University investigates possible missile defense study cover-up

Massachusetts Institute of Technology officials are investigating allegations that a federally supported laboratory at the school covered up evidence critical of the prospective U.S. missile defense system, the The New York Times reported Thursday.

The university is looking into a 1998 report that cleared military contractor TRW of falsifying missile sensor test data. The report was completed under the auspices of the Lincoln Laboratory, MIT's chief recipient of U.S. government funding, the Times reported.

"Potentially, this is the most serious fraud that we've seen at a great American university," said Theodore Postol, the MIT physicist who first made the allegations of impropriety almost two years ago.

The case follows the allegations of Nira Schwartz, a senior engineer at TRW in 1995 and 1996, who said the contractor had faked missile defense sensor test results for ground-based hit-to-kill technology. The Lincoln Laboratory oversaw a federally funded report that exonerated TRW but Postol has insisted that the conclusions of the Lincoln investigation are "false and unsupported."

In early 2002, Postol faulted MIT for not following up on his complaints and ignoring a possible case of "serious scientific fraud."

Edward Crawley, head of the university's Aeronautics and Astronautics Department, initially said an investigation into the Lincoln Laboratory report was unnecessary, but in November he decided to support an inquiry and late last month Crawley recommended a full investigation.

"The bedrock principle for all research done at MIT is scientific integrity," said a statement from officials at the school. "Any allegation that there has been any deviation from that principle must be taken seriously, and that is what MIT has done in this case," the statement added.

Postol's case was supported by a February 2002 General Accounting Office study that called the TRW test results "highly misleading." The GAO report also said the Lincoln report relied on data processed by TRW, but investigators did not look into raw data from the tests, the Times reported.

"Either there's a serious problem with the GAO report, which needs to be corrected," Postol told Crawley in August, "or Lincoln Laboratory could be involved at the highest levels of management in covering up fraud," he added.

Critics have faulted Postol for his attention to the TRW situation because the contractor lost a competition for the contract to Raytheon in December 1998. The case is important because it is a rare opportunity to look at the missile defense system's feasibility, he said.

"It's absolutely relevant," Postol said. "It goes to the heart of whether this system has any chance of working. It's more relevant now than when the case first arose," he added.

MIT officials would not comment specifically on the inquiry into Lincoln Laboratory, citing confidentiality policies.

Stay up-to-date with federal news alerts and analysis — Sign up for GovExec's email newsletters.
Close [ x ] More from GovExec

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Forecasting Cloud's Future

    Conversations with Federal, State, and Local Technology Leaders on Cloud-Driven Digital Transformation

  • The Big Data Campaign Trail

    With everyone so focused on security following recent breaches at federal, state and local government and education institutions, there has been little emphasis on the need for better operations. This report breaks down some of the biggest operational challenges in IT management and provides insight into how agencies and leaders can successfully solve some of the biggest lingering government IT issues.

  • Communicating Innovation in Federal Government

    Federal Government spending on ‘obsolete technology’ continues to increase. Supporting the twin pillars of improved digital service delivery for citizens on the one hand, and the increasingly optimized and flexible working practices for federal employees on the other, are neither easy nor inexpensive tasks. This whitepaper explores how federal agencies can leverage the value of existing agency technology assets while offering IT leaders the ability to implement the kind of employee productivity, citizen service improvements and security demanded by federal oversight.

  • IT Transformation Trends: Flash Storage as a Strategic IT Asset

    MIT Technology Review: Flash Storage As a Strategic IT Asset For the first time in decades, IT leaders now consider all-flash storage as a strategic IT asset. IT has become a new operating model that enables self-service with high performance, density and resiliency. It also offers the self-service agility of the public cloud combined with the security, performance, and cost-effectiveness of a private cloud. Download this MIT Technology Review paper to learn more about how all-flash storage is transforming the data center.

  • Ongoing Efforts in Veterans Health Care Modernization

    This report discusses the current state of veterans health care


When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.