The National Student Association Scandal
From The Very Best Men: Four Who Dared -- The Early Years of the CIA by Evan Thomas (New York: Simon & Schuster Touchstone Edition, 1996), pp. 329-30:

[Desmond] FitzGerald was feeling intense pressure that winter and spring, from the outside as well as within the agency. A new wave of press stories threatened to expose the agency's long reach and further undermine its image. In February 1967, Ramparts magazine, a left-wing publication, revealed that the CIA had secretly funded the National Student Association as a front group in the battle to win the allegiance of young student leaders from Marxist- and KGB-controlled fronts. The American press picked up the trail and ran a large number of stories exposing the agency's various ties to foundations, think tanks, labor unions, and universities. The CIA's whole system of anticommunist fronts in Europe, Asia, and South America was essentially blown.

When, in January 1967, FitzGerald first heard that Ramparts was about to break the story, his initial response was to run a covert operation against the left-wing magazine. That winter he ordered Edgar Applewhite to try to discredit the Ramparts editors any way he could. "I had all sorts of dirty tricks to hurt their circulation and financing," said Applewhite. "The people running Ramparts were vulnerable to blackmail. We had awful things in mind, some of which we carried off, though Ramparts fell of its own accord. We were not the least inhibited by the fact that the CIA had no internal security role in the United States." When Applewhite returned to brief FitzGerald on his dirty tricks (which he declined to describe twenty-five years later), the clandestine chief was bemused. "Eddie," he said, "you have a spot of blood on your pinafore."

Campus Watch, Fall 1991, pp. 12-13

CIA Infiltration of Student Groups:

The National Student Association Scandal

by Phil Agee, Jr.

In February 1967, vice president Hubert Humphrey told a Stanford University audience that recent revelations of CIA activities represented "one of the saddest times, in reference to public policy, our Government has had." He was referring to the momentous exposures, then exploding across the front pages, of CIA meddling in the nation's largest student group, the United States National Student Association (NSA). The 1967 investigations, initially prompted by the editors of Ramparts magazine and authorized by various liberal-minded figures in corporate media and government, brought forth some of the most fully-disclosed operations regarding CIA influence over academia and a host of other domestic groups. Only after a presidential directive and promises by federal agencies to end covert support of domestic groups did the scandal subside. The damage control ultimately allayed such figures as Humphrey, Senator Robert Kennedy, and New York Times editorial page editor John Oakes. Yet subsequent failures to properly regulate covert actions along with legal loopholes and lack of clear policies within academic institutions have left persisting doubts regarding the use to which the CIA has put student groups and the academic community.

By most accounts, the relationship between the CIA and the NSA dates back to the early fifties, when both organizations were still in their infancies. As Tom Braden, who headed the agency's International Organization Division between '51 and '54, recounts in an article titled "I'm Glad the CIA is 'Immoral'," the NSA operation began after Allen Dulles, then in line for directorship, authorized Braden to provide support to domestic organizations in an all-out effort against the "international Communist front." Secret CIA funds were provided in 1952 to then NSA president William Dentzer, who later went on to become AID director in Peru. The New York Times also identified Cord Meyer, Jr. as having headed the NSA operation. However, the ties between the CIA and the National Student Association may actually stretch back to 1950, when, according to a New York Times interview with Frederic Delano Houghteling, then NSA secretary, the CIA gave him several thousand dollars to pay traveling expenses for a delegation of 12 representatives to a European international student conference.

The first congress of the Association, held at Madison, Wisconsin in 1947, had set out to represent the U.S. student community in an emerging international student scene. As the NSA grew, covert CIA influence led to often contradictory behavior between those few who knew and the vast majority kept in the dark. Yet its growing membership also developed a domestic program addressing a range of national and campus-related issues. In 1951 it opposed the House Un-American Activities Committee. Its elected officers participated in the activities of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and it organized counseling on the draft during the war in Vietnam. Much of its domestic role reflected the growing concerns on campuses nationwide with racism and imperialism. On the international front the Association eventually established four full-time overseas representatives based in France, England, Poland and Uganda, and scores of part-time representatives. As conservative student groups such as the Young Americans for Freedom attacked the Association's positions, members of Students for a Democratic Society provided important leadership for campus-based activities.

It was an SDS member, Michael Wood, who took the story to Ramparts magazine after being told of the relationship in 1966 by then NSA president Phil Sherburne. In telling Wood, Sherburne was hoping to forestall Wood's imminent resignation brought on by other officers who had refused to provide him with information regarding NSA funding sources. The exposure led to a year-long series of revelations alleging CIA financing of the American Newspaper Guild, the AFL-CIO, and the American Federation of Teachers, among others.

The initial mission, however, of fairly representing U.S. students in international student politics was doomed from the beginning. With no practical control by local chapters over its overseas operations and the CIA's stipulation that its funding remain secret, a schizophrenic odyssey began which provided, unbeknownst to all but a handful of national officers, a perfect cover for the CIA in its operations abroad. Overseas representatives promoted an anti-communist agenda abroad and collected intelligence for the CIA's in-house operations underway around the world.

The impact the Association had abroad was largely due to the funding provided by the CIA. According to the Ramparts article and subsequent reports by the New York Times, U.S. intelligence was providing the NSA as much as $400,000 a year. The CIA was also funneling as much as $1,800,000 to the International Student Conference, a confederation of over 80 national student unions set up in 1950 by the NSA to counter the International Union of Students, a so-called "communist" union which originated the long-lasting International Youth Festivals. The funds were transferred through a double screening process, using first dummy foundations and then foundations with histories of legitimate private philanthropy. "Legitimate" foundations would then pass the funds on to the national office of the NSA.

For at least 15 years, during the fifties and sixties, the NSA appeared to the public and its own membership to be receiving its funding from private foundations such as the Ford and Rockefeller Foundations and government sources including the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare and the State Department. Labeled by E.W. Kenworthy in the New York Times of February 19, 1967 as "not much more than a mail-drop," the front foundations included the Price Fund of New York, the Edsel Fund of San Francisco, the Borden Trust of Philadelphia, and the Beacon Fund of Boston. Among the more widely mentioned "legitimate" foundations passing the funds along to the NSA were the Independence Foundation of Boston, the San Jacinto Foundation of Houston, and the Foundation for Youth and Student Affairs of New York. Not surprisingly, a number of officials of these foundations had past connections with both the federal government and the NSA. Harry Lunn, secretary of the Foundation for Youth and Student Affairs, was both NSA president (1954-55) and subsequently worked for the Defense Department, the political section of the American embassy in Paris, and the Agency for International Development. The NSA's international division and part of its national directorate became secret recruiting pools for potential CIA career officials.

The funds given to the NSA were used for a variety of projects, approved beforehand by CIA officers. According to Sam Brown, chairman of the Association's national supervisory board in 1967, students representing the NSA overseas would compile data on the personalities of foreign student leaders and the policies and objectives of foreign student organizations. As he told the New York Times, "some of this information apparently was passed directly to CIA employees and some of it, in the course of normal business, went into the files of the N.S.A.," to be later accessed by clandestine operatives within the Association. Those students having signed secrecy oaths with the CIA would then be bound under penalty of law to keep their knowledge of the ultimate benefactor from the public and the rest of their organization. Other projects included scholarships for Algerian students provided just before Algerian independence in 1960, and a seminar on student newspapers held in East Africa in 1965. Allen Dulles, DCI from 1953 to 1961, in defending the agency was quoted as saying "if we turned back the Communists and made them milder and easier to live with, it was because we stopped them in certain areas and the student area was one of them."

One past president of the NSA, who refused to identify himself to the New York Times, stated that the CIA had tried to "influence the selection of staff members to run certain programs and get the organization to start activities in certain fields." Michael Wood revealed that the agency would recruit student agents mostly through the Association's annual International Student Relations Seminar. Potential agents would be assessed and cleared for approval by the agency. NSA officers would then appoint them to various non-elective offices or nominate them for elected offices to be voted on at the national meeting. At one such meeting held in Madison, Wisconsin in 1965, CIA agents attempted to keep the Association from taking a position on the war in Vietnam. While the Association's call for negotiations and cessation to bombing did go through, the agents succeeded, according to Wood, in pressing for a stipulation calling for negotiation on the part of the North Vietnamese. The CIA's subsidies translated into influence over the policies and activities of the Association.

At the time of the revelations, noted U.S. scholars predicted that the operation would create considerable difficulties in carrying out their work abroad. The president of the American Political Science Association, Robert A. Dahl declared he was "sickened and alarmed" by the agency's secret financing of academic organizations, adding "there are bound to be evil effects from such practices." The position of United States scholars, their relations with foreign colleagues and their chances for research may be found to have "suffered grievously," he told the New York Times. Concern was also known to exist that the disclosures involving the intelligence agency might hamper Fulbright exchange programs of scholars, professors and students as well as other cultural programs. Dr. Stephen K. Bailey, dean at the Maxwell Graduate School of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Syracuse University stated, "It's a very dangerous thing and has sown seeds of suspicion which really handicap the free and open inquiry and access which is needed for scholarly work."

While the public awaits a complete account of the agency's 44-year involvement with the academic community, this and a small number of other domestic operations disclosed over the last twenty-five years suggest to many that the agency's involvement has at times bordered on a complete subversion of the independence and integrity of academic and student organizations. Such was the general reaction in 1967 when the CIA's involvement with the NSA became known. The CIA's continuing involvement with the nation's universities raises once again the issue of the propriety of both public and secret collaboration.

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