The CIA on Campus
Covert Action Information Bulletin, Winter 1989, pp. 25-28

Students, Scholars, and Spies:

The CIA on Campus

by Robert Witanek

Copyright © 1989 by Covert Action Publications, Inc., Washington DC,
and Institute for Media Analysis, Inc., New York NY. All rights reserved.

Professors and CIA operatives with academic cover have worked extensively on campuses around the world. As we will see in this article, they have written books, articles, and reports for U.S. consumption with secret CIA sponsorship and censorship; they have spied on foreign nationals at home and abroad; they have regularly recruited foreign and U.S. students and faculty for the CIA; they have hosted conferences with secret CIA backing under scholarly cover, promoting disinformation; and they have collected data, under the rubric of research, on Third World liberation and other movements opposed to U.S. intervention.1

The nature of the relationship between the CIA and the academic community is best seen in a 1968 memo from Dr. Earl C. Bolton who, while serving as Vice President of the University of California at Berkeley, was secretly consulting for the CIA. The memo, widely circulated among U.S. universities, advises the use of duplicity and deception to hide CIA connection to the campuses. It also suggests lying about CIA involvement in university projects stating, "The real initiative might be with the Agency but the apparent or record launching of the research should, wherever possible, emanate from the campus." The memo continues:

Follow a plan of emphasizing that CIA is a member of the national security community and stress the great number of other agencies with which the agency is allied [and] ... stress in recruiting articles and speeches that the agency is really a university without students and not a school for spies. There is as much academic freedom within the walls of the building and among those competent on the subject as on any campus I know. (I haven't detected the slightest tendency on the part of anyone to resist saying what he thinks.)2

Bolton's memo also recommended setting up programs with CIA funds "to establish the study of intelligence as a legitimate and important field of inquiry for the academic scholar." Under Bolton's plan the CIA was to fund one-year post doctoral programs for selected scholars.

Ironically, the memo also stated that doctoral students spending a year at the CIA working on their dissertations "would of course have to recognize the agency's right to review the finished document for accidental leaks." The contradiction between CIA secrecy and the academic ideal of encouraging the open exchange of information seems to have posed no dilemma for the vice president of one of the country's most prestigious universities.

A Few Examples

The CIA has a long and sordid history of activity on U.S. university campuses. The examples below list just a few of what are doubtlessly hundreds of CIA operations on college campuses.

Academics and Africa

The CIA is especially interested in inspiring university African affairs programs. Again, MIT played an important role in promoting CIA interests. In 1956, when former CIA official Max Millikan was director of MIT's Center for International Studies, he appointed Arnold Rivkin from the State Department to head MIT's Africa Research Program. Together, the two supervised studies for CIA use.8

That the CIA had a keen interest in academics with expertise in African Studies was evidenced in a Ford Foundation study. In 1958, the Ford Foundation's Committee of Africanists commenced to "survey the current condition and future prospects of African studies." According to its report, the CIA said it would need "a constant level of ... seventy people specializing in the African area; they particularly desire those who have training in economics, geography, or political science."9 Other examples of the CIA's "academic" interest in Africa include:

Democracy: Rutgers Style

In 1968, the CIA used the Eagleton Institute for Research at Rutgers University in a plan to influence the outcome of the presidential election in Guyana. Through the Eagleton Institute, the CIA helped amend the Guyanese constitution to allow Guyanese and relatives of Guyanese living abroad to vote by absentee ballot. Then 16,000 votes were manufactured in New York City, giving the CIA's candidate, Forbes Burnham, a narrow margin over socialist Cheddi Jagan.12

Another operation involving Rutgers University was run by Political Science Department Chair, Professor Richard Mansbach, who used an undergraduate class (without the students' knowledge) as cover for a CIA project entitled the "European Non-State Actors Project" (ENSAP) in 1984.13

When Europeans were up in arms over U.S. deployment of Pershing II and Cruise missiles in Western Europe, Mansbach assigned his students to each focus on one component of West Europe's political culture including disarmament, religious, labor, media, left, environmental, and various other groups. They were to produce data-intensive reports to Mansbach who would in turn, and in secret, incorporate the data into a report to the CIA. While the study was initially to result in a book, it is believed to have been abandoned after it was exposed.14

CIA "Scholars" on Campus

The CIA recently initiated an "Officer in Residence" program to increase their presence and prestige in the U.S. academic community. According to a CIA official, "about ten" major universities across the country host CIA "Officers in Residence."15 Stanley M. Moskowitz, chair of the CIA Training Selection Board, wrote that the Resident Officers program, "allows senior-level officers to disengage from their normal duties by fully participating in the academic life, including research and teaching." He also stated that the CIA officer,

will demonstrate the quality of CIA people and [the CIA's] commitment to providing U.S. leaders with the very best intelligence we can. The program also serves to strengthen our professional ties to a fertile and indispensable source of ideas and technical expertise and to enhance CIA's recruiting efforts by providing an opportunity for experienced officers to serve as role models, to counsel interested students on career opportunities with the CIA, and to respond to concerns students may have about the agency and the intelligence profession.16

The letter makes no bones about the fact that the CIA is on campus to recruit the "fertile and indispensable source of ideas," namely university professors, and to look for recruits among students as well.

An October 9, 1987 memo from the Office of the Associate Dean at the University of Texas to the faculty shows how eager university officials are to cooperate with the CIA's Officer in Residence program. The memo describes Resident Officer James McInnis as having "extensive experience in national security policy and international affairs, especially Latin America and the Middle East" and states that "He [McInnis] might prove a valuable resource to you in your teaching and research. I invite and encourage you to seek him out and explore mutual interests [author's emphasis]."

Recruiting on Campus

Campus recruitment by the CIA is as old as the Agency itself. In the late 1940s, Frank Wisner was director of the CIA's Office of Policy Coordination (OPC), which was then the CIA's operational component. He used 500 OSS World War II veterans who had returned to their careers as academicians after the war, as well as other faculty members, to form "selection committees" which became the OPC's unofficial recruitment arm.17 Known as the OPC's "P-source," or professor source, these committees provided ideal means for screening potential recruits because they could observe the students over periods of time in a classroom setting.

By early 1950, the program had been expanded to include the recruitment of foreign students attending college in the U.S. to serve as CIA agents in place or moles when they returned to their respective countries.18 The recruitment of foreign students had its roots in earlier programs in the late 1930s and through the 1940s when students of countries friendly to the U.S. were admitted to U.S. military academies. Their services were especially desired by the U.S. as they would return to their countries to become part of the nation's military elite. Through them, the U.S. hoped to influence events in these countries and to gain information on the inner workings of their governments.

By the late 1970s about 5000 academicians were doing the bidding of the CIA: identifying and recruiting American students and providing fulltime screening committees designed to select 200-300 future CIA operatives from among the 250,000 foreign students who come to the U.S. to be educated each year.19 Around 60 percent of these professors, researchers, and administrators were fully aware of and received direct compensation from the CIA as contract employees or from research grants for their role as covert CIA recruiters.20

In 1975, the CIA attempted to secretly recruit Ahmad Jabbari, an Iranian student working on his Ph.D. in economics at Washington University in St. Louis. At his interview with the CIA agent, which he taped, the recruiter asked him to spy on other Iranian students, offering an immediate $750 payment, and American citizenship, if he proved reliable. Jabbari refused all offers.21

After recruiting a foreign student, the CIA often uses coercion by threatening to expose the student as a CIA agent while demanding his/her continued cooperation. Since 1948, more than 40 foreign agents recruited on American campuses have committed suicide out of fear of exposure.22

In 1977, a federal appeals court ruled that the CIA had no right to secretly investigate Gary Weissman, a former student at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, "for recruitment purposes." Weissman sued the CIA after learning of the investigation.23

In June of 1986, David Wise reported that the CIA had made recruiting of new personnel a key priority. The effort has included the opening of 11 recruiting centers around the U.S. Wise wrote that the effort involved a major advertising campaign and that student inquiries have been steadily rising. John P. Littlejohn, the CIA's deputy director of personnel, described the recruitment procedure as follows: The recruiter receives resumes in advance, courtesy of the campus placement offices, and selects candidates for a screening interview. The interview usually takes place on campus but some colleges, like Harvard University, require that the interviews occur off campus.24

Potential CIA recruits must complete a 12-page personal history, undergo a lie detector test, and be subject to physical, psychological, and sometimes psychiatric testing, and a background clearance test of at least four months in duration. According to Littlejohn, approximately 150,000 people inquire about jobs each year, 10,000 submit applications, and 1000 employees are hired. Littlejohn estimates that two to three hundred of these become clandestine officers.25

The CIA at Harvard

While information about CIA campus recruitment is a closely guarded secret, these programs are obviously known by college administrators. Details about the CIA's covert campus recruitment program were presented to eight presidents of America's most prestigious colleges at a secret meeting in Washington, DC's Mayflower Hotel in the spring of 1976. The administrators were told that the Senate would not expose these programs but that information would be provided to assist the college administrators in cleaning up their respective colleges. Ironically, none of the presidents requested the additional information.26

Harvard President Derek Bok convened a committee to draft a report on CIA operations at the college and guidelines regulating such activity. In return, the CIA launched a massive campus lobbying effort against the adoption of similar measures. During this effort, from June 1978 through 1979, the CIA held a series of "special briefings" with various University presidents in an attempt to work out secret arrangements for campus recruiting.27

The CIA promised that Harvard's rules would be ineffective, as the Agency would simply ignore them. To that effect, CIA Director Turner sent a letter to Bok proclaiming the right of every American to assist the CIA as they chose. He also said that "all recruitment for CIA staff employment on campus is overt" conveniently avoiding the topic of its recruitment of "agents" and other CIA "assets" not considered as CIA staff.28

The CIA has kept its promise to violate Harvard's guidelines, with at least two known cases being recently brought to light. In 1986, professor Nadav Safran resigned as head of Harvard's Center for Middle Eastern Affairs after revealing that he secretly received payment from the CIA to write a book about Saudi Arabia and to stage a conference about the Middle East at the University.29

In 1985, an official of the Harvard Center for International Affairs was embroiled in a similar controversy when he conducted research secretly funded by the CIA.30

The Bok report documented CIA use of campus "spotters" to provide names to the CIA of prospective CIA recruits. When a spotter finds a potential recruit, the CIA conducts a background investigation of the student. If the CIA decides to approach the student, the spotter is often called upon to make the introduction. Otherwise, the results of the background inquiry go into a permanent dossier on the student without his/her knowledge.


It's never easy to discover what the CIA is up to, even on our own college campuses. However, many CIA covert academic operations have come to light (usually years after the fact) because of unauthorized leaks, building takeovers resulting in the seizure of documents, or Freedom of Information Act requests.

As it has become clear that university administrators will not keep the CIA off campus, students have once again taken to mass protest to stop CIA activities. All across the country, CIA recruiters have been confronted with angry students and faculty demanding their ouster and an end to university recruiting. At the University of Colorado over 500 students were arrested during several days of anti-CIA recruiting protests.

As more covert CIA academic operations are exposed, the CIA will develop more effective means of protecting its secrecy when it goes to college. Regardless, many dedicated students are seeing to it that the CIA must operate in a campus environment that is less than ideal for the maximum exploitation of its university assets.31 This is a hopeful sign.

1.   In 1976, Professor Michael Selzer admitted at a faculty meeting that he had kept "his eyes and ears open" for the CIA on a trip to Europe and later met with them and reported what he had learned. He also admitted that he knew six professors who had spied for the CIA. See Ernest Volkman, "Spies on Campus," Penthouse, October 1979. Also of interest is the CIA's participation in a conference entitled "The Middle East and the Superpowers," at Princeton University, October 25-26, 1979. For more on this case, see CounterSpy Vol.4, No.1 (Winter 1980), pp. 3-4.

2.   The August 5, 1968 memo was entitled "Agency-Academic Relations." This reference is as quoted by John Kelly, in his paper "CIA In Academia," delivered at the American Political Science Association's 1979 Annual Convention in Washington, DC.

3.   William Blum, The CIA: A Forgotten History (London: Zed Books, 1986), p. 140.

4.   Victor Marchetti and John D. Marks, CIA and the Cult of Intelligence (New York: Dell Publishing, 1974), pp. 150-151.

5.   Ibid., p. 196.

6.   John Prados, Presidents' Secret Wars (New York: William Morrow and Company, 1986), p.219.

7.   Peter Gribbin, "CIA in Indonesia 1965," CounterSpy, Vol.4, No.1, (Winter 1980), pp.27-28. See also David Ransom, "Ford Country: Building an Elite for Indonesia," in Steve Weissman (ed.), The Trojan Horse: A Radical Look at Foreign Aid (Palo Alto CA: Ramparts Press, 1975).

8.   Ken Lawrence, "Academics: An Overview," in Dirty Work II: The CIA in Africa, Ellen Ray, et. al. (eds.) (Secaucus, NJ: Lyle Stuart, Inc., 1980), p. 81.

9.   Ibid.

10.   Ibid., p. 82.

11.   Ibid., p. 83.

12.   Raymond Bonner, Waltzing With A Dictator (New York: Times Books, 1987), p. 150.

13.   Konrad Ege, "Rutgers University: Intelligence Goes to College," CounterSpy; June - August 1984. See also Eric Joselyn, "Closing the Company Store," The Nation, March 26, 1988.

14.   Mansbach has recently accepted a position as head of the political science department at the University of Iowa at Ames. Perhaps he and his CIA partners believe that a change of scenery might allow Mansbach to resume CIA business as usual. University of Iowa students be warned.

15.   In a recent interview with CIA "Academic Coordinator" Arthur Hulnick, he admitted that the CIA currently has "about ten" Officers in Residence on college campuses. This number is up from five only a year ago. Hulnick is travelling to campuses around the country, trying to make a case for accepting CIA recruiting efforts. Given all the evidence to the contrary, Hulnick insists, when confronted with student protests, that the CIA does not break the law and has never carried out assassination, domestic surveillance, etc.

16.   Ibid.

17.   William R. Corson, Armies of Ignorance (New York: The Dial Press, 1977), p. 309.

18.   Ibid.

19.   Ibid., p. 312.

20.   Ibid.

21.   See Volkman, op. cit., n. 1.

22.   Corson, op. cit., p. 313.

23.   Daniel Brandt, "CIA on Campus," Trojan Parallel, February - March, 1979.

24.   David Wise, "Campus Recruitment and the CIA," New York Times Magazine, June 6, 1986.

25.   Ibid.

26.   Corson, op. cit., p. 312.

27.   Volkman, op. cit., n. 1. These "special briefings" no doubt still occur. In 1984, CIA spokesperson Dale Peterson said that the CIA was holding three to four conferences a year for university presidents in order to discuss "mutual problems."

28.   Ibid.

29.   Safran received $107,430 from the CIA for his book, Saudi Arabia: The Ceaseless Quest for Security, published by Harvard University Press. He received an additional $45,700 from the CIA to organize a conference on Islam. Safran's book contract required him to conceal the source of his funding and to submit his writings to the CIA for censorship.

30.   Center for International Affairs Director Samuel Huntington was hired by CIA consultant Richard Betts to produce a report on the threat to U.S. interests when authoritarian rulers die in office. With Huntington's help, Betts published "Dead Dictators and Rioting Mobs" in the Harvard quarterly, International Security. Betts's contract also required that he not reveal the source of funding for his research and that he submit his writings to the CIA for censorship.

31.   At the State University of New York (SUNY) in Albany, the CIA hired limousines to transport recruits from the announced recruitment location to another location in order to escape student protests. Unfortunately for the CIA, their recruitment process was infiltrated by a demonstrator who tipped off the protestors, who then marched to the new recruitment site.


Robert Witanek is a member of the Peace Center of Central Jersey and has organized against CIA activities at Rutgers University since 1981.

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