The Impact of Recent Constraints on Intellectual Freedom on Science and Technology at the Lawrence
Livermore National Laboratory
by: Jeffrey Wadsworth
Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory
U.S. Department of Energy/Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory *
The Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) was created in 1952 to meet the
nation's need for an expanded nuclear weapons research and development (R&D)
capability. LLNL quickly grew to become a full-fledged nuclear weapons design laboratory
with a broad range of technical capabilities similar to those of our sister
laboratoryLos Alamoswith which we shared mission responsibilities. By its very
nature, nuclear weapons R&D requires some of the most advanced science and technology
(S&T). Accordingly, there is an obvious need for careful attention to ensure that
appropriate security measures exist to deal with the sensitive aspects of nuclear weapons
development. The trade-off between advancing S&T at the laboratory and the need for
security is a complex issue that has always been with us. As Edward Teller noted in a May,
1999 editorial in the New York Times:
The reaction of President Harry Truman to the leaking of information is well-known. He
imposed no additional measures for security. Instead, we have clear knowledge that the
disclosures by (Klaus) Fuchs caused Truman to call for accelerated work on all aspects of
The right prescription for safety is not reaction to dangers that are arising,
but rather action leading to more knowledge and, one hopes, toward positive interaction
To explore the issue of intellectual freedom at a national security laboratory such as
LLNL, one must understand the type of activities we pursue and how our research portfolio
has evolved since the Laboratory was established. Our mission affects the workforce
skills, capabilities and security measures that the laboratory requires. The national
security needs of the U.S. have evolved, along with the S&T community in which the
laboratory resides and to which it contributes. These factors give rise to a greater need
for the laboratory to interact with universities, industry and other national
laboratories. Intellectual freedom at the laboratory and constraints on it can be
understood only within the context of our mission, our necessary interactions with other
entities and our need for an exceptional multidisciplinary workforce.
Issues of Intellectual Freedom at LLNL
The significance of intellectual freedom to a scientist or engineer is similar to that
of freedom of speech. Their freedom is constrained only by intellectual honesty and the
rigors of the scientific method; scientists and engineers have the right and
responsibility to publish the results of their research and comment on the public policy
implications of their work. For national security research, classification is a further
constraint, but one with which those doing classified work have learned to live through
long-practiced classification procedures established by the Atomic Energy Act in 1954.
Like freedom of speech, intellectual freedom has generally well-understood boundaries of
acceptable behavior. Just as one's freedom of speech is limited by responsibility for
the consequences (e. g., shouting "Fire!" in a crowded theater), laboratory
employees, in general, intentionally do not divulge classified information.
As conceived by most laboratory researchers, intellectual freedom has two other key
components: (1) the latitude to follow their scientific instincts to pursue exploratory
research that supports mission goals and (2) unrestricted (except for classified)
communication with other researchers with common interests. It is in these two areas that
laboratory employees can feel most constrained in their intellectual freedom.
Historically, employees have felt limitations on their flexibility to pursue
exploratory research most strongly at times when budgets were very tight (e.g.,
post-Vietnam War and after the Cold War before the inception of the Stockpile Stewardship
Program). Another factor affecting research flexibility is the growing tendency of
sponsors to take a piecemeal, specific-task-oriented approach to funding research.
Unrestricted communication with other researchers who have common interests arises
particularly for laboratory employees working on unclassified projects; this work nowadays
includes a sizeable fraction of our national security research. In many cases the very
success of our R&D endeavors depends on extensive collaboration and communication with
scientists and engineers in academia, industry and other national laboratories.
In regard to intellectual freedom versus security issues, our cooperative efforts with
others are important from at least two perspectives. First of all, we work fairly
routinely with non-national-security laboratories as well as with universities and
industry. Clearly, the security requirements at those sites are quite different from ours.
Secondly, interactions with all those outside the national security laboratories raise the
complex issue of interactions with foreign nationals, from both "sensitive" and
"non-sensitive" countries. These issues are not only relevant to our
interactions with others but are also relevant to our own workforce.
The Laboratory's Mission
Along with Los Alamos and Sandia national laboratories, Lawrence Livermore is a
premier applied-science national security laboratorynot just a weapons laboratory.
In the most succinct terms, the mission of LLNL is: To ensure national security and apply
S&T to the important problems of our time. A more comprehensive mission statement is:
- Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory is a premier applied-science national security
- Our primary mission is to ensure that the nation's nuclear weapons remain safe,
secure and reliable and to prevent the spread and use of nuclear weapons worldwide.
- This mission enables our programs in advanced defense technologies, energy, environment,
biosciences and basic science to apply Livermore's unique capabilities, and to
enhance the competencies needed for our national security mission.
- The laboratory serves as a resource to U.S. government and a partner with industry and
Clearly from our mission statement the laboratory engages in diverse S&T areas that
may appear to be outside the national security aegis. This approach to research is the
legacy of Ernest O. Lawrence, for whom LLNL is named. Lawrence's model was one of
"team science"large projects of national importance that require a
multidisciplinary approach. That is our heritage of which we are most proud. Major
consequences of Lawrence's approach were the development of unique capabilities at
the Laboratory, our use of multidisciplinary teams to tackle challenging problems, and a
deep-seated partnership with the University of California (UC).
At its inception, LLNL focused almost exclusively on nuclear weapons. Our primary
mission remains national security, which accounts for about 80 percent of our budget.
However, our national security activities have not only changed significantly since 1952,
but have also broadened, particularly since the end of the Cold War. The original nuclear
weapons mission designing and engineering new weapons for the stockpile that are
more militarily effective and saferhas evolved to the Stockpile Stewardship Program,
which accounts for about 50 percent of our budget. It is a science-based effort to
maintain the stockpile in the absence of nuclear testing. With an emphasis on developing a
fundamental scientific understanding of weapons-performance issues, such as the aging of
materials, we are interacting with the academic community even more than we have in the
past. Furthermore, the national security challenges are now broader, having evolved to a
level of about 30 percent of our budget that includes areas such as nonproliferation, arms
control and work for the Department of Defense (DoD).
About 20 percent of our research portfolio is in other mission areas that build on the
core capabilities and unique facilities needed for our national security mission. These
include efforts to meet important national needs in energy, environment and the
biosciences. A few examples illustrate how Lawrence's basic modeluse of
multidisciplinary teams of scientists and engineers to tackle significant
problemshas led to the laboratory's current programmatic base and diverse
- Energy: Our interest in thermonuclear weapons led to our interest in fusion
science, with the ultimate goal of fusion for civilian energy. In addition to our work on
magnetic confinement fusion, LLNL took the lead in pursuing inertial confinement fusion
and large glass lasers for that purpose. We hope to achieve fusion ignition and burn in
the National Ignition Facility (NIF), which is currently under construction at LLNL.
- Environmental Sciences: Through the Cold War, the laboratory conducted
nuclear tests, at first in the atmosphere and then underground. Accordingly, we developed
expertise in atmospheric and earth sciences to understand and to limit the effects of
these tests. Our atmospheric science expertise led to the establishment of the National
Atmospheric Release Advisory Center, which provides real-time information for emergency
response in the event of an atmospheric release of radioactive or toxic materials (such as
the Chernobyl event in 1986 and the Mt. Pinatubo explosion in 1991). We are also a major
contributor to international efforts to model climate change and are home to the Program
for Climate Model Diagnosis and Intercomparison. Our geoscience expertise is contributing
to the Yucca Mountain Project to dispose of nuclear wastes and to efforts to improve
technical capabilities to monitor an international ban on nuclear testing.
- Bioscience: Our studies of the biological effects of ionizing radiation
resulted in the development of fast-flow cytometry and other technologies that led to
DOE's Human Genome Initiative in 1987 and LLNL's participation in the Human
Genome Project. Our expertise in genomics and biotechnology is now enabling us to pursue
functional genomics and to develop fast, portable, biological-agent detectors for
- Other areas of science such as astrophysics: The laboratory's
interests in astrophysics stem from expertise in high-energy-density physics and
capabilities to develop advanced instrumentation. In the 1990s, LLNL researchers
discovered Massive Compact Halo Objects (MACHOs) in the search for "missing
mass" in the universe, developed the sensor suite for Clementine (which collected
over 1.7 million images while orbiting the moon), created metallic hydrogen in a
laboratory setting, and developed laser guide-star adaptive optics to improve images from
These examples, and many others not mentioned, illustrate that even with a primary
focus of national security, LLNL scientists and engineers have special expertise that
enables them to make scientific discoveries and develop technologies in fields not
directly tied to nuclear weapons. Our mission is broader than nuclear weapons, and we
cannot accomplish our mission in isolation from the broader scientific and technical
Interactions with Universities, Industry, and Other Laboratories
To execute the nuclear weapons program, along with our broader national security
mission and other research activities, LLNL has always worked with other laboratories,
industry and universities. Through these interactions, the laboratory contributes its
special expertise to advance S&T, and we draw upon the best others have to offer to
ensure that our national security efforts stay on the cutting edge of what is possible.
With the University of California and Other Universities
LLNL has been part of the UC since the Laboratory's inception. This
special relationship is deeply ingrained in our culture. An almost inevitable finding of
every review of UC's management of its DOE laboratories has been the importance of
the UC connection for maintaining intellectual freedom:
It is of the utmost importance that the U.S. retain, in the crucial and controversial
area affecting nuclear deterrence, people who are at once technically outstanding and as
independent as possible from bureaucratic and political restraints on the expression of
(Buchsbaum Report to the DOE, 1979)
[The Council] believes that it is critical that the laboratories continue to be defined
by the highest standards of scientific quality and by other more elusive, but no less
important, characteristics, such as openness, scientific freedom and independence.
(UC President's Council on the National Laboratories, Report, 1996)
Preservation of the academic atmosphere at the laboratories is a cornerstone to the
(UC President's Report to the UC Regents, 1997)
LLNL's ties to UC go beyond the UC President's Office management and
oversight. Since our beginning, our relationship with UC has evolved steadilyfrom a
series of informal, individual contacts between our employees and UC faculty to extensive
research collaborations with virtually every UC campus. In particular, five LLNL-UC
research institutes are on site at Livermore that focus on areas where expertise is needed
to execute laboratory programs. They provide a hospitable working environment for visiting
students, postdoctoral fellows and faculty as they work with laboratory researchers on
collaborative projects. In addition, the Department of Applied Science of UC Davis has
facilities at Livermore, and recently the laboratory has signed a memorandum of
understanding with the new UC Merced, the 10th UC campus and the first new research
university of the 21st Century. We expect that UC Merced will become an important partner
in joint research activities and a future source of high-caliber employees.
The laboratory also maintains extensive collaborative relationships with many other
universities. As in the case with UC, these collaborations strengthen the research
programs at LLNL and serve as a vehicle for recruiting new talent. One prominent example
of our academic collaborations is the Academic Strategic Alliances Program (ASAP), a $250
million initiative that forms part of the Accelerated Strategic Computing Initiative
(ASCI) to help meet the computing goals of the Stockpile Stewardship Program. ASAP is
engaging the best minds in the U.S. academic communitywhich includes foreign
nationalsto accelerate the emergence of new unclassified simulation science and
methodology and associated supporting technology.
Our many partnerships with universities have also yielded important scientific benefits
to our programs. An excellent example is the Massive Compact Halo Objects (MACHO) Project,
an experimental search for the dark matter that makes up at least 95 percent of the mass
of our galaxy. In addition to the University of Washington, Notre Dame and UC San Diego,
our partners include the Mt. Stromlo Observatory in Australia, McMaster University in
Canada, Oxford University in England and the European Southern Observatory in Chile.
We have always partnered with U.S. industry to obtain capabilities we need
for our weapons program. The most notable example is in the area of computersfrom
the laboratory's acquisition of a Univac in 1953 to our current participation in
DOE's ASCI program and the delivery this year of a 12 teraops (12 trillion operations
per second) supercomputer from IBM. ASCI relies on the computer industry not as a mere
supplier but as a true partner in developing what will ultimately be a series of 100
teraops computers, with the associated software and memory requirements. Similarly,
construction of the NIF, the largest laser in the world, has a vital reliance on industry
partners, as have our past efforts designing and building successively larger laser
systems from Shiva to Nova.
Our interactions with industry have evolved, particularly since the end of the Cold
War, to include other elements, for example direct support to the laboratory by industrial
consortia (e.g., the Extreme Ultraviolet Lithography program) and transfer of technology
by commercialization in the private sector. Areas such as environmental remediation and
health care provide examples of LLNL-developed technologies that we "spin off"
for public benefit through mechanisms such as cooperative research and development
agreements (CRADAs) and licensing. The laboratory has been particularly successful in the
arena of industrial partnering, although success at times creates controversy. Issues that
arise center around competition with the private sector as well as export control and
foreign company involvement.
Naturally, LLNL benefits from interacting with industry to access new S&T. Industry
funds more R&D than the combination of the federal government, universities and
colleges, federally-funded research and development centers and nonprofits. Industrial
globalization means that foreign involvement is inevitable. The very concept of what
constitutes a "U.S. company" is reflected in the fact that over 50 percent of
Ford and IBM employees are located outside the U.S. Furthermore, the current U.S. spending
on R&D is less than the total R&D spending in the other G7 countries (Japan,
Germany, France, UK, Italy and Canada). These data imply that for the laboratory to
isolate itself from industry and ignore foreign R&D is not a viable option. But we
must deal with the security implications.
With Other Laboratories
Work with other laboratories is vital to the execution of LLNL's
portfolio. Indeed the history of such interactions has its roots in the early competition
and collaboration with Los Alamos. Through competition we improved the performance and
safety of weapons in the U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile throughout the Cold War; and
through collaboration we advanced the S&T base for nuclear weapons, which is
especially important now that we no longer conduct nuclear tests. The Stockpile
Stewardship Program is a highly collaborative effort that makes use of the unique
capabilities at each of the DOE national security laboratories, the Nevada Test Site and
the production sites within the DOE nuclear weapons complex. The program also draws on
many sources of external expertise.
LLNL has joint programs with nearly all of the major laboratories in the U.S. as well
as with most prominent foreign laboratories such as Atomic Weapons Establishment in the UK
and Commissariat à l'Énergie Atomique (CEA) research centers in France. Through a
variety of lab-to-lab programs, we also work with scientists at the nuclear weapons
research laboratories in the former Soviet Union. Examples of partnerships include our
work with Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and Stanford Linear Accelerator Center on
the B-Factory and the Next Linear Collider; the Joint Genome Institute, which involves
Berkeley and Los Alamos national laboratories; and our work with CEA in France and others
on the NIF. Many other collaborative research efforts in energy, environment and
bioscience could be cited as well.
Our Exceptional WorkforceCurrent Challenges
To achieve the challenging goals of our mission areas, LLNL and the other
national-security laboratories have always sought the best possible scientists and
engineers, and they have historically been able to attract a workforce of exceptional
quality. This high-quality staff has kept us at the forefront of R&D within the
Several key factors have contributed greatly to attracting exceptional people to these
- A mission and a vision: Historically the laboratories have enjoyed a national
commitment to, and appreciation of, our national security mission, as well as a clear
vision of our role in making the world a safer place through S&T.
- Work excitement: R&D conducted is of national importance, with the
flexibility to focus efforts from exploratory research to advanced development according
to project needs.
- Work environment: The labs provide an environment for conducting world-renowned
research, a reputation for excellence and a competitive compensation and benefit package
Adverse trends in each of these areas were accentuated by recent security-related
events and actions in response to those events, which resulted in a difficult environment
for the laboratories in 1999. Data indicate that our ability to attract and retain a
quality workforce has suffered as a resultwe hope not irreparably.
Last year was a particularly difficult year for the laboratory in terms of recruitment
and retention. The nominal annual attrition rate at LLNL has been extremely low, at about
2 percent for recent years. However, over the last year, it has risen to about 7 percent,
more than three times the usual rate, though this rate would be considered low in some
industry sectors. Of even greater concern than the abnormally high average attrition rate
is the extremely high attrition rateup to 20 percentin key areas such as
computing and selected engineering fields. Concurrently, the overall acceptance rate for
job offers has dropped from 85 percent to about 65 percent.
The negative impact is not the result of a single issue, such as compensation or a
decline in intellectual freedom, but a collection of factors. To reverse these adverse
trends, we are taking a number of tactical actions.
We have established changes in hiring practices, e.g., targeted salary areas,
cash awards, sign-on bonuses, on-the-spot hires, etc. We have also instituted the
prestigious Lawrence Postdoctoral Fellowship Program and other postdoctoral programs. It
is worth noting that between 50 percent to 75 percent of applicants for these Lawrence
Fellowships are foreign nationals.
In the area of retention, we created a number of new programs at the
laboratory to provide additional incentives for our scientific leaders and future
managers. For example, in 2000 we began the Edward Teller Fellowship Program that is
comprised of MacArthur-type awards presented to individual scientists who have made
significant accomplishments in their field. The award allows them to continue to pursue
research unconstrained by their normal programmatic responsibilities. In addition, the
Long Range Strategy Project group was formed with 22 of our mid-career scientists and
engineers who spent 18 months exploring what the laboratory will look like in the year
In addition to the above tactical areas, strategic areas where the DOE national
security laboratories need help to reverse the attrition trend. In many cases, these areas
relate to specific events and changes at the laboratories that happened last year, and tie
directly or indirectly to the issue of intellectual freedom versus security.
Recent Security Measures and Changes and Their Effect on Intellectual Freedom
In 1999, a number of reactive responses to security events and other actions were
taken that affected the workplace at LLNL. While it seems apparent that these factors have
had an impact on recruiting and retaining employees, at least in the short term, it is
difficult to discern their impact on intellectual freedom. These security measures and
- The threat of wide-spread use of polygraphs: It is unclear how polygraph testing
of LLNL personnel will ensure security. However, it is clear that the reaction of
employees within the laboratory has been very negative. While the scope and extent of the
testing remains uncertain, the threat of polygraph testing has led in a few cases to
scientists and engineers requesting reassignment.
- Increased attention to managing "export sensitive" information:
Laboratory employees, many of whom are engaged in efforts to stem the proliferation of
weapons of mass destruction, are diligent in protecting information that could be helpful
to potential adversaries. However, when the definition of what is sensitive and what is
not remains ambiguous, bureaucracies tend to act conservatively, resulting in excessive
restrictions on information dissemination and unnecessary paperwork. Additionally, the
standards for handling sensitive information often differ, for example, between DOE's
national security laboratories and its science laboratories. These issues, which have a
broader impact than just DOE, are beginning to sort themselves out. The long-term effect
will be additional paperwork and costs, and likely additional restrictions on information
dissemination, with a possible loss of intellectual freedom.
- Restrictions on interactions with foreign nationals within and outside the laboratory:
Within the laboratory, cyber security concerns are limiting the access foreign nationals
have to our most powerful computers. In addition, the past year has witnessed a moratorium
on visits of sensitive-country foreign nationals to the DOE national security laboratories
(unless permission was granted by exception). That moratorium has been lifted, but foreign
trips by LLNL personnel and visits by foreign nationals to the laboratory still undergo
very careful scrutiny. Unfortunately, this results in foreign visitors often feeling
unwelcome, even in unclassified areas of the laboratory, due to the cumbersome steps that
must be followed to arrange the visit and the restrictions to which visitors are subjected
while they are here.
- Reductions in Laboratory-Directed Research and Development (LDRD): For FY 2000,
LDRD at the DOE laboratories was reduced from 6 percent to 4 percent of the total budget.
While this reduction did not directly restrain intellectual freedom, the large cut reduced
LLNL's ability to conduct exploratory research, which is very important to our
scientific and technological vitality. LDRD is also an important source of funding
collaborative research efforts. In FY 2001, LDRD was restored by Congress to the 6 percent
level. It is noted, however, that the time to restore lost capabilities, resulting from
cuts of these types, greatly exceeds the time it took to create the lost capabilities.
- Uncertainty in our continuing relationship with the University of California: Our
continuing relationship with UC, which is extremely important to laboratory employees,
appeared to be at grave risk last year. We are pleased that DOE Secretary Richardson
recently announced that DOE will enter into negotiations with UC to extend the contract
for three years.
- Budget and program concerns: In FY 2000, LLNL employees were especially concerned
about the future of major programs at the laboratory, including the NIF, the future of
ASCI at LLNL beyond the 12 teraops machine just delivered, and funding for and our role in
the Stockpile Stewardship Program. At least for the time being, these issues now seem to
be behind us. A re-base-lined program for the construction of NIF has been approved by DOE
and funded by Congress, and we continue construction of the Terascale Simulation Facility
at Livermore, which will house a next-generation ASCI supercomputer (60 to 100 teraops).
Although 1999 was a difficult year, improvements have been steady. Though there is
cause for optimism, not all issues will be cleanly resolved and the laboratory will
continue to feel the impact from these issues on intellectual freedom and the latitude to
pursue cutting-edge research within the laboratory and with a wide range of external
In addition, the laboratory would benefit greatly from a reaffirmation of our mission
and vision. The National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) within DOE and the
national security laboratories have an important mission and also require adequate funding
to pursue fundamental science to get the job done. By strengthening the basic laboratory
tenets of intellectual freedomthe latitude to undertake research activities that
support laboratory missions and the continuing ability to interact with the international
science communitywe will ensure the health of the laboratory and the continued
excellence of its workforce.
The DOE national security laboratories have effectively managed the pursuit of S&T
in a secure environment for half a century. We are an integral part of the international
S&T community, and we depend on interactions with others to sustain the quality of our
programs by ensuring that our work is at the cutting edge of what is possible. For
laboratory employees, intellectual freedom means having the latitude to pursue exploratory
research, open communication with other researchers and the right to publish their
As White House Science Advisor Neal Lane said in his address entitled "The New
Security Environment" to the National Academy's forum on "Scientific
Communication and National Security" (October 6, 2000):
History clearly shows that we rely on science to ensure our security, not to
mention our economy and our whole way of life. But at the same time, we certainly cannot
reap the benefits of that science unless our national security is secured. Let me first
make three assertions:
- National security requires scientific excellence
- Scientific excellence requires openness and
- Openness is inherently international.
Today we are facing real challenges. Compared to the past, our mission requires us to
engage in ever closer and more extensive interactions with universities, other
laboratories and industry. And S&Tas well as the laboratory's
workforcehas grown more international. Unfortunately, recent events have triggered
actions and some over-reactions to tighten security. The result has been a difficult year
with attendant challenges in recruiting and retaining personnel and possibly some
limitations on intellectual freedom. As we find less onerous ways to implement enhanced
security at the laboratories, we continue our efforts to reduce some of these limitations
on intellectual freedom and to foster a work environment that is conducive to leading-edge
*This work was performed under the auspices of the U.S. Department of Energy by
the University of California, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, under Contract No.
Reflections on Intellectual Freedom and Laboratory Culture
by: Wendell B. Jones, Laboratory Ombudsman, Sandia National Laboratories
"You should never wear your best trousers when you go out to fight for freedom and
Henrik Ibsen 1828 1906
Enemy of the People , act V
When I was first invited to be part of this panel, I looked at a number of quotes. Here
is one from the playwright Ibsen. What you are going to hear from me is a discussion about
the ethos, the culture within, certainly Sandia, and in many ways applicable to Los Alamos
and Lawrence Livermore Labs, that says: "This is a reality, that working towards
freedom and truth is not always a clean, crisp business, and if you want a clean, crisp
life that doesn't have any messiness in it, get out your best trousers and retreat
somewhere." What you are going to hear from me is a challenge that says, we, as a
staff that carry a national responsibility, international responsibility, in these
national laboratories, should always leave our best trousers in the closet and get to work
to honor this.
"Thus in the highest position there is the least freedom of action."
Sallust [Gaius Sallustius Crispus] 86 34 B.C.
The War with Catiline [c. 40 B.C.], sec. 51
So, I'm going to come at it clearly from the point of view ofit's not a
pretty picture when you are out there trying to sort through the realities of freedom and
truth. Another one from a RomanI feel a bit of a burden. Let me tell you a little
bit about my role as an ombudsman. But it certainly means I probably have a little bit
more freedom of action today than either John Browne or Jeff Wadsworth has, and want to
exercise it in that space. Now, you do need to know, as recently as Tuesday, I was
cautioned by the Sandia Laboratory director, Paul Robinson, to consider myself on par with
him when it came to freedom of action. So, I have some interior tension about how far to
go. Those in the Sandia culture will know that part of what works for me as a laboratory
ombudsman is both having and exercising the freedom to be outspoken. So it's always
an internal tension to me.
I spent six years on the research staff in Sandia and another 10 as a research manager,
and it's now been eight years since I became the laboratory ombudsman. By way of
background, let me say that as an ombudsman, I report to the lab director and a
designated, neutral and a highly confidential resource to resolve conflicts and
differences, service difficult issues. That gives me a much wider reach into the issues of
the laboratory than I sometimes would like to have; nonetheless, it does give me that
breadth of reach into what the concerns in the institution are. And I'm going to
share what I've learned.
"Intellectual freedom is the only guarantee of a scientific-democratic approach to
politics, economic development, and culture."
Andrei Dmitrievich Sakharov 1921 1989
Progress, Coexistence, and Intellectual Freedom 
Let's look at another colleague, in addition to Edward Teller, in the nuclear
weapons design business, Sakharov. An interesting comment made in 1968, and the truth of
their system, being the experience in the Soviet Union, bears out all of the truth in
I hold this out because it's a standard against which all of us in these
institutions need to hold ourselves. I love the frame that talks about macro and micro
freedom, macro and micro ethics. In conservative institutions with conflict-averse people,
we like to define our freedom of action inside a nice, little micro box that assures that
we will have very robust discussions around whether we should use the finite difference
method in solving this problem, or the finite element problem. We just love to get into
really robust discussions. But we all collude that no one's going to ask whether we
should be solving this problem. A gasp goes around the room when someone says that. No,
let's get back in the micro box and have really robust, wide-reaching discussions
inside of our definition. I think we all have to think of ourselves in the larger context.
Does every discussion have to be wide-reaching? Of course, not. But should we define the
range of our discussion so narrowly that we never go outside of clearly defined micro
"But what is Freedom? Rightly understood, A universal license to be good."
David Hartley Coleridge 1796 1849
Let's talk a little bit about the culture that developed within the context that
Jeff just discussed. What happened over time is highly synergistic. The population base of
staff evolves according to the situation in which they came to work with these
laboratories. That, in turn, influences how the institution evolves, and so the whole
thing is highly cooperative and collaborative in how it evolves. I want to talk first
about some institutional overlay and then about how we, as a set of people over the
decades, have responded.
Within the Sandia culture, there is a very important letter that was written by Harry
Truman in 1949 asking the president of AT&T to manage a new laboratory to be called
Sandia Laboratory. Deep in our culture, as a footer in our letterhead, is the phrase from
Truman's letter: "...render an exceptional service in the national
interest." AT&T was asked, in 1949, to manage Sandia as an engineering
laboratory. Now, that makes Sandia a little distinctive from Los Alamos, and subsequent to
this, Lawrence Livermore, that we were charted as an engineering laboratory to do the
engineering work for all of the non-nuclear components for nuclear weapons, firing,
fusing, safeguarding functions, all of the engineering. We were established as a highly
conservative engineering company to make very conservative engineering choices in which we
were to assure that functioning and safeguards, all occurred appropriately within very
conservative margins of error. I don't think anybody in this room would want us to
have approached that mission any differently. Let's stop and think a minute about the
staff you recruit to accomplish that type of mission, done in total security. Do you get
wildly crazy thinkers that are out-of-the-box and all over the map, wondering about social
context and right and wrong in the world?
"Freedom of speech and freedom of action are meaningless without freedom to think.
And there is no freedom of thought without doubt."
Bergen Evans 1904 1978
The Natural History of Nonsense , ch. 19
When I came to work at Sandia in 1976, as a culture, we were fiercely proud that no one
knew we existed. Most everybody had heard of Los Alamos, but no one had heard of Sandia,
and we were proud of that. It meant that the people on the Hill tended to be a little
flashy, a little self-centered. They tended to indulge in these fruitless, cataclysmic
debates with Lawrence Livermore in California. We, at Sandia, would come in and show
wisdom and good judgment in the midst of overly emotional and highly polarized debates. I
want you to know that was a self-concept that became reinforced in the people we have
present in the laboratory. What arose was an incredibly conflict-averse culture, and it
was a culture in which we wanted engineering solutions to everything, and we wanted
everything to reduce to engineering rules, to institutional rules, and then if people
violated the rules, they could be taken out "to the woodshed," have the rules
enforced, and they would come back. Very conflict-averse.
"If there is any principle of the Constitution that more imperatively calls for
attachment than any other it is the principle of free thought not free thought for
those who agree with us but freedom for the thought that we hate."
Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. 1841 1935
United States v. Schwimmer, 279 U.S. 644, 653 
Through those early years of the 1950s and 1960s and into the 1970s, that homogenous
work force was white, it was male, it was overwhelmingly conservative Christian. It was
patriots. These were cold war patriots doing a secret mission for God and for country who
sought no publicity for it. What that producedbecause there was lack of really open
debatewas a kind of overconfidence in which doubt was not highly valued, to pose
doubt, put question on yourself. Well, as Jeff noted, what happened was that in the 1970s
and the 1980s and 1990s, the world has turned over. I apologize for a long quote, but
Oliver Wendell Holmes is an uncle of mine, so I had to indulge myself in a quote here. Our
work force became more diverse, as Jeff pointed out, the work we did became more diverse.
We had differing opinions arriving, all in the midst of this dominant culture.
"I believe there are more instances of the abridgment of the freedom of the people
by gradual and silent encroachments of those in power than by violent and sudden
James Madison 1751 1836
Speech in the Virginia Convention [June 16, 1788]
As Jeff said, from a business point of view, we have been struggling with new potential
ventures; but, internally, in our culture, we have also been struggling with defining the
norms. As our new diverse work force starts to speak out, some of those norms are under
constant attack. So, internally, there's a lot of attack going on. And, internally,
we are struggling with the notion of how to exercise responsibly into this space of
freedom that is about ideas, about tolerance, about differences. It's going on
actively all of the time. Here is my concern. That among us, on the staff, in these
laboratories, it's our conflict aversion that limits our freedom of expression.
It's our own aversion to conflict that really puts a more effective cap on how far
out we can move.
I had a long discussion last week with a member of the Sandia staff who gave me full
permission to quote him, Bill Sullivan, you may have heard his name quoted in the press.
He was chair of the Wen Ho Lee committee; oftentimes, quoted in any press reports of the
ongoing court actions. So, I sat down with Bill to talk about how he has experienced that
public expression of his freedom within the context of Sandia. He shook his head and said,
"Nothing has happened." In a year of being a highly public, visible person, no
one has said anything to him about it. Over the whole time, he's gotten five e-mails
from Sandians that were simple statements of, "Appreciate your courage." Nothing
more than that. That speaks to me that there is a great space in which people can exercise
their freedoms that is unexplored, that is about us putting a damper on our own freedom.
The polygraph discussion that Jeff brought up was one such discussion. Let me tell you
what's disturbing about the polygraph discussion. When nearly all employees faced the
possibility of a polygraph test, what was the volume of the discourse within the labs?
When it became hundreds who might have a polygraph test imposed, what did the volume do?
It went to nearly zero. Now that the legislation calls for several more thousands, the
volume goes up. That's not a discussion about the principle of polygraph tests.
It's not a discussion about the veracity of polygraphs in national security.
That's a discussion that says, "I don't want to have to take a polygraph
test." It's a much narrower, much more self-serving discussion than the issue of
national security and polygraphs. So, as I've watched the volume of discussion track
the number of people who are going to have to do it, I said, "This does not have
intellectual integrity." Do I want to take a polygraph test? No. Okay, I'm not
going pretend that I do. If my concern drops to zero when I find out I don't have to
take one, then the discussion about the issue of intellectual freedom in the role of
polygraph is disingenuous. In so doing, I would have clearly marked it for what it means
Well, it's a tension, and there will always be tension between the security and
intellectual freedom. For those of you who come out of a cultural anthropology or social
science background, as my second career, it's interesting, you will find that in
every culture through all time there is a type of story that's deep at the core of
virtually every culture. And that story has three main players in it. It has a villain. It
has a victim. And it has a hero. It might be the princess, the knight and the witch. It
has many variations and forms. What we know in terms of human formation is that as long as
I can internalize what I am experiencing, have me representing one of those three parties,
nothing will change.
So, I call to my colleague in the labs, if I can internalize where I am the victim, and
then seek to find out who the villains are, and seek out a hero, nobody will change. What
psychology and social science tell us is that change occurs when I realize that I, myself,
am the victim, the villain and the hero in my own story, and I need to choose which role I
am going to play. We have a long way to go in the interior culture, to live into the space
of freedom that I think is out there for intellectual curiosity, intellectual searching.
Are there other parties that produce concerns that deserve addressing? Yes. But I care a
lot more about the challenge to us as free-thinking people.
The last quote I will put up is a Soren Kierkegaard quote. I refuse to let the
discussion be cheapened to the point that it is only about freedom of speech. It needs to
be about freedom of thought and the exercise of freedom of thought. And we have a long way
to go inside the laboratories to fully exercise the kind of freedom of thought to which I
think we're all called, based on our mission.
"People hardly ever make use of the freedom they have, for example, freedom of
thought; instead they demand freedom of speech as a compensation."
Back to top | Copyright ©2013. All Rights Reserved.