See also: Debate on the CIA and Academe

Anthropology News, November 2000, pp. 13-14

The AAA and the CIA?

by David Price

With little notice by anthropologists, there has been increasing documentation of the extent to which American intelligence agencies monitored and influenced the development of American social sciences throughout the Cold War. One of the ways these agencies accomplished this was through covert contact with professional associations -- either as silent observers at professional meetings or as silent partners entering into secret agreements with individual members or official bodies within these associations.

A wide literature has developed that documents some of the interactions between American social science professional associations and intelligence agencies. Benjamin Harris documented the FBI's monitoring of the American Psychological Association and the Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues since the 1930s. In Stalking the Sociological Imagination (1999, Greenwood), Mike Keen used the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) to document the FBI's surveillance of prominent sociologists as well as the meetings of the American Sociological Association. Christopher Simpson likewise established that the "FBI and US military intelligence agents kept the American Sociological Society conventions under surveillance in an effort to smoke out radicals." Sigmund Diamond's book, Compromised Campus (1992), used FOIA to painstakingly declassify CIA and FBI documents revealing the extent to which post-war Area Studies centers were manipulated by the CIA and Pentagon.

While the history of the American Anthropological Association has been punctuated by inquiries into accusations that anthropologists have undertaken work for intelligence agencies, there has been little research into links between the AAA and these agencies. A variety of documents released to me under FOIA establish that the CIA and FBI have monitored activities within our Association. Further, documents from the Association's archives establish that, in the 1950s, the AAA entered into a series of covert relationships with the CIA. One of these relationships involved working to establish a liaison position between the Association and CIA. Another involved the Executive Board agreeing to secretly give the CIA a cross-indexed roster of the Association's membership detailing individuals' backgrounds and areas of expertise.

The chronology and historical background of these events are complicated and are described in another paper. Only a brief overview of the Association's documents relating to this episode appears below.

In February 1951, AAA Executive Secretary Frederick Johnson wrote the Executive Board that, due to numerous requests by various governmental agencies, he believed the Association needed to produce a detailed roster of its membership. Johnson -- an unelected, non-voting, ex officio member of the board -- recommended that the AAA work with the CIA on this project. Throughout the Board's decision process and during later negotiations with the CIA, Johnson maneuvered -- even to the point of exceeding his ex officio role -- to bring the CIA and their computers into this project.

AAA President Howells wrote Johnson (3/3/51), that "the CIA proposal is ideal," and that under this proposal the CIA would keep a copy of the computerized roster data for their own uses. Howells indicated that if "a reasonable questionnaire, suitable to both parties, can be worked out, we will both get what we want, and except for the mailing [the CIA] will put the whole thing through from beginning to end, and the chances are we will get something that we want."

Board members received ballots with two action items regarding this proposed relationship between the Association and the CIA. The first item proposed that Johnson be authorized to continue negotiations with the CIA regarding the production of a detailed roster of Association members; the second item requested authorization for Johnson to seek means for producing future rosters. The first ballot item is reproduced in full below because it clarifies the Executive Board's awareness of the CIA's involvement in compiling the roster, as well as the arrangements whereby CIA would keep a copy of the final product for their own uses:

The Executive Secretary is empowered to continue negotiations with Central Intelligence Agency for the purpose of compiling a roster of Anthropological Personnel. The final agreement will be based on the idea that the Anthropological Association will sponsor the roster and the Agency will do the technical work connected with it. The [Central Intelligence] Agency will be allowed to keep one copy of the roster for its own use and it will deliver to the Association a duplicate copy the use of which will not be restricted. The final agreement between the Association and the Agency shall be such that the Association shall be liable only for mailing charges and such incidental expenses as it may be able to afford. The final agreement shall be approved by the Executive Board.

On March 29, 1951 Johnson informed the Board that the "Proposal that Executive Secretary continue negotiations with the Central Intelligence Agency to arrange for compilation of a roster of Anthropologists" had passed, as did the second ballot item authorizing Johnson to negotiate the production of future rosters. Negotiations with anthropologists working at the CIA were undertaken and a plan of action was proposed.

Johnson wrote the Board that the CIA offered the best opportunity for the Association despite its insistence on secrecy (4/21/51). Johnson wrote that, "In searching for the ways and means of setting up a roster of Anthropologists I have a general proposal from [the] Central Intelligence Agency. This agency is reluctant to have its name connected with the proposal. It will do the work as generally and tentatively outlined below provided the Association will sponsor the project." In keeping with CIA's wishes, these arrangements were not made public.

The kinds of information to be collected by mailed questionnaires were negotiated in the summer and fall of 1951. The final questionnaire collected information on AAA members' geographical, linguistic and cultural expertise as well as their military background. What became of the information collected for the roster is presently unclear. Association records for this period do not contain a copy of a completed roster, and public and private searches for copies of the final roster have thus far been fruitless. FBI records reveal that the questionnaire was sent to the AAA membership and further indicate that the FBI believed this roster to have "been initiated by some Governmental agency, such as CIA, for the express purpose of obtaining intelligence data." The CIA has been uncooperative with my efforts to clarify the nature and extent of its contact with the AAA and its membership. At present we are left to wonder about the uses to which the CIA might have put such data as it engaged in anti-democratic and counterinsurgency activities in the decades that followed. I have hopes that some member of the Association reading this article knows the outcome of these negotiations with CIA, or what became of this roster.

All this raises troubling issues for our Association. These issues involve questions about a variety of only partially documented links between anthropologists and intelligence agencies, as well as fundamental issues concerning the ethics of allowing secrecy in research. While raising these issues complicates our relationships with those we study, not confronting these issues stands to potentially damage both the interests of anthropologists and those we study.

David Price is assistant professor of anthropology at St. Martin's College in Lacey, Washington.

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