BRUSSELS—In 1972 Victor Brailovsky, then a 37-year-old cyberneticist, and his 32-year-old wife Irma, a computer scientist, applied for a visa to leave the Soviet Union. Four years later Victor was granted permission to emigrate to Israel but Irma was not.

The reason, according to Soviet authorities, was that “she had been able during her work to listen and hear something secret.”

Fifteen years later the Brailovskys finally arrived in Israel. Last month, at a meeting here organized by the International Federation of Scientists for Soviet Refuseniks, they met with Western scientists to discuss when and for how long a government is justified in restricting the movement of scientists who possess secret knowledge. Despite Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev’s reforming spirit of glasnost, the Brailovskys said, the secrets that many scientists hold threaten to keep them in the Soviet Union forever.

Participants at the meeting focused on the question: How long does...

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