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President Charles M. Vest, concerned over a Pentagon move "to treat widely available public information as 'secret,'" is defending the right of university faculty members to speak out on public issues such as ballistic missile defense.
Vest, in response to questions, issued the following statement on July 27:
"It is the right, and indeed the responsibility of university faculty to apply their expertise to the analysis of issues of national importance, and to inform our government and the public of their conclusions. MIT defends the right of our faculty to serve as responsible critics within the limits of the law.
"In May 2000, MIT Professor Theodore Postol, an expert on missile defense technology, wrote the White House a letter concerning ballistic missile defense issues, which included information from an officially unclassified Department of Defense report. MIT has been informed that this same material was reclassified as secret at a later date, even though it remains publicly available on the World Wide Web.
"MIT recently learned that an agency of the Defense Department alleges that Professor Postol transmitted this same information to the Government Accounting Office after it was reclassified. MIT has been asked by that agency to look into the matter.
"While MIT certainly abides by the laws that protect national security, we also believe that the legitimate tools of classification of secrets should not be misused to limit responsible debate. Trying to treat widely available public information as 'secret' is a particular concern. Until MIT has learned all the necessary facts, it cannot provide more information about these issues."
A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on August 15, 2001.