The War on Terrorism: What Does it Mean for Science?
American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS)
December 18, 2001
In the wake of the September 11 terrorist attacks in New York and Washington,
the already complex balance between national security, scientific freedom,
and human rights has become even more complicated. In the months after
the attacks, the scientific community, like other professional groups
and government organizations, began a process of reflection about how
the changed circumstances affect the conduct of their work as well as
their responsibilities to the government and society.
The issue of terrorism has significant scientific dimensions. Terrorism
involves the use of technology and the manipulation of fear, which is
something that both scientists and engineers have long studied. The prevention
of future attacks and the management of current threats require the involvement
of the scientific community. From the response of medical professionals
in the immediate aftereffects to the work of engineers in designing safer
buildings, one can clearly see the vital role that science plays in working
for the security and well-being of society.
However, the nation's response to terrorism may also have implications
on the ability of the scientific and engineering community to operate
in what has traditionally been a very open climate of international exchange
and travel. Security measures may have potentially negative effects on
the ability to freely publish scientific findings, research certain topics,
and conduct international exchanges.
While none of the issues of balancing scientific freedom and national
security are new, they certainly have become more complex in the post-September
11th world. AAAS believes that it is critical that the scientific community
and the larger public to be engaged in evaluating policy and its impact
on the environment for research. It is also important for the scientific
community to carefully consider their own professional and personal roles
and responsibilities in this very dynamic and highly charged political
In order to facilitate this dialogue, AAAS convened a public symposium,
entitled "The War on Terrorism: What Does It Mean for Science?" The impetus
for this symposium emerged from discussions held by the AAAS Committee
on Scientific Freedom and Responsibility, which met just two weeks after
the events of September 11. Members of the Committee expressed a need
for the scientific community to address scientific freedom and human rights
concerns related to the "War on Terrorism" and also to revisit the question
of scientific responsibility in the changed national context. The Committee
thought that it was especially important to hold a public forum in order
to foster the consideration of these issues by a wide cross section of
the scientific community and members of the general public.
Four hundred people registered to attend the event, which had to be moved
off site at the last minute to accommodate the numbers of participants.
The symposium was part of an ongoing project, the AAAS Project on Scientific
Freedom and National Security, which is directed by staff of the AAAS
Science and Human Rights Program and the AAAS Scientific Freedom, Responsibility
& Law Program, both part of the AAAS Directorate for Science and Policy
Programs. The event was cosponsored by the AAAS Committee on Scientific
Freedom and Responsibility and funded by a grant from the Open Society
Institute. Additional funding came from private sources.
This report provides the official text of the keynote address given by
Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy Dr.
John H. Marburger, III. The report also summarizes the two panel presentations.
Official text prepared by the White House Office of Science and Technology
Dr. John H. Marburger, III
Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy
I wish to thank the American Association for the Advancement of Science,
the organizers of this symposium on "The War on Terrorism", and the distinguished
panel members and attendees for creating this event and inviting me to
speak. The topic is "The War on Terrorism: What Does it Mean for Science?"
This morning I want to offer a few perhaps surprising answers to this
question, then describe how the Administration is organizing itself to
mobilize science, and, time permitting, to give some examples of science,
technology, and engineering in the service of homeland security.
First, this Administration is determined not to let terrorism deflect
America from its trajectory of world leadership in science. Our nation's
prowess in technology, especially information technology and instrumentation,
has opened extraordinary new vistas in science. It has made it possible
to visualize and manipulate matter on the atomic scale, leading to unprecedented
understanding and control of the processes of life as well as of inanimate
matter. Having produced the means for great strides in science, and in
accompanying technologies for improved health care, economic competitiveness,
and quality of life, it would be foolish to turn aside now from the course
of discovery while we engage the monster of terrorism -- an evil force
that denies the benefits of progress and the search for truth. Thus I
expect that science in America and the world will forge ahead relatively
unaffected by the war against terrorism. I expect the President's prior
commitment to increase funding for health related research to be realized.
I expect the tremendous momentum in the information sciences to roll forward.
I expect the technologies of measurement and analysis -- atomic scale
microscopy and manipulation, light sources, probes, detectors and analyzers
-- to continue to win new ground on the frontiers of complexity as well
as of scale. Science has its own intrinsic imperative and this nation
will continue to pursue it.
Second, this administration is determined to win the war against terrorism,
and President Bush is mobilizing all the talents and resources of our
immensely strong society to that end. He is doing this through the conventional
mechanisms of American government, and he is drawing upon much previous
work that prepared us for this struggle. It is too easy to criticize --
after the fact -- a prosperous peace-time nation for unpreparedness in
the face of danger. A better criterion for defensive health would be the
speed with which a nation under attack can respond effectively. There
is no question that the steps New York took after the first world Trade
Center attack in 1993 saved numerous lives in the second attack eight
years later, and expedited a response that limited the scope of its evil
consequences. Nor is there doubt that lessons learned from attacks on
U.S. embassies and federal buildings limited the damage to the Pentagon,
portions of which had been remodeled with designs based upon these lessons.
Our consciousness of the biowarfare work of troubled regimes elsewhere
in the world had led to studies of biodefenses and to exercises designed
to teach us where our greatest vulnerabilities lay before September 11.
I do not mean to imply that we were as prepared as we could have been,
or perhaps should have been. But many of the means required for a war
against terrorism were already available to us, and only needed to be
enlisted in a systematic way to support the effort. This readiness is
most visible in the technologies now in play in the war beyond our borders
-- in Afghanistan for now. But significant readiness of homeland technology
is also apparent, though not yet fully mobilized. We are not starting
"from scratch" in the technology of homeland defense. We have much relevant
technology, and the challenge is to deploy it effectively.
I am making these points to cool somewhat a fever that I fear is rising
in the scientific community -- a notion that science may be diverted in
a massive way as it was in World War II, the course of discovery interrupted,
the quality of intellectual life distorted and impaired. Or on the other
hand, that a great windfall for science is at hand, at least for some
of us, because of the need for new research bent to the exigencies of
new forms of warfare.
Science does indeed have much to offer in this war, and for three months
in my new capacity as Presidential Science Advisor, I have been urging
America's science and engineering organizations to respond to the President's
call. And I have been immensely impressed and gratified by the response.
Today's conference is taking place as the momentum is gathering, and as
the first signs of its direction are becoming evident. We are on our way.
Our awareness of the need has been aroused. Now let us reflect dispassionately
on what happens from here on.
THE STATE OF SCIENCE NOW COMPARED WITH WORLD WAR II
Prior to World War II, science had reached a monumental turning point.
Quantum physics had flung open the gates to a staggering vista of opportunity
that was not to be realized until after the war. Our understanding of
chemistry, of materials, of nuclear phenomena, of optical properties,
of the processes of life, began to expand at an explosive rate. The wartime
scientific effort labored urgently to apply this new capability to applications
of the highest leverage for military operations. Radar and nuclear weapons
come first to mind, but there were others.
Prior to the war on terrorism, the modern era of science had matured,
and a wealth of knowledge and technique now lies at hand. In nearly every
area where technology can be applied to homeland defense, the basic knowledge
exists, and the need is for engineering to turn known phenomena into devices,
and to embed the devices into practical systems. The single greatest exception
to this rule is in the response to bioterrorism, where additional research
is needed on the mechanisms of diseases likely to be exploited by terrorists.
Some have spoken of the need for a "Manhattan Project" to satisfy the
needs of homeland security. The analogy is wrong-headed. Cleverness is
needed less now than a national will to use what we have to strengthen
the infrastructure of our daily lives, to bolster public health systems,
to equip properly our first responders, to use more effectively the information
technology, the detection technology, the biotechnology that we already
possess to render the way we live less vulnerable to what the military
scholars call "asymmetric threats." We need to plan, and to carry out
our plans. And that is one of the functions of the Office of Homeland
THE OFFICE OF HOMELAND SECURITY
Following the events of September 11th, President Bush created an Office
of Homeland Security, headed by Pennsylvania Governor Tom Ridge. Through
Presidential Decision Directives 1 and 2, OHS is tasked with coordinating
government efforts to stop all forms of terrorism before they occur and
responding to an attack if one should happen. As advisor to the President
and Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy, I too was
tasked by the PDD and Governor Ridge with specific issues pertinent to
our discussion today.
For several years the federal government has been concerned that such
attacks might occur. For decades, the Departments of Defense, Health and
Human Services, Energy and Agriculture have engaged in anti-terrorism
activities that have contributed to the protection of our Homeland and
the creation of technologies which have benefited our everyday security
and existence. The attacks of September 11 forced us to view all these
preparations in a new light. How do we think systematically about this
new kind of war?
When President Bush introduced the notion of a War Against Terrorism,
my first thought was how a map for such a war would differ from a conventional
battle map. Conventional wars are fought for territory, easily measured
on a chart with latitude and longitude, but the fronts in the war against
terrorism cover multiple dimensions. How can we detect an unprotected
flank in this complex territory? How do we measure progress?
We need a taxonomy and a common language to assess threats, avoid duplication,
and facilitate interagency cooperation and coordination. Developing a
useful taxonomy is a deep problem, for which I have sought assistance
from the National Academies as part of a broader service they intend to
render through a new committee. I am grateful to the Academies which assembled
shortly after the attacks a valuable workshop discussion of how the science
community might organize itself in response. It was during that workshop
that I understood the need to shape a federal interface to link the extraordinary
wealth of science and technology to our anti-terrorism efforts. Subsequently,
I met with industry associations, non-profit groups, university organizations,
scientific and engineering societies, and the National Academies to learn
what kind of interface might be appropriate.
OSTP has executive and legislative mandates to coordinate federal science
and technology activities. OSTP is consequently in a position to call
on organizations, internal and external to the federal government, as
we provide support to the Office of Homeland Security, and other offices
responsible for aspects of the war on terrorism.
My office has been asked to fill the Research and Development component
of OHS for the time being. OSTP has a history of coordinating R&D in this
area, primarily through our efforts on Preparedness against Weapons of
Mass Destruction and Critical Infrastructure Protection. We have been
focusing our energies on short-term issues such as mail security, baggage
screening, and civilian preparedness. But we are also taking steps to
identify long-term S&T opportunities that will help the United States
win the war against terrorism.
Under the structure of the National Science and Technology Council, I
am establishing an interagency Antiterrorism Task Force with several working
groups to address broad categories of issues. The four working groups
focus on Biological/Chemical Agents; Radiological/Nuclear/Conventional
Detection and Response; Protection of Vulnerable Systems; and Social,
Behavioral, and Education Sciences. We are establishing a Rapid Response
Team as a fifth working group. This action-oriented team will grapple
with emergencies that may arise. It will also serve as a clearinghouse
for technical reviews of the many incoming proposals on technologies related
to homeland security.
HOW CAN SCIENCE HELP?
Science and engineering have critical roles to play in the war on terrorism.
We need improved tools with which to prevent, detect, protect, and treat
victims of chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, and conventional
terrorist attacks. Additionally, we will need new and improved tools to
recover facilities from those same types of attacks, should they ever
occur. Many cases call for a "systems approach," rather than simply perfection
of a single device.
In late October, Director Ridge asked that OSTP provide technical support
for the treatment of U.S. mail potentially contaminated by Bacillus anthracis.
The day after his phone call I convened chief science officials from a
number of relevant agencies and the U.S. Postal Service to ascertain the
technical issues that the Postal Service was encountering. This led to
an interagency technical team that, within days, began evaluating the
irradiation facilities at Lima, Ohio, and Bridgeport, New Jersey.
By mid-November, with strong scientific data on the use of electron beam
technology to irradiate the mail and the establishment of sound standard
operating procedures, I endorsed an advisory to the U.S. Postal Service
that the procedures being used were able to rid the mail of Bacillus contamination.
We continue to work with this scientific team to refine the irradiation
process and to explore other available technologies to rid the mail of
An example where a systems approach is needed is airline security. Right
now, our chief tool is the transmission X-ray. Other technologies can
significantly improve our capabilities to detect weapons of terror, develop
these detection technologies for rapid deployment, and think carefully
how to integrate the ones adopted, as a coherent package, into airline
routines. We must do this in such a way that they not create unpleasant
delays and unaffordable expenses, but do enhance both security and passenger
confidence. Potential technologies range from dogs that can sniff out
explosives to computer-based biometrics to resonant gamma ray imaging
of concealed explosives, and laser interrogation of trace compounds.
Building Design and Construction
Fire was critical in the collapse of the World Trade Center buildings
and contributed to damage to the Pentagon buildings, but current building
design practice does not consider fire as a design requirement. Current
emergency response procedures could not adequately cope with the events
in those buildings.
Buildings today are not immune from chemical, biological, and radiological
threats. Efforts are underway to protect military buildings through DARPA's
"immune building" program, but there are no standards and practices for
Prior to 9/11, the Corps of Engineers helped design several modifications
to the Pentagon as part of a completed renovation. Analysis of past attacks,
data from experimental detonations and super computer simulations led
to structural hardening innovations, including a strong steel support
matrix, a Kevlar wrap to contain shrapnel-like fragments, and blast resistant
windows. That work saved many lives.
POTENTIAL IMPACT ON SCIENCE
Let me turn now to the more delicate subject of how the war on terrorism,
and the fear of terrorism, may impact the conduct of science.
Increased Security Measures
Increased security measures are, of course, helpful if they actually
decrease the chances that unauthorized people will gain access to classified
material, and they do not adversely impact the missions of those implementing
the measures. Security measures implemented without adequate forethought
can backfire if they do not significantly improve security and have a
negative impact on science and agency missions. We need to identify systematically
where additional security measures are needed and develop thoughtful responses
sensitive to the importance of activities they might impede.
Many people come from around the world to study in U.S. undergraduate
and graduate programs. Some come from the same countries that we believe
generate terrorists. It is important that international students continue
to come to the U.S. to study and contribute to our science and technology
enterprise. They are a major factor in our nation's world scientific leadership.
They also learn to appreciate the advantages of our educational system
and acquire skills that will enable them to contribute quality of life
in their own countries. But we do need better ways of identifying the
few that come to enhance their effectiveness as terrorists. We are currently
grappling with what new measures should be introduced, both to identify
terrorists before they receive visas, and to identify potential terrorists
by their activities after they come to the U.S.
International Nature of Science
Our nation today is a science superpower. The scope of our scientific
activity, both basic and applied, is breathtaking and unmatched. We are
not, however, a science monopoly, and we have much to learn from colleagues
elsewhere in the world. Science thrives on open discourse. Measures that
inhibit discourse will impede progress. We cannot limit scientific interactions
with other nations without paying a scientific price.
During my two months in office I have been impressed by the importance
that the President and his Senior Staff place on science and technology.
I see this in the questions they ask and in their receptivity to advice
offered. The President himself has undertaken to learn technical detail
on important issues. This is not to say that science dominates decision-making.
Science tells what can be done, not what should be done. But at the highest
levels of the U.S. Government there is an acknowledged need for good science,
and an appreciation for the needs of science.
Thank you for the opportunity to reflect on this important topic.
Morning Session: Doing Science After September 11: Scientific Freedom
& Responsibility Issues
Moderated by Christian Davenport, Center for International Development
and Conflict Management, University of Maryland, and AAAS Committee on
Scientific Freedom and Responsibility
- Rashid A. Chotani, Johns Hopkins School of Medicine
- Louis W. Goodman, School of International Service, American University
- Robert O'Neil, The Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free
- Anne A. Witkowsky, CSIS Committee on Science and Security
The morning session dealt with many of the human rights issues related
to the U.S. government response to the terrorist attacks. Panelists presented
anecdotal evidence that the fear of intolerance may be greater than the
thing itself. Louis Goodman, Dean of the School of International Service
at the American University, reported that more than 80 students from the
Gulf States have left school and returned home at their parents' insistence,
because of parents' fears of reprisals and violence-this despite a general
mood of reason and calm on campus. Dr. Rashid Chotani, an epidemiologist
working on bioterrorism issues at Johns Hopkins University, and a naturalized
U.S. citizen originally from Pakistan, reported that he personally has
experienced little or no adverse reaction to his ethnicity or religion,
although other Muslim scientists in the U.S. and Europe have reported
incidents of violence directed at them.
Although he said that it is possible to cite positive examples of tolerance
after September 11, Robert O'Neil of the Thomas Jefferson Center for the
Protection of Freedom of Expression expressed concern about academic freedom
and free expression on campus. He cited the example of a December 2001
commencement address at California State University in Sacramento by Janis
Besler Heaphy, president and publisher of the Sacramento Bee. After
saying that the government's response to the September 11 attacks would
erode civil liberties, repeated jeers and outbursts from the audience
forced her to stop speaking only eight minutes into her presentation.
The national labs have been dealing with issues related to racism and
xenophobia during the fallout of the Wen Ho Lee investigation. The fourth
morning panelist, Anne Witkowsky, Director of the Commission on Science
and Security, a federally appointed commission charged with making recommendations
to the Department of Energy, discussed lessons learned during the Commission's
review process. She stated that the events of September 11 did not significantly
change the Commission's analysis and recommendations. But according to
Ms. Witkowsky, the Commission's research could provide some valuable lessons
learned on how to integrate security measures into institutions. The Commission
has learned the difficulty of approaching national security issues with
a zero tolerance philosophy, indicating that more can be gained by instituting
a climate of trust between scientists and security professionals.
Revisiting Scientists' Responsibilities
Afternoon Keynote Address by William A. Wulf, President, National Academy
Moderated by Mark S. Frankel, Director, Scientific Freedom, Responsibility
and Law Program, AAAS
- K. Eric Drexler, Founder, Foresight Institute
- Kevin S. McCurley, President, International Association for Cryptologic
- Jonathan D. Moreno, Director, Center for Biomedical Ethics, University
- Gerold Yonas, Vice President and Principal Scientist, Sandia National
The afternoon session focused mainly on the responsibilities of scientists
and engineers for the use of their discoveries, what role scientists and
engineers have in contributing to national security, and the effect the
terrorist events will have on the practice of science. In his keynote
address, Dr. William Wulf, President of the National Academy of Engineering,
asserted that the solution to terrorism will have a significant science
and technology component and that academic scientists and engineers will
be involved with the war on terrorism very differently than in past wars.
Wulf called on scientists to fulfill the need for more research, stating
that basic research, motivated by practical concerns, will have its roots
in academia. He specifically called for research in the areas of biology,
medicine, bioterrorism against our food supply, and social and behavioral
sciences to aid the new war.
The remainder of the afternoon discussion focused on the responsibilities
of scientists with the events of September 11 in mind. Citing his own
experience in the field of nanotechnology, Dr. Eric Drexler, founder of
the Foresight Institute, explained the responsibility of scientists to
consider the consequences of the technologies they create by virtue of
their unique understanding of the research. He called on the scientific
community to look ahead, prepare, and continue to develop and use networks
of people that are familiar with the technology and issues at stake to
foster an open discussion and protect against negative implications of
Speaking about national security issues in times of war, Dr. Kevin McCurley,
President of the International Association for Cryptologic Research, observed
that the mission of national security does not align well with the goals
and nature of science and the true problem lies deciphering where the
balance lies and how much can be forgone in the name of national security.
An additional worry comes from a history of past abuses against human
subjects during times of war. Dr. Jonathan Moreno, Director of the Center
for Biomedical Ethics at the University of Virginia, gave a historical
perspective on past injustices and warned against a weakening of rights
for human research subjects that may come with pressure for increased
It is clear the war on terrorism will be different than past wars due
to the new technologies that are available. Dr. Gerald Yonas, Vice President
and Principal Scientist at Sandia National Laboratories, stressed that
point along with the importance of understanding how technologies that
can affect the mind can be used against terrorism and the need for a body
of rules governing "just war" in the future of mind war.