CIA outrages UK academics by planting spies in classroom

June 3, 2005

Moves by the US intelligence agency to place trainee spies secretly in university anthropology departments have sparked an international outcry in the discipline, writes Phil Baty.

Anthropologists in the UK and elsewhere fear that the exercise by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) could damage the integrity of the discipline irreparably and even put anthropologists in the field at risk of physical harm as they lose the trust of the communities they study.

As part of actions taken in the US to improve intelligence gathering after the 9/11 attacks, a $4 million (£2.2 million) pilot programme was launched last year. The Pat Roberts Intelligence Scholars Program (Prisp) funded anthropology students by up to $50,000 each through undergraduate courses if they agreed to work for the US intelligence services when they graduate.

Prisp students, who must not reveal their funding source, are required to attend military intelligence summer camps.

The plan has been attacked by Britain's Association of Social Anthropologists, which has noted that US anthropology students regularly study in the UK.

John Gledhill, president of the ASA, told The Times Higher : "This scheme not only threatens the personal safety of all anthropologists conducting fieldwork in more turbulent parts of the world, irrespective of their nationality, but would diminish the contribution that anthropological research can make to the solution of global problems."

He said the ASA's code of ethics was already under review and would encompass this development.

"Without prejudging the outcome of these consultations, it seems unlikely that our members will wish to see a weakening of our past rejection of covert relations with government agencies and agendas that are deliberately concealed from our research subjects," he said.

The move has also sparked an angry exchange in the pages of the June issue of Anthropology Today .

Richard Fardon, deputy head of anthropology at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London and a former ASA president, says in a letter to the journal that the initiative will have implications for anthropology across the world and will "foster suspicion between colleges based inside and outside the US that their research goals may not mass-coincide".

Hugh Gusterson, of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, says in another letter that the CIA has a history of "destablising democratic governments, committing human rights abuses and suppressing popular movements".

But Prisp is defended in the journal by its founder Felix Moos, a professor of anthropology at the University of Kansas.

"The United States is at war," he says. "Thus, to put it simply, the existing cultural divide between academe and the intelligence community has become a dangerous and very real detriment to our national security at home and abroad."

Gustaaf Houtman, editor of Anthropology Today , told The Times Higher : "For anthropology, secret involvement clashes with our codes of ethics."

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