Cloak and Classroom
Harold F. Schiffman
haroldfs at ccat.sas.upenn.edu
Mon Mar 21 20:06:41 UTC 2005
>>From the Chronicle of Higher Education,
>>From the issue dated March 25, 2005
Cloak and Classroom
Many social scientists say a new government program will turn fieldwork
abroad into spying. Can secrecy coexist with academic openness?
By DAVID GLENN
In 1995, as the American Anthropological Association debated a revision to
its code of ethics, Felix Moos made an argument that was unpopular among
his peers. Anthropologists, he said, should be permitted -- indeed, should
feel a duty -- to conduct classified research that might help the U.S.
government understand global conflicts. His opponents said that secrecy
had no place in academe, and that his proposal would put scholars in bed
with clandestine agencies that have, at best, a spotty record of
protecting human rights.
Six years later, after the attacks of September 11, 2001, Mr. Moos, who
emigrated from Germany in 1948 and has taught at the University of Kansas
since 1961, began to press his case with new urgency. He worked the phone,
sent faxes, knocked on doors. To anyone who would listen, he presented a
two-page proposal for a new program, modeled loosely on the Reserve
Officer Training Corps, that would prepare college students to become
analysts for the Central Intelligence Agency.
After all, he reasoned, people across the political spectrum now agreed
that the U.S. government desperately lacked knowledge of the history,
languages, and cultures of Central Asia and the Middle East. Why not
create a pipeline that would send trained, motivated social scientists
directly into intelligence agencies?
Last spring Mr. Moos's efforts bore fruit. Since April 2004, dozens of
analysts-in-training have entered American universities to burnish their
skills in certain languages, cultures, and technical fields that U.S.
intelligence agencies deem to be critically important.
This pilot project -- the Pat Roberts Intelligence Scholars Program -- is
seen by some observers as a long-overdue effort to remedy the federal
government's collective ignorance about foreign lands. Other scholars,
however, view the semisecret program as a profound threat to universities'
integrity and to the ethical norms of social science. If Mr. Moos faced a
tough crowd in a roomful of his fellow anthropologists in 1995, he now has
a far larger audience -- and there is an actual program for critics to
"It is nave to suggest that the CIA has not historically collected
information about what goes on in the classroom," says David H. Price, an
associate professor of anthropology at St. Martin's College, in Lacey,
Wash., who is the Roberts program's most prominent detractor. "And it is
nave to say that they would be off-mission to do this."
Mr. Moos finds such concerns misplaced. He says that "a one-man Church
committee" -- referring to the 1970s Congressional panel that held
hearings on the CIA's behavior -- "is not what American academe really
needs at this moment. We need to get our act together to produce
individuals who know areas and know languages."
Speed and Stealth
One of the first people Mr. Moos contacted after the September 11 attacks
was Sen. Pat Roberts, a Kansas Republican who is chairman of the Senate
Select Committee on Intelligence. Mr. Roberts, whose voice carries a dry
Great Plains wit not unlike Bob Dole's, had been worried for several years
about the quality of American intelligence analysis.
"We have on the Intelligence Committee what I call 'Oh my God' hearings,"
Mr. Roberts says. "As in: 'Oh, my God, how did this happen?'" He sat
through such hearings after terrorists bombed a U.S. military-housing
complex in Saudi Arabia in 1996, after the United States mistakenly bombed
a pharmaceutical plant in the Sudan in 1998, and after the CIA failed to
predict the Indian and Pakistani nuclear tests that same year.
After September 11, the senator says, those intelligence weaknesses seemed
not just embarrassing, but catastrophic.
When Mr. Moos flew to Washington to pitch his concept to Senator Roberts
in person, he emphasized speed. The program, he said, could produce new
analysts within a year or two. The promise of quick results appealed to
Mr. Roberts. The professor also said the government should not rely solely
on federally financed area-studies centers (known as "Title VI centers,"
after a section of the Higher Education Act) to produce an adequate crop
of motivated analysts. "I'm a former director of a Title VI center," he
says, "and I think it would take a decade to reform that system or to
create a new title from scratch."
What's more, he argued, the National Security Education Program -- a
14-year-old scholarship program that he otherwise admires -- "just wasn't
producing the numbers we need." Students who receive scholarships through
the NSEP are obliged to seek employment in government agencies related to
foreign policy, but only a small fraction of the recipients become
Mr. Roberts and his committee decided to bring Mr. Moos's proposal to
life. They crafted a three-year, $4-million pilot program -- set to last
through September 30, 2006 -- to train a maximum of 150 analysts.
Participants receive tuition and stipends (up to $25,000 annually) for
university programs that have been approved by any one of 15 U.S.
intelligence agencies. In exchange for the scholarship, which typically is
good for two years, each participant promises to work as an analyst for
the approving agency for at least 18 months. About 110 people have entered
the program so far. An unspecified number of them (officials declined to
estimate how many) have not been sent anew into universities, but instead
have been reimbursed for previous graduate study -- in essence paid a
bonus to sign on.
The Pat Roberts Intelligence Scholars Program differs in noteworthy ways
from Mr. Moos's original conception. He had imagined an ROTC-style program
that would draw in undergraduates, but the pilot project has, at least so
far, been used to finance academic study for slightly older people --
typically in their mid-20s -- who have already been hired by an
And although Mr. Moos had imagined an essentially transparent program, in
which the participants' names would be known on their campuses, the
Roberts program allows its participants to choose whether to tell their
professors and fellow students about their intelligence roles. No public
list of the participants exists, and officials of the CIA and the Senate
Intelligence Committee declined a reporter's request to be put in contact
with a participant, even when anonymity was promised.
A smaller agency, however, did make a participant available for an
interview. In January the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency used the
Roberts program as an inducement to hire Tito (he declined to reveal his
last name), who recently earned a master's degree in physics from North
Carolina A&T State University. The agency has paid off his student loans,
in exchange for which Tito has committed to work as an image scientist for
at least three years. He spends his days operating computer systems that
process satellite images.
"I think this is an excellent opportunity for people interested in serving
their country," Tito says. "I do feel that we're making a difference daily
in protecting our country, and I think especially the war fighter --
helping the soldier in the field."
Disclosure and Denial
It is the program's semisecrecy that most alarms its critics. After all,
they point out, it is intended to train deskbound analysts, not people who
will serve in the agencies' covert, or "operations," arms. Why, then, the
need for opacity?
For skeptics, the presence of anonymous intelligence personnel on campus
raises memories of the cold-war era, when the FBI kept elaborate files on
professors' political affiliations, and the research agendas of
area-studies centers were shaped by the CIA's needs. If the government
wanted a forecast of Ukraine's potato harvest for 1956, Harvard
University's Russian Research Center would produce one. In 1951 the CIA
secretly financed (and guided) the anthropology association's first effort
to create a comprehensive database of its members. The roster included
information about what languages the scholars spoke, which countries they
had visited, and their political contacts overseas.
"A key defining feature of an open, vibrant democracy, it seems to me, is
that there are sectors of society, including higher education, that should
be independent of the state -- particularly from agencies of the state
that are involved in things like propaganda dissemination and spying,"
says David N. Gibbs, an associate professor of history and political
science at the University of Arizona, who wrote The Political Economy of
Third World Intervention: Mines, Money, and U.S. Policy in the Congo
Crisis (University of Chicago Press, 1991).
More notoriously, American social scientists occasionally joined secret
research projects that were intertwined both with the CIA and with
authoritarian regimes overseas. In the late 1960s, several anthropologists
worked on classified projects designed to stabilize the government of
Thailand. Among other things, they surveyed villagers about their
attitudes toward communism. It is believed (although not known for
certain) that the Thai military used the survey data when deciding where
to conduct counterinsurgency operations.
After the Thailand projects were exposed, in 1970, the American
Anthropological Association tightened its ethical rules for researchers,
declaring, among other things, that "the aims of all their professional
activities should be clearly communicated by anthropologists to those
among whom they work." That sentence has generally been taken to mean that
if field researchers have relationships with governments, the military, or
for-profit companies, they should disclose those relationships to their
If the analysts-in-training of the Pat Roberts program go overseas to
conduct research for a degree in, say, South Asian studies, will they
disclose their future intelligence roles to their research subjects? If
they have kept their government-financed scholarships a secret from their
professors and classmates, why tell villagers in Pakistan?
"It's fine with me if someone wants to work for the CIA and go live in
another country and conduct fieldwork," says Mr. Price, of St. Martin's
College, who wrote Threatening Anthropology: McCarthyism and the FBI's
Surveillance of Activist Anthropologists (Duke University Press, 2004).
"But they need to tell people -- not just at the airport, when they're
being let into the country, but the people they talk to -- who they're
working for." The long-established principle of informed consent, Mr.
Price says, demands that potential research subjects have access to full
information about a researcher's purposes and affiliations.
"When you're working with human beings, you need to practice openness and
full disclosure," says Carolyn Fluehr-Lobban, a professor of anthropology
at Rhode Island College and chair of the association's committee on
ethics. She concedes that the Roberts participants are -- at least
officially -- not yet intelligence analysts, and are conducting fieldwork
only in order to deepen their language skills and cultural knowledge. "But
that is walking a very, very fine line," she says.
The Roberts program's acting manager, Thomas P. Glakas, estimates that
only 10 percent of current participants will go overseas as part of their
studies. In those cases, he says, "I guess you can disclose that you're
working for the United States government. But do you have to disclose that
you're going to school to become an analyst for a certain intelligence
agency? Just disclosing that you work for the U.S. government," he argues,
ought to satisfy the ethical concerns of the anthropology association.
"You do need to train people, and there are trade-offs," Mr. Glakas says.
"Nothing is perfect in this life."
A related worry is that efforts like the Roberts program might give
authoritarian regimes -- say, Uzbekistan's -- an excuse to forbid all
American social scientists to conduct research in those countries, on the
ground that they are spies. "Those who are carrying out intelligence
activities make it difficult for the genuine researcher," says Ms.
Fluehr-Lobban, "because people don't know how to distinguish one from the
other. So it harms the overall scientific effort."
To that concern, a staff member at the Senate Intelligence Committee
replies, "We'll cross that bridge when we come to it." Senator Roberts
points out that there is already an enormous amount of paranoia about the
CIA throughout the world, and that a $4-million training program is not
likely to make much difference. "In some countries," he says, "if a
traffic light goes out, the government will blame it on the CIA."
Mr. Price finds such responses too glib. "Their careless disregard of
ethical issues and the safety of researchers needs to alarm everyone in
academia," he says. "They don't care about us. They don't care about our
research, they don't care about the people we study, they don't care about
our well-being, they don't care about our reputation. We need to care
about it, and we need to distance ourselves from them."
'Erosion of Confidence'
Mr. Price and his allies worry that the Roberts program will compromise
ethics not only overseas but also in the classroom itself. "The door is
open for the CIA to return to its historical practice of operating within
universities," he says. He fears that Roberts participants will be
encouraged, explicitly or implicitly, to tell their intelligence
colleagues about professors who seem hostile to U.S. policies, or who
might be willing to share their skills and expertise with the government.
Mr. Roberts finds that absurd. The Church committee and other 1970s-era
reform efforts, he says, have erected a huge array of safeguards against
inappropriate domestic surveillance. He calls Mr. Price's argument "an
Internet conspiracy theory."
"Sometimes people do learn from their mistakes," says Mr. Glakas. "There
is stuff that was done back in the 50s and 60s that we do not want to
repeat. ... J. Edgar Hoover is no longer director of the FBI."
Elizabeth Rindskopf Parker, a former general counsel of the CIA who is now
dean of the University of the Pacific's McGeorge School of Law, agrees
with Mr. Roberts and Mr. Glakas about the unlikelihood that the Roberts
program will foster abuses in classrooms. She adds, however, that "to some
extent, it doesn't matter whether I'm right or I'm wrong. The mere fact
that people are asking this question is a sign of trouble. Some of the
things that have been happening -- whether it's Abu Ghraib or the CIA's
straining the rules about turning prisoners over to other nations -- all
of this erodes confidence. And it's this erosion of confidence that causes
Ms. Parker and other observers sympathetic to the program suggest that the
air could be cleared with more openness -- if the participants were
instructed to be candid with their professors and fellow students about
Loch Johnson, a professor of political science at the University of
Georgia, who served as Sen. Frank Church's assistant on the Senate's 1970s
intelligence-reform committee, supports the Roberts program's goal.
"September 11 shook us the way Sputnik did," he says. "There was a deep
realization that our analysts' work is not what it should be."
But he also believes strongly in greater transparency. "This program is
violating the most important norm of the campus," he says, "which is
Not everyone agrees. "It seems to me that it's absolutely essential not to
tell," says Michael Scheuer, a former CIA analyst and covert operative who
(as "Anonymous") wrote the much-discussed Imperial Hubris: Why the West Is
Losing the War on Terror (Brassey's, 2004). "There seems to be a
tremendous amount of hostility on campus toward the intelligence
community. You'd probably want to keep the participants' identities secret
just to make sure that they'd get a fair shake from the faculty."
On the opposite end of the spectrum, Lesley Gill, an associate professor
of anthropology at American University and author of The School of the
Americas: Military Training and Political Violence in the Americas (Duke
University Press, 2004), suggests that she would oppose the Roberts
program even if it were more open. "Part of the core notion of
anthropology," she says, "is that you won't use your work to undermine or
harm your subjects -- and it seems to me that going to work for an
intelligence agency undermines that commitment." She has refused to write
a recommendation for a student who wanted to apply for an NSEP fellowship,
she adds, because she regards that program, too, as unethical.
Gilbert W. Merkx, Duke University's vice provost for international
affairs, once sat on the informal academic advisory board that oversees
the NSEP fellowships. He says the Roberts program should strongly consider
creating a similar body.
"I'm not concerned about the principle of federally funding the training
of people who want to become intelligence officers," he says. "I have no
objection in principle to that. I am concerned about how it's done. ... I
think what one wants is maximum transparency. Over the long run, that's
what puts suspicions to rest."
If people are worried about intelligence agents being inserted into the
classroom, Mr. Merkx says, a transparent system and an academic advisory
board might help assuage them. "How you conduct the program," he says,
"can either feed that fear or allay that fear."
Mr. Glakas says such an advisory board may indeed be created.
Alongside those debates over morality lies a more pragmatic question: Will
the Roberts program function as advertised? Will it make a dent in the
CIA's goal, announced last November, of increasing its roster of analysts
by 50 percent?
The program is less than a year old, so it is too soon for any real
assessment. Mr. Glakas, the acting manager, will soon submit to Congress a
progress report -- much of which, he says, will probably be classified.
Oversight of the program is currently in flux, as it is being placed under
the newly created office of the director of national intelligence.
Some observers see room for optimism. Mr. Scheuer, who has written
caustically about what he views as the CIA's profound weaknesses, says the
Roberts program may be a small sign that the agency has finally woken up
and recognized its skills deficit.
He adds, however, that the effort will succeed only if the CIA ditches its
habit of favoring "generalists" in its hiring and promotion decisions.
Program participants, he says, should be encouraged to concentrate on a
single language, region, or technical field throughout their careers.
For his part, Mr. Moos says, he is proud of the new program, although he,
too, says he wishes that the list of participants would be made public. In
the intelligence-reform bill that Congress passed in December, lawmakers
authorized (but did not finance) a project very similar to the Roberts
It seems almost certain that the Roberts program, or something like it,
will become permanent. "I think it was long past time," says Mr. Moos,
"for us to try something new."
Section: Research & Publishing
Volume 51, Issue 29, Page A14
Copyright 2005 by The Chronicle of Higher Education
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