Sheila Widnall
Institute Professor and Professor of Aeronautics and Astronautics
Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Oct. 10, 2002

Testimony before the House Committee on Science

Mr. Chairman and Members of the Committee;

I am happy to have the opportunity to appear before you today to discuss an issue that will have a profound effect on basic research and education in universities and may control the very productivity of American science and technology itself, as well as its contributions to our national security, our economic development and the health of our people; as you recognize, the stakes are very high.

I have submitted a written statement and request that it be entered into the record. I also request that the MIT report entitled "In The Public Interest", which I shall reference in my remarks, and the Annual Report of the President of MIT, Dr. Charles Vest entitled "RESPONSE AND RESPONSIBILITY: Balancing Security and Openness in Research and Education" be entered into the record.

I am Sheila Widnall, Institute Professor and Professor of Aeronautics and Astronautics at MIT. I am also Vice President of the National Academy of Engineering, a member of the Executive Committee of the National Research Council, and a member of the National Academies' Committee on Science, Engineering and Public Policy. I served as Secretary of the Air Force from 1993 to 1997. So I enter the discussion of basic research and national security from a variety of vantage points.

I appear before you today as Chairman of the MIT Committee on Access to and Disclosure of Scientific Information. This Committee was established jointly by the MIT Provost and the Chairman of the Faculty and asked to determine if our current policies provide adequate guidance to consider MIT's role in classified research in the context of the 21st Century: policies governing the conduct of classified research on our campus; policies governing participation of faculty and students in classified programs at Lincoln Laboratory and other cleared facilities; policies governing the access to classified material on our campus; and restrictions on access to research results that flow from industrially-sponsored research. We also examined the emerging regimes of other restrictions-such as the designation sensitive--on research disclosure and research materials that fall short of full classification but none-the-less restrict access to and dissemination of research results.

Our report, entitled "In the Public Interest" was published in June and has received considerable notice within the scientific and science-policy communities as well as wide coverage in the media.

There are many issues that our committee did not consider. Our charge was centered on MIT's research policies and on possible changes to these. We did not deal with issues affecting individual faculty, as they consider how best to fulfill their public service responsibilities, or how they choose to communicate their scientific findings through education or publications, or how they manage their laboratories and research groups.

We did not consider the full range of issues faced by this committee and various government agencies; I will however, as requested in the invitation to appear before you, respond to your questions from the viewpoint of my committee as well as my own experiences.

One of the gratifying outcomes of 9-11 was the articulation of American values: the recognition that our heroes were the men and women who risk their lives to protect us; the value of our open, democratic society; the worth of the individual. In addressing our charge, our faculty committee focused on balancing the values that govern the operation of a great university: the obligation to perform public service for this Nation balanced with the need to protect the openness and access that supports our educational and research mission.

MIT has a long and distinguished record of public service. Our report documents that record, beginning with its role in developing radar during WWII. That effort established the institutional framework for the participation of the physical science and engineering communities in research related to national security and the relation between open basic research on our campuses and the classified regime that occurs in special laboratories. It also brought into being a scientific advisory committee structure, many holding security clearances, to advise government agencies on the quality of defense research and the identification and the application of new critical research results. Most faculty in the physical sciences and engineering have a detailed understanding of the relationship between their research and teaching and its application through our industrial base to national security. In my case, I understand the relationship between my graduate aerodynamics course and what it takes to build an F22, and I know why we might want to do that.

MIT today manages Lincoln Laboratory in support of the national security mission of the Department of Defense. Many MIT faculty participate in classified research and advisory activities at Lincoln. In addition, many members of the MIT faculty hold security clearances to support their participation in advisory committees to the federal government. We believe that these are important forms of public service performed by MIT. Our committee was quite clear on our willingness to do classified research in the service of the nation on all topics within MIT's expertise.

In balance with this public service mission is our fundamental responsibility to educate the next generation and to pursue the highest quality research for the betterment of mankind. The committee was unanimous in its belief that this-the highest form of public service-requires a free and open campus for both education and research.

In our report we stated, "We believe that MIT, to fulfill its mission, must have an open intellectual environment. Education and scholarship are best served through the unconstrained sharing of information and by creating the opportunities for free and open communication. Such an environment enables students to be exposed to the most current knowledge and allows scholars to build upon and to evaluate each other's work. National security, the health of our nation, and the strength of our economy depend heavily on the advancement of science and technology and on the education of future generations. The well being of our nation will ultimately be damaged if education, science, and technology suffer as a result of any practices that indiscriminately discourage or limit the open exchange of ideas. Peer evaluation of research methods and findings, an outcome of open sharing and debate within the scientific community, is a crucial mechanism to insure the continued quality and progress of science.

Openness enables MIT to attract, educate, and benefit from the best students, faculty and staff from around the world. This is especially important, as competence in science and technology has grown throughout the world so that access to research and knowledge outside the United States is critical to our own progress. Over the course of many years, immigrant scientists as well as foreign visitors and students have contributed enormously to the American educational and scientific enterprises. They have enriched our knowledge and culture, promoted the growth of our economy, have become essential contributors in American companies and research laboratories, and have improved the quality of our lives. Many will return to their home countries to become leaders with an understanding of our nation and our values. We believe that no foreign national granted a visa by the US government should be denied access to courses, research or publications generally available on campus."

Our recommendations flow directly from balancing our public service responsibilities with our belief in the absolute necessity of maintaining an open intellectual environment on our campus.

I will summarize a few of our findings and recommendations that are relevant to your concerns. We recommended:

" That no classified research should be carried out on campus, that no student, graduate or undergraduate, should be required to have a security clearance to perform thesis research, and that no thesis research should be carried out in areas requiring access to classified materials.

" That because there is no consistent understanding or definition of what would constitute "sensitive" information, MIT should continue its policy of not agreeing to any sponsor's contractual request that research results generated during the course of a program be reviewed for the inadvertent disclosure of "sensitive" information. Increasingly, MIT has seen the attempt by government contracting officials to include a requirement that research results be reviewed, prior to publication, for the potential disclosure of "sensitive" information. Such a request implies potential restrictions on the manner in which research results are handled and disseminated, and may also restrict the personnel who have access to this material. The difficulty with this approach is that the term "sensitive" has not been defined, and the obligations of the Institute and the individuals involved have not been clarified nor bounded. This situation opens the Institute and its faculty, students, and staff to potential arbitrary dictates from individual government contract monitors-however well intended. To date, MIT has refused, in all cases, to accept this restriction in any of its government contracts.

" That while we understand that occasionally research findings are classified after the fact because of the importance of the discovery, we believe that this should be a rare event. In the current climate, we may see a desire on the part of contract monitors to more closely oversee the ongoing research with a goal of imposing classification on emerging research results. To be acceptable, we believe that any such actions would also be extremely rare and would require great sensitivity and care to avoid damaging the process of discovery. If this practice becomes common in a field of research, we would recommend that such research not be pursued on our campus.

" That the requirements under the Patriot Act involving personnel, students, faculty, and staff are not consistent with MIT's principles. It is likely that in the current climate, the number of biological agents on the list will grow and the restrictions placed on personnel, physical access, and publication of research findings may grow as well. At some point, MIT may rightfully decide that on-campus research in areas governed by these regulations is no longer in its interest or in line with its principles. We should consider applying a sunset clause to the acceptance of new contracts for research carried out under such restrictions.

" That laws governing export of scientific information and artifacts pose difficult issues for university research in governed areas. MIT should insure that the designation of fundamental research and public domain, which enjoys an exemption from the need to seek export licenses prior to disseminating information or items, extends to as much of its ongoing research activity as possible, consistent with the national interest. Any formal or contractual restrictions on the open sharing of research results should be accepted only after careful analysis of their effects upon MIT and its research program.

" That research programs designed to respond to national needs may occasionally involve a classified component such as a classified follow-on program to apply the results of fundamental research to the development of systems and/or hardware, or the need to use specialized equipment in cleared facilities to measure material or component characteristics. There are several organizations that can provide access to classified facilities to enable MIT faculty to carry out the classified portions of their research.

" That we affirm MIT's current policy, which does not permit, classified theses. Moreover, we believe that no student should require a security clearance nor require or have access to classified material to perform thesis research. All thesis defenses should be open to the MIT community.

" That the management and oversight of Lincoln Laboratory are major components of the public service that MIT carries out for the nation. In its oversight role, MIT should continue its active management of Lincoln Laboratory to insure that: 1) the research meets MIT standards for independence and quality, and 2) in so far as possible, Lincoln provides an environment that enables faculty to do research with national security implications.

" That there may be times when rapid near-term access to specialized MIT on-campus facilities and expertise will be required by the nation. Examples of this would be the need for forensic analysis of biological materials, materials preparation, and the use of other facilities and expertise for significant national purpose other than research. Providing this type of assistance may require special procedures for restricted access. We believe that MIT should make such expertise available for a short-time response with a time-definite sunset clause.

" That MIT faculty play important public service roles in areas requiring access to classified materials. To support these activities we recommend that MIT hold security clearances for faculty who require them, and provide off-campus facilities to allow access to classified materials needed to engage in research or public service.

" That MIT should not provide facilities for storage and access of classified materials on the MIT campus. An off-campus site should be provided for faculty to use such material, as required, utilizing the facilities of Lincoln or Draper Laboratories.

The committee was unanimous in its view that now is the time for MIT to articulate its values and establish a clear statement of policy that will ensure open access and free disclosure of on-campus research results and guarantee the openness of our educational environment. We also believe that this statement will be valuable to other universities and others who are dealing with these difficult issues.

Let me share with you some of my personal reflection on the issues before you and respond to the questions you asked. As mentioned above, the physical science and engineering community has 50-years experience dealing with the relationship between basic research and its national security applications. There is a well-developed institutional framework within government agencies for considering and carrying out the management of these issues. Members of the scientific community are active participants in providing scientific advice to these government agencies as they carrying out this mission and in evaluating the quality of the scientific work carried out in this environment.

In contrast, the biological and health science community has little history to guide them through the current debates. As an outsider to this community, I see several emerging needs: that we should identify what portion of the biological sciences needs to be classified; that there needs to be an institutional/agency framework to manage this process; and that there should be a mechanism to involve members of the scientific community in an advisory committee structure to guide these decisions and evaluate the progress of research in these areas. These decisions should not be taken lightly for it is likely that in the areas so identified and so restricted, there will be no research carried out on university campuses involving graduate students and postdocs. I believe that this will significantly hamper scientific progress in these areas by restricting the free-flowing criticism, replication of research results and vigorous challenge that is an essential feature of the scientific enterprise. But that is the nature of the balance that must be achieved-a decision not to be taken lightly.

Drawing from my remarks, I now focus on your two questions regarding the designation sensitive applied to areas of research and the necessity for an open environment for the progress of science.

I believe that the current approach-that focuses on sensitive research as a halfway house of restriction-- is doomed to failure. It frames and asks questions that cannot be answered by the people or the institutional structure that asks. It is neither comprehensive nor precise and in its attempt to deal with research after the fact will be an ineffective distraction to everyone in the system. I believe that analysis of the current issue leads to the same conclusion that appeared in the Corson report issued by the National Academies in 1982: that the right approach to security is to identify precisely the specific areas require classification and to build very high walls. This debate within government and university leaders during the Reagan administration led to NSDD189, which states that scientific information is either classified or unclassified and generally exempted fundamental research from security regulations. This distinct boundary was fundamentally clear and effective for many years and this remains our policy today. As I have outlined above, the process of reaching decisions on classification requires a proper government agency framework and the active participation of the scientific community. What is different is the nature of the scientific disciplines involved, their relation to their industrial base, the time scales and the level of expertise required to apply the discoveries, and the lack of a 50-year working relationship on security issues between relevant government agencies and the biological and health sciences.

Yes, it really is true that science requires an open environment to thrive. Our scientific and engineering productivity flows from our open system of basic research combined with education. While there are excellent examples of classified and proprietary applied research that have grown from this base, their excellence is only guaranteed and sustained by the constant renewal that arises from the criticism and peer evaluation of research scientists and engineers who constitute this open and accessible research base. Cut off from such criticism and challenge, science deteriorates: subject to political rather than scientific judgments, producing fads, junk science and wishful thinking. Our strong belief is that students must be educated in this open environment to insure the highest quality of their educational experience.

The issues you are addressing are crucial for the future of American science and engineering and the achievement of the benefits for our national security, our economic development and the health of our people that have flowed from this productive enterprise. I wish you success in your deliberations.