May 12, 2020

The Security Hazards of the Faculty Lounge Kool Aid

We're seeing a disturbing number of stories like this and this, involving college professors getting arrested for passing secrets to China. As disturbing as this is, it's good that this sort of thing is being cracked down upon now. 

It certainly is nothing new.

Many years ago (right after Tiananmen) during my first attempt at college, I was the VP of the ODU International Students Association and assisted with exchange student issues.I got a call to pick up an exchange student from China...not the ROC the PRC. Now exchange students from China had been stopped a week earlier so this was...odd. I asked about this and was admonished for doing so. I picked the girl up from the airport and she was a woman who was 40 years old if she was a day. All the way back from the airports to the dorm she kept talking about how much she wanted to get in touch with the Chinese students who were engaged in campus protests against the CCP. I explained this to the head of international services and she yelled at me for being paranoid. Giving no fucks, I then told the head of the Chinese protests and we both agreed that she was whatever the Chinese Stassi is. I then got admonished and called names for spreading rumors about this poor girl who I only then learned was supposed to be 20. I pointed out that this was clearly not the case and got a talking to that I don't entirely remember but involved women's ages and judging them or something. 

I didn't actually get removed as VP until I reported the Chinese student who was trying to get me to get him access to the library at NASA Langley. I put him in touch with the outreach office there but he then wanted me to fill out his paperwork as if he was Taiwanese because PRC students were banned from "the good stuff". I told the office about this and they lamented the cold war mentality that discriminated against Chinese students. This eventually escalated and the student obviously wanted to get access to classified stuff. The office would not call the authorities and forbade anyone from doing so so I did. 

In contrast to people like the Rosenbergs during the cold war, I don't think a lot of these people are actually traitorous in intent. I think they are naive, and provincial in a peculiarly cosmopolitan way. That is, they live, work, and make friends in a transnational borderless bubble and being in academia are rightly, if excessively, supportive of the free flow of information so they can't conceive that any infringement on that is justified or that foreign academics (who they have far more in common with than their fellow citizens outside the faculty lounge) could be a threat. (Obviously this doesn't extend to views outside their narrow norms.) They view government interference in THEIR affairs much like a libertarian rancher views the introduction of lobo wolves into forests adjoining his herd. They don't see it as legitimate. The difference between having ravenous predators unleashed upon one's herd and trying to protect military secrets is lost upon them. 

Of course there are some who are just on the take, or think China's policies are peachy keen and lament that we are not adopting them to the extent they'd like, but this is probably far outweighed by naive decadence and provincialism.

Posted by: The Brickmuppet at 09:27 PM | Comments (3) | Add Comment
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1 As I said on Twitter: The real reason the Democrats object to Russia trying to control our politics is that they want China to control our politics.

Posted by: Mauser at Tue May 12 22:13:09 2020 (Ix1l6)

2 Academia has been communist for a long time. Not even wool-headed naiveté communist (though there is a lot of that), but "actively conspiring to bring down the country" communist.

Edward Teller's autobiography mentions the severe social cost he incurred by going back to work on the bomb program to develop the H-bomb for the united states. The Federation of American Scientists censured him. He lost most of his friends. He's probably singlehandedly responsible for there still being life on this continent. (Heinlein's autobiographies corroborate this.)

His peers (east European physicists) didn't reject him because they feared the existence of the atomic bomb - for some, that was just an excuse. Some of them were shoveling technical info to the Soviets as fast as they could arrange it. They just didn't want *us* to have it, because we'd use it to hold off the Soviets.

Recall another incident when digging into Hugh Everett: Leon Rosenfeld and a clique of spiteful continental academics treated him horribly on his trip to Europe and sunk his thesis. Everett bugged out of academia. While trolling through correspondence letters, I found that Rosenfeld, an actual communist spy, may have been responsible for trumping up charges to get David Bohm exiled to Brazil as a communist spy, over some disagreement about the interpretation of quantum mechanics. In this case the motive doesn't actually seem to be political! Bohm and Everett were both attempting to make sense out of the nonsensical hash of early quantum physics. They both came up with candidate explanations that are far superior to the Copenhagen interpretation (you can think of quantum computers as an experimental test of Everett's interpretation.) This drove a certain circle in Europe mad, since their philosophical project was an attempt to attack and discredit "realism" and the idea that a world exists independent of our perception.

It's actually somewhat surprising that no one has made a spy novel or thriller about the turmoil surrounding early 20th century physics. There are serious (and mostly unexplored) depths of intrigue and a surprising amount of backstabbing over something as abstract as metaphysics and philosophy.

Posted by: MadRocketSci at Wed May 13 07:20:39 2020 (+G8SK)

3 Not to be paranoid, but I think I understand why some of the administrators were previously so very unhelpful in honoring your credit hours. You probably have your degree either because you outlasted their employment, or their memory of you, or some little notation in your file that you are a -phobe of -ist.
Not that it matters at this late date, but sometimes people really are out to get folks.

Posted by: Suburbanbanshee at Thu May 14 09:44:35 2020 (sF8WE)

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