million annual funding, 
    Jason members said.
    The loss of the main source of money for Jason has put the group's 
    future in jeopardy. Members say they are close to securing a new main 
    sponsor at the Pentagon, but no agreement has been reached. Even if a 
    deal can be worked out, the funding problems already have delayed 
    important research, according to Jason.
    ``The Jasons are a very active and patriotic lot and would like to 
    continue their work,'' said Steven Block, a member of Jason and a 
    professor of applied physics and biological sciences at Stanford 
    University. ``It's really quite a pity that what I believe is 
    political influence is having such a deleterious effect at a time when 
    our nation should be pulling together, and not apart, to deal with 
    issues of international terrorism.''
    DARPA Director Tony Tether declined to comment on the dispute. Agency 
    media officer Jan Walker also would not comment on the accusations 
    that Tether tried to force members into Jason. She said the reason 
    DARPA ended its financial support for the group was because Jason 
    failed to adapt to the times.
    ``The Jasons were very valuable during the Cold War. They looked at 
    things such as submarine detection, things that were highly 
    physics-oriented,'' Walker said. ``After the Cold War ended, a lot of 
    the technology development moved toward information technology, and 
    the Jasons chose not to lose their physics orientation to focus on 
    DARPA's current needs.''
    Jason members say that assertion is wrong, noting that nearly 40 
    percent of its scientists have doctoral degrees from fields other than 
    physics. Among those fields are computer science, biology and chemical 
    engineering, Block said. Jason produced 10 reports on biological 
    issues alone between 1997 and 2001.
    ``To suggest that somehow Jason is a group of aging Cold Warriors that 
    are increasingly irrelevant flies in the face of the known expertise 
    of Jason, the known makeup of Jason and the recent product of the 
    group,'' Block said.
    DARPA, the Pentagon's risk-taking research arm that created the 
    Internet, for decades has been the main sponsor of Jason, which was 
    founded in 1959. The ad hoc group's roughly 40 members work part time 
    for the government, taking leaves from their universities to work on 
    projects, mostly during a six- to eight-week session each summer in La 
    Jolla, the beach community north of San Diego.
    Jason keeps an intentionally low profile, largely because of its 
    classified work. There is no comprehensive list of members, and 
    professors who are Jasons rarely mention the job on their résumés. 
    Started by midcareer scientists who felt it was time for a new 
    generation to become involved in national security issues, Jason tries 
    to remain young. New scientists are routinely rotated in and older 
    members become less-active senior advisers when they turn 65.
    Originally all male because of the era in which it was formed and the 
    heavy emphasis on the male-dominated field of physics, Jason has 
    branched out into other fields, and about 10 percent of its members 
    are women.
    The vast majority of Jason's 20 to 30 annual studies remain 
    classified, making its impact hard to gauge. But shortly after the 
    group's partially declassified 1995 report that low-yield nuclear 
    tests were not necessary to maintain the nation's weapons stockpile, 
    former President Bill Clinton declared his support for a comprehensive 
    nuclear test ban treaty. After a 1997 Jason report that questioned 
    whether the government would be able to map the human genome by its 
    2005 deadline, the pace of the program greatly accelerated.
    Jason has been scrambling to replace DARPA's sponsorship in time to 
    save this summer's session, set to begin in mid-June. The chair of the 
    group's steering committee, Steven Koonin, said Jason is close to an 
    agreement with the Defense Research and Engineering agency, the arm of 
    the Pentagon that, ironically, oversees DARPA.
    Delay on key projects
    As it is, the funding problems have already delayed work on projects 
    important to national security, said Koonin, a professor of 
    theoretical physics at the California Institute of Technology who also 
    is the Pasadena college's provost.
    ``Some are relevant to counterterrorism,'' Koonin said. ``They're 
    important in both short and long term, and we are frankly pretty 
    Among those preaching the value of the group's continued existence is 
    John Marburger, director of the White House Office of Science and 
    Technology Policy.
    ``This is a group of scientists who are among the most talented and 
    experienced in the nation, and the scientific standards that they 
    maintain are very high. And you would always want to have a group like 
    that available to advise the government on issues that may arise that 
    require that type of analysis,'' Marburger said.
    Koonin said the group does not take policy positions in its research 
    but simply makes scientific assessments of government projects.
    ``We still write reports that have equations in them. I don't think 
    there's any other group that does that,'' said Koonin, who has been a 
    Jason for about 15 years. ``Our job is to provide honest, technical 
    advice, and we're not going to shrink from doing that.''
    "Communications without intelligence is noise;  Intelligence
    without communications is irrelevant." Gen Alfred. M. Gray, USMC
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