Balancing Science and Security

By Matthew Harwood

Yesterday, the National Research Council urged in a new report that a commission on science and security be established.

The proposed Science and Security Commission would balance the legitimate security concerns of the government with the scientific community’s need for relatively unrestricted access to information, researchers, and students to keep  America’s scientific and technological juggernaut going.

According to the Associated Press, the commission:

… should be co-chaired by the president's national security adviser and the director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy, said the council, an arm of the National Academy of Sciences. It should include representatives from academic research institutions and national security agencies.

The call for the establishment of such a commission rises out of the scientific community’s fear that certain antiterrorism tactics—such as “restrictions on the flow of information, researchers, and students”—will harm the United States’ ability to retain its scientific supremacy globally.

 The report notes that America’s scientific and engineering talent is sparse and that without a “steady infusion of foreign nationals” America’s research and development efforts cannot be sustained.

 The council agrees that the government has legitimate security concerns regarding these issues, especially from terrorists that pose as, or indeed are, students. However, the council provides 14 recommendations for the government to ensure adequate security while preserving the openness necessary for scientific progress.

 One thing the government could do, recommends the council, is review the new “sensitive but unclassified” category, which it argues erodes Ronald Reagan’s National Security Decision Directive - 189, which said the government would not restrict, “to the maximum extent possible, the products of unclassified fundamental research.”

The report argues the SBU category undermines NSDD-189 because it limits the ability of the scientific community to publish research results and restricts the use of non-U.S. researchers.


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