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Academia's Biological Studies in War Time
An Interview with Dr. Charles E. McQueary
Dr. Charles E. McQueary is Under Secretary for
Science and Technology (S&T), Department
of Homeland Security (DHS). The S&T Directorate coordinates
the DHS's efforts in research and development, including preparing
for and responding to the full range of terrorist threats involving
weapons of mass destruction. These efforts include working with
scientific institutions, such as the national laboratories and academic
institutions, to sponsor research, development, and testing to invent
new vaccines, antidotes, diagnostics, and therapies against biological
and chemical warfare agents.
Dr. McQueary holds both a PhD in Engineering Mechanics and an MS
in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Texas, Austin.
Please briefly describe the role of the Department of Homeland
Security in the debate around balancing scientific openness and
Certainly a role that the Department of Homeland Security would
play would be to help the country and the President decide what
kind of action should be taken, if any, in the area of biological
studies, as well as any other field. I would also hasten to add
that we would not be the only agency doing thisthis is not
a role that DHS takes on all by itself. We obviously have strong
interests in the area of research, not only in the biological sciences,
but also in any other area that relates to homeland security related
technology. Therefore, in this sense we would be in the mode of
acting as an advisor or perhaps an advocate if some issue came up
that was of particular importance to homeland security.
What, if any, changes to scientific openness within the
bioscience community have you witnessed since the start of the war
on terrorism? What do you think about these changes?
I have only been in this position, officially, since March 21st,
2003, so I'm relatively new and would not be in a position
to comment upon what has gone on over the past year and a half,
because I haven't been around. I wouldn't want to just
answer that based upon what I might have read in some local newspaper
or news source of the sort. I will address this issue since the
time period I have been in this position.
The policy of this administration is the same as the policy that
was set forth during the Reagan Administration under the National
Security Decision Directive 189, which continues to be the long
established policy. In fact, it is quite remarkable when you look
at how long this policy has been in existence. In addition, [NSDD
189] was reaffirmed by Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice on November
1st, 2001. The official policy for the Administration continues
to be that which has been put forth in this directive.
However, there has been considerable discussion, not only by some
members of Congress, but in the open literature within the country,
in which people are beginning to raise the question as to whether
there are issues in the biological research that should be examined
in different ways. In particular, this examination probably came
about as a result of the anthrax attacks that we had right after
9/11/01. Also, as we know, biological weapons pose a significant
challenge for [the US] in terms of being able to deal with them,
and also being able to provide effective counter measures for them.
So I think it is logical that this is an area that should be examined
and talked about in a public debate.
What is your department's policy/stance about these
changes? Is it possible to regulate the publication of bioscience
research findings? Is the regulation of biological research findings
plausible? Is there a way to balance the needs of national security
and the scientific community?
[The DHS] has not taken any kind of public position in writing,
so let me take my own views. If Secretary Ridge asked me for those
views, these would be the ones I would give to him. I think the
scientific community needs to develop and establish the criteria
for deciding what is good research and what is bad research in the
biological sciences. I think we typically find the government getting
involved in such regulation when there seems to be a void of recommendations
or positions being held by the particular communities that are affected.
From my stand point, I would very much like to see those who are
engaged in biological research and those who have a strong vested
interest in this work, helping with the issue of deciding what the
areas are where we either do or do not need regulation. Perhaps
there are some areas, just because of the very sensitive nature
of the work, for which there might need to be some regulation. So
bottom line, the scientific community bears a major responsibility
in helping craft the position that the country should take in this
It is very important that we try to focus our energies on the areas
where we have complete agreement, so that we can be in a better
position to discuss the items for which, presumably, there may not
be full agreement. I'm just speculating, but any time you
have something as complex as this issue is, it is almost inevitable
that there will be some areas for disagreement. Nevertheless, the
real strength, just to repeat myself, can come from the scientific
community coming forth with a well thought-out, well-structured
view of how the country should deal with this issue.
How would regulations affect academics in the United States,
especially compared to their international colleagues?
Without knowing what [regulations] might come forth, it would be
difficult for me to comment upon that. However, I would observe
that in the area of biological research there is a heavy international
component. To have one set of regulations for people in the US,
and then not have any ability to determine what goes on in the international
community would seem, to me, to not be a particularly good thing
Are there possible alternatives that would address the question
of national security?
I think it would be presumptuous of me to try and outline all of
the issues right now, because I have to confess I'm not as
well versed in this as perhaps I should be because of my newness
to this job. In addition, we've had many things that have
required my attention since I have actually gotten on board. Nevertheless,
I certainly think we need to look at the full range of possibilities,
always leaning in the direction, if we can, that there not be government
regulations on the research that is being done. I think there is
great benefit, when it doesn't compromise national security,
to be able to openly publish results of scientific research. For
the time being, and I want to say for the time being, the current
policy is just that of the NSDD 189, which we talked about earlier.
This particular directive spells out, just about as clearly as anything
possibly could, what the position isthat research is either
classified or it is not classified, but not in-between.
Over the next two years, what direction would you like to
see the DHS steer the nation regarding bioscience regulations?
I would not be presumptuous in saying what I think the Administration
will and will not do. However, I will say that this area will continue
to generate a considerable amount of interest throughout the scientific
community, as well as in the area of general homeland security protection,
because the biological threats as we know them, constitute one of
the more difficult areas for our country's protection. Therefore,
my personal expectations would be that we will continue to have
a very spirited dialogue among all interested parties on this subject.
Furthermore, following what we normally do, I would say that after
we have this dialogue, the country will decide through the Administration
what its policy needs to be in order to deal with this issue.
Is there a role students can play in the struggle between
scientific openness and national security?
I would certainly hope that those scientists who are closest to
the students would seek their input. It is my personal view that
the students certainly would have valuable input that could be helpful
in deciding what the formulating position should be as we go forward.
The way that I run my job is to listen to as many people as I can,
and then we ultimately have to decide what course of action we want
to take after that. Moreover, the students certainly have a very
interesting and very important perspective to be brought to this
Submitted by: Liz Walsh, Education Program