Published on Saturday, June 24, 2000 in the Boston Globe
Star Wars Critic Accuses Pentagon Of Trying To Silence Him
by David Abel
As the debate heats up over whether the United States should build a national missile defense, one of the program's leading critics, an MIT professor, is charging the Pentagon with trying to silence him.
This week, three agents from the Pentagon's Defense Security Service arrived unannounced at Theodore A. Postol's office at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. They said they came to show the outspoken physicist classified documents, Postol said.
But Postol said he refused to look at the papers stamped ''SECRET.'' Recalling the Army's attempt to classify his critical analysis of Raytheon Corp.'s Patriot missile after the 1991 Gulf War, he believes the agents' visit was a ruse to prevent him from speaking out further against the proposed antimissile system, which has already cost at least $60 billion.
''I definitely saw this as potential for entrapment and a means of intimidation,'' said Postol, so miffed he wrote a letter to John Podesta, President Clinton's chief of staff, after the Wednesday morning visit. ''By showing me classified information, they could say I was talking about classified information. I saw it as a means of abridging my First-Amendment rights.''
The surprise visit came more than a month after Postol, once one of the military's top science advisers, made headlines after a letter he wrote to the White House detailed potential pitfalls in the Clinton administration's missile-defense plan and exposed what he says is evidence of a cover-up.
In the letter, the 54-year-old professor explained why he and many scientists believe current technology is incapable of defeating a ballistic missile attack. The essence of his dissent is that the system being developed can't differentiate a potential enemy's decoys from its warheads. A few balloons, he said, might be sufficient to fool current or future antimissiles.
But shortly after the letter arrived at the White House, officials sent it to the Pentagon's Ballistic Missile Defense Office. Officials there promptly classified Postol's findings, even though the letter had already been posted on the Internet. The move echoed the Army's attempt to muzzle him after the Gulf War, Postol said.
Although Postol says he never received a call before the Pentagon agents popped into his office, and accuses the security service of improperly handling secret documents, a Defense Security Service spokeswoman said the agents repeatedly tried to contact the professor and followed strict protocol in presenting the information.
Caryl Clubb, a Defense Security Service spokeswoman, said the agents went to Postol's office to deliver a letter from the service's deputy chief of staff for industrial security. The document detailed areas in which Postol's White House letter contained classified information, she said.
''The purpose of our visit was to prevent the further disclosure of classified information,'' Clubb said. ''We in no way, shape or form meant to get him to stop speaking out.''
But Postol and others describe the visit as a tactic they say the government has used before to silence informed dissidents with high-level security clearances. A scientific adviser to the chief of naval operations in the 1980s, Postol has top-secret clearances at the departments of energy and defense.
Yet all the information he assembled in his White House letter, he contends, came from a lawsuit filed by a senior engineer against the military contractor TRW Inc., which accused the contractor of sending the Pentagon fraudulent performance reports about a key portion of the antimissile system.
If Postol had consented to view the letter, he said, he would be obliged not to talk about its contents, even if the information was identical to what he previously published. The penalty for revealing the contents of a classified document ranges from the loss of security clearances to a prison sentence.
''This entire episode is Kafkaesque,'' said Democratic US Representative Edward J. Markey of Malden, who said he plans to ask the General Accounting Office to investigate. ''First, you have the government classifying a report raising questions about potential fraud ... then you have government agents showing up at the author's office, trying to force him to read a classified document that he doesn't want to read.''
Joseph Cirincione, director of the Nonproliferation Center at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said it ''appears they were trying to force feed him classified material for reasons other than his education on this matter.''
Jennifer Weeks, a former congressional military analyst who runs a project on nuclear policy at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, said the episode might have been a clumsy attempt to explain the missile program to Postol.
''I think it's plausible this was an effort to silence him,'' she said. ''It also may have just been a dumb, badly managed way of showing him classified information.''
Postol, though, has no doubts.
''This wasn't an accident,'' he said. ''They know what they were doing.''
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