WASHINGTON -- To strengthen the essential role that science and technology play in maintaining national and economic security, the United States should ensure the open exchange of unclassified research despite the small risk that it could be misused for harm by terrorists or rogue nations, says a new report by the National Research Council. Because science and technology are truly global pursuits, U.S. universities and research institutions must continue to welcome foreign-born science and engineering students, said the committee of former national security leaders and senior university researchers and administrators that wrote the report.
While concerns about certain types of research findings falling into the wrong hands are legitimate and safeguards are needed, the gains in science and technology that flow from the free exchange of information far outweigh the slight risks, the report says. Extreme measures to curtail the flow of essential information or people would significantly disrupt advances that are critical to U.S. military and economic security. Meeting the challenges of future technological or biological threats depends upon developments that can only come from long-term academic research.
In the years following the Sept. 11 attacks, research institutions have established policies and procedures that address concerns about security, said committee co-chair Jacques S. Gansler, former U.S. undersecretary of defense and vice president for research at the University of Maryland, College Park. However, both the security and scientific communities agree that losing our leading edge in science and technology is one of the greatest threats to national security. Unnecessary or ill-conceived restrictions could jeopardize the scientific and technical progress that our nation depends upon.
Although National Security Decision Directive 189 (NSDD 189) was enacted to assure that basic research remain open to publication and foreign participation, many government policies and practices have effectively reversed this in recent years, the report says. To ensure that both security and scientific interests are protected, the federal government should establish a standing entity, preferably a Science and Security Commission, that would review policies regarding the exchange of information and the participation of foreign-born scientists and students in research. The report suggests that the commission be co-chaired by the national security adviser and the director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, and include representatives from academic research institutions and national security agencies.
The U.S. security and research communities need to work together to weigh the latest information about potential threats and ensure the continuation of scientific research that could help mitigate them, said committee co-chair Alice P. Gast, president of Lehigh University, Bethlehem, Pa. Establishing this standing body would allow the nation to strike the appropriate balance between science and security.
After holding a series of regional meetings on university campuses with a broad range of officials from security and academic research institutions, the National Research Council committee identified specific actions that should be taken to foster open exchange of scientific research -- all of which could be addressed by the proposed Science and Security Commission. They include:
To improve relations between the scientific research and national security communities, universities and federal agencies should create opportunities for university scientists to participate in government security fellowships, and for members of the national security community to participate in university fellowships, the report says. In addition, university leaders must continue to educate administrators, faculty, and students about security, export controls, and other relevant policies and procedures and ensure that they are in compliance.
The report also calls on the National Science Foundation, the departments of Defense and Homeland Security, and intelligence agencies to increase funding for the social sciences, particularly languages and area studies. Such research could improve understanding of the social, cultural, and political bases of terrorism and identify potential responses. The agencies also should fund additional research in security risk assessment and cost-benefit analyses of security strategies affecting university research.