TERROR FEARS MAY AFFECT RESEARCH DOLLARS
03 Jan 2003
Source: Newsday, January 3, 2003
Terror Fears May Affect Research Dollars
By CONNIE CASS, Associated Press Writer
WASHINGTON -- More federal research dollars are coming with strings attached as the government tries to keep sensitive information out of the hands of terrorists.
Some federal agencies, for example, are pressing to review papers on certain topics and ban foreign researchers who have not been specially screened.
Universities are balking at new restrictions, and in some cases turning down lucrative contracts because they violate long-standing policies.
"Those are deal-breaker issues for us," said Paul Powell, who negotiates federal contracts for the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
MIT persuaded the Defense Department to drop wording from several contracts that would have allowed the military to block unclassified research before it was published, he said.
But the National Security Agency refused to budge from a requirement that any foreigners working on a planned project at MIT's Artificial Intelligence Laboratory be approved by the government, Powell said, forcing the school to walk away from $404,000.
About half of graduate students in the physical sciences and engineering at U.S. universities come from abroad, and many schools have policies against treating them differently. An NSA spokeswoman said on Thursday the agency could provide no immediate comment.
Although still in the minority, the number of contracts carrying such restrictions has increased significantly since Sept. 11, 2001. Some officials in academia worry about a trend toward more secrecy that jeopardizes researchers' ability to verify and build on each others' findings.
"The stakes are very high in working this out," said former Air Force Secretary Sheila Widnall, now an aeronautics professor at MIT. Widnall led a faculty committee that opposed restrictions on unclassified research.
The Bush administration and scientists alike are struggling with how to balance openness against the fear that all sorts of research could help terrorists -- by disclosing structural weaknesses in bridges or revealing how to make biological weapons, for example.
President Bush signed a law last summer prohibiting students from countries considered sponsors of terrorism from working with germs and toxins most likely to be used for bioterrorism.
Meantime, researchers and scientific journals are debating whether -- and how -- they should censor themselves to safeguard information.
"The whole atmosphere under which we work was affected by Sept. 11," said Richard Seligman, who negotiates government contracts at the California Institute of Technology.
For example, CalTech has agreed to allow the Army Research Laboratory to review a professor's work on computer simulation before publication, Seligman said. The university made an exception to its rules "in the national interest," he said.
Sometimes, restrictions crop up in studies that seem to be of no interest to terrorists. The Justice Department demanded the right to approve before publication a study on physical abuse of college women, said Robert Richardson, Cornell University's vice provost for research.
Cornell turned down the government money.
"The people who write their papers don't want to keep it secret," Richardson said.
The White House and Defense Department are each studying whether new controls should be placed on a wide range of sensitive government information. It's unclear how universities might be affected by any changes.
For now, there are no government-wide guidelines for deciding what unclassified research deserves closer scrutiny.
The president's science adviser, John Marburger, told the House Science Committee in October that science will have to adjust to heightened security. Foreign students are receiving closer scrutiny, Marburger said, because of "the possibility that we are training future terrorists."
Traditionally, universities have held the position that any research not classified as secret could be published freely -- a broad understanding that was formalized by President Reagan. The National Academies, chartered by Congress to advise the government on science, recently urged the administration to stick with that principle.
But exceptions existed before the attacks on New York and Washington. The Federal Aviation Administration, for example, had a long-standing requirement that research it financed be vetted to avoid revealing too much about security procedures.
The month before the terrorist attacks, the Army Research Laboratory began requiring researchers it finances to get Army approval before publishing studies.
After an outcry from schools, the Army softened the provision last summer to say that papers must be submitted in advance for review, but not for approval, said Robert Hardy, associate director of the Council on Governmental Relations, which represents universities.
Both sides are still discussing the issue, said Melissa Bohan, an Army spokeswoman.