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Lincoln Lab Investigation on Hold
Postol and colleagues spar

Nearly four years ago, MIT physicist ­Theodore A. Postol approached Institute officials demanding that they investigate an alleged case of scientific fraud at the Lincoln Laboratory, related to tests of a U.S. military missile defense system. MIT commissioned an inquiry into Postol’s allegations and authorized an investigation in January 2003. But in December 2004, administrators announced that they had been unable to conduct the investigation because the U.S. Missile Defense Agency has classified all information relating to the allegations, including the results of the Institute’s internal inquiry. Postol insists that there is still enough public information for the investigation to go forward, and he remains committed to his cause despite his removal from one MIT program.

Postol alleges that Lincoln Laboratory misrepresented a failed U.S. missile defense test as a success to federal agents who were investigating it for the possibility of research fraud. The test at issue was one of two critical tests performed in the late 1990s to determine if the current National Missile Defense system could distinguish warheads from decoys. The system will have only a small number of interceptors, so it could be easily defeated if an adversary launched credible decoys along with warheads.

“Integrity in research and scholarship is a bedrock principle of MIT, and we give serious attention to allegations of violation of that principle,” Institute officials said in the December statement. “In this case, MIT has worked for nearly three years to meet this responsibility but has been unsuccessful in obtaining access to classified materials essential to complete this process.”

Postol is not deterred, but his concentration on this issue has alienated him from his colleagues in the Security Studies Program, who forced him out of their group last summer. Program director ­Harvey Sapolsky classifies the problem as interpersonal. “We couldn’t work with him,” says Sapolsky. Postol, who remains a tenured professor in the Program in Science, Technology, and Society, claims his removal from the Security Studies Program was in retaliation for his activism with respect to the research fraud issue.

In its December statement, MIT says it will continue to seek access to the classified materials it deems necessary for the investigation. But Postol isn’t likely to rest until an investigation takes place, regardless of whether the classified materials are made available. “MIT should not be promulgating scientific fraud, and that’s what’s going on here,” he says.

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