Friday, October 3, 2003
1. LEAKS: IN WASHINGTON EVERYTHING LEAKS; BUT WHEN IS IT A CRIME?
In the aftermath of hurricane Isabel, even Washington basements
started leaking. Last year's leak of a classified Pentagon
report, The Nuclear Posture Review, described a plan to develop a
new class of nuclear weapons (WN 15 Mar 02). It led to a heated
public debate, which is good. Leaking it to the public was not a
crime. However, last week's leak of the identity of a covert CIA
agent was a crime, as it should be. It violated the Intelligence
Identities Protection Act. An investigation is now underway to
find the source of the leak. Maybe NASA can help. New software
to pinpoint leaks will be installed in mission control, if NASA
ever bothers to finish its orbiting turkey (ISS). Maybe the
program would run on White House computers.
2. LAWS: THE UNITED STATES DOES NOT NEED AN OFFICIAL SECRETS ACT.
Secrecy News, the superb news letter written by Steven Aftergood
for the Federation of American Scientists, points out that both
NBC News and the Washington Post incorrectly reported that this
latest leak also violated a law against disclosure of classified
information. There is no such law. Secrecy News quotes Daniel
Ellsberg as saying the stories "made it sound as if we already
had an Official Secrets Act in this country." It was Ellsberg,
you recall, who in 1971 leaked the Pentagon Papers to the New
York Times. Conscientious government employees willing to risk
their careers by leaking classified documents may be the only
check on government excesses carried out behind the screen of
national security. Legislation prohibiting public disclosure of
classified information was vetoed by President Clinton on 4 Nov
00, but there will be many more attempts to pass such a law.
3. NEW NIH: PHYSICISTS WILL BE WELCOME IN THE TRANSFORMED AGENCY.
On Tuesday, Elias Zerhouni revealed his plan to transform the way
NIH funds efforts conquer disease. The sweeping changes are a
recognition of the profound revolution taking place in medical
science. Until about the middle of the 20th Century, advances in
medicine most often resulted from serendipitous observations by
brilliant loners: vaccination, aspirin, penicillin, come to mind.
Today, advances rely on the enormous research strides into how
the body works. In the new NIH, according to Zerhouni, the
emphasis will be on interdisciplinary teams in which the
physicians, geneticists, and biologists normally funded by NIH,
will be joined by physicists, materials scientists and engineers.
Previous crosscutting initiatives at NIH failed when competing
institute directors resisted, and the new unity will be difficult
to sustain without the 15 percent increases of recent years.
Zerhouni's predecessor, Harold Varmus, urged increased funding
for fields such as physics, with little success, but the new plan
gives these fields a stake in increasing NIH funding.