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AAAS Forums Address Concerns that Security Precautions
May Heighten Shortage of Scientists, Affect Foreign Students
Concerns that national security efforts could have negative impacts on some scientists and foreign students in this country were the subject of two public forums held at AAAS on 19 October.
In one forum, scientists, top policy advisors and educational leaders addressed a recommendation of the National Commission on Terrorism that the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) monitor what foreign students study at universities in the United States. In another forum, experts discussed the impacts on science and scientists of security policies at national laboratories, the most controversial of which came as a result of security breaches at Los Alamos National Laboratory.
Security Policies at National Labs: The Impact on Science and Scientists
Experts on national weapons laboratories agreed that there is a crisis in the recruitment and retention of scientists at the labs, and that measures are being taken to address them. In fact, Maureen I. McCarthy, Chief Scientist, the National Nuclear Security Administration and Senior Technical Advisor to the Secretary, U.S. Department of Energy, announced at the meeting the creation of a blue ribbon commission to advise the department on "what we have to do to make science and security compatible at national labs." Among the issues the commission will address, McCarthy said, is perceived bias against Asian American and Pacific Island scientists. "We cannot tolerate bias in our nation's labs," McCarthy said, "(The labs) must remain our premier scientific research institutions."
Jonathan Medalia, National Defense Specialist with the Congressional Research Service, noted that the labs must intensify their recruitment and retention efforts, if for no other reason that in 10 years, half of all scientists emplo yed in the national laboratories will be eligible for retirement. He also noted that several factors contributed to current morale problems and to the retirement and resignation of scientists at the labs over the past year-and-a-half. Among those factors were the arrest of Dr. Wen Ho Lee and the resulting security measures imposed at the national labs, including the administration of polygraph tests. Additional factors were budgetary concerns, the boycott of the labs by several Asian American groups, the disappearance of several hard drives with sensitive information, and the wild fires that destroyed the houses of several lab employees. Associate Laboratory Director for Nuclear Weapons at Los Alamos, Stephen Younger, said that "irrational security procedures were put in place" after Dr. Wen Ho Lee's arrest. Younger stated his belief that Dr. Lee had breached security, that "there was no reason for downloading the [nuclear weapons design] information. Los Alamos has one of the best backup systems in the world." But, he noted that "You aren't going to protect secrets by locking up hard drives. Scientists carry a lot of information around in their heads." Rather, he said, "You're going to protect secrets by trusting people."
While acknowledging morale problems at the 10,000-employee Los Alamos lab, Younger said the lab has "a very exciting mission and scientific environment." Younger also emphasized the importance of all employees participating in the security process as an integral part of the lab's mission.
Manvendra Dubey, Chair, Asian American Diversity Working Group, Los Alamos National Laboratory, linked morale problems at the lab to "overkill" on security measures following Lee's arrest and the missing hard drives, but he said that security has been relaxed somewhat, and noted that "Management is really working to fix the problems." Documenting the decline in Asian American scientists at Los Alamos and postdoctoral fellows nationwide, Dubey also gave examples of the significant contributions of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders to scientific progress in the United States: Asian Americans account for 27 Nobel Prizes awarded to Americans, Dubey said. He noted also that one-third of all employees in the Silicon Valley area of California are Asian Americans.
McCarthy, a former AAAS Defense Policy Fellow, called scientists in the national labs, "the greatest intellectual resource the world has ever known."
"They are a national treasure, the best and the brightest -- drawn from the heart and mind." She noted that the labs will work to improve diversity and to attract and retain scientists from various minority groups, including Asian Americans, African Americans, Hispanic Americans and Native Americans.
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