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Viet Nam Generation Journal & Newsletter

V3, N4 (January 1992)

Texts made available by the Sixties Project, are generally copyrighted by the Author or by Viet Nam Generation, Inc., all rights reserved. These texts may be used, printed, and archived in accordance with the Fair Use provisions of U.S. Copyright law. These texts may not be archived, printed, or redistributed in any form for a fee, without the consent of the copyright holder. This notice must accompany any redistribution of the text. A few of the texts we publish are in the public domain. For information on a specific text, contact Kalí Tal. The Sixties Project, sponsored by Viet Nam Generation Inc. and the Institute of Advanced Technology in the Humanities at the University of Virginia at Charlottesville, is dedicated to using electronic resources to provide routes of collaboration and make available primary and secondary sources for researchers, students, teachers, writers and librarians interested in the 1960s.

Science Magazine on "Project Jason"

Kalí Tal

The 29 November 1991 issue of Science featured an article titled "Jason: Can A Cold Warrior Find Work" (Vol. 254: 1284-1286). The article's subtitle reads: "For more than 30 years, a secretive band of top-flight academics has been proposing, analyzing, and critiquing some of the most innovative ideas in national defense." This group, which calls itself "Jason," after the Greek hero, is "one of the most influential yet little known science clubs in the world..." According to Science

this exclusive cadre of about 45 academic scientists, mostly physicists, has been meeting every summer for more than 30 years. Its membersa veritable star map of physicsgather in secrecy to solve practical problems for the government, usually the DOD. Over the decades, the group has developed ideas that are far better known than the group itself.... In exchange for creativity, Jason's government sponsors have to accept the group's uncompromising independ-ence.... the members of Jason choose their own projects, have no financial or political stake in a projects success, and, most important, feel free to say that a proposed project is dumb. (1284)

Science published this article to "bring this little publicized group out of the shadows," and to speculate on its future now that the arms race seems to have ended. But the scientists involved in Jason apparently are reluctant to talk about their work. What Science did uncover, however, will be disturbing to progressives (though it didn't seem to bother Science much). Apparently Jason's members have been turning to problems outside the realm of defense and are now working on solutions to the "the flow of illegal drugs across U.S. borders..."

In a page-length sidebar to the main article, Science ran another story: "Vietnam: An Awkward Time to Be a Jason." Those of you familiar with the Pentagon Papers might remember that it was the Jasons who advised the U.S. government "to throw an electronic barrier across the Ho Chi Minh trail" (1285). Though the article mentions that some Jasons resigned from the organization because they refused to support the war effort, other Jasons were ready to pick up the slack:

Jason got wind of a proposal by Roger Fisher, a Harvard Law School professor interested in arms control: block the trail with a high-tech barrier. Eager to do something constructive about the war, Jason developed the idea under the leadership of William Nierenberg, past director of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography. Jason's version of the barrier was... an acoustic curtain that would betray passing troops and trucks.

The plan was to seed a 100-kilometer strip across Vietnam with bombletslittle more than cherry bombsand acoustic sensors. When a soldier's boot or a truck tire triggered a bomblet, the sensors would pick up the report and send a signal to a central computer, which would pinpoint its source. Air strikes would then be dispatched to cut off the infiltration. (1285)

Apparently, the Pentagon was pleased with the Jason scheme and actually put it into action. Science quotes a proud Kenneth Case: "The detectors could hear soldiers peeing." Physicist Case claims that the barriers were a resounding success in Khe Sanh. Why? Well, they prevented the Marines from being cut off by providing information on where enemy troops congregatedthus allowing the U.S. to accurately aim artillery and carefully drop bombs. You figure it out. Science, neglecting to point out that there was no American "victory" at Khe Sanh, allows this to pass without comment.

The implications of Jason's switch to non-defense related research are interesting. I wonder if we can look forward to a line of "bomblets" at the borders of the U.S., geared to keeping out illegal aliens and drug runners.

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Updated Thursday, January 28, 1999

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