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First Encounter with Richard Perle

My first encounter with Richard Perle occurred when he decided to stop cooperation with a little known Austrian institute that promoted US-Soviet cooperation — the International Institute of Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA).

I had started working in the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR) on Latin American nuclear proliferation issues because I had served a tour in Sao Paulo, Brazil, and then returned to work on the Brazil desk in the Department. While I was there, the INR analyst who had handled Soviet scientific and technological matters for years retired, and nobody wanted the portfolio. So, I volunteered to take it. According to the article on IIASA, this must have been around 1983, during the Reagan administration.

Not long after that, Richard Perle, who was then Assistant Secretary of Defense, decided to end US cooperation with IIASA. I can’t remember why, but presumably because he saw it as a one way flow of technology to the old Soviet Union. I found out about Perle’s move through Bill Salmon, who had been Science Counselor at the American Embassy in Paris, and had returned to Washington to work as a scientific advisor to the 7th floor, where the Secretary of State and the Under Secretaries work. He and I both tried to preserve a US role in IIASA on the basis that it was harmless (which it was) and that the scientific cooperation was useful. However, Perle was too well connected politically within the Reagan Administration for a couple of non-political State Department types to defeat. So, soon the official US connection to IIASA was broken. As far as I remember, there were no interagency meetings about the decision. Nobody at a policy level wanted to take on Perle.

I was disappointed because there was no debate on the merits of the decision. Was there really any technology leaking? Probably a little, but probably technology that did not matter and was of no military assistance to the Soviet Union. But it was something that Perle could show his fellow conservative hard-liners that he had done to be tough on the Soviet Union.

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