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Obama's missing 'thesis'

NBC Senior Investigative Producer Jim Popkin looks at "Obama and the case of the missing 'thesis'" in an item on NBC blog Deep Background.  

Conservative provocateurs have been hunting for it. Investigative journalists have been on the prowl, too. Even a former professor has been searching through old boxes for his copy of it. But today Barack Obama made it official: He doesn't have and can't release any copies of the thesis-length paper he wrote 25 years ago while a senior at Columbia University.

"We do not have a copy of the course paper you requested and neither does Columbia University," Obama spokesman Ben LaBolt told NBC News.

The hunt for Obama's senior "thesis" began with a throwaway line in a newspaper article last October. The New York Times story, on Obama's early New York years, mentioned in passing that the presidential contender had majored in political science at Columbia and had spent his time "writing his thesis on Soviet nuclear disarmament."

Journalists began hounding Columbia University for copies of the musty document. Conservative bloggers began wondering if the young Obama had written a no-nukes screed that he might come to regret. And David Bossie, the former congressional investigator and "right-wing hit man," as one newspaper described him, took out classified newspaper ads in Columbia University's newspaper and the Chicago Tribune in March searching for the term paper.

So what does the missing paper say, and could it be politically damaging to Obama? The Obama campaign won't offer any guidance since it says it doesn't have a copy. Spokesman Ben LaBolt wouldn't even say whether Sen. Obama threw out his copy or lost it.

So we turned for answers to the former professor who graded the now-elusive paper. His former professor, Michael Baron, recalled in an interview with NBC News that Obama easily aced the year-long class. Baron described the paper as a "thesis" or "senior thesis" in several interviews, and said that Obama spent a year working on it. Baron recalls that the topic was nuclear negotiations with the Soviet Union.

"My recollection is that the paper was an analysis of the evolution of the arms reduction negotiations between the Soviet Union and the United States," Baron said in an e-mail. "At that time, a hot topic in foreign policy circles was finding a way in which each country could safely reduce the large arsenal of nuclear weapons pointed at the other … For U.S. policy makers in both political parties, the aim was not disarmament, but achieving deep reductions in the Soviet nuclear arsenal and keeping a substantial and permanent American advantage. As I remember it, the paper was about those negotiations, their tactics and chances for success. Barack got an A."

Baron said that, even if he could find a copy of the paper, it would likely disappoint Obama's critics. "The course was not a polemical course, it was a course in decision making and how decisions got made," he said. "None of the papers in the class were controversial."