CIA at Rochester Institute of Technology
Covert Action Information Bulletin, Fall 1991, pp. 4-9

Rochester Institute of Technology: A CIA Subsidiary?

by Jean A. Douthwright

Copyright © 1991 by Covert Action Publications, Inc., Washington DC,
and Institute for Media Analysis, Inc., New York NY. All rights reserved.

It was February 1991 and the Gulf War was about to escalate into a ground conflict. Patriotic fervor in the U.S. was on the rise and Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) President M. Richard Rose seemed to echo the mood of the times. He was taking a sabbatical, he announced on February 15, to serve his country. "When so many young men and women are making personal sacrifices on behalf of their country," he told a student paper, "the very least I can do is serve in an area that maximizes my military, educational, and management experience."1

Two months later the Rochester Times-Union revealed that the "area" was not active military service, as Rose had led the community to believe, but rather a stint at the CIA in Langley, Virginia.2 When faculty and students became aware of Rose's choice, many felt he had deceived them. Rose also said that he was "helping to devise new training and educational policies for CIA operatives that will prepare them to deal with the post-Cold War period."3 But CIA spokespeople stated that "Rose let the Agency know he wanted to take a four-month sabbatical.... We didn't recruit him ... [but] we found his credentials fit."4 RIT would only say that their president would be away, working on "national policies and procedures."

It was in this context of disinformation and misrepresentation that the surface was peeled back layer by layer to reveal a long, complex, and pervasive relationship between RIT and the CIA. It was a connection which many in the university community charged was antithetical to the goals, methodologies and values of higher education.

Revealing the Ties

Rumors of ties between RIT's faculty, administration, and students and the CIA have long circulated but until recently have remained relatively minor or largely unsubstantiated.

A CIA memorandum dated October 16, 1975, revealed that the Agency had established "certain relationships [with RIT] which might be categorized as 'special' or 'particular.'"5 Other documents showed that the College of Graphic Arts and Photography received about $200,000 from the CIA in grants from 1966 to 1975.6 In 1985 it was reported that "30 RIT ... students have gone to work just for the National Security Agency and the Central Intelligence Agency."7 Most of the students were from computer science, math, engineering and imaging science programs.

Controversy also occurred at RIT in 1987 when Robert C. "Bud" McFarlane, Rose's longtime personal friend, was paid more than $70,000 to give three lectures as the Kern Professor of Communications at RIT. These talks occurred during the Iran-contra scandal when the former national security adviser was under investigation and attempted suicide. McFarlane continues his affiliation with RIT.

RIT had other influential friends who helped provide the kind of research and facilities the CIA needed. In 1985, when the new Imaging Science building was dedicated, the CIA deputy director attended and RIT awarded Senator Alfonse D'Amato (R-NY) an honorary degree. D'Amato had been influential in obtaining large amounts of federal monies to subsidize the facility as well as an earlier building to house the microelectronics program.8 This funding was criticized in the Chronicle of Higher Education because there was no peer review of any proposal. The Senate Appropriations Committee had also criticized lack of competitive bidding in awarding contracts to universities.9

Faculty members wrote letters to the editor denouncing the policies on grants and honorary degrees.10 When D'Amato and McFarlane came to RIT, they were met with protests.

The current controversy which began over Rose's "sabbatical" at Langley is shedding light on some of the obscure funding sources and arrangements that have helped support CIA activities at RIT. During Rose's 12-year presidency, RIT and its subsidiary, the RIT Research Corporation (RITRC)11 have received millions of dollars of CIA money.12 The total is not public information despite Rose's assurances that "it is my policy [regarding CIA involvement at RIT] to use every line of communication available to this community to assure that all our members are informed of what is happening all the time."13

Also clouding the issue is the relationship between RIT and RITRC through which much of the Agency's work is funneled. This for-profit subsidiary of the university, situated yards from the RIT campus proper, is private and thus less liable to public disclosure of funding sources and expenditures than is RIT itself. What is clear, however, is the rapid growth in CIA presence, influence, and funding under President Rose. The major build-up has occurred since the mid-1980s and now amounts to at least $2 million a year.14

Unravelling the Ties

The most recent exposure of the Rose connection to the CIA was triggered by a press conference called by the RIT-CIA Off Campus Coalition (COCC) on April 30, 1991. Jennifer Hyman, a reporter for the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, part of the Gannett chain, had been looking into the CIA-RIT since early April after Rose's stint at Langley was revealed. Since the conference, she has written a major series of rigorously documented articles which revealed a deep and longstanding relationship.15 The university struck back, denying the accuracy of the reports and challenging the integrity of the reporter. In a letter written to RIT donors, Jack Smith, RIT's vice president for communications complained that "unbalanced stories with misinformation ... are examples of reporting that is nothing short of character assassination... The story emphasis written by ... Jennifer Hyman, a foreign national from South Africa, seems to be influenced by her past experiences with the CIT [sic] which tie her philosophically to the handful of people protesting CIA-related programs on the RIT campus."16

Although they impugned her accuracy and motivation, university officials failed to refute Hyman's evidence. After her initial articles, they met charges with a stonewall of denial, begrudging acknowledgment of small bits of information, or silence -- most refused to even speak with Hyman. President Rose has apparently been advised by Hill and Knowlton, the largest and one of the most expensive public relations firms in the country, not to comment to the press. This firm, which RIT recently hired in the wake of the controversy, has also represented the Bank of Credit and Commerce International (BCCI), the Kuwaiti government-in-exile (Citizens for a Free Kuwait), and handles the United States Catholic Conference's multi-million dollar anti-abortion campaign.

As information linking Rose and RIT to the CIA mounted, so did opposition. COCC, the coalition of peace and justice groups and individuals from the campus, the alumni and the community called for his resignation and for RIT to cut all ties to the Agency. On April 25, the COCC presented its demands to the Faculty Council which voted 19-2 stipulating that Rose return from Langley before May 10 when the campus would begin emptying out for the summer. Rose refused, citing his commitments to the CIA. On May 28, the first business day after graduation, however, he returned, held a press conference, and met for two hours with the editorial board of the Gannett newspapers.

At that meeting "Rose insisted that the CIA was not involved in any way whatsoever in influencing academic programs at RIT. That [relationship], he said, would be inappropriate."17 The cynical posture of that statement became apparent in light of the 1985 "Memorandum of Agreement" between the university and the CIA implemented during Rose's tenure as president in which the Agency "recognize[s] RIT as a strategic national resource worthy of explicit development and support." RIT committed to tailor its curriculum to be "responsive to certain defined specialties of the CIA ... [and to] establish a program leading to a doctorate in imaging sciences." In exchange, the CIA found it "appropriate to support faculty chairs and research projects in various RIT departments."18 It was inevitable, given this arrangement, that the Agency would influence curriculum decisions, funding and faculty appointments.

The memorandum also revealed that "participants may engage in classified work ... without the knowledge of faculty advisers and students participating on that project." RIT's Center for Imaging Science would take on the role of "lead organization" in the new relationship.19 "There is simply no way," noted a Democrat and Chronicle editorial, "to square what Rose said last week [about the lack of CIA influence] with the facts contained in this document."20

Broad Implications of CIA on Campus

Rose, because of his unabashed defense of the CIA's role on campus, and his undeniable ties with the Agency, has become the center of a controversy with broad-ranging implications. At 58, his ramrod bearing, clipped haircut and curt manner attest to his military background. Rose, educated at Slippery Rock State College in Pennsylvania, was in the Marine Corps for five years and was a colonel in the Marine Corps Reserve from 1958 to 1986. He worked as a teacher and high school guidance counselor in Pennsylvania. In 1962 he became an administrator at the University of Pittsburgh where he stayed until 1972. It was there, in 1968 that he met Andrew J. Dougherty, head of the school's Air Force ROTC program, with whom he has been closely associated ever since. "Doc," as Dougherty is known, is a member of the Association of Former Intelligence Officers.

From 1972 through 1974, Rose served under Nixon as a deputy assistant secretary of defense developing training programs for military personnel, directing policy-mailing, and budgeting for military training. In 1974 he became president of Alfred University, about an hour from RIT, where he started a university-affiliated research corporation similar to RITRC, before coming to RIT in 1979. He brought Dougherty along first as vice president and then as executive assistant to the president. Dougherty also became the pivotal CIA contact person until early June 1991. Dougherty was then thrown to the wolves by the RIT Board of Trustees which along with the administration hoped that his forced resignation would satisfy opponents of RIT's deep involvement with the CIA and quiet the controversy.21

At first CIA involvement at RIT seemed -- because of the direct involvement of the president -- more dramatic, but not substantively different from that at many other universities. Liberal critics argued that the CIA on campus violated both educational and ethical norms. The covert nature of CIA activities was antithetical to open research, a spirit of inquiry, and the fundamental goals of education. The CIA, irredeemably bloodied by coups, assassinations, drug dealing and general brutality, was morally incompatible with the mission of a university.

These generalized charges were familiar ones and had been more or less successfully ignored, stonewalled or circumvented by the CIA in the past. What made RIT different was Hyman's tenacious reporting in a mainstream press; the presence of an organized group of concerned and unintimidated students and faculty; the particular arrogance and lack of subtlety of RIT's CIA operatives; and sensational, carefully documented evidence demonstrating how the Agency bought and paid for a tame institution suited to its needs. This fortuitous combination of factors exposed, for even the apolitical and amoral to see, how university collaboration with the CIA can affect the educational and ethical fiber of the community.

Tracing Back the Ties That Bind

Located in a secure building on the edge of campus, with a conference room that is regularly swept for bugs, is RIT's CIA-funded Federal Programs Training Center (FPTC). Here, small teams of faculty and students, totalling about 30 full- and part-time employees, work on various secret projects. Handpicked faculty and students with backgrounds in printing and photography develop procedures to identity different characteristics in documents such as passports, ID cards, drivers' licenses and visas. Some participants say the purpose of the work is to design research methods to help create more sophisticated and authentic looking forgeries. Particular attention is paid to bar codes, Mylar strips, holograms, embossings or laminates. Students doing the work were told detection of forged documents might affect an agent's life. They are also told not to discuss their work, or to identify the CIA as the sponsor. Another completed project perfected the electronic scanning of 9mm spy film to digitize and store selected images on computer disc.

At least 50 RIT faculty, staff and students had security clearances with the CIA in 1988.22 It could run many times that amount by now. Even the School for American Craftsmen program in woodworking has been infiltrated by the Agency which assigned students classroom projects making desks with hidden drawers and picture frames with secret cavities for listening devices.23

The proliferation of CIA programs and the large number of people involved at RIT is not a matter of chance. In a 1988 charter, RIT established a Technical Support Program and a Scholars' Program specifically to serve the CIA.24 Students were to be selected, recruited, and trained to do research for the Agency. When Edward McIrvine, dean of the College of Graphic Arts and Photography received his copy of the charter, he urged the administration to reveal it to the entire RIT community.

"It wasn't research any more," said McIrvine, "it was training. I told them that educating students enrolled at RIT for the CIA wasn't part of the Research Corporation mission."25

One particularly blatant way the CIA shaped the educational and research agenda of the University was by contracting with the RITRC to produce reports. McFarlane and other "experts" participated in discussions used to develop these documents. In "Changemasters," funded by the CIA and written in 1990 by Dougherty, Rose committed both himself and RIT to supporting the continuing work of the CIA.

Another report, the confidential "Japan: 2000" described Japanese people as "creatures of an ageless, amoral, manipulative and controlling culture" who are conspiring to dominate the world. The report concludes by congratulating itself that it "provide[s] notice that the 'rising sun' is coming -- the attack has begun."26 After Hyman exposed the original and the report was denounced by experts on Japan as crude, racist and full of errors, a revised version was released.27 Although the language in this version was less overtly racist, the basic arguments remained unchanged. Two participants in the seminar have subsequently repudiated the report.

Speaking Out Against the CIA

Critics of the CIA on campus pointed to these examples of dubious scholarship as unequivocal evidence of how CIA influence functioned to distort the ethical standards, research agenda, and academic environment of a university.

After "Japan: 2000" was made public, Dean McIrvine called for a change in leadership at RIT. In a May 24, 1991 letter, he further charged that, in the academic equivalent of a coup, the CIA had attempted to completely take over the Imaging Science program. In a reorganization plan authored by Rose, the Center for Imaging Science would be managed by the Research Corporation. "Such a strange proposal," said McIrvine, "made no sense educationally," but it did put the program in a better position "to serve the CIA."28

In an interview with Hyman published June 6, 1991, Dean McIrvine also revealed that RIT officials had conducted a secret background security check on him without his consent in 1988.29 He was one of fifty administrators, deans, faculty and staff members for whom RIT was trying to get clearance. He had previously turned down two requests from Dougherty and Rose asking him for his cooperation with a background check and only discovered the CIA investigation after he refused the Agency access to some of his psychiatric records.

Other faculty members presumably passed initial CIA muster and found out about Agency interest when they were approached for recruitment.

In the mid 1980s, Malcolm Spaull, chair of RIT's Film and Video Department, was asked by Dougherty and two CIA agents to train CIA personnel in video surveillance. Spaull declined, saying that he would not do any "directly aggressive" work that infringed on human rights. His association of CIA work with human rights abuses was not abstract. It sprang from his close friendship with the family of Charles Horman, the American writer whose abduction and execution by a right-wing death squad in Chile in September 1973 was depicted in the film Missing. According to Spaull there is "some evidence that the CIA knew [Horman] was in captivity and acquiesced in his execution."

John Ciampa, director of the RIT American Video Institute, declined to work for the CIA. "[I] simply pointed to a clause in the contract with my institute that says it will engage only in activities that are life enhancing."

Naming Names

Increasingly, research which serves military and corporate needs is routinely conducted at U.S. universities. Their large and sometimes secret grants endow faculty chairs, pay research, graduate student and staff salaries, and build and maintain facilities. Needless to say, the military and corporations support those projects which are directly responsive to their needs, not those which simply advance knowledge or serve social or university needs. Any responsible university undertakes to balance these often conflicting agenda through oversight committees which screen and evaluate grants and projects. RIT, however, had no such checks before the CIA scandal broke. Then, in response to faculty concerns, the Faculty Council-Administration Committee on Proprietary Research (CPR) was charged with evaluating the appropriateness of research projects and grant awards.

In the fall of 1989, Dougherty was asked by Vernon Elliott of Campus Watch (an anti-CIA watchdog publication) to confirm the presence of a CIA officer-in-residence at RIT. Rose reacted by sending a memo to Vice Presidents, Deans and Faculty Council members calling Philip Agee a drunk, communist, revolutionary, and womanizer. The attack, however, was drawn from a book which clearly referred to Philip Agee, Sr. (albeit erroneously), not Philip Agee, Jr. the coeditor of Campus Watch and not the ex-CIA officer who had become an outspoken opponent of the Agency's excesses.30

Members of the CPR also received the memo. This body had only recently begun raising questions about the secrecy and appropriateness of CIA-sponsored research. Some members of the ten-person committee interpreted Rose's memo as a McCarthyite tactic designed to intimidate them into dropping or softpedaling the inquiry. The effect was not as planned for some committee members. "I felt less intimidated than simply appalled by the left-over Cold War rhetoric lavished on the event," said philosophy professor Dr. Timothy Engstrom. "It was completely inappropriate, given the open discussions which should occur at a university. Rose casually assumed that his views were sanctioned by the academic hierarchy."

While some members felt threatened, others were more sanguine. John Schott and George Ryan had good reason to support a continuing relationship with the CIA, since both were involved in Agency programs. Schott, a professor in the imaging science program, just completed a $200,000 grant for research on analyzing satellite images. (The CIA has apparently cancelled "all of Schott's work" in the wake of the recent publicity.) Schott, however, maintains that "all the work I do ends up in conference proceedings and journals."31

Ryan, the operations manager for the RITRC, along with Dr. Harvey Rhody, an electrical engineer, have recently replaced Dougherty as RIT's CIA contact people. Although they were on the CPR at the time and were aware of it, neither Schott nor Ryan informed the committee of the "Memorandum of Agreement" with the CIA. In fact, Ryan, in response to questions submitted by faculty in late 1989, stated that "RIT has made no commitments or agreements other than the deliverables including final reports...." Shortly before this statement, in April 1990, Rose and Provost Thomas Plough were asked to address a public forum on the issue of proprietary research. Both declined. Plough directed the president of the Research Corporation, Dr. Robert Desmond, to stand in. Although he spoke at the forum, he refused to answer the list of questions from faculty which he had been given well before the event.

If there is conflict of interest within the Proprietary Research Committee, there is an even more blatant one on the current Board of Trustees. One member, RIT alumnus Robert J. Kohler, is a 25-year former CIA official. Rose wrote to Kohler on April 18, 1985, to solicit a list of CIA-approved candidates for director of RIT's imaging science program. Kohler replied in May with three names including one "recently retired from the CIA" who "might be looking for something else to do at this stage of his life."32 Kohler, who worked for the Lockheed Missile Space Company after leaving the CIA, was appointed to the Center for Imaging Science's academic advisory board in late 1985. He became an RIT trustee in 1988, and is vice president of the TRW Avionics and Surveillance Group in San Diego. TRW has long had close working relations with the CIA.

The CIA continued to be involved with the imaging science program according to a July 1986 memo from Dougherty.33 In it the CIA's Evan Hineman was briefed by Kohler and Keith Hazard. Hineman wanted to see even greater CIA involvement in RIT's Center for Imaging Science. Hazard, a CIA officer who serves as outside advisor, replaced Kohler on the center's advisory board when Kohler became a trustee.

An Investigation Begins

On May 28, 1991, Rose announced that he would suspend all personal ties with the CIA, "distance" himself and his office from Dougherty, and appoint a "blue-ribbon" commission to investigate RIT's CIA links.34 A review panel was chosen by the Board of Trustees. After a series of protests charging that it was stacked, the panel was enlarged to include a student, an alumnus, and a faculty member. The panel also hired independent fact finders Monroe Freedman, an expert on legal ethics at Hofstra University, and Jonathan Soroko, a former New York City prosecutor. It is still unclear what access they and the panel will have to information and personnel at RIT and RITRC.

On June 5, papers relating to the CIA were discovered missing from Rose's office. Two days later, documents were mailed anonymously to news organizations in Rochester. They revealed last-ditch efforts by Dougherty to save the CIA programs. "Our sponsor," one document noted, "is increasingly uncomfortable with perceived hostile environment. If we do not solve the situation ourselves within days, we will probably lose it.... Gary Conners has indicated an absolute commitment to form a not-for-profit for which we can assign present contracts with no lapse in performance. The new not-for-profit would be a 'university' foundation consisting of University of Rochester, RIT, and other scientists who wish to participate."35 Conners comes from Kodak's Government Systems division, also known in some quarters as its "spook division."

In July 1986, Rose told the CIA "[The CIA-RIT] relationship is rapidly coming to full bloom.... We are pleased and delighted with the relationship and the way the relationship has developed to both our advantages."36 The RIT community, however, had seen the root of the bloom. As the editors of a Rochester newspaper wrote, "RIT officials have tried to wrap this controversy in the flag, as if any red-blooded American should be happy to work for the CIA, no questions asked. But learning to forge documents is not necessarily a patriotic duty. This history of the CIA's meddling in other countries offers ample proof of that. Many other campuses have decided that CIA spying doesn't square with the mission of a university. Rose and his board of trustees need to explain clearly why they think it does."37

1.   Christina Pagano, "President Rose Called for Confidential U.S. Assignment," RIT Reporter, February 15, 1991, p. 7.

2.   M. Kathleen Wagner, "RIT President Working for CIA," Times-Union, Rochester NY, April 10, 1991.

3.   Jennifer Hyman, "RIT President Working for CIA," Democrat and Chronicle, Rochester NY, April 11, 1991, p. B1.

4.   John Machachek, "CIA Confirms Influence," Times-Union, Rochester NY, June 13, 1991, p. B1.

5.   The memo from the CIA's director of personnel was made public under a Freedom of Information Act suit filed by Morton Halperin.

6.   Eugene Marino, "Secret Research Draws RIT Students," Democrat and Chronicle, February 16, 1985, p. A1.

7.   Ibid.

8.   Colleen Cordes, "Sen. Byrd Eases Position on University Projects that Avoid Peer Review," Chronicle of Higher Education, September 27, 1989, p. 25.

9.   Ibid.

10.   Carolyn Snyder, et al., "Unethical Gift," RIT Reporter, March 21, 1986.

11.   The RITRC is supposed to be a separate subsidiary from RIT, but there is considerable use of personnel and funding from the university. For example, Dennis C. Nystrom, who was employed at RIT as a development officer for the imaging sciences program and is the former dean of the College of Graphics Arts and Photography, recruits students for and runs the Federal Programs Training Center (FPTC). He held no official position in the RITRC. (Nystrom resigned from RIT and is now employed as a manager of program development with Ektron Applied Imaging in Bedford MA. Ektron is part of Eastman Kodak Company's Government Systems Division, which handles Kodak's classified work for defense and intelligence agencies, and work for NASA.) It is unclear how much overlap exists between the RITRC and RIT; however, the RITRC, started in 1980, was heavily subsidized by RIT. The RITRC is still paying off loans RIT.

12.   Jennifer Hyman, "Millions in CIA Funding Pumped into CIA Coffers," Democrat and Chronicle, May 16, 1991, p. A1.

13.   March 19, 1988, letter from President M. Richard Rose to Dr. Paul A. Haefner.

14.   Democrat and Chronicle, op. cit.

15.   Much of the information in this article comes from Hyman's reports.

16.   Letter from Jack Smith to RIT donors, undated but sent circa June 1991.

17.   Editorial, "Rescue RIT from the CIA," Democrat and Chronicle, June 4, 1991.

18.   "Cover Memorandum for Memorandum of Agreement Among the RIT, the RIT Research Corporation, and the CIA," August 6, 1985.

19.   Ibid.

20.   Editorial, Democrat and Chronicle, op. cit., June 4, 1991.

21.   Dougherty told the Times-Union, on June 6, 1991, that he was "forced" out because of "distorted, twisted news reports." In a story the following day, Rose is reported to have blamed his colleague of more than two decades for RIT's involvement with the CIA. The president claimed he did not know the details of CIA research on campus and his biggest mistake was vesting oversight of Agency activities in one person.

22.   Jennifer Hyman, "CIA Vein Runs Deep Inside RIT," Democrat and Chronicle, June 2, 1991, p. A1.

23.   Ibid.

24.   RIT office memo from President Rose, August 18, 1991.

25.   Jennifer Hyman, "Dean Says His Privacy Invaded," Democrat and Chronicle, June 6, 1991, p. A1.

26.   "Japan: 2000," February 1991, draft by Andrew Dougherty, p. 167.

27.   Jennifer Hyman, "Revised Report Softer on Japanese," Democrat and Chronicle, May 25, 1991, p. A1.

28.   RIT office memo from Edward McIrvine, May 24, 1991.

29.   It is unclear how many of the 50 RIT individuals with security clearance are aware of their status. At other institutions, the CIA keeps files not only on those who have passed their clearance checks but on those who failed. The Agency does not feel obligated to notify either group.

30.   RIT office memo from M. Richard Rose, October 10, 1989.

31.   Denise K. Magner, "At Rochester Institute, a Spectrum of Opinions on Links with the CIA," Chronicle of Higher Education, July 10, 1991.

32.   Letter sent from Robert J. Kohler to M. Richard Rose, May 6, 1985.

33.   RIT office memo to Drs. Robert Desmond, Harvey Rhody, and John Schott from Andrew J Dougherty, July 31, 1986.

34.   Jennifer Hyman, "Rose Suspends CIA Ties," Democrat and Chronicle, May 29, 1991, p. A1.

35.   Transcript of telephone call from Andrew Dougherty while in Washington to M. Richard Rose, June 3, 1991.

36.   "Report to Evan Hineman from M. Richard Rose Regarding CIA/RIT Relationships," July, 29, 1986. Hineman was CIA deputy director for science and technology.

37.   Editorial, "How Many Secrets at RIT?", Democrat and Chronicle, May 17, 1991.


Jean A. Douthwright is an associate professor of biology at RIT and faculty adviser for the RIT Community for Peace and Justice. Research assistance was provided by members of the RIT-CIA Off Campus Coalition.

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