October 02, 2020
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The CIA Is Back On Campus

Spying, secrecy and the university -- in the new atmosphere of patriotic commitment, American academics have been called upon to serve in the war against terrorism--especially by serving as consultants to the Agency.

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The CIA Is Back On Campus
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The prospect of domination of the nation's scholars by Federal employment, project allocations, and the power of money is ever present--and is gravely to be regarded.

Dwight D. Eisenhower 1

The aftermath of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attack has reignited a longstanding debate about whether academics should work for the intelligence services, especially the CIA. In the new atmosphere of patriotic commitment, American academics have been called upon to serve in the war against terrorism--especially by serving as consultants to the Agency. In this article I will argue against collaboration between universities and intelligence agencies; and I will show that the practice is incompatible with reasonable academic norms, especially in the social sciences.

The new collaboration between academics and the intelligence agencies has elicited little debate or negative comment. On the contrary, such collaboration has been endorsed across the ideological spectrum. In November 2002, the liberal American Prospect published an article by Chris Mooney entitled: "Good Company: Its Time for Academics and the CIA to Work Together. Again."2 To the best of my knowledge, there has been no extended response to the Mooney article in The American Prospect or in any other publication.

While pundits never tire of the cliché that American universities are dominated by leftist faculty, who are hostile toward the objectives of established foreign policies, the reality is altogether different: The CIA has become "a growing force on campus," according to a recent article in the Wall Street Journal. The "Agency finds it needs experts from academia, and colleges pressed for cash like the revenue." Longstanding academic inhibitions about being publicly associated with the CIA have largely disappeared: In 2002, former CIA Director Robert Gates became president of Texas A & M University, while the new president of Arizona State University, Michael Crow was vice-chairman of the Agency's venture capital arm, In-Q-Tel Inc. Current CIA Director George Tenet delivered the commencement address at the Rochester Institute of Technology.3 The CIA has created a special scholarship program, for graduate students able and willing to obtain security clearances. According to the London Guardian, "the primary purpose of the program is to promote disciplines that would be of use to intelligence agencies."4 And throughout the country, academics in several disciplines are undertaking research (often secret) for the CIA.

To be sure, such consultation has a long history, extending back to the beginning of the Cold War. During the 1950s, the CIA and military intelligence were among the main sources of funding for the social sciences, having supported such institutions as the Columbia's Russian Research Institute, Harvard's Russian Research Center, and MIT's Center for International Studies. Outside the campus setting, major research foundations, including the Ford Foundation and the Asia Foundation, were closely integrated with the Agency. The field of political communications was transformed during the early Cold War by large-scale U.S. government funding, in which leading academics helped intelligence agencies to develop modern techniques of propaganda and psychological warfare.

Research on Third World development and counterinsurgency techniques were other fruitful areas of investigation.5 The field of political science appears to have been at the forefront of such CIA collaboration, and some of the resulting activities strained the limits of academic propriety. Noam Chomsky provides the following recollection of his experiences at MIT:

Around 1960, the Political Science Department separated off from the Economics Department. And at that time it was openly funded by the CIA; it was not even a secret... In the mid-1960s, it stopped being publicly funded by the Central Intelligence Agency, but it was still directly involved in activities that were scandalous. The Political Science Department was so far as I know the only department on campus which had closed, secret seminars. I was once invited to talk to one, which is how I learned about it. They had a villa in Saigon where students were working on pacification projects for their doctoral dissertations.6

In a carrot and stick strategy, these activities were combined with rigorous scrutiny of dissident professors and, in the words of historian Bruce Cumings: "It is only a bit of an exaggeration to say that for those scholars studying enemy countries, either they consulted with the government or they risked being investigated by the FBI."7 The CIA also developed remarkably close ties to the field of journalism and, during the period 1947-77, some 400 American journalists "secretly carried out assignments" for the Agency, according to a classic investigative study by Carl Bernstein. Some 200 of these journalists signed secrecy agreements or employment contracts with the CIA. "By far the most valuable of these associations, according to CIA officials, have been with the New York Times, CBS, and Time Inc."8 Overseas, U.S. intelligence officers funded academics and writers through a series of front organizations and publications, coordinated by the CIA-controlled Congress for Cultural Freedom.

During the 1970s, CIA-academic ties suffered a blow, in light of the general atmosphere of skepticism toward U.S. foreign policy associated with the Vietnam war and the massive student-led opposition to that war. The Agency's image also was damaged during hearings by a special U.S. Senate committee, chaired by Senator Frank Church, in 1975. The "Church Committee," as it was known, revealed extensive CIA misdeeds, such as efforts to assassinate Fidel Castro and Patrice Lumumba, as well as extensive Agency involvement in the overthrow of President Salvador Allende in Chile. For an extended period, any academic association with the Agency was viewed as odious. In reality, the academic-CIA association was not really terminated, but was carried on with greater discretion.

During the late 1990s (even before the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon), the CIA made a special effort to increase its influence in the academy. A November 2000 article in Lingua Franca states that since 1996, the CIA has made public outreach a "top priority and targets academia in particular. According to experts on U.S. intelligence, the strategy has worked." The article notes that highly regarded academics--including Columbia's Robert Jervis, recent president of the American Political Science Association and Harvard's Joseph S. Nye--worked for the CIA. Yale's H. Bradford Westerfield also states: "There's a great deal of actually open consultation and there's a lot more semi-open, broadly acknowledged consultation."9 The pace of collaboration accelerated after September 11.

So what is the objection? The first problem is that in a democratic society, academia is supposed to have a measure of independence from the state. Professors, especially in the social sciences must be able to present critical analyses of official policy; close relationships with the intelligence services severely compromise the potential for such criticism.

And second problem is the CIA's unsavory history. One of the major functions of the Agency has been covert operations, which includes such practices as the overthrow of governments, assassination of foreign leaders, and involvement in massive human rights abuses. One well-documented example of covert operations was the 1965 coup in Indonesia, in which the CIA helped overthrow a left-leaning, neutralist government, led by Sukarno, a major figure in the non-aligned movement. The Indonesian case was one of the major acts of mass killing during the Cold War era--substantially larger than those that occurred in Bosnia-Herzegovina or Kosovo--though it is largely a forgotten event.

During and shortly after this coup, there was a massive reign of terror against the Indonesian Communist Party, left-wing organizations, and the families and friends of leftist figures. Estimates of the death toll have ranged from 250,000 to 1,000,000. In 1984, long after the events took place, former CIA officer Ralph McGehee stated: "The CIA prepared a study of the 1965 Indonesian operation that described what the Agency did there. I happened to have been custodian of that study for a time, and I know the specific steps the Agency took to create the conditions that led to the massacre of at least half a million Indonesians." 10 More recent information, published in 1990, revealed that CIA and U.S. embassy officials in Jakarta helped draw up a "hit list" of Indonesians targeted for elimination, and passed on this information to the Indonesian military, a point that former US officials have openly admitted. One U.S. diplomat, associated with the covert program, said the hit list was necessary during the Cold War: "I probably have a lot of blood on my hands, but that's not all bad."11

The CIA also conducted some rather unpleasant operations within the United States. We are all familiar with the extensive repression that characterized communist states during and even after the Cold War, including the abuse of the psychiatric profession to punish dissidents.

Unfortunately, the United States engaged in activities that were just as shocking, and the CIA was one of the principal perpetrators. Consider MKULTRA, a CIA operation during the 1950s and 1960s, which used patients in psychiatric hospitals and other unwitting subjects to develop mind control techniques. This vast operation--authorized by CIA Director Allen Dulles--was vast in scope and entailed research at dozens of universities, hospitals, and other institutions in the United States, and also in Canada. Some of the most distinguished figures in psychiatry participated in MKULTRA, including the Ewan Cameron, who served as president of the American Psychiatric Association.

In one set of experiments, test subjects were administered electro-convulsive treatments at levels that exceeded the normal therapeutic parameters. Other experiments involved sensory deprivation, continual playing of recorded voices, and a variety of drugs including (most famously) LSD. Sometimes, these techniques were used in combination. The experiments often reduced test subjects to such degenerated states that they became semi-comatose, losing the ability to eat, walk, or relieve themselves without assistance. Many experiments were done without anything that could be called informed consent and without the test subjects having any real understanding of what was taking place. The intent was to break down the test subjects' resistance through massive over-stimulation, in order to make them more pliable; these activities were to yield new techniques of interrogation for CIA and military field operatives. There is also evidence that the Agency sought the means to "program" people to perform special tasks, such as assassination. (It is surely ironic that during the time that the CIA was undertaking these experiments, the 1963 movie The Manchurian Candidate provided a fictionalized account of such experiments; in the movie the perpetrator of these crimes was not the CIA, but our Cold War enemy, the Soviet Union.)

These bizarre activities produced little of real value to the Agency. However they did cause brain damage and serious personality disorders in some test subjects. The full details of MKULTRA may never be known since the CIA (understandably enough) destroyed most of its documents pertaining to the operation.12

But why focus on the distant past? Covert operations have a contemporary significance. As this article is being written, the United States is pursuing a war with the Baathist regime headed by Saddam Hussein in Iraq. This enemy is at least partly the product of past covert operations: In a series of coups in 1963 and 1968, the CIA helped the Baathists consolidate power. British journalists Andrew and Patrick Cockburn provide this account of the 1963 takeover:

it was the CIA's favorite coup. "We really had the t's crossed on what was happening," James Critchfield, then head of the CIA in the Middle East told us. "We regarded it as a great victory." Iraqi participants later confirmed American involvement. "We came to power on a CIA train," admitted Ali Saleh Sa'adi, the Baath Party general secretary, who was about to institute an unprecedented reign of terror.13

Former National Security Council staffer Roger Morris also notes CIA complicity in the Baath Party's earliest acts of violence in 1963: "Using lists of suspected Communists and other leftists provided by the CIA, the Baathists systematically murdered untold numbers."14 The takeover led to the rapid assent of Hussein himself, who seized full power in a later coup.

A significant number of the enemies the United States now faces constitute "blowback" (as Chalmers Johnson has argued) from past CIA operations. Osama bin Laden was according to Le Monde "recruited by the CIA in 1979" to assist in the Jihad against communism in Afghanistan. During the 1980s, Bin Laden worked along the Pakistani frontier with Afghanistan, where he helped funnel aid to the Mujahiddin guerrillas who were battling the Soviets and Afghan communists. Jane's Intelligence Review notes that Bin Laden "worked in close association with U.S. agents." Bin Laden also is known to have worked closely with Gulbadin Hekmatyar, who as also the CIA's most favored Mujahiddin commander. In raising money for the guerrillas, Bin Laden used the Bank for Credit and Commerce International--which was also the bank that the CIA used to finance many of its covert operations.15

It is also very likely that Al Qaeda contains personnel who had previously received CIA-furnished training, support, and armaments--which include surface to air missiles. These missiles were openly and publicly supplied to the guerrillas; this was not even covert.

In light of the recent fears regarding anti-aircraft missiles and the associated dangers posed to civil aviation, it is worth recalling the following exchange that appeared on Cable News Network (CNN) in 1994, between Peter Arnett and Brigadier General Mohammed Yousaf (retired) of the Pakistani military:

Arnett: Another legacy of the war -- the Stinger missiles given to the Afghan resistance by the CIA. The world's most effective anti-aircraft missile, the Stinger turned the tide of the war against the Soviets. It can also bring down a commercial airliner?

Gen. Yousaf: Certainly. It can bring down any airliner.16

Not only did the Agency fail to prevent the September 11 attacks; on the contrary, it helped to create the perpetrators of these attacks. It may also have furnished the necessary training and equipment for new attacks.

One of the most common justifications for academic collaboration with the CIA is the terrorist danger. An augmented role for the Agency is seen as part of the solution to this problem, and this point is frequently cited. One faculty member at the Rochester Institute of Technology recently defended collaboration this way: "by and large, these CIA guys are people whose primary goal is to keep the rest of us safe."17 Such attitudes seem extraordinarily naïve, given the Agency's past support for Bin Laden and the Baath Party of Iraq.

The fact that the CIA has a considerable amount of blood on its hands is a sufficient reason that academics should not become involved with its activities. There are additional reasons as well. The CIA engages in propaganda practices that are fundamentally incompatible with academic norms of objective analysis. It is true that all government agencies engage in public relations and propaganda to some degree, but there is a key distinction here: The CIA is an espionage agency, and disseminating propaganda is one of its central functions. The Agency's output in this area has indeed been prodigious. According to U.S. Senate document, "Well over a thousand books were produced, subsidized, or sponsored by the CIA before the end of 1967." In some cases, the CIA simply provided financial support toward a book's publication (often without the author's knowledge); in others, Agency personnel worked directly with the author and influenced the actual content of the book. In the latter cases, the CIA sought to control the author to a considerable degree. According to an Agency propaganda specialist, the CIA wished to "make sure the actual manuscript will correspond with our operational and propagandistic intentions."18

The CIA has never released a title list of the one thousand (or more) books it helped to publish, in its elaborate propaganda efforts. However, there can be no doubt that academics participated in some of these CIA publishing activities. In addition, there is the problem of self censorship: During the 1950s, a common practice at MIT's Center for International Studies was for researchers to publish a classified study on a specific topic, and then to publish a "sanitized" version of the same study, as a regular academic book study for public use.19 To the best of my knowledge, the book publications that resulted from this process never acknowledged CIA support, nor did they acknowledge that the publication had omitted information.


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