Predictably, my last post attracted plenty of outrage (some of it too vile to let through), along with the odd commenter who actually agreed with what I consider my fairly middle-of-the-road, liberal Zionist stance. But since the outrage came from both sides of the issue, and the two sides were outraged about the opposite things, I guess I should feel OK about it.
Still, it’s hard not to smart from the burns of vituperation, so today I’d like to blog about a very different political issue: one where hopefully almost all Shtetl-Optimized readers will actually agree with me (!).
I’ve learned from colleagues that, over the past year, foreign-born scientists have been having enormously more trouble getting visas to enter the US than they used to. The problem, I’m told, is particularly severe for cryptographers: embassy clerks are now instructed to ask specifically whether computer scientists seeking to enter the US work in cryptography. If an applicant answers “yes,” it triggers a special process where the applicant hears nothing back for months, and very likely misses the workshop in the US that he or she had planned to attend. The root of the problem, it seems, is something called the Technology Alert List (TAL), which has been around for a while—the State Department beefed it up in response to the 9/11 attacks—but which, for some unknown reason, is only now being rigorously enforced. (Being marked as working in one of the sensitive fields on this list is apparently called “getting TAL’d.”)
The issue reached a comical extreme last October, when Adi Shamir, the “S” in RSA, Turing Award winner, and foreign member of the US National Academy of Sciences, was prevented from entering the US to speak at a “History of Cryptology” conference sponsored by the National Security Agency. According to Shamir’s open letter detailing the incident, not even his friends at the NSA, or the president of the NAS, were able to grease the bureaucracy at the State Department for him.
It should be obvious to everyone that a crackdown on academic cryptographers serves no national security purpose whatsoever, and if anything harms American security and economic competitiveness, by diverting scientific talent to other countries. (As Shamir delicately puts it, “the number of terrorists among the members of the US National Academy of Science is rather small.”) So:
- Any readers who have more facts about what’s going on, or personal experiences, are strongly encouraged to share them in the comments section.
- Any readers who might have any levers of influence to pull on this issue—a Congressperson to write to, a phone call to make, an Executive Order to issue (I’m talking to you, Barack), etc.—are strongly encouraged to pull them.