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Of scientists, spies and censorship...

While the public debate over the freedom of worldwide scientific exchange has taken on a curious, congenial complexion of its own, it is apparent that much of the actual flow of scientific data and ideas between the United States and other, particularly Eastern Bloc, countries remains under the tight control of the Department of Defense (DOD).

"I'm enthusiastic about selling consumer goods to the Soviet Union," says Richard N. Perle, assistant secretary of defense for international security policy. "Enriching the lives of Soviet citizens has a useful narcotic effect." Perle's enthusiasm withers, however, when those goods include such objects as microelectronics production equipment, computer-driven machine tools, computers for manufacturing and advanced communications systems. And his goodwill absolutely disappears when the subject of resuming scientific exchanges with the Soviets is brought up.

There is "danger," Perle said last week at a round-table discussion, in the National Academy of Sciences' recent proposal to institute a new, cooperative science exchange program with the Soviets. The Academy halted a similar program in 1980 in protest of the treatment of Soviet physicist Andrei D. Sakharov. "Soviet scientists are employees of the state," Perle said. "They are on an intelligence mission."

Perle's views contrasted and, in some cases, meshed with those of other members of the panel convened in Washington, D.C., by the Scientists' Institute for Public Information, the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the Association of American Universities. His remarks also came on the heels of an open technical meeting in which DOD stepped in at the last minute and blocked the presentation of a number of unclassified papers that it believed would threaten national security if disclosed (SN: 4/20/85, p. 247). In 1982, the Defense Department had blocked 100 papers from being presented at a similar meeting in San Diego (SN: 9/4/82, p. 148).

Neither Perle nor the other panelists appeared sure exactly how the recent incident had occurred. But they generally concurred that information that might threaten national security should be censored. "You don't bargain away technology," said William J. Perry, former under secretary of defense for research and engineering in the Carter administration. "The process by which we manufacture is our major secret."

Admiral Bobby R. Inman, currently president of the Microelectronics and Computer Technology Corp. in Austin, Tex., noted that whereas the United States had a 10-year lead in technology over the Soviet Union in 1971, that gap shrank to two years by 1981. "If you persuaded me that we were learning from it, then exchanges with the Soviets might be acceptable," said Inman, who added that the "pool of U.S. talent [in technology] has been declining."

Donald Kennedy, president of Stanford University and cochairman of the DOD-university group that has been discussing academic research freedom, said that unless research has been labeled classified it should not be subject to controls or censorship. Indeed, it was Stanford's policy of not conducting any classified research that led to the day's only sharp exchange, between Perle and Kennedy. When Perle asked him to justify this policy, Kennedy replied, "Our scientists think the kind of science they do requires free exchange." Asked Perle: "Will Stanford prohibit a researcher who wants to from doing classified research? And how do you square that with academic freedom?" Kennedy then explained that a classified project might exclude other faculty members who might normally collaborate.

On the question of U.S.-USSR exchanges, Kennedy said that science should be "preserved as an international enterprise, with openness and access. The temptation to resolve by regulation what cannot be resolved by good sense is an instinct of government."
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Author:Greenberg, Joel
Publication:Science News
Date:May 11, 1985
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