Lingua Franca article: CIA on Campus
Lingua Franca, November 2000, pp. 35-43.

For Your Eyes Only

The CIA will let you see classified documents -- but at what price?

by Chris Mooney

At first, it seems like just another scholarly squabble over lingo. Then you notice the Orwellian overtones. "I have seen too many people over the years dodge the unpleasant term 'deception' by using 'perception management,'" says Central Intelligence Agency senior analyst Karl Spielmann to his academic audience. Earlier Spielmann had clarified another contested term in intelligence studies: "'Strategic,'" he explained, means "damn important!"

We are at the annual convention of the three-thousand-member International Studies Association (ISA), held in downtown Los Angeles's silo-like Westin Bonaventure Hotel. Spielmann is addressing a panel called "Denial and Deception in the Information Age." In remarks laced with Washington insider-speak -- at one point he fondly refers to Henry Kissinger as "Henry the K" -- Spielmann stresses the need to combat propaganda attacks waged against the United States over open information channels like the Internet. Though he says he's not recruiting academics for the CIA, Spielmann ends with a plea for concerted scholarly inquiry into methods of denial and deception (D & D). "I think we have an incipient discipline," he says.

In the question-and-answer period, a scholar asks the man from "the Campus" -- as CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia, is sometimes called -- for "unclassified" examples of D & D. Before long, the panelists are discussing how governments go about misleading their enemies and how those deception techniques help spies to ferret out enemy secrets even while dissembling. As the conversation proceeds, one thing stands out. Probably it's just a coincidence: Unlike most of the thirty-odd academics in the room, Karl Spielmann is not wearing a name tag.

The "cloak-and-gown connection," as some have called it, is hardly new. At least since 1966, when Ramparts magazine exposed a $25 million CIA project at Michigan State University to train South Vietnamese police, intelligence-academia collaborations have stirred discomfort and disapproval. During the 1980s, revelations about the CIA's ties to academe helped spark large-scale student protests on several campuses.

Since the Cold War's end, however, the nation's universities and intelligence services have experienced a kind of détente, tied closely to the United States' new global good-guyhood. Today, university watchdogs tend to fret about corporate rather than government tugs on scholarship, and the formerly strong "CIA Off Campus" organization doesn't even have a Web site. "The opprobrium that used to attach to any relationship with government intelligence agencies has more or less vanished," notes Steven Aftergood, director of the Project on Government Secrecy at the Federation of American Scientists.

The CIA has seized this opportunity. A 1996 Directorate of Intelligence memo calls "public outreach" a top priority and targets academia in particular. According to experts on U.S. intelligence, the strategy has worked. Since the end of the Cold War, spies and scholars have grown more cozy than at any time since Vietnam drove a wedge between professors and the government. Cooperation "is now very much to the fore," says Yale political scientist and intelligence scholar Bradford Westerfield. "There's a great deal of actually open consultation, and there's a lot more semi-open, broadly acknowledged consultation." As Loch Johnson notes in America's Secret Power: The CIA in a Democratic Society (Oxford, 1991), cloak-and-gown relationships can take many forms. These range from occasional telephone conversations, to on-campus research arrangements and consultancies, to lecturer positions and extended scholar-in-residence programs at the CIA itself. The level of security clearance granted to the scholar depends on the sensitivity of the research and the degree of exposure to classified materials.

How close is too close? Some scholars object to all partnerships involving security clearances. The prominent University of Chicago historian and political scientist Bruce Cumings has sharply criticized ties between academia and intelligence. And last year, the University of Arizona political scientist David Gibbs launched a one-man campaign against what he saw as an uncritical approach to the CIA at the ISA's flagship journal, International Studies Quarterly (ISQ).

The claims of Gibbs, Cumings, and others prompt reactions ranging from bafflement to charges of conspiracy-mongering from other international studies professors, some with and some without CIA ties. Have U.S. scholars of international affairs grown too close to the intelligence community? Or has the Cold War's end made security clearances acceptable in academe, despite the objections of some now-old New Leftists who are still instinctively storming the Pentagon?

"Research and analysis are at the core of intelligence," writes the Yale historian Robin Winks in Cloak and Gown: Scholars in the Secret War, 1939-1961 (William Morrow, 1987). For this reason, CIA analysts like Karl Spielmann want scholarly aid in solving intelligence problems. When academics work with the CIA, at least in theory both parties stand to gain: The academics get access to the best information, though it's classified and available for their eyes only; meanwhile, the agency gets access to the best brains.

As Winks details, the Cold War partnership between academia and intelligence originated with the World War II Office of Strategic Services, or OSS -- the agency some called "Oh So Secret" -- whose research and analysis (R & A) branch brought together the nation's top minds to outsmart Adolf Hitler. Throughout most of the war, R & A was led by a Harvard diplomatic historian, William Langer. The OSS later morphed into the CIA, which pursued the "hot war" model of cloak and gown into chillier international climes and cultivated its connections at elite universities to great effect. ("Ph.D. intelligence" was J. Edgar Hoover's term of derision for the agency.) As the late Columbia historian Sigmund Diamond documented in Compromised Campus: The Collaboration of Universities With the Intelligence Community, 1945-1955 (Oxford, 1992), Harvard's Russian Research Center, established in 1947, was modeled on the OSS's Soviet division and had close covert ties to the CIA from its inception. "The intelligence aspect of the work of the Russian Research Center and the research aspect ... cannot be distinguished," Diamond concluded.

Compromised Campus, the product of Diamond's lengthy bureaucratic battle for classified documents under the Freedom of Information Act, serves as a kind of urtext for scholars who find something sinister in the early history of university-intelligence relationships. (It also claims that William F. Buckley and Henry Kissinger spied on their colleagues for the FBI while at Yale and Harvard, respectively.) Diamond's work is admiringly cited in Universities and Empire: Money and Politics in the Social Sciences During the Cold War (New Press, 1998), a collection edited by American University communications professor Christopher Simpson. In his introduction to the volume, Simpson unveils an astonishing statistic: U.S. military and intelligence agencies, working closely with leading foundations (Ford, Carnegie, and Rockefeller), provided the largest single source of funding for major social scientific research in the 1950s. One of the earliest international affairs institutes, MIT's Center for International Studies (CENIS), grew out of the State Department's psychological warfare initiative, Project Troy, and was clandestinely underwritten by the CIA during the early 1950s. A number of other academic institutes were predominantly, and often covertly, funded through such channels, including Princeton's Institute for International Social Research and Columbia's Bureau of Applied Social Research.

After the 1967 exposure of CIA ties to the National Students Association, Lyndon Johnson asked Undersecretary of State Nicholas Katzenbach to chair a commission on the CIA's relations with academe and private voluntary organizations. The commission's conclusion was stark: "It should be the policy of the United States government that no federal agency shall provide any covert financial assistance or support, direct or indirect, to any of the nation's educational or private voluntary organizations." The agency quickly canceled many of its contracts with professors. But as later events proved, at least some undisclosed funding remained in place. In the mid-1980s, the Harvard Crimson made national news by asserting that the CIA had provided funding to international relations professors Richard Betts and Samuel Huntington and to Middle East expert Nadav Safran. Safran used CIA money to help pay for an academic conference without notifying attendees. Harvard censured Safran in 1985.

In the wake of the Safran affair, CIA deputy director Robert Gates gave a speech at Harvard in which he defended the CIA's relationships with scholars. At the same time, though, he tried to defuse some of the controversy. If a university had explicit rules against allowing faculty to conduct classified research, Gates said, the agency would abide by those rules. In the case of CIA-sponsored conferences, the agency would encourage organizers to inform attendees of the funding. Most significantly perhaps, Gates said the CIA would allow researchers to disclose that they had worked for the agency, unless the agency determined that "formal, public association of CIA with a specific topic or subject would prove damaging to the United States."

Among the most controversial CIA policies is its insistence that scholars sign a lifetime secrecy agreement before receiving a security clearance. According to CIA spokesman Tom Crispell, this means they must submit for review any books or articles they write that touch on the topic of their classified access or the broader subject of intelligence. Crispell stresses that the review is not editorial; rather, it is designed to prevent inadvertent disclosure of classified materials. But some allege that the review process can be highly politicized. And as the recent cases of Wen Ho Lee and John Deutch show, academics, like anyone else, are legally liable if they act improperly with classified information.

Chicago's Bruce Cumings is adamant that security clearances are simply incompatible with the obligation of scholars to "speak truth to power," as international relations guru and Vietnam protester Hans Morgenthau once put it. Says Cumings, "Professors involved in international affairs should not have security clearances from any governments, including their own." If academics want to heed Karl Spielmann's call to research "denial and deception," he says, "why don't they go join the CIA and stay there, and stop pretending they're professors who subscribe to canons of truth, objectivity, and honesty in the classroom?"

A frequent writer on east Asia for The Nation, Cumings is best known for a two-volume history of the Korean War, but he has also taught in two political science departments. In 1997, he started a small war in the Bulletin of Concerned Asian Scholars (BCAS) with an article titled "Boundary Displacement: Area Studies and International Studies During and After the Cold War" (an edited version appears in Universities and Empire). The article traces the development of the two closely intertwined fields of area studies and international studies at a time when universities -- flush with foundation, intelligence, and military research subsidies -- were convulsed with McCarthyite campus purges. Of the early history of area studies, Cumings writes, "It is only a bit of an exaggeration to say that for those scholars studying potential enemy countries, either they consulted with the government or they risked being investigated by the FBI." And in the 1990s, he suggests, things may not have changed that much: The 1991 National Security Education Act, since gutted by the Gingrich budget cut, created federal area and language studies programs run out of the Defense Intelligence College on the Pentagon's dime. Fellows studying abroad were required to "make a good faith effort" to find employment in national security.

In Cumings's view, far too many scholars today, particularly in international relations, collaborate with the government. "It's quite common for people in the IR field, younger and older ones, to go to the National Security Council for a while or to the CIA as consultants," he says. Cumings believes this both creates intolerable burdens on academic openness and skews scholarship: "That's one of the reasons the subdiscipline of international relations is so conservative and so concerned with realpolitik and realism as the major paradigms of inquiry, which sort of fits with what national security managers believe in."

Perhaps with this concern in mind, Cumings closed the BCAS version of "Boundary Displacement" with this exhortation: "Abolish the CIA, and get the intelligence and military agencies out of free academic inquiry."

Fighting words like these triggered a symposium response titled "Round Up the Usual Suspects: Cumings's Misdirected Search for Post-Cold War Enemies of Academic Independence." Indeed, it's no struggle to find views sharply at variance with Cumings's. Referring to the 1950s sub-rosa funding of international studies institutes, Bradford Westerfield says, "I'm not one of those people who get outraged about ancient history unless I think it is reflected in current patterns of behavior." And whereas Cumings would argue that only in "conditions of total war," such as during World War II, should scholars work extensively with the military and intelligence, Westerfield opines that CIA funding of CENIS and other institutes wasn't wrong to begin with -- or not unless "the Cold War itself was just an American chimera that could ... have been wholly avoided if we'd just caved in to permanent Communist domination over Eastern Europe and over the left in most of western Europe and Japan."

In general, academics who have done classified work strenuously protest that their scholarship and teaching remain untainted. For Harvard Kennedy School dean Joseph Nye, who chaired the CIA's National Intelligence Council -- and has held positions in the State Department, Defense Department, and National Security Council -- classified consulting is acceptable, provided it's not secret. Rather than demonizing academic consulting, Nye says, "I think the taboo should be against doing classified work in a university setting," noting that Harvard has disallowed such practices. But as far as charges of conflict of interest are concerned, Nye insists that his intelligence ties have not prejudiced his scholarship. "I certainly have not tried to write things which are for the sake of the government," he says.

In fact, some scholars say their classified work has made them more critical of the government rather than less so. Columbia's Robert Jervis, currently president of the American Political Science Association (APSA), has consulted with the CIA on numerous occasions, including work on a 1978 "postmortem" on Iran after the CIA was embarrassingly caught unawares by the mounting movement to topple the U.S.-backed Shah (the revolution took place a year later, in 1979). Though he admits it was probably unusual back then because of CIA regulations, Jervis says he was allowed to tell his colleagues what he was up to: "I told my one left-wing graduate student that if he wanted to change advisers, he should be free to do so. He laughed and said, 'I could care less.'" In an e-mail, Jervis describes how his insider experiences proved disillusioning: "In the fall of 1978, I took advantage of the fact that I had clearances to read the Top Secret rationales for the MX [missile] program. Previously I had been skeptical, but had believed that the government had information and analyses that made the program plausible if not compelling. In fact, I found the justifications were very flimsy." Jervis says this experience ultimately led him to write two books highly critical of U.S. nuclear strategy -- and he suspects these books prevented him from getting other consultancies.

But if Jervis is right in asserting that government work doesn't blunt one's critical edge, then what's all the fuss about? Jervis chalks up much of the concern over cloak and gown today to "paranoia." Those who claim that academics face censorious pressures have it precisely backward, he says. "People follow their politics, and that takes them into government, not vice versa."

Some academics see government ties as producing not servile scholarship but better-informed foreign policy. Academic consultancies can help prevent intelligence errors resulting from inadequate analysis, says Daniel Deudney, a Johns Hopkins political scientist who has consulted for numerous government security and intelligence agencies, including the CIA. "The reluctance of academics to talk to the CIA is against everyone's interests," Deudney avers. Robert Keohane, former president of the APSA and of the ISA, has chosen not to be bound by ties to the government, but he believes that scholars who choose otherwise are rewarded with considerable influence. "I think there are trade-offs in life," says Keohane. "I don't have any day-to-day influence over policy. I can't pick up the phone and call the secretary of state or defense because they're personal friends or I work for them. Right? So I trade that off, and for that I get my independence and my ability to theorize without ever worrying about what they think of me."

Are the trade-offs really that cut-and-dried? Cumings, for one, is not convinced that academic assistance promotes a more responsive foreign policy establishment. Citing the United States' history of crises with North Korea -- a track record that has only recently improved under the Clinton administration -- Cumings observes that any number of readily available sources indicated the flaws in the government's policy. "And nonetheless the government continued doing what it had been doing," he says. "It wasn't for a lack of analysis, or getting better minds in government: It was fundamentally because of our partisan politics."

Politics is, after all, at the heart of the matter -- and there are few topics more politically charged than the history and reputation of the CIA. Although the CIA draws only about $3 billion per year from the United States' roughly $30 billion dollar "black budget" for intelligence, it's usually the first agency that comes to mind when one thinks of cloak and dagger -- or cloak and gown. The high-tech Pentagon intelligence agencies -- the National Security Agency, Defense Intelligence Agency, and others -- collectively receive almost ten times as much funding as the CIA per year. But whereas the Pentagon agencies are generally considered more politically conservative and military in character, the CIA was a favorite tool of liberal cold-warrior John F. Kennedy, and its founder, Allen Dulles, held scholars and intellectuals in high regard. Frances Stonor Saunders's recent book The Cultural Cold War (New Press, 2000) documents the agency's secretive efforts to promote the liberal anticommunism of the Partisan Review and other high-brow publications in the 1950s and 1960s.

The respect between scholars and spies has not always been mutual. During the Cold War, the CIA earned an unsavory reputation in academe thanks to controversial covert operations that ranged from staging a coup in Iran in 1953, to attempting to thwart the election of Salvador Allende in Chile in 1970, to plotting to assassinate Fidel Castro and other world leaders. During the 1980s, the agency provided funding, training, and equipment to Nicaraguan contras attempting to overthrow the Sandinista government -- a policy that ultimately exploded in the Iran-contra scandal.

Some scholars argue that the CIA has cleaned up its act and that today's critics assail the agency more out of reflex than substantive grievance. In general, the CIA's bad press has begun to peter out, perhaps because the agency, by and large, hasn't been involved in the same types of controversial covert operations that characterized the Reagan era. According to Harvard's Joseph Nye, the current international climate has much to do with this as well. People are realizing, he says, that "if you're going to deal with some of the new threats that we face, such as terrorism and mass destruction, in fact you're going to need a CIA."

Bradford Westerfield stresses that the CIA is no longer -- if it ever was -- the "rogue elephant rampaging out of control" suggested by Senator Frank Church during the Watergate era, when Senate hearings first uncovered many of its most shocking activities. "The agency has largely reformed itself on the one hand," Westerfield says, but "those sets of reforms are eternally suspect in the eyes of a very embittered generation of scholars whose formative years were the late 1960s or early 1970s. That gulf is probably unbridgeable."

The CIA continues to relive its past partly due to the slow pace of declassification. Westerfield notes that with each new discovery about the Cold War era, a new wave of resentment crests in academe. (Most recently, declassified documents have definitively linked the CIA to Chile's brutal former chief of secret police.) "This could go on for ten or twenty years," says Westerfield. Robert Jervis currently chairs a panel of scholars that advises the CIA on declassification. Even as such material trickles into circulation, some scholars worry that progress is at best desultory. George Herring, a University of Kentucky historian who was rotated off the declassification panel, once remarked that many historically significant documents will remain permanently classified "if the people in the intelligence agencies have their way."

An old joke derides the International Studies Association as "white guys with ties / talking about missile size." Judging from this year's conference, the characterization hardly seems accurate. Intelligence and security studies, after all, are just two strands of interest among the association's twenty sections. The conference includes panels on peace studies and the global environment and features papers with titles like "How Queer Are International Affairs?" Though ISA membership is two-thirds North American, accents abound at the conference; for every CIA analyst lecturing, it seems, there's a woman in a sari.

Still, during a night of table-to-table at the Westin Bonaventure's alcohol-licensed coffee bar, I encounter two conference attendees with intelligence ties. One of them, Enrique Gallego, seems the perfect embodiment of Cumings's claim that many in international relations pursue career trajectories that involve classified work. A Ph.D. candidate in international relations at the University of Chicago at Illinois, Gallego is tall and heavyset with a buzz cut. His dissertation will examine the modernization of the Chinese military and its effect on U.S. foreign policy. As an army officer, Gallego tells me, he has done some military intelligence work and has security clearances. As for the CIA, Gallego simply says it's never cut him a check.

Gallego doesn't believe scholars should necessarily divulge their CIA connections; he thinks it can damage one's reputation "Once you're tagged as an intelligence worker, you're tagged," he explains. Gallego has plenty of criticism for what he terms the agency's "cowboy era": "In the old days, the CIA would get a little full of itself, and it would do some bonehead things." But though "they've had their parties," today's CIA, according to Gallego, has reformed.

But even if the CIA's Reagan-era "parties" are over, critics like David Gibbs contend that such exploits have left a troubling legacy -- one that cloak-and-gown connections prevent international studies scholars from investigating.

Gibbs first got his back up when he read an article by Robert Snyder of Southwestern University titled "The U.S. and Third World Revolutionary States: Understanding the Breakdown in Relations," published in the June 1999 issue of International Studies Quarterly. Snyder argued that the Cold War tension between the United States and three revolutionary states -- Cuba, Nicaragua, and Iran -- was provoked by the revolutionary states. The United States, after a period of hesitation, then reacted aggressively. In a seven-page letter to the editorial board of ISQ, Gibbs and three other scholars objected that Snyder's article contains "extensive and systematic distortions of evidence, and omits vitally important information that runs contrary to its thesis" -- namely, that the CIA was meddling in the internal politics of each of Snyder's case-study countries.

Gibbs and the others suggested that ISQ run their letter as a rejoinder. But ISQ does not print letters; the journal's policy is that all articles must go through peer review. The editors invited the authors to submit "a proposed response, which we would distribute to anonymous reviewers." But instead of submitting a paper to ISQ, Gibbs spilled his concerns to the Chronicle of Higher Education, which ran a story in September 1999. Gibbs then wrote back to ISQ editor Richard Mansbach, saying, "The fact that ISQ was willing to publish an article as problematic as Snyder's must raise questions regarding the selection and competence of referees. Also, there has been a regrettable association of key international relations scholars with various government agencies, and some of these may pose problems for scholarly objectivity."

In an interview with Lingua Franca, Gibbs explained more fully what he had in mind with that last sentence. He pointed out that Mansbach, currently at Iowa State University, was involved in a 1984 scandal at Rutgers University. Mansbach and another professor had conducted a class on foreign policy in which student papers would be submitted as part of a research project for the CIA. The professors had not had their project properly "endorsed" and "administered" by the university, the New York Times reported, and had not adequately informed the students that they would be participating in such a project. As a result, the University reprimanded them for having "acted inappropriately." Gibbs comments: "One of the specific points at issue here was misdeeds by the Central Intelligence Agency, and so I was just uncomfortable having an editor with those kinds of connections acting to supervise the review of any critique I would have made."

But according to Mansbach -- who says the Rutgers incident is "not germane" to the controversy -- more transpired before Gibbs went to the Chronicle. Mansbach says he explicitly offered to recuse himself from the ISQ editorial process in the review of Gibbs's piece and to send it to another review team. "If he thinks one of the editors is a problem ... when that editor steps out, what more do you want?" asks Mansbach. Gibbs denies ever having received such an offer, although another ISQ editor, Patrick James, also at Iowa State, confirms that it was made. When Lingua Franca asked Mansbach to provide documentation of the offer, he refused.

The responses to Gibbs's campaign have been varied. A number of scholars agree with his basic criticisms of Snyder's article but disapprove of his shirking peer review and appearing to judge Mansbach on the basis of events that took place in 1984. William Robinson, a sociologist at New Mexico State University who signed Gibbs's original letter to ISQ, calls Snyder's article a piece of "ideology disguised as scholarship" but says ISQ's offer was satisfactory to him. When Gibbs decided not to accept the offer, Robinson ceased to have any involvement with the issue. Similarly, Craig Murphy of Wellesley College, current ISA president and editor of the journal Global Governance, says he wishes Gibbs had submitted his rejoinder for peer review: "I think he has a number of significant points."

From Snyder's perspective, ever since Gibbs has started talking, everyone has ignored his side of the story. Snyder emphasizes that, the details of his case studies notwithstanding, he was attempting to make a theoretical point about the internal politics of revolutionary states. He also objects to the way he's been painted: "You read the Chronicle article, and you'd think that I was some right-wing yahoo from Texas." Snyder says he has never worked for the government, plans to vote for Gore, and comes from Pennsylvania. He also points out that a distinguished review team accepted his article, and that quite a number of leading scholars in international relations have praised the piece. One, the Tufts political scientist Tony Smith, wrote to Snyder in a letter, "Congratulations on being a succès de scandale. But of course the scandal is the arguments of your critics."

Snyder nearly matches Gibbs when it comes to provocateurship, saying the controversy stems from Gibbs's politics. He alleges: "I think, from a sociological point of view, what Gibbs represents is Marxism on the defensive. I think Gibbs feels that if Marxists can't claim to explain U.S. foreign policy toward Third World radical states, then what can they explain?" Gibbs says whether or not he's a Marxist is irrelevant to the arguments he's trying to make. As for going outside the peer review process? "I have no regrets."

If academics do sacrifice some of their independence when they work for the CIA, what do they get in return? Not very much, suggests one of Gibbs's colleagues at the University of Arizona, Thomas Volgy.

When I meet VoIgy at the conference, he looks harried, if not harassed. As the executive director of the ISA, he's bogged down by a variety of administrative tasks -- during our conversation, his walkie-talkie keeps going off. Still, he devotes a considerable amount of time to talking about Gibbs's claims and scholarly connections with the government. Finally, Volgy describes his own insider experience: two stints at the State Department on a scholar-diplomat exchange program.

"I'll tell you, the kind of clearance most of us get doesn't give us enough access, but it gives us great stories," Volgy begins. "And I tell my story in my class all the time. I walked past an office called the 'Office of Weather and Climate Modification.' And I knocked on the door, I walked in, and there was this guy sitting behind the desk, but there was nothing on the desk. And I said, 'What do you do?' and he said, 'I can't tell you.' And I said, 'I've got security clearance,' and he said, 'Not for me, you don't.'" Volgy laughs.

"For months, I had these nightmares about what this guy was doing, right? And it gives me this great set of stories," he says. "If I could penetrate in there, and then I couldn't write about it, and I couldn't talk about it, what the hell was I doing there in the first place? Those are my two responsibilities as an academic: Write about it, talk about it. So if you take that away from me, I cease to be an academic. Then I may be somebody who becomes a consultant, but not an academic."

For a second, Thomas Volgy sounds a lot like Bruce Cumings or David Gibbs. But then he slows down, becoming again the soft-spoken, walkie-talkie-wielding administrator. "Yeah, you bet there's a problem there," he says. "How big the problem is, it's really hard to tell. Most of us don't get that kind of clearance. You know, we get to see the desk. And the smile of polite refusal."

Chris Mooney is a writing fellow at the American Prospect. His article "Showdown: The Scholarly Fight Over Guns in America" appeared in the February 2000 Lingua Franca.

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