The CIA Returns to Campus and Resistance Begins Again

Like recurring bad dreams of Freddy Krueger in endless iterations of Nightmare on Elm Street, after 9/11 the Central Intelligence Agency and its friends in the warm-and-fuzzy sounding Intelligence Community (the 16 spy agencies constituting the ODNI, the Office of the Director of National Security) have set up shop again on university and college campuses across the U.S., procuring students, “modifying” curricula, and spying on faculty just as they did in the 1960s and 1990s. But this time, few professors raised dissenting voices, fewer students demonstrated, and academic freedom took a direct hit in the name of patriotism and jobs.


Emboldened, the spies even reached out to high school and middle school students, sponsoring free summer “spy camps,” linking government agents with impressionable teens. At one such program, Reagan Thompson, 17, told a reporter, “I want to be a spy when I grow up. You learn different perspectives and it opens your mind.” Meriam Fadli, also 17, said: “I was like, ‘Oh my God, I am so joining the FBI’.”


As Former CIA Personnel Director F.W.M. Janney wrote: “It is absolutely essential that the Agency have available to it the greatest single source of expertise: the American academic community.” As CIA spokesperson Sharon Foster bragged 20 years later: “The CIA has enough professors under Agency contract to staff a large university.”


Steadfast Goals


The CIA has penetrated U.S. campuses for the past 60 years with 3 steadfast goals: (1) To recruit students. They target institutions like mine, the University of Texas Pan American, and 22 other racial minority majority campuses (historically black colleges, hispanic serving institutions, tribal institutions, and majority female campuses) to set up, beginning in 2006, Intelligence Community Centers of Academic Excellence (IC/CAE) and spending millions of dollars because, as Congressperson Jane Harmon stated: “We need spies who look like their targets.” The IC/CAEs recruit minorities and the poor during an economic recession that leaves our young people few other career options: enrolling them for all of the assassinations, coups d’etat, extraordinary renditions (read kidnapping), enhanced interrogations (read torture), and “black site” imprisonment that the CIA has practiced throughout its history, as documented by the 1975 Frank Church and 1977 Otis Pike Congressional inquiries.


(2) To conduct “research.” In the past this included using LSD and other drugs in mind control experiments conducted on unsuspecting college students on 44 campuses (Project MK- ULTRA) that resulted in depressions, breakdowns and suicides—and the training of Salvadoran death squads as at Northwestern University. Today, as Stephen Soldz, President of Psychologists for Social Responsibility, has shown it means recruiting university psychology professors for CIA torture research. 


(3) To spy on faculty. In MH- CHAOS, the CIA collected files on 13,000 individuals and 1,000 legal organizations. Former CIA agent Verne Lyon has recounted how he received monthly payoffs and a draft exemption to spy on faculty and students for the Agency at Iowa State University in the mid 1960s. Students on the CIA payroll played the same role on 30 other campuses.


Buying Access


Today the ODNI/CIA Centers of Academic Excellence and their millions of dollars buy access to campuses across the country. This money funds undergraduate degree programs, certificate programs, and masters degrees in innocuously titled “Global Security Studies” programs. How do we know there are strings attached to these funds? IC/CAE grants require that universities host CIA speakers at annual campus conferences, sponsor summer camps for teenagers, set aside a named room in the campus library stocked with ODNI/CIA brochures, subsidize study abroad programs in countries of national security interest, and, in the CIA’s words, “modify curriculum,” often complete with CIA officers teaching such credit-bearing classes as Officers in Residence.


Section 38 of the 2004 Intelligence Authorization Act set up the Pat Roberts Intelligence Scholars Program with $4 million a year to recruit and train graduate students for the CIA. The identities of those participating in the program, faculty and students, are kept secret. The 2010 intelligence authorization bill “invites schools to apply for grants for courses that would meet the needs of the intelligence community. Students taking the courses would have to receive security clearances and their participation would remain secret. After graduation the students would be required to work for the CIA.


In the end, scholars who do research for the CIA find their research classified. This scholarship cannot be shared in the academic community where the very reason for research is dissemination and discussion. Such scholars simultaneously become complicit in the nefarious workings of the CIA. Imagine how suspect medical research touting a major drug benefit becomes when other researchers and the public find out it has been funded  by the drug manufacturer. Imagine as well how researchers may trim their inquiries and tune their conclusions not to offend a major funding source, whether that source be Merck, R.J. Reynolds, or the CIA.


This conflict of interest extends to publication where we must wonder whether CIA-sponsored scholars who submit work to CIA-funded publications where their work is peer reviewed by other CIA-funded scholars do not find a friendlier reception than scholars who refuse CIA funding. In this manner the CIA affects not only which scholars get published (and what we get to read), but indirectly affects academic promotion and tenure which ensures that professors who go along get along.


The CIA funding largesse may also explain the absence of articles critical of CIA activities in academic journals. Researcher George Gibbs, associate professor of political science at the University of Arizona, reports: “I surveyed the five top journals in political science that specialize in international relations during the period 1991-2000. I did not find a single article in any of these journals that focused on CIA covert operations.” CIA money can publish articles and it can also ensure silence.


The CIA returned to campus with a free hand because, by and large, faculties forgot and current students never learned the dark history of the CIA on campus. Those faculty and administrators who today collaborate with the CIA in spite of this past either argue that the CIA has changed its ways or that their personal involvement may moderate future CIA activity. Both attitudes were adopted by American intellectuals in every decade since the 1950s and have proved naive and illusory every time. Clearly individuals’ scruples have had less impact than the culture, mission, history, and raison d’etre for this secret organization. A bad system does not allow much room for people to do good.


The Struggle Begins Again


So the struggle against the CIA on campus begins again. Past models of success abound. In 1984, at the University of Colorado at Boulder, civil disobedience demonstrations outside school buildings where CIA recruiters set up shop led to arrests by campus police, then more demonstrations, more arrests, and then more demonstrations. The CIA finally stopped visiting UC-Boulder for the next ten years. In April 2005, the CIA withdrew from recruiting events at New York University when they learned of planned student demonstrations. 

Since 2006, the presence of an IC/CAE at the University of Washington has ignited faculty senate debates and student demonstrations. In fall 2010, at the University of Texas Pan American, the College Council of the College of Arts and Humanities unanimously passed a resolution stating the Council: “opposes…further ODNI funding for academic programs at UTPA, rejects establishing an ‘Intelligence Analysis Campus’ as incompatible with the independence of the University and the traditional mission of liberal education and asks the Faculty Senate to initiate a public inquiry into the appropriateness of the de facto collusion between the University and these intelligence agencies….”


The Senate responded by sponsoring a public debate on the subject in Spring 2011. The IC/CAE grant ended at UTPA in May 2011 and the Intelligence Analysis Campus proposal died.


Dissecting CIA’s History


I began researching this issue two years ago when I discovered the CIA on my campus. With the help of college professors across the country we produced The CIA on Campus: Academic Freedom and the National Security State (McFarland and Company). In this book, seven academics on five campuses dissect CIA history, current college outreach, and how to get the spies off campus. Perhaps the most disturbing essay is by Verne Lyon who describes step by step how, when recruited by the CIA as an apolitical college student, his life became a descent into secrecy, lies, and criminal activity that negatively impacted the careers and lives of his fellow students and corrupted the ideal of an academy that values a search for truth.  


Philip Zwerling is a college professor in Texas and editor of The CIA on Campus: Essays on Academic Freedom and the National Security State. Photo credits: Sit-in at Notre Dame to protest CIA and Dow Chemical campus recruitment, 1960s. Photo from Notre Dame archives; Iraq Veterans Against the War protest CIA recruitment at the University of Illinois, Campaign-Urbana, 2009. Photo from Champaign-Urbana online magazine.