The JASON Group: America’s Mad Scientists
February 3, 2021
February 3, 2021
This Grey Dynamics article explores the early beginnings and key accomplishments of the JASON advisory group – a collective of brilliant scientific minds who have been actively developing technology and finding solutions to problems within the government since the 1960’s.
Science is pretty cool, but science with a “Top Secret” classification is exponentially cooler – as if it were science with a pair of Ray Ban Wayfarers and some boating shoes on, skirting the Santa Monica coast on a 50’ yacht without a care in the world.
In the summer of 1966, the spirit science was amongst the beach goers of Santa Monica, embodied as a powerful government asset consisting of some of the most brilliant minds in nuclear physics, chemistry, mechanical engineering, and various other high IQ required fields of study.
The JASON group (“The Jasons” for short) were not residents of Santa Monica at the time but were visiting and using the University of California campus as a base of operations for a high-speed government task – the brainstorming and drafting of the plan to create the McNamara Line – the first prototype for an “automated battlefield”, an unmanned defensive barrier set along the Ho Chi Minh Trail meant to impede the North Vietnamese freedom of movement along the trail that previously allowed a heavy flow of troops and supplies seamlessly to the theater of war in the South.
Named after the mythical Greek hero Jason, the leader of the fabled Argonauts, the group was conceived in 1960 as a government advisory project, where members would meet over the summer on the campus of Dana Hall, a girl’s preparatory school in the suburbs of Massachusetts.
Esteemed scientists John Wheeler and Charles H. Townes started the group, and their early days were spent gathering at Dana Hall and conducting joint research for the governments defense sector, like the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) who in its infancy nicknamed them “Project Sunrise”, which sounds pretty zen but was ultimately rejected in favor of the current more heroic name.
The Jasons came to be during a volatile period of US history. Old Glory was locked into the Cold War and the symptomatic proxy conflicts that came with it. The prevention of Soviet expansion following the 1947 Truman Doctrine erupted into a geopolitical rift between the US and their once World War II ally formerly known as the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR). During this time, both nations ramped up production of nuclear development – an area that some of the early Jasons were quite familiar with.
“Given their involvement in nuclear weapons, it was natural that the initial topics to which the Jasons were asked to address their intellects would involve nuclear warfare, specifically the problems of defense against intercontinental ballistic missiles as they came over the North Pole from the Soviet Union.”
As aforementioned with the McNamara Line, however, their research and developments went beyond the nuclear field.
The true extent of the Jasons research and studies is unknown and unavailable to the general public, due to their top-secret classified nature. That also applies to the names of members, both past and present, with the exception of some of the more prominent ones (most of whom were Nobel Peace Prize winners). With that being said, there are a few now unclassified projects worth mentioning.
The McNamara Line – as mentioned earlier, the McNamara Line was one of the first major projects the Jasons embarked on, in this case, directly for the then Secretary of Defense, Robert McNamara. This project resulted in the construction of an anti-infiltration barrier with the utilization of various ground sensors that could transmit data about enemy activity to a centralized computer, which would then dispatch air strikes without the need for boots on the ground. This innovation in battlefield technology was the precursor for the “electronic battlefield” concept – one that includes the heavily used US drone program.
Project Sanguine – this US Navy project was assisted by research from the Jasons. To simplify, the goal of the project was to develop a radio tower that was powerful enough to transmit Extremely Low Frequency (ELF) waves to submerged deep water submarines. The original project was proposed in 1968 and was maintained (through various changes in name and function) until its shutdown in 2004 after a long history of controversy from politicians and environmentalists.
Adaptive Optics – the history of the US government’s study and of adaptive optics was declassified in 1991. This concept was studied by the Jasons with the intent of tracking possible Soviet satellites and weapons that could be launched from orbit.
Through the evolution of the group from its conception to the present day, a shift was eventually made from strictly defense into other fields of scientific study – all in support of the government. This includes agriculture, climate change, and a myriad of peer reviewed studies and reports (some publicly available).
The Jasons still exist despite near extinction in 2019 after the Pentagon’s refusal to continue their funding. To their benefit, the important work of the Jasons was not forgotten, and the US Department of Energy’s (DOE) National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) picked up the funding of the group until January 2020. The future of the Jasons may be unknown (or just classified), the contributions they have made to the scientific community have directly helped propel the technological advancements of today.
Michael served as an infantryman in the United States Marine Corps with tours to Iraq and Afghanistan. After leaving the Corps he enrolled at Seattle Pacific University focusing on Communications studies and the relations with conflicts.