Pentagon Reaffirms Policy on Scientific Integrity

“It is DoD policy to support a culture of scientific and engineering integrity,” according to a Department of Defense directive that was reissued last week.

This is in large part a matter of self-interest, since the Department depends upon the availability of competent and credible scientists and engineers.

“Science and engineering play a vital role in the DoD’s mission, providing one of several critical inputs to policy and systems acquisition decision making. The DoD recognizes the importance of scientific and engineering information, and science and engineering as methods for maintaining and enhancing its effectiveness and its credibility with the public.  The DoD is dedicated to preserving the integrity of the scientific and engineering activities it conducts.”

Several practical consequences flow from this policy that are spelled out in the directive, including:

–Permitting publication of fundamental research results

–Making scientific and engineering information available on the Internet

–Making articulate and knowledgeable spokespersons available to the media upon request for interviews on science and engineering

The policy further states that:

–Federal scientists and engineers may speak to the media and to the public about scientific and technical matters based on their official work with appropriate coordination with the scientists’ or engineers’ organizations.

–DoD approval to speak to the media or the public shall not be unreasonably delayed or withheld.

–In no circumstance may DoD personnel ask or direct scientists or engineers to alter or suppress their professional findings, although they may suggest that factual errors be corrected.

The reaffirmation of such principles, which were originally adopted in 2012, does not guarantee their consistent application in practice. But it does provide a point of reference and a foothold for defending scientific integrity in the Department.

See Scientific and Engineering Integrity, DoD Instruction 3200.20, July 26, 2012, Incorporating Change 1, December 5, 2017.

US-China Scientific Cooperation “Mutually Beneficial”

The US and China have successfully carried out a wide range of cooperative science and technology projects in recent years, the State Department told Congress last year in a newly released report.

Joint programs between government agencies on topics ranging from pest control to elephant conservation to clean energy evidently worked to the benefit of both countries.

“Science and technology engagement with the United States continues to be highly valued by the Chinese government,” the report said.

At the same time, “Cooperative activities also accelerated scientific progress in the United States and provided significant direct benefit to a range of U.S. technical agencies.”

The 2016 biennial report to Congress, released last week under the Freedom of Information Act, describes programs that were ongoing in 2014-2015.

See Implementation of Agreement between the United States and China on Science and Technology, report to Congress, US Department of State, April 2016.

Science & Technology Issues Facing Congress, & More from CRS

Science and technology policy issues that may soon come before Congress were surveyed in a new report from the Congressional Research Service.

Overarching issues include the impact of recent reductions in federal spending for research and development.

“Concerns about reductions in federal R&D funding have been exacerbated by increases in the R&D investments of other nations (China, in particular); globalization of R&D and manufacturing activities; and trade deficits in advanced technology products, an area in which the United States previously ran trade surpluses. At the same time, some Members of Congress have expressed concerns about the level of federal funding in light of the current federal fiscal condition. In addition, R&D funding decisions may be affected by differing perspectives on the appropriate role of the federal government in advancing science and technology.”

See Science and Technology Issues in the 115th Congress, March 14, 2017.

Other new and updated reports from the Congressional Research Service include the following.

The American Health Care Act, March 14, 2017

Previewing a 2018 Farm Bill, March 15, 2017

EPA Policies Concerning Integrated Planning and Affordability of Water Infrastructure, updated March 14, 2017

National Park Service: FY2017 Appropriations and Ten-Year Trends, updated March 14, 2017

Qatar: Governance, Security, and U.S. Policy, updated March 15, 2017

Northern Ireland: Current Issues and Ongoing Challenges in the Peace Process, updated March 14, 2017

Navy LX(R) Amphibious Ship Program: Background and Issues for Congress, updated March 14, 2017

Under Pressure: Long Duration Undersea Research

“The Office of Naval Research is conducting groundbreaking research into the dangers of working for prolonged periods of time in extreme high and low pressure environments.”

Why? In part, it reflects “the increased operational focus being placed on undersea clandestine operations,” said Rear Adm. Mathias W. Winter in newly published answers to questions for the record from a February 2016 hearing.

“The missions include deep dives to work on the ocean floor, clandestine transits in cold, dark waters, and long durations in the confines of the submarine. The Undersea Medicine Program comprises the science and technology efforts to overcome human shortfalls in operating in this extreme environment,” he told the House Armed Services Committee.

See DoD FY2017 Science and Technology Programs: Defense Innovation to Create the Future Military Force, House Armed Services Committee hearing, February 24, 2016.

Garwin to Receive Presidential Medal of Freedom

The celebrated and accomplished individuals selected by President Obama to receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom — the nation’s highest civilian honor — include figures such as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Bill and Melinda Gates, Robert Redford, Bruce Springsteen, Michael Jordan– and Richard L. Garwin.

As noted by a November 16 White House news release, “Richard Garwin is a polymath physicist who earned a Ph.D. under Enrico Fermi at age 21 and subsequently made pioneering contributions to U.S. defense and intelligence technologies, low-temperature and nuclear physics, detection of gravitational radiation, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), computer systems, laser printing, and nuclear arms control and nonproliferation.”

The Medals will be presented at the White House on November 22.

The giving of awards is fraught with latent meanings and assertions of power and identity (as the hullabaloo over Bob Dylan’s Nobel Prize, and Dylan’s muted response to it, show).

In this case, a Presidential Medal of Freedom will hardly enlarge the reputation of Garwin, who could not be more highly esteemed by those who know him or are familiar with his work.

But it casts a somewhat unexpected and therefore moving new light on the Obama White House, which had the breadth of awareness to recognize Garwin and to select him for this honor, together with those who are more widely famous.

Over here, Garwin is practically family, having been a member of the Board of the Federation of American Scientists for many years and a supporter of the organization, including the project on government secrecy, for even longer.

FAS maintains the Garwin Archive, an online collection of many of his published and unpublished works. Earlier this week, we posted slides from his latest paper entitled “Don’t Reprocess Spent Fuel from Light-Water Reactors,” which was presented this month at a seminar in China.

New Rules on Classified Human Subject Research at the Dept of Energy

The Department of Energy last month issued new guidance on the conduct of classified scientific research involving human subjects.

While all human subject research is governed by federal regulations, the new DOE policy imposes several additional requirements whenever such research is to be performed on a classified basis.

For example, the proposed classified research must be reviewed and approved in advance by an Institutional Review Board, and the Board must include a non-scientist member and a member who is not a governmental employee (though he or she must hold a security clearance for this purpose). Also, the normal requirement for informed consent by the human subject cannot be waived.

See Protection of Human Subjects in Classified Research, DOE Notice N 443.1, approved January 21, 2016.

The nature of any such classified human subject research was not described. Speculatively, it might include certain types of research related to polygraph testing or other deception detection techniques. In the past, the Atomic Energy Commission notoriously carried out radiation experiments on unwitting human subjects, and the Central Intelligence Agency conducted behavior modification experiments involving drugs and other stimuli.

It seems that DOE today does little classified human subject research at its own initiative. Rather, “Almost all of the classified [DOE] human subjects research is done on behalf of other Federal sponsors under full cost recovery,” according to a related 2015 DOE memorandum.

The new DOE guidance was prepared after Department attorneys determined last year that a 1997 policy issued by President Bill Clinton was still in effect and applicable to DOE and its contractors. See Strengthened Protections for Human Subjects of Classified Research, March 27, 1997.

Department of Defense policy on classified research involving human subjects is set forth in Protection of Human Subjects and Adherence to Ethical Standards in DoD-Supported Research, DoD Instruction 3216.02, November 8, 2011.

Of possible related interest, the National Declassification Center announced today that 37 cubic feet of classified subject files from the Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) had been declassified and made available to researchers.

A Social Science Perspective on International Science Engagement

In the previous issue of the Public Interest Report (Spring 2015), Dr. Charles Ferguson’s President’s Message focused on the importance of empathy in science and security engagements. This was a most welcome surprise, as concepts such as empathy do not typically make it to the pages of technical scientific publications. Yet the social and behavioral sciences play an increasingly critical part in issues as far ranging as arms control negotiations, inspection and verification missions, and cooperative security projects.

The Middle East Scientific Institute for Security (MESIS), the organization that I have headed for five years now, has developed a particular niche in looking at the role of culture in these science and security issues. MESIS works to reduce chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear threats across the region by creating partnerships within the region, and between the region and the international community, with culture as a major component of this work.

As with empathy, culture is often a misunderstood and misappropriated concept for most policymakers. Admittedly, it is not something that is easy to capture, describe, or measure, which may explain why it is not a popular topic. Notwithstanding, there is growing evidence that cultural awareness can make a crucial difference to the prospective success of negotiations, inspections, and cooperative endeavors. The Central Intelligence Agency produced a report in 2006[1] that examined how a lack of cultural awareness among those involved in Iraq’s inspection regime in the mid-1990s resulted in misinterpretation of the behavior of Iraqi officials, leading to an assumption that the exhibited behavior was that of denial and deception. The report relayed a wide range of incidents that were misread by those overseeing the inspection regime. These included: 1) Iraqi scientists’ understanding of the limitations of their weapons programs, combined with their fear to report these limitations to senior leaders, created two accounts about how far advanced these programs were; and 2) Iraqi leaders’ intent on maintaining an illusion of WMD possession to deter Iran regardless of the implications this may have on the inspection regime. The report even cites misinterpretations of customary (read: obligatory) tea served to inspectors at sites under investigation as being a delay tactic. These incidents demonstrate that local cultural factors, on both societal and state levels, were major determinants of nonproliferation performance, but were poorly understood by inspection officials who did not have enough cultural awareness.

It has become equally important to consider intercultural awareness when it comes to cooperative endeavors in non-adversarial circumstances. The sustainability of cooperative programmatic efforts, such as capacity building, cannot be achieved without a solid understanding of cultural awareness. Though terms such as “local ownership” and “partnerships” have become commonplace in the world of scientific cooperative engagements, it is rare to see them translated successfully into policy. As a local organization, MESIS cannot compete with any of the large U.S. scientific organizations on a technical level, yet by virtue of its knowledge of the regional context, it has numerous advantages over any other organization from outside the region. Try getting a U.S. expert to discuss the role that cultural fatalism can play in improving chemical safety and security standards among Middle Eastern laboratory personnel and this becomes all the more apparent. For example, a Jordanian expert looking to promote best practices among laboratory personnel once made an excellent argument by referring to a Hadith by the Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) that calls for the need to be safe and reasonable ahead of, and in conjunction with, placing one’s faith in God. There have been several studies about the relationship between the cultural fatalism of Arab and Muslim societies, and their perceptions of safety culture, especially on road safety. Although there is no ethnographic evidence to support the claim that this is applicable to lab safety, an anecdotal assessment would strongly suggest so.

Language is another critical area for cultural awareness, as exemplified by the success of a cooperative endeavor between the Chinese Scientists Group on Arms Control (CSGAC) of the Chinese People’s Association for Peace and Disarmament, and the Committee on International Security and Arms Control (CISAC) of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences. These groups have been meeting for almost 20 years to discuss nuclear arms control, nuclear nonproliferation, nuclear energy, and regional security issues, with the goal of reducing the possibility of nuclear weapons use and reducing nuclear proliferation in the world at large. Throughout the exchanges, it was often evident that beyond the never-simple translation of one language into the other, there was also the difficulty of differing interpretations of terms. Accordingly, a glossary of about 1000 terms was jointly developed by the two sides to ensure that future misunderstandings possibly between new members or non-bilingual speakers could be avoided.[2]  In a similar vein, the World Institute for Nuclear Security (WINS) has partnered with MESIS in developing Arabic versions of its Best Practices Guidelines. This is certainly not due to any shortage of Arabic-language translators in Vienna, but rather because they rightly distinguish between translation and indigenization. Typically, a translator with limited understanding of nuclear security is unable to indigenize a text in the way that a local expert can. In the case of the Guidelines, the use of local experts went a long way to ensure that the concepts themselves were understood by Arabic-language speakers (a case not very different from the U.S.-Chinese example).

The sustainability of the international community’s programmatic efforts in the Middle East and elsewhere is strongly tied to this notion of cultural context. MESIS manages the Radiation Cross Calibration Measurement (RMCC) network, which is a project that seeks to raise radiation measurement standards across the Arab world. It has always been a challenge to find funding for this network from funds dedicated to nonproliferation and nuclear security as the project’s relevance or utility is not readily apparent to decision makers. More creative thinking is needed here. A project like RMCC does in fact build the infrastructure and capacity needed for areas such as nuclear forensics and Additional Protocol compliance[3], but it also addresses more local concerns such as environmental monitoring and improved laboratory management. These sorts of win-win endeavors require a strong degree of cultural awareness. If a network of nuclear forensics laboratories had in fact been established, funding would probably be secured with greater ease, while sustainability would certainly be threatened, because ultimately, nuclear forensics is not currently a priority area for the region.

In a period when there is a tremendous amount of skepticism about international science engagement, increased cultural awareness may lead to more meaningful and, in turn, sustainable outcomes. One would expect this to be more readily apparent to members of a scientific community. There may be some merit in taking a page out of the book of another community, the commercial product development one. They are keenly aware of cultural paradigms when developing products for different markets, often leading to better returns.


[1] Misreading Intentions: Iraq’s Reaction to Inspections Created Picture of Deception: Iraq WMD Retrospective Series (number redacted), 5 January 2006. Accessed online October 1 2015 via the Freedom of Information Act via

[2] Published by the National Academies Press in Washington D.C and the Atomic Energy Press in Beijing respectively, 2008.

[3] The Additional Protocol enhances the Comprehensive Safeguards Agreements that states parties to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty have with the International Atomic Energy Agency

Nasser Bin Nasser is the Managing Director of the Middle East Scientific Institute for Security (MESIS) based in Amman, Jordan. He is also the Head of the Amman Regional Secretariat under the European Union’s “Centres of Excellence” initiative on CBRN issues.

Science Experiments Blocked Due to Safety Risks

The U.S. government blocked dozens of life science experiments over the past decade because they were deemed to pose undue risks to public health and safety.

Between 2006 and 2013, researchers submitted 618 potentially restricted experiment proposals for review by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) Division of Select Agents and Toxins (DSAT), according to a new study published in the journal Health Security.

Fifteen percent of those (91) were found to meet the regulatory definition of a “restricted experiment.” 31 of those experiments were nevertheless approved because they included appropriate safety measures.

But “DSAT did not approve 60 restricted experiment requests due to potentially serious biosafety risks to public health and safety,” researchers found. “All 60 denied restricted experiments proposed inserting drug resistance traits into select agents that could compromise the control of disease.”

See Review of Restricted Experiment Requests, Division of Select Agents and Toxins, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2006-2013 (abstract only) by Jacinta Smith, Denise Gangadharan, and Robbin Weyant, Health Security, Vol. 13, No. 5, September 2015: 307-316.

Regulatory restrictions on research can infringe on academic freedom and may have the unintended consequence of foreclosing important — and beneficial — avenues of scientific investigation.

But the risks involved in genetic manipulation of biological agents are so profound that almost everyone agrees that some limits are necessary and appropriate.

“A product resulting from a restricted experiment has the potential to be directly misapplied by others to pose a threat to public health and safety, agricultural crops and other plants, animals and/or the environment,” the authors wrote. “In addition, the accidental release of a product of a restricted experiment may compromise the control or treatment of the disease agent in humans, animals, and/or plants.”

There have been four reported cases involving violations of restricted experiment regulations in recent years, the authors noted. Two of the restricted experiment violations resulted in civil penalties ranging from $40,000 to $1 million.

Some say the existing regulatory regime does not go far enough to restrict hazardous research.

“In the current Wild West of otherwise completely unregulated, and otherwise nearly completely unmonitored, US pathogens research, the requirement for review of ‘restricted experiments’ under the select agent rule is the one small bright spot,” said Richard H. Ebright, a molecular biologist at Rutgers University.

He noted that current regulations specify only two categories of potentially restricted experiments, which leaves much research on pathogens beyond regulatory control or oversight.

“The most effective avenue for the [US government] to implement a requirement for review of other pathogen research projects–for example, to implement a requirement for review of pathogen research projects that create new potential pandemic pathogens–would be to add additional ‘restricted experiments’ to the select agent rule,” Dr. Ebright said.

Invention Secrecy Orders Reach a 20 Year High

On October 27, 1977, Dr. Gerald F. Ross filed a patent application for a new invention he had devised to defeat the jamming of electromagnetic transmissions at specified frequencies. But it was not until June 17, 2014 — nearly 37 years later — that his patent was finally granted (Anti-jam apparatus for baseband radar systems, patent number 8,754,801).

In the interim, Dr. Ross’s patent application had been subject to a secrecy order under the Invention Secrecy Act of 1951, which both prevented issuance of the patent and prohibited its public disclosure.

At the end of Fiscal Year 2014 (on September 30), there were 5,520 such invention secrecy orders in effect, according to statistics released by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office under the Freedom of Information Act.

That is the highest number of invention secrecy orders in effect since 1994. It is unclear whether this reflects growing innovation in sensitive technology areas, or a more restrictive approach to disclosure by government agencies.

In fact, the overwhelming majority of current secrecy orders were issued in prior years, but there were 97 new secrecy orders that were imposed in FY 2014. Meanwhile, there were 22 existing orders that were rescinded, including the order concerning Dr. Ross’s invention.

Under the Invention Secrecy Act, secrecy orders may be imposed whenever, in the judgment of an executive branch agency, the disclosure of a patent application would be “detrimental to the national security.” This is a lower, less demanding standard than that for national security classification (which applies to information that could “cause damage to national security”) and not all secret inventions are classified. Some may be unclassified but export controlled, or otherwise restricted.

Other newly disclosed inventions formerly subject to a secrecy order that was rescinded by the government during the past year include these (according to data obtained from the Patent and Trademark Office):

Method of producing warheads containing explosives, patent number 8,689,669

Method of treating a net made from ultra-high-molecular-weight polyethylene, patent number 8,808,602

Ballistic modification and solventless double propellant, and method thereof, patent number 8,828,161

Ballistic modifier formulation for double base propellant, patent number 8,864,923

Synthetic aperture radar smearing, patent number 8,836,569

Wanted: Astronomer with Top Secret Clearance

NASA’s orbiting James Webb Space Telescope will be “the premier observatory of the next decade, serving thousands of astronomers worldwide, and studying every phase in the history of our Universe, ranging from the first luminous glows after the Big Bang, to the formation of solar systems capable of supporting life on planets like Earth, to the evolution of our own Solar System.”

So why does its Director need to have a Top Secret/SCI security clearance, as specified in the job description posted last month on USA Jobs?

Clearly, the secrets of the universe do not lend themselves to, or require, national security classification controls, let alone non-disclosure agreements or polygraph testing.

But in practice, the civilian space program intersects the national security space program at multiple points, and former CIA analyst Allen Thomson suggested that the future Webb Director might need a Top Secret intelligence clearance in order to engage with the National Reconnaissance Office on space technology and operations, for example.

The Webb Space Telescope “will complement and extend the discoveries of the Hubble Space Telescope, with longer wavelength coverage and greatly improved sensitivity,” according to NASA. “The longer wavelengths enable the Webb telescope to look much closer to the beginning of time and to hunt for the unobserved formation of the first galaxies, as well as to look inside dust clouds where stars and planetary systems are forming today.”

The Webb Telescope has a projected launch date in 2018.