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.
FROM OUR SPONSORS
JOIN THE DISCUSSION
Close [ x ] More from GovExec
 
 

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

  • Going Agile:Revolutionizing Federal Digital Services Delivery

    Here’s one indication that times have changed: Harriet Tubman is going to be the next face of the twenty dollar bill. Another sign of change? The way in which the federal government arrived at that decision.

    Download
  • Cyber Risk Report: Cybercrime Trends from 2016

    In our first half 2016 cyber trends report, SurfWatch Labs threat intelligence analysts noted one key theme – the interconnected nature of cybercrime – and the second half of the year saw organizations continuing to struggle with that reality. The number of potential cyber threats, the pool of already compromised information, and the ease of finding increasingly sophisticated cybercriminal tools continued to snowball throughout the year.

    Download
  • Featured Content from RSA Conference: Dissed by NIST

    Learn more about the latest draft of the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology guidance document on authentication and lifecycle management.

    Download
  • GBC Issue Brief: The Future of 9-1-1

    A Look Into the Next Generation of Emergency Services

    Download
  • GBC Survey Report: Securing the Perimeters

    A candid survey on cybersecurity in state and local governments

    Download
  • The New IP: Moving Government Agencies Toward the Network of The Future

    Federal IT managers are looking to modernize legacy network infrastructures that are taxed by growing demands from mobile devices, video, vast amounts of data, and more. This issue brief discusses the federal government network landscape, as well as market, financial force drivers for network modernization.

    Download
  • eBook: State & Local Cybersecurity

    CenturyLink is committed to helping state and local governments meet their cybersecurity challenges. Towards that end, CenturyLink commissioned a study from the Government Business Council that looked at the perceptions, attitudes and experiences of state and local leaders around the cybersecurity issue. The results were surprising in a number of ways. Learn more about their findings and the ways in which state and local governments can combat cybersecurity threats with this eBook.

    Download

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