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Theodore Postol

Theodore Postol

American physicist
Theodore Postol
The basics

Quick Facts

Intro American physicist
Is Scientist Physicist Educator
From United States of America
Type Academia Science
Gender male
Birth 1 April 1946, Brooklyn
Age 74 years
Peoplepill ID theodore-postol
The details

Biography

Theodore A. Postol (born 1946) is a professor of Science, Technology, and International Security at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and is a prominent critic of U.S. government statements about missile defense. He has also criticized the US narrative of the 2013 Ghouta chemical attack in Syria. Working in collaboration with Maram Susli (known online as 'Syrian Girl') and Richard Lloyd, he has argued that the Ghouta chemical attack does not seem to have been launched by the Syrian government

Background

He received his undergraduate degree in physics and his PhD in nuclear engineering from MIT. Postol worked at Argonne National Laboratory, where he studied the microscopic dynamics and structure of liquids and disordered solids using neutron, X-ray and light scattering techniques, along with molecular dynamics simulations . He also worked at the Congressional Office of Technology Assessment, where he studied methods of basing the MX missile, and later worked as a scientific adviser to the Chief of Naval Operations.

After leaving the Pentagon, Postol helped build a program at Stanford University to train mid-career scientists to study weapons technology in relation to defense and arms control policy. In 1990, Postol received the Leo Szilard Prize from the American Physical Society. In 1995, he received the Hilliard Roderick Prize from the American Association for the Advancement of Science and in 2001, he received the Norbert Wiener Award from Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility for "uncovering numerous and important false claims about missile defenses." On September 28, 2016 the Federation of American Scientists awarded Professor Theodore Postol from MIT their annual Richard L. Garwin Award for his work in assessing and critiquing the government's claims about missile defense.

Patriot missiles in Operation Desert Storm

The Patriot Missile was used in Operation Desert Storm to intercept descent-phase SCUD missiles fired by Iraq. The U.S. Army claimed a success rate of 80% in Saudi Arabia and 50% in Israel, claims that were later reduced to 70% and 40%. But President George H. W. Bush claimed a success rate of more than 97 percent during a speech at Raytheon's Patriot manufacturing plant in Andover, Massachusetts during the Gulf War, declaring, the "Patriot is 41 for 42: 42 Scuds engaged, 41 intercepted!"

In April 1992, Postol told a House committee that "the Patriot's intercept rate during the Gulf War was very low. The evidence from these preliminary studies indicates that Patriot's intercept rate could be much lower than 10 percent, possibly even zero."

The House Government Operations Subcommittee on Legislation and National Security later reported,

The Patriot missile system was not the spectacular success in the Persian Gulf War that the American public was led to believe. There is little evidence to prove that the Patriot hit more than a few Scud missiles launched by Iraq during the Gulf War, and there are some doubts about even these engagements. The public and the Congress were misled by definitive statements of success issued by administration and Raytheon representatives during and after the war.

Postol later went on to criticize the Army's "independent" Analysis of Video Tapes to Assess Patriot Effectiveness as being "seriously compromised" by the "selective" and "arbitrary" use of data. The Army ultimately downgraded its assessment of the systems' effectiveness.

National ballistic missile defense

In 1996, Nira Schwartz, a senior engineer at defense contractor TRW blew the whistle against TRW for exaggerating the capabilities of an antiballistic missile sensor. The sensor was subsequently used in a "successful" missile test in 1997. The then-Ballistic Missile Defense Organization launched an investigation in 1998 and asked a Pentagon advisory board called POET (Phase One Engineering Team), which included two staff members from MIT's Lincoln Laboratory, to review performance of TRW software, using data from the 1997 flight test. These engineers concluded in their report that Schwartz's allegations were untrue and despite failure of the sensor, the software "basically worked the way TRW said it worked." In December 1998, TRW's contract was not extended by the government, which chose a competing system built by Raytheon.

In 2000, Schwartz gave Postol an unclassified version of the POET report from which sensitive text and graphs had been removed. Based on this redacted report, he notified the White House and senior MIT officials of possible fraud and research misconduct at TRW and MIT Lincoln Laboratory. The Pentagon responded by classifying the letter and dispatching Defense Security Service members to his office. Three agents of the Defense Security Services arrived unannounced to his campus office and attempted to show him other classified documents, but Postol refused to look at them. If he had read them, he would not have been able to criticize the antimissile system without putting his security clearance at risk. Postol claimed the visit was meant to silence him, which was denied by the Defense Security Services.

Allegations of research misconduct

Postol demanded the MIT administration under President Charles Vest and Provost Robert Brown investigate possible violations to MIT policies on research misconduct. The administration initially resisted, but later appointed another faculty member to conduct a preliminary investigation. In 2002, this professor's investigation found no evidence of a credible error, but he subsequently recommended a full investigation when Postol provided a statement of additional concerns. A subsequent 18-month investigation by the General Accounting Office in 2002 found widespread technical failures in the anti-missile system, contradicting the original report in 1997. In May 2006, a panel composed of MIT faculty members concluded that the investigator recommended a full investigation "because of his inability to exhaust all the questions that arose during the inquiry," not because it appeared likely misconduct had occurred, and that a full investigation had not been warranted.

Under National Science Foundation regulations governing research misconduct, a preliminary inquiry should be completed within 90 days of an allegation, and a full investigation within 180 days subject to penalties as severe as suspension of federal funding. By December 2004, four years later, no formal investigation had been performed, and the Missile Defense Agency formally rejected MIT's request to investigate the classified data. Postol asserts that the MIT administration has been compliant with the Pentagon's attempts to cover up a fiasco by dragging its feet on an investigation because defense contracts through Lincoln Laboratory constitute a major portion of MIT's operating budget.

In early 2006, a compromise was reached whereby MIT would halt any attempt to conduct its own investigation and senior Air Force administrator Brendan B. Godfrey and former Lockheed Martin chief executive Norman R. Augustine would lead a final investigation. Postol disputes the impartiality of this new investigation as Augustine was CEO while Lockheed was a contractor with NBMD.

In May 2006, an MIT Ad-Hoc Committee on Research Misconduct Allegation concluded delays in the investigation were caused by a number of factors, including: "initial uncertainty about the applicability of MIT's research misconduct policy to a government [non-MIT] report"; government classification of relevant information, possibly in an attempt to make it unavailable to plaintiffs in the TRW whistle-blower trial; and Postol's failure to provide a clearly written summary of his allegations, which changed repeatedly during the investigation. The committee also found that Postol repeatedly violated MIT confidentiality rules "causing personal distress to the Lincoln Laboratory researchers, their families and colleagues".

SM-3 interceptor

In September 2009, President Barack Obama announced that his administration was scrapping the Bush administration's proposed anti-ballistic missile shield in Europe and replacing it with reconfigured SM-3 missiles. A "Ballistic Missile Defense Review" was completed in March 2010 concluding that existing ballistic missile defense technologies provided a reliable and robust defense against limited ICBM attacks. In May 2010, Postol and George N. Lewis published an analysis concluding that the majority of SM-3 interceptor tests classified as "successful" actually failed to destroy incoming warheads. The Missile Defense Agency challenged the New York Times article, claiming that the SM-3 program is one of the most successful programs within the Department of Defense and that the New York Times chose not to publish information supplied by the MDA in response to the allegations made by Postol and Lewis.

Iron Dome

In August 2014, Postol critiqued the effectiveness of the Israeli Iron Dome antimissile system, based on an investigation of YouTube footage of the system.

Syria

Postol has investigated the Ghouta chemical attack, and he has collaborated with Maram Susli (known online as 'Syrian Girl') in investigating the incident through examining YouTube footage and other sources. Together they believe they found a number of items to be inconsistent with the conventional narrative of the incident. Together with 'Syrian Partisan Girl' and Richard Lloyd, Postol argued that the Ghouta chemical attack did not seem to have been launched by the Syrian government.

Books

  • Blair, Bruce G.; Dean, Jonathan; Fetter, Steve; Goodby, James; Lewis, George N.; Postol, Theodore; Von Hippel, Frank N.; Feiveson, Harold A. (June 1999). The Nuclear Turning Point: A Blueprint for Deep Cuts and De-Alerting of Nuclear Weapons. Brookings Institution Press. ISBN 978-0-8157-0953-4. 

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