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November 2005

UCAR policy on classified research

As NCAR conducts an increasing amount of research that touches on national security issues, the UCAR Board of Trustees is drafting a formal policy to affirm that the organization does not engage directly in classified research. However, the policy would allow staffers to do classified work with outside organizations on a voluntary basis.

NCAR for many years has worked on national security and public safety issues, such as generating weather forecasts for the Department of Defense. Since the September 11 terrorist attacks, this type of research has become more prominent. RAL scientists, for example, are creating models of the potential dispersal of airborne toxins, which could help safeguard a high-profile site such as the Pentagon in case of a terrorist attack. (For more about this type of RAL research, see the May 2004 issue of Staff Notes Monthly.)

Although this research is unclassified, RAL may be asked by the Department of Homeland Security or the Department of Defense to extend it by producing actual scenarios of potential terrorist attacks on U.S. targets. This would involve inputting classified data to its computer models. Although such research would be of value to society and to the scientific community, the organization would face such risks as potential breaches of security, the inability of some NCAR scientists to publish their research results, and possible changes to the organization's open culture.

Accordingly, the draft policy states that classified work cannot be conducted at UCAR or NSF-owned or leased facilities, nor can it be carried out under UCAR auspices. UCAR could participate in a project that required classification of a part of the research, but the classified portion would have to be conducted in partnership with a third party, such as a university, nonprofit organization, private company, or federal laboratory.

Under the draft policy, a staffer engaging in classified research would need formal written approval by the appropriate lab director, entity director (NCAR, UOP, or EO), and the UCAR president. Appropriate training by the sponsoring agency or a third party would be required for all UCAR employees undertaking classified research. Restrictions on publication and scholarly communication would be minimized.

The Board of Trustees will consider the draft policy at its February 8 meeting.

"NCAR has for many years done excellent research for the benefit of the community and the nation that borders on classified research," explains UCAR President Rick Anthes. "There are both opportunities and risks associated with doing classified research, and it is important to clarify the issues and develop a policy that will guide us in the future."

• by David Hosansky

On the Web

For more about RAL's national security research

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Planning a national supercomputing center

RAINEX: Bad weather is good news

UCAR policy on classified research

Random Profile: Meg McClellan

COMET project wins recognition

Delphi Questions

Just One Look: Super Science Saturday


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