Teller Gave Flawed Data on X-Ray Laser, Scientist Says

Times Staff Writers

The scientist who directed nuclear X-ray laser research for President Reagan’s “Star Wars” program says physicist Edward Teller and a fellow scientist, Lowell Wood, have conveyed “overly optimistic, technically incorrect” information about the laser research to the nation’s top policy makers.

Roy D. Woodruff, former associate director for defense systems at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, also charges that Roger E. Batzel, the laboratory director, “was fully aware” that Teller’s information was inaccurate but refused to send “correcting technical information” to Washington.

In addition, Woodruff says that Batzel would not let him forward correct data.


Woodruff’s statements were made by letter last April to President David Gardner of the University of California, which administers the laboratory. A copy of the letter has been made available to The Times by the Southern California Federation of Scientists, whose members largely oppose Reagan’s “Star Wars” program, known as the Strategic Defense Initiative. The scientists scheduled a news conference for today at the Los Angeles Press Club.

The Woodruff letter supports warnings by government and nongovernment scientists who have been saying for two years that there are serious flaws in the SDI program. The letter calls into question confidence in research on the X-ray laser, a cornerstone of SDI. Promising reports on the progress of this X-ray laser technology have been used to win more federal funding for laser research at the Livermore laboratory.

Efforts to reach Teller, known as “the father of the H-bomb” and an outspoken “Star Wars” advocate, were not successful. Neither were efforts to reach Wood and Batzel. Gardner’s secretary said he was not available.

In his letter, a personnel grievance, Woodruff complained to Gardner that Teller and Wood “undercut my management responsibility for the X-ray laser program. . . . Dr. Teller and Dr. Wood conveyed both orally and in writing overly optimistic, technically incorrect statements regarding this research to the nation’s highest policy makers.

“Dr. Batzel was fully aware of these activities,” Woodruff stated. “In the case of several letters written by Dr. Teller, he refused to transmit correcting technical information or allow me to do so.”

Classified Information

Woodruff did not specify the falsely optimistic information. In an interview, he said: “You will never know (what specific information is in question) because it is legitimately classified.”


However, another Livermore source, who asked to remain anonymous, said the information could have dealt with estimates by Teller and Wood of how long it would take to develop X-ray laser technology.

Woodruff also did not name the “top policy makers” who received the information. But the Livermore source said Teller and Wood met with President Reagan, members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and “people on (Capitol) Hill.”

In his letter, Woodruff said Batzel had told him he would “provide for my review any written materials by Dr. Teller which came into his possession, a commitment he subsequently did not honor. He committed to direct Dr. Wood to fully integrate his activities into my program. He did not honor this commitment either.

“As a result of Dr. Batzel’s refusal to fulfill his management responsibilities, I was placed in an untenable position where continuing as associate director lent my personal technical credibility to Dr. Teller and Dr. Wood’s statements,” Woodruff said. “Dr. Batzel’s inaction placed me in a situation where I was compelled to request reassignment from my position as associate director for defense systems on Oct. 29, 1985.

‘Left With No Choice’

“In essence, I was constructively demoted since I was left with no other ethical choice.”

Woodruff wrote that he was moved temporarily and at his own suggestion into the “Z Division” at the laboratory “in order to vacate my office to aid in the transition.” This division is a small, super-secret unit that analyzes intelligence about foreign weapons development.

He accused Batzel of making “false and defamatory statements” about his request for reassignment and said that Batzel “unilaterally downgraded” him to the entry-level position of “analyst”--and then directed that he “be given no assignments which would give me visibility.”

A memo from Dennis Marino, acting coordinator for employee relations at the university, suggested that school officials advise Woodruff to “perfect” his complaint in a way which would make it cumbersome and bureaucratic so that it “wouldn’t sell” on “60 Minutes.” The memo, also made public by the federated scientists, additionally suggested that Gardner call for a review of the situation because this “would sell well.”

University spokesman Mike Lassiter said the personnel portion of Woodruff’s grievance was under review--but that policy prohibited further comment.

As for Woodruff’s allegations about Teller and Wood, Lassiter said Gardner had ordered an inquiry by James S. Kane, a special assistant for laboratory affairs. Lassiter quoted Kane as saying the dispute came down to “a valid difference of opinion. . . . Teller and Wood were optimistic about the laser’s feasibility. Woodruff takes a more conservative position.”

Would Speak for Lab

Lassiter said that Batzel’s position was that Woodruff could say what he wanted as a scientist but that only Batzel could speak for the laboratory.

Asked whether Teller and Wood had spoken personally or for the laboratory when they conveyed their information to top policy makers, Lassiter said he did not know. Asked whether he could find out, he said: “I have no access to Teller and Wood.”

Lassiter said the Department of Energy, which contracts with the university for administration of the Livermore laboratory, had investigated the matter and “found no validity to Woodruff’s allegations.”

Told of Lassiter’s statement, Woodruff called the department’s inquiry “a quick, perfunctory look-see” and added: “There has never been a full investigation by anyone.”

Dr. Robert M. Nelson, a senior scientist at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and co-chair of the scientists’ federation, called for an investigation by an “outside entity.” Citing Woodruff’s letter to Gardner, Nelson charged that “ ‘technically incorrect’ is just a buzzword for fraud.”

Nelson said he received copies of Woodruff’s letter to Gardner and the Marino memo in the mail and had no idea who had sent them.

Although Woodruff authenticated the copies, he said that the release of information from them was “totally inappropriate.”

Staff writer Michael Wines in Washington contributed to this story.