Steve Chu fulfills Eisenhower’s darkest nightmare

The headline of the announcement from Julie Chao of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory [LBNL] says it all: “National Labs Seek Closer Industry Ties.”

In his farewell address to the nation, Dwight David Eisenhower sounded the now-familiar alarm of the danger of growing power of the military/industrial complex, a power that might be said to have its foundation in Berkeley, a point we’ll take up later.

But less familiar to most is that the military and industry were only two of three components of the force force Eisenhower saw gaining ascendancy over the nation.

Here’s the part of that same address which rarely, if ever, gets noted [emphasis added]:

Akin to, and largely responsible for the sweeping changes in our industrial-military posture, has been the technological revolution during recent decades. In this revolution, research has become central; it also becomes more formalized, complex, and costly. A steadily increasing share is conducted for, by, or at the direction of, the Federal government.

Today, the solitary inventor, tinkering in his shop, has been overshadowed by task forces of scientists in laboratories and testing fields. In the same fashion, the free university, historically the fountainhead of free ideas and scientific discovery, has experienced a revolution in the conduct of research. Partly because of the huge costs involved, a government contract becomes virtually a substitute for intellectual curiosity. For every old blackboard there are now hundreds of new electronic computers. The prospect of domination of the nation’s scholars by Federal employment, project allocations, and the power of money is ever present — and is gravely to be regarded.

Yet, in holding scientific research and discovery in respect, as we should, we must also be alert to the equal and opposite danger that public policy could itself become the captive of a scientific-technological elite.

It is the task of statesmanship to mold, to balance, and to integrate these and other forces, new and old, within the principles of our democratic system — ever aiming toward the supreme goals of our free society.

The national labs operate under the aegis of the U.S. Department of Energy, and the Secretary of Energy who is greasing the skids for Eisenhower’s nightmare is Steve Chu, who came to Washington from the helm of LBNL, where he played a leading role in landing the $500 million BP grant now being used to build the Energy Biosciences Institute [EBI].

The EBI’s where corporate and academic scientists are told to create new crop-based fuels for BP [which gets first dibs on all the research] and other oil giants. Needless to say, the ecological devastation on Africa, Latin America, and Asia will be immense in the land grab that follows any successful development of fuel crops and the microbes to turn them into stuff to fill our tanks.

And LBNL will be building a whole new campus on the San Francisco Bay shore in nearby Richmond specifically focused on genetic engineering to develop fuels and other products that will further enrich America’s bloated corporate elite.

Imagining the brave new corporate world

With that as preamble, here’s Chao’s announcement:

The network of national laboratories run by the Department of Energy (DOE) has spawned countless scientific discoveries and technological breakthroughs in the last 80 years. Now with the global economic climate more competitive than ever and the need for energy solutions more urgent, the labs are looking to develop closer ties with industry in an effort to speed up the pace at which discoveries reach the marketplace.

To kick off the conversation Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) is hosting the Materials for Energy Applications workshop from Jan. 30 to Feb. 1 in Berkeley. The conference will be an opportunity for representatives from all 17 DOE laboratories to have in-depth discussions with dozens of representatives from the private sector, ranging from startups such as Alphabet Energy to smaller Silicon Valley companies such as Nanosys to major corporations such as Chevron, Procter & Gamble, Honeywell and United Technologies.

“In this competitive international environment, we have to make sure that what the labs develop gets quickly into the hands of industry so industry can turn it to the benefit of the country,” said Berkeley Lab Deputy Director Horst Simon. “We need to be better at bridging the gap between the basic research done at the labs and the applied research done by industry.”

The goals of the workshop are tri-fold: to increase industry awareness of relevant capabilities within the DOE national laboratories, to deepen the national laboratories’ understanding of the technical challenges facing industry, and to identify and improve paths forward for collaboration.

“Public-private partnerships are absolutely critical to accelerating advanced materials developments, especially in the energy space,” said Theresa Kotanchek, Vice President Sustainable Technologies & Innovation Sourcing at The Dow Chemical Company who is also on the organizing committee for the conference. “Events like the Materials for Energy Applications workshop lay the foundation on which these innovative partnerships can be built.”

The idea for the industry-laboratory workshop was formed last year when Secretary of Energy Steven Chu hosted a dinner with senior industry executives and laboratory directors to discuss ways to strengthen the country’s innovation ecosystem. Executives expressed desire to work with the labs but also said it was difficult to access the labs and find the right contacts.

Thus was born the idea to hold a series of workshops to enhance mutual understanding and close cultural gaps between government-funded research and private enterprise. Some of the cultural differences arise from their fundamentally divergent missions—labs are engaged in more basic, long-term research while the private sector is looking to innovate for more business-oriented purposes.

“We have recognized over time there are very different cultures and missions between the labs and private industry, making alignment of interests sometimes difficult,” said Cheryl Fragiadakis, director of technology transfer at Berkeley Lab. “I think the direct face-to-face communication will really help improve the understanding of the two cultures. Also, many people in private industry do not know how open the labs really are.”

Simon added that many companies don’t realize how much intellectual property is available for licensing at the national labs: “We need to make sure our industry colleagues know that each lab has a technology transfer department and that there are literally hundreds of inventions ready to be licensed,” he said. Simon said he would also like to see joint public-private R&D projects come out of the workshop.

The Materials for Energy Applications workshop will include a panel on “Technology Gaps Ripe for Industry Collaboration” and poster sessions on areas such as lightweight materials, low-power electronics and carbon capture and sequestration. “We’re trying to do new things in areas such as photovoltaics, batteries and energy efficiency technology for buildings. All these depend on developing new materials,” said Simon. “This is one of the strengths of national labs; in particular, in the materials science area, the five nanoscience research centers created in early 2000s—including the Molecular Foundry at Berkeley Lab—have developed a lot of new ideas.”

The second workshop in the series will be hosted by Oak Ridge National Laboratory on the topic of modeling and simulation. It will take place March 7-8 in Austin, Texas.

Industry has responded positively, and representatives from at least four dozen companies will be attending the Berkeley workshop. “To effectively leverage our capabilities we must rapidly connect the talent with the energy opportunities and overcome barriers to collaboration,” said Ned Niccolls, Senior Consulting Materials Engineer at Chevron who is also on the organizing committee. “These are key to U.S. competitiveness, and to help meet the huge scale of the world’s future energy demands.”

Chu will give a keynote address on Feb. 1. From Berkeley Lab, Lab Director Paul Alivisatos and Molecular Foundry Director Omar Yaghi will give keynotes on Jan. 31. Speakers from industry include Michael McQuade of United Technologies, Steve Koonin of the Institute for Defense Analyses, and Vinod Khosla, whose venture capital firm Khosla Ventures has invested in dozens of cleantech startups. Several other venture capital firms will also be attending.

An added benefit of these workshops is that they will spur the national labs to work more closely together rather than in isolation of each other. “In the past, integration of the labs has been lacking,” Simon said. “Now we’re doing more to stress the lab complex as one system, and there’s a new collaborative spirit. Improved industry collaboration is just one way the national labs can help strengthen the country’s technology base.”

But the story gets even stranger

Note that yesterday’s keynote address feature Chu and Steve Koonin, identified only as “of the Institute for Defense Analyses.” Koonin, it should be noted, is a former Cal Tech scientist who was brought to Berkeley to serve on BP’s payroll as the company’s chief scientist at the EBI.

Consider the following, from a post from two years back:

EBI Director Chris Somerville, the head of the public aspect of the program, repeatedly told audiences that the program was designed to make the U.S. energy independent growing crops on marginal land “east of the Mississippi [where] there is adequate rainfall to grow very highly productive species.”

Somerville repeated his claim at a June 13, 2007, breakfast session in Washington sponsored by the U.S. Energy Association, only to be immediately corrected by Steve Koonin, then the head of BP’s secret proprietary research at the EBI.

“BP is a global company,” he said. “And of course, while the U.S. may be currently 25 percent of worldwide petrol use or crude use, there’s a whole other world out there. And so we are interested in feedstocks and fuels for many different locales around the globe.”

Asked if BP was looking at Africa, Koonin responded: “If you look at a picture of the globe … it’s pretty easy to see where the green parts are, and those are the places where one would perhaps optimally grow feedstocks.”

So Koonin, the academic turned corporateer, was frank to admit BP’s goal for gaining control of the globe’s “green parts” for the profits of Big Oil.

After Barack Obama won the presidency, he brought Chu on board as Secretary of Energy, and Chu prompotly hired Koonin to run the department’s science programs.

So we were surprised to learn that Koonin is now out of Washington and now  “of the IDA.”

And what, you might ask, is the IDA?

Well, it’s a Pentagon-created private think tank we only learned of five years ago when we noted that the Association of Bay Area Governments, a state-created alliance of city and county governments in the San France metropolitan region, had lent it nearly $12 million.

As we reported at the time for the Berkeley Daily Planet:

The IDA is a Pentagon-funded think tank whose head at the time ABAG arranged the funds was subsequently forced to resign after a private watchdog group revealed he had advocated for a controversial jet fighter program in which he held direct financial interests.

The IDA is a federally created non-profit based in Virginia.

According to its own website, the organization is a think tank which traces its roots to 1947, when Secretary of Defense and Cold War architect James Forrestal created the Weapons Systems Evaluation Group.

In 1958, the group tasked the Massachusetts Institute of Technology with creating a non-profit think tank to work with university scientists on critical national security problems.

IDA is now entirely federally funded and conducts research for the Pentagon, much of it classified.

In July 2006, the Project on Government Oversight (POGO), a non-profit private watchdog group, released a report called “Preying on the Taxpayer: The F-22A Raptor.”

That study revealed that IDA President and retired Admiral Dennis C. Blair owned stock in two companies with financial interests in the jet fighter project during the time when IDA had urged the Pentagon to fund it in an analysis which the Defense Department paid for.

As a result of the ensuing bad publicity, Blair resigned first from the board of EDO corporation, which manufactures missile-launching gear for the fighter, and then from IDA itself.

POGO’s findings were confirmed in December in a report by the Pentagon’s Office of the Inspector General, which concluded that he had violated conflict of interest rules by his involvement in reports on companies in which he had financial interests.

In September, 2006, one year after ABAG loaned the $12 million, Blair resigned from IDA. Replacing him was retired Gen. Larry D. Welch, a former Air Force Chief of Staff.

According to a Dec. 20 report by R. Jeffrey Smith of the Washington Post, Blair donated his EDO stock to a fund for injured veterans and surrendered his stock options.

One of the IDA’s specialties is communications security, and the organization helped the Pentagon implement battlefield command and control systems used in the occupation of Iraq, according to the Spring, 2006, issue of IDA Research Notes.

The non-profit also analyzed communications systems used in the invasion itself.

Read the rest.

And what’s Koonin thinking about these days?

Social engineering, judging by a December interview he gave David Kramer of physicstoday:

My interests are now infusing the social sciences and policy together with technology. For some of our biggest problems, whether energy or other big problems in society, the technology is in many ways the easy part. The rate-limiting steps for many of our problems are societal: How people behave, what incentives there are, etc. I think the social sciences have a lot to bring to that discussion that has not really been exploited yet. That’s the direction I’m headed in; it’s still science, and it’s still in some ways goal-driven. But we’ve got to pay attention and better understand the human issues here: Policy, behavior, economics, perception, and how we fuse that with technology. I’m looking for a venue in which to execute that program, and several universities seem to be pretty interested.

Read the rest.

It simply doesn’t get any scarier than that. Chu, as head of the federal agency that runs all the national labs, has finally fulfilled Ike’s darkest vision about the future of America.

And given the lab’s latest announcement, we’re sure Koonin, who has now served all three components of the military/industrial/corporate axis, would find himself welcomed with open arms right back here at Cal.

We’ll close with this, one of the greatest movie soliloquys ever, from Paddy Chayevsky’s Network:


4 responses to “Steve Chu fulfills Eisenhower’s darkest nightmare

  1. Pingback: Steve Chu Fulfills Eisenhower’s Darkest Nightmare | Climate Connections

  2. Richard this is very frightening. It’s very difficult to find information on emissions from biofuels – not the whole life cycle, which is bad enough, but the actual emissions when it is burned. What little there is suggests that biofuels emit more ozone precursors than fossil fuels. It’s highly speculative, (because there almost seems to be a ban on basic research) but something in the atmosphere is killing trees at a rapidly accelerating rate, all over the world. It could be that methane emissions have been grotesquely underestimated in the models – or it could be biofuels. If that’s the case, increasing biofuel use is going to accelerate the collapse of the ecosystem, which is already frightening.

    If you know of any emissions studies I would be very interested to see them. I have only been able to find a couple of studies from Mark Jacobson and fairly old stuff at EPA.
    more info here:

  3. Pingback: Berkeley’s benefactor and the Gulf tragedy | eats shoots 'n leaves

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