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How the CIA is Welcoming Itself Back Onto American University Campuses

Alex Constantine - April 11, 2010

Counterpunch | April 11, 2010

1252542058 large - How the CIA is Welcoming Itself Back Onto American University Campuses Throughout the 1970s, ’80s and ’90s, independent grassroots movements to keep the Central Intelligence Agency off American university campuses were broadly supported by students, professors and community members. The ethos of this movement was captured in Ami Chen Mills’ 1990 book, C.I.A. Off Campus. Mills’ book gave voice to the multiple reasons why so many academics opposed the presence of the CIA on university campuses: reasons that ranged from the recognition of secrecy’s antithetical relationship to academic freedom, to political objections to the CIA’s use of torture and assassination, to efforts on campuses to recruit professors and students, and the CIA’s longstanding role in undermining democratic movements around the world.

For those who lived through the dramatic revelations of the congressional inquiries in the 1970s, documenting the CIA’s routine involvement in global and domestic atrocities, it made sense to construct institutional firewalls between an agency so deeply linked with these actions and educational institutions dedicated to at least the promise of free inquiry and truth. But the last dozen years have seen retirements and deaths among academics who had lived through this history and had been vigilant about keeping the CIA off campus; furthermore, with the attacks of 9/11 came new campaigns to bring the CIA back onto American campuses.

Henry Giroux’s 2007 book, The University in Chains: Confronting the Military-Industrial Academic Complex, details how two decades of shifts in university funding brought increased intrusions by corporate and military forces onto university. After 9/11, the intelligence agencies pushed campuses to see the CIA and campus secrecy in a new light, and, as traditional funding sources for social science research declined, the intelligence community gained footholds on campuses.

Post-9/11 scholarship programs like the Pat Roberts Intelligence Scholars Program (PRISP) and the Intelligence Community Scholarship Programs today sneak unidentified students with undisclosed links to intelligence agencies into university classrooms (both were first exposed by this author here in CounterPunch in 2005). A new generation of so-called flagship programs have quietly taken root on campuses, and, with each new flagship, our universities are transformed into vessels of the mi­tarized state, as academics learn to sub­limate unease.

The programs most significantly linking the CIA with university campuses are the “Intelligence Community Centers of Academic Excellence” (ICCAE, pro­nounced “Icky”) and the “Intelligence Advance Research Projects Activity”. Both programs use universities to train intelligence personnel by piggybacking onto existing educational programs. Campuses that agree to see these outsourced programs as nonthreatening to their open educational and research missions are rewarded with funds and useful contacts with the intelligence agencies and other less tangible benefits.

Even amid the militarization prevailing in America today, the silence surrounding this quiet installation and spread of programs like ICCAE is extraordinary. In the last four years, ICCAE has gone further in bringing government intelligence organizations openly to American university campuses than any previous intelligence initiative since World War Two. Yet, the program spreads with little public notice, media coverage, or coordinated multi-campus resistance.

When the New Infiltration Began

In 2004, a $250,000 grant was awarded to Trinity Washington University by the Intelligence Community for the establishment of a pilot “Intelligence Community Center of Academic Excellence” program. Trinity was, in many ways, an ideal campus for a pilot program. For a vulnerable, tuition-driven, struggling financial institution in the D.C. area, the promise of desperately needed funds and a regionally assured potential student base, linked with or seeking connections to the D.C. intel­ligence world, made the program financially attractive.

In 2005, the first ICCAE centers were installed at ten campuses: California State University San Bernardino, Clark Atlanta University, Florida International University, Norfolk State University, Tennessee State University, Trinity Washington University, University of Texas El Paso, University of Texas-Pan American, University of Washington, and Wayne State University. Between 2008-2010, a second wave of expansion brought ICCAE programs to another twelve campuses: Carnegie Mellon, Clemson, North Carolina A&T State, University of North Carolina-Wilmington, Florida A&M, Miles College, University of Maryland, College Park, University of Nebraska, University of New Mexico, Pennsylvania State University, and Virginia Polytechnic Institute.

But the CIA and FBI aren’t the only agencies from the Intelligence Community that ICCAE brings to American university campuses. ICCAE also quietly imports a smorgasbord of fifteen agencies – including the National Security Agency, Defense Intelligence Agency, and Homeland Security.

ICCAE’s stated goals are to develop a “systematic long-term program at universities and colleges to recruit and hire eligible talent for IC [Intelligence Community] agencies and components,” and to “increase the [intelligence recruit­ing] pipeline of students … with emphasis on women and ethnic minorities in critical skill areas.” Specifically, ICCAE seeks to “provide internships, co-ops, graduate fellowships and other related opportunities across IC agencies to eli­gible students and faculty for intelligence studies immersion,” and to “support selective international study and regional and overseas travel opportunities to enhance cultural and language immer­sion.” ICCAE’s aim is to shower with fellowships, scholarships and grants those universities that are adapting their curricula to align with the political agenda of American intelligence agencies; also to install a portal connecting ICCAE cam­puses with intelligence agencies, through which students, faculty, students studying abroad, and unknown others will pass. While ICCAE claims to train analysts, rather than members of the clandestine service, the CIA historically has not observed such boundaries.

ICCAE-funded centers have different names at different universities. For example, at the University of Washington (UW), ICCAE funds established the new Institute for National Security Education and Research (INSER), Wayne State University’s center is called the Center for Academic Excellence in National Security Intelligence Studies, and Clark Atlantic University’s program is the Center for Academic Excellence in National Security Studies.

With the economic downturn, university layoffs became a common ocurrence. Need breeds opportunism, as scarcity of funds leads scholars to shift the academic questions they are willing to pursue and suspend ethical and political concerns about funding sources. Other scholars unwilling to set aside ethical and political concerns are keenly aware of institutional pressures to keep their outrage and protests in-house.

Covering Up Dissent

Despite a lack of critical media cov­erage of ICCAE programs, traces of campus dissent can be found online in faculty senate records. When Dean Van Reidhead at the University of Texas-Pan American (UTPA) brought a proposal for ICCAE to establish a center on cam­pus, some faculty and graduate students spoke out against the damage to academic freedom that the program would likely bring. Senate minutes record that faculty “representatives spoke against and for UTPA submitting a proposal to compete for federal money to establish an Intelligence Community Center for Academic Excellence.” At this meeting, graduate students “listed the following demands: 1) inform the community via press release about the possible ICCAE proposal, 2) release the proposal draft for public review, 3) establish a commu­nity forum on ICCAE, and 4) abolish the process of applying for ICCAE funds.” At Texas-Pan American, as at other ICCAE campuses, administrators noted these concerns but continued with plans to bring the intelligence agencies to campus, as if hearing and ignoring concerns constituted shared governance.

The minutes of the University of Washington’s Faculty Senate and Faculty Council on Research record shadows of dissent that are so vaguely referenced that they are easily missed. The minutes for the December 4, 2008, meeting gloss over the issues raised when the American Association of University Professors, University of Washington chapter, had issued a strongly worded statement by Executive Board representative Christoph Giebel, requesting information concerning UW’s INSER contacts with the Intelligence Community. The minutes simply read: “… both Giebel and Jeffry Kim [INSER director] answered a series of good questions that resulted in a fair, tough and serious conversation.” What these “good questions” were and the nature of this “tough and serious conversation” are not mentioned in the minutes, as if “good questions” were not important enough to enter into a public record. Similarly, the nature of faculty objections to INSER are glossed over in the 1/29/09 UW Senate minutes, which simply listed the findings of the Faculty Council on Research that “a number of email communications have come through the faculty senate that reflect a range in attitude toward the INSER program.”

In fact, a significant portion of this faculty “range in attitudes toward the INSER program” is most accurately characterized as outraged. I have heard from faculty at other ICCAE flagship campuses that some form of internal dissent has occurred on each of their campuses, and professors at UW have sent me documents, quoted below, clarifying the extent of the campus’s disquiet over the intelligence agencies insertion into their campus; an insertion whose success should be described as a silent coup.

Faculty and students’ public silence at ICCAE universities over these developments needs some comment. The post-9/11 political climate casts a pall of orthodoxy over critical discussions of militarization and national security, and the rise of anti-intellectual media pundits attacking those who question increasing American militarization adds pressure to muzzle dissent. Faculty at public universities often feel these pressures more than their colleagues at private institutions. There are also natural inclinations to try and keep elements of workplace dissent internal, but two factors argue against this public silence. First, most of the ICCAE institutions are publicly funded universities drawing state taxes; the state citizens funding these universities deserve to be alerted to concerns over the ways these programs can damage public institutions. Second, university administrators have been free to ignore faculty’s harsh, publicly silent, internal dissent. Keeping dissent internal has not been an effective resistance tactic.

Inaudible Uproar at UW

In a step moving beyond internal private critiques of ICCAE programs, multiple professors at the University of Washington have provided me internal memos sent by professors to administrators. These memos document the breadth of internal faculty dissent over administrators’ October 2006 decisions to bring the CIA and other intelligence  agencies to the UW campus.

Initially, the UW administration appeared to appreciate faculty concerns. In October 2005, David Hodge, UW dean of Arts and Sciences, met with School of International Studies faculty to discuss proposals to establish affiliations with U.S. intelligence agencies, after International Studies faculty wrote the administration, expressing opposition to any affiliation linking them with the CIA and other intelligence agencies. This group of faculty wrote that such developments would “jeopardize the abilities of faculty and students to gain and maintain foreign research and study permits, visas, and open access to and unfettered interaction with international research hosts, partners, and counterpart institutions,” and they worried that any such relation­ships would “endanger the safety and security of faculty and students studying and conducting research abroad as well as their foreign hosts.” One participant in these meetings told me that the administration initially acknowledged that there were serious risks that students and faculty working abroad could lose research opportunities because of the CIA-linked program on campus, and that these concerns led the administration initially to decline any affiliation with these intelligence agency-linked programs.

But these concerns did not derail the administration’s interest in bringing the Intelligence Community on campus, and the following year the administration of UW decided to establish the ICCAE-funded Institute for National Security Education and Research. But after INSER’s launch, concerned internal memos continued to come from faculty across the campus. In the past year and a half, letters voicing strong protest from at least five academic units have been sent by groups of faculty to deans.

In October 2008, anthropology professors Bettina Shell-Duncan and Janelle Taylor drafted a critical memo that was voted on and approved by the anthropology faculty and then sent to Dean Howard, Dean Cauce, and Provost Wise, raising fears about the damage INSER could bring to the University:

“As anthropologists, we also have more specific concerns relating to the nature of our research, which involves long-term in-depth studies of communities, the majority of which are located outside the United States. Some of these communi­ties are very poor, some face repressive governments, and some are on the receiving end of U.S. projections of military power … our profession’s Code of Ethics requires first and foremost that we cause no harm to the people among whom we conduct research.”

Shell-Duncan and Taylor tied disc­plinary concerns to anthropology’s core ethical principles and raised apprehen­sions that INSER funding could convert the university into a hosting facil­ity for “military intelligence-gathering efforts.”

They pointed to:

“1) the reports that students are required to submit to INSER at the end of their studies, and 2) the debriefing that they are required to undergo upon their return. Although our faculty have already been asked [to be] academic advisors for students with INSER funding, we have never been given any information on the guidelines for the reports, or the nature, scope or purpose of the debriefing process. This is of particular concern given that National Security is not an academic field of study but a military and government effort. Unless and until we are provided with clear and compelling information that proves otherwise, we must infer that these reports and debriefings are, in fact, military intelligence-gathering efforts.”

They cited a 2007 report (of which I am a co-author) written by an American Anthropological Association (AAA) commission, evaluating a variety of engagements between anthropologists and the military and intelligence agencies. The anthropologists argued that this AAA report found that while, “…some forms of engagement with these agencies might be laudable, the Commission also issued cautions about situations likely to entail violations of the ethical principles of our profession. In particular, the members of the Commission expressed serious concern about ‘a situation in which anthropologists would be performing fieldwork on behalf of a military or intelligence program, among a local population, for the purpose of supporting operations on the ground.’”

Other academic departments wrote the UW administration expressing concerns. In November 2008, members of the Latin American Studies division in the Henry M. Jackson School of International Studies complained to the administration in a memo that

“in light of the U.S. Intelligence Community’s extensive track-record of undermining democracies and involvement in human rights violations in Latin America and elsewhere, we find it unconscionable that the UW would have formal ties with the newly created Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI), let alone involve our students in an exercise of gathering intelligence information and assist it with its public relations campaign among children in our local schools. The most recent examples of the U.S. Intelligence Community’s inexcusable behavior in Latin America are torture at Guantanamo detention centers, collaboration with the infamous School of the Americas, the backing of paramilitary forces as part of the ‘drug war,’ … and support for the failed coup in Venezuela…

“…Some would argue that UW should engage the Intelligence Community as a method of constructively influencing or reforming it. To our mind, this argument is naïve and misguided at best. The training we provide is unlikely to change the deeply entrenched institutional cultures among the various entities, such as the CIA, which form a part of ODNI. In effect, then, we would be enabling the Intelligence Community to be more effective at carrying out their indefensible activities … We realize that the UW faces a number of financial constraints, perhaps now more than ever, but the needs for monies can never justify collaboration with an Intelligence Community, which is responsible for hundreds of thousands of deaths and immeasurable human suffering throughout the world.”

Also at UW a group of Southeast Asian Studies Center faculty and members of the History Department questioned whether the administration had considered how the presence of INSER on campus would taint professors and students because, in the words of the group in the History Department, “The professional bodies of many disciplines and professional programs have barred members from participating in programs funded by groups like the CIA due to the ethical conflicts such a relationship would involve. Did the administration take this into account in the process of creating INSER? Are there steps taken in the administration of funds from INSER to prevent faculty from unknowingly compromising their professional and ethical obligations?”

Among the problems facing the UW administration in creating INSER was finding an academic structure to administer such a stigmatized program. Because the social sciences represented hostile territory, administrators looked to the Information School. But many Information School faculty weren’t happy about having to house INSER. A letter signed by a dozen faculty from the International Studies Fund Group Librarians expressed deep concerns that that housing “a CIA Officer in Residence” would pollute perceptions of them in ways that could “damage our ability to serve the [other campus constituencies],” arguing that their long standing “strategy of impartial professionalism” across the campus “has enabled us to create collections of such depth over the years. It is also this professional indepen­dence that has in the past protected us from undue scrutiny by the governments of the countries that we visit and from which we solicit information sources – sometimes of the most sensitive nature – for our scholarly collections.” 

While it is encouraging to find UW faculty raising ethical, historical, and political objections, it’s far from clear that these private critiques had any measurable effect, precisely because they remained private.

Today, INSER hosts at least one CIA funded post-doc on the UW campus. It is unknown how many CIA-linked employees or CIA-linked students are now on the UW’s campus. We don’t know what all members of the intelligence agencies on campus are doing, but scholars who study the history of the agency know that in the past CIA campus operatives have performed a range of activities that included using funding fronts to get unwitting social scientists to conduct pieces of research that were used to construct an interrogation and torture manual; to establish contacts used to recruit for­eign students to collect intelligence for the CIA; and debriefing of graduate students upon return from foreign travel of research. We know historically that the CIA has cultivated relationships with professors in order to recruit students. When universities import ICCAE programs, they bring this history with them, and, as students from ICCAE universities travel abroad, suspicions of CIA activity will travel with them and undermine the safety and opportunities to work and study abroad for all.

There are many good reasons to keep the CIA off campus, the most obvious ones stress the reprehensible deeds of the agency’s past (and present). For me one good reason is that this Intelligence Community invasion diminishes America’s intelligence capacity while damaging academia. As the Intelligence Community’s “institutional culture” seeps into ICCAE universities, we can foresee a deadening of intellect, weakening American universities and intelligence capacities as scholars learn to think in increasingly narrow ways, described by President Eisenhower half a century ago in his farewell address’s warning that “a government contract becomes virtually a substitute for intellectual curiosity.”

If the United States wants intelligence reform, it needs to fund independent scholarship, not narrow the range of discourse on our campuses by paying cash-strapped universities to house revolving doors between the academy and the CIA.

Universities need to be places where people can freely explore ideas, but ICCAE inevitably brings chills to open classrooms. How long will it take until students at ICCAE universities start to wonder about who’s reporting on free-flowing discussions in classes? With cadres of future FBI and CIA employees on campus, those who develop dissident political critiques will find themselves opting for a choice between speaking their mind, or keeping silent, or softening harsh honest critiques. As ICCAE students graduate and begin careers requiring security clearances, accounts of academic discussions stand to make their way into intelligence files, as clearance background checks ask for accounts of known “subversive” acquaintances encountered during university years.

These are foreseeable consequences. Now, that the Patriot Act removed legal firewalls prohibiting these forms of political surveillance, the stage has been set for a dark renaissance of the fifties to begin.

Ending the Silence

If students, faculty and citizens are concerned about ICCAE’s impact on our universities, then breaking the silence is the most effective opposition tactic available. Anyone who wants specific information on contacts between university administrators and ICCAE officials and the intelligence community can use state public records laws and federal Freedom of Information laws to request records. Given university administrators’ claims that everything is above board, these records should not be blocked by national security exemptions; if they are, this would be useful to know. Concerned members of individual campuses can use these tools to access correspondence and verify claims by university administrators about the nature of their contact with ICCAE.

Faculty, staff, students, alumni and community members concerned about ICCAE’s presence on university campuses should form consortia online to share information from various campuses and make common cause. ICCAE has made rapid headway because of the internal campus-specific, isolated nature of resistance to ICCAE. Something like an “ICCAE Watch” or “CIA Campus Watch” website could be started by a faculty member or grad student on an ICCAE campus, providing forums to collect documents, stories and resistance tactics from across the country.

Finally, tenured professors on ICCAE campuses, or on campuses contemplating ICCAE programs, need to use their tenure and speak out, on the record, in public: the threats presented by these developments are exactly why tenure exists. If professors like the idea of bringing the CIA on campus, they can publicly express these views, but the split between the public and private reactions to ICCAE helped usher the CIA silently back onto American university campuses. The intelligence agencies thrive on silence. If this move is to be countered, academic voices must publicly demand that the CIA and the Intelligence Community explain themselves and their history in public.


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