Higher Espionage

The CIA finds a warmer reception on campus since 9/11, as it openly seeks scholars' expertise. But critics say such close ties compromise academic values.

It's almost 4 p.m., feeding time for the chameleons at the National Security Program at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government.

"Let's go see the lizards," suggests John Grierson, a veteran CIA undercover agent who came in from the cold a few years ago - and has morphed into a visiting scholar.

Moments earlier, Mr. Grierson, a Middle East expert who was an agent in Teheran and Baghdad in the 1970s, had been holding forth on a warming trend in the Central Intelligence Agency's long, yet often icy relationship with American higher education.

Now he leads a visitor past office cubicles to an alcove where graduate students crowd around a glass cage. A pair of lizards, one green, one brown, glide out of their leafy camouflage and, after a brief survey of the food dish, begin snapping up their wriggling prey to the admiring comments of onlookers.

"I guess this stuff is just to keep us loose," Grierson says, gesturing at the lizard cage.

It's not lost on anyone that chameleons, as quick-change artists, are the perfect emblem for a spy. But the consequences of the Central Intelligence Agency mixing more openly with scholars and tapping into their expertise trouble many in academia.

If universities are warming to the CIA, and the agency funds more research, critics ask, what will happen to scholarly objectivity and academic freedom? Will the CIA's penchant for secrecy corrode the university's mission to pursue truth and publish it openly?

Closer ties between academia and the agency do not yet rival the clubby atmosphere of the 1950s. The Vietnam War, 1970s congressional inquiries, and scandals over covert funding on campuses in the 1980s (see sidebar, below) contributed to the frosty relationship. Yet all signs indicate that the tweedy set and the CIA are getting cozier.

For one, the revolving door between the agency and the ivory tower has been spinning of late. Last year, two public universities named presidents with CIA ties: At Texas A&M, former agency director Robert Gates took the helm, while Arizona State University picked Michael Crow, vice chairman of In-Q-Tel, a nonprofit venture-capital arm of the CIA.

Then, too, agency insiders and scholars cite a leap in CIA funding of academic-research contracts and conferences, though numbers are hard to come by.

The CIA has also reached out to higher education with its Officer in Residence (OIR) program, which since 1985 has sent 84 agents to 46 universities. Requests for visiting faculty such as Grierson are also on the rise.

The promise of closer university/CIA ties is a better-informed government, perhaps resulting in a US foreign policy that is wiser or more grounded. But concerns abound - especially when it comes to preserving the standard of scholarly objectivity and meeting the CIA's demand for secrecy.

"The secrecy the CIA requires of scholars who work for them is antithetical to ... the openness that is presumed to operate in the university," says Bruce Cumings, an Asian studies expert at the University of Chicago. He has documented how, during and after the cold war, intelligence-agency funding led academic scholarship to shift to areas of keener interest to government.

He worries in particular about conversations he's had more frequently at academic conferences. "I'll make a point with someone about Chinese politics, say, and his response will be, 'Well you're wrong, but I can't really talk about why I know that,' " says Dr. Cumings. "You see, he's done classified work for the agency and signed a secrecy agreement, so he just can't talk about it. This is the sort of corrosive effect that undermines scholarly debate."

Another sign of warming: It has become more acceptable to openly acknowledge doing scholarly work for the CIA or one of America's 12 other intelligence agencies - just as it is more common since 9/11 to see lines of students at CIA recruiting tables during campus job fairs.

"You have always had interaction between the CIA and the academy, but it was discreet, mainly because it was odious to scholars," says David Gibbs, a political scientist at the University of Arizona who is critical of CIA ties to academia. "These ties are now out in the open. People feel no embarrassment about working with the CIA."

One of those is Robert Jervis, a Columbia University political scientist and former president of the American Political Science Association, who has long acknowledged doing analysis on contract for the CIA. He's noticed others now doing it, too.

"The degree to which people feel ostracized by their colleagues was never as great as the media portrayed it," Dr. Jervis says. "But 9/11 certainly did lower the bar significantly for many faculty who were reluctant to admit working for the CIA before."

Even so, many on campus voice concern about the lifetime secrecy agreements scholars must sign in order to see classified material. From then on, they must submit for agency review anything that bears on the topics covered by the pact.

Loch Johnson, a University of Georgia intelligence historian, gives this hypothetical example: The CIA offers a $100,000 contract to a university expert on Mongolia. The caveat is that the research must remain classified - unseen outside the agency. So the expert does the work without telling anyone on his faculty.

"Ethically, he's supposed to present his findings to the public and his institution," says Dr. Johnson, author of "America's Secret Power: The CIA in a Democratic Society." "But his agreement with the CIA keeps it bottled up. So there's a bit of a corruption."

As for concern about objectivity, critics say it's especially acute when historical or political- science research is involved. Modern historical research on Cuba, Guatemala, and Chile, for instance, often involves the CIA's own role.

Even those who have done such work for the CIA or security agencies are hardly sanguine.

"One has to proceed with care," Jervis says. "Anytime you're working for a very powerful organization, you want to stop and think. There are some real questions about biomedical companies unduly influencing medical research. I would say working for CIA raises some of the same questions."

Even so, he and others say, government can benefit from scholars' insights - a gain that is worth some minor compromises.

In the late 1970s, for instance, Jervis wrote a classified study for the CIA on why the agency failed to foresee the fall of the shah of Iran. in the late 1980s, he published a "very sanitized" version of his findings, he says.

"Handled with care, I think it can work," he says. "I don't mean to dismiss it, but I think in most cases the fears are overblown."

For Christopher Simpson, a professor at American University in Washington and an authority on CIA/university ties, a major worry is that scholars are just too easily manipulated.

"The ways in which the CIA ... pursues its academic interests are just as carefully considered as other agency operations," he says. "For example, if a professor or administrator is regarded by the agency as sympathetic, there are efforts to facilitate that person's success - to be sure they get invited to meetings and get access to records. This is antischolarly."

The agency's scholarly needs during the cold-war era were focused on Russia, China, and a few other regions. With the Soviet Union's collapse, CIA priorities shifted to a host of other areas, such as third-world indebtedness, narcotics trafficking, illicit arms markets, and immigration patterns - and to scholars who study those subjects.

But to expand the agency's reach, first there had to be fence-mending. That began in earnest in the mid-1980s but intensified in 1995, when John Deutch became CIA director. A former Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor, he directed the CIA to actively pursue contacts with the brightest minds in academia, health sciences, and the corporate world.

"It wasn't just a nice thing to reach these experts," says John Gannon, recently retired from the agency. "To do it was absolutely essential for us. We needed those relationships."

Since then, academic contacts have mushroomed, says Dr. Gannon, deputy director for intelligence from 1995 to 1997 and chairman of the CIA-run National Intelligence Council from 1997 to 2001. In 1996, he says, the agency developed a strategic plan "to extend our relationship with the academic and corporate world. We had to break our analysts out of the monastery."

The number of agency-funded conferences and information on the increase in its contract work with academic analysts are unavailable, says a CIA spokesman. But Jervis, Gannon, and others say that invitations to CIA-sponsored events are more plentiful these days and that CIA employees also mingle with professors at other venues, such as meetings of the International Studies Association (ISA).

Part of the connection is forged by money, as professors, especially in the social sciences, scramble for funding.

"A lot of private-foundation funding for research on areas of the world and languages [is] drying up for a variety of reasons," says Craig Murphy, a professor at Wellesley College in Massachusetts and a former ISA president. "At the same time, there's a push to link more and more federal [scholarships and fellowships] to security and intelligence goals."

But if scholarships and viewing secret data add depth perception to research, then aren't tradeoffs reasonable? "It is being seen among scholars that intelligence has an important role to play," says Frederick Hitz, a former CIA director of operations turned scholar. "People are willing to move forward positively, if cautiously."

Others, though, say animosity toward the CIA remains strong among faculty. "Some in academia define their axis of evil as the CIA, FBI, and the 11 other intelligence agencies because of their reputations for espionage and overthrowing governments," says Dr. Johnson, who says he is not against working for the CIA, just the secrecy agreements.

"The reality is that there's still a lot of hostility out there."

The CIA's rough and tumble history

Ties between the CIA and academia are old and deep, but also frayed. The fledgling CIA in 1947 grew out of the old World War II Office of Strategic Services, recruiting the "best and brightest" of a generation of scholars into the agency's intelligence-analysis side.

During the 1950s, the CIA and other intelligence agencies provided the early primary-funding sources for the social sciences.

Christopher Simpson and other experts in the area say at least some funds supported notable organizations such as Columbia University's Bureau of Applied Social Research, Princeton's Institute for International Social Programs, and MIT's Center for International Studies.

The CIA became anathema on campus in the 1960s. The Vietnam War soured the relationship with academia, and the situation amplified when a Ramparts magazine report in 1967 revealed the CIA had for years been covertly funding foreign activities of the National Student Association.

In 1975, Sen. Frank Church headed a Senate committee that investigated intelligence-gathering abuses during Watergate. The committee's findings revealed CIA-orchestrated efforts to overthrow elected governments in Chile and to assassinate Cuba's Fidel Castro.

Then came covert-funding scandals surrounding academic work and conferences at Harvard in the mid-1980s and at the Rochester Institute of Technology in the early 1990s.

Agency recruiters are still persona non grata on campuses such as the University of California, Berkeley. But today lines of students at CIA recruiting booths at campus job fairs easily outnumber egg throwers. Agency spokesmen report high numbers of applicants since the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, many from graduates seeking first jobs.

Stansfield Turner was one of the earliest pioneers in trying to mend fences between the CIA and higher education, while director of the CIA from 1977 to 1981. Now a professor at the University of Maryland, he says he was the first director to send CIA officers for teaching stints on college and university campuses to try to build better ties.

"I was very concerned about the rupture with academia in the 1970s," Admiral Turner recalls. "I spent a lot of time mending fences, trying to get a few academics to be on advisory boards."

In 1985, the practice of sending CIA analysts to universities was formalized as the Officer in Residence program under Director of Central Intelligence William Casey.

"Since the end of the cold war, we've had to focus on more than 180 countries around the world," Turner says. "You don't know what's going to blow up tomorrow. The agency should develop expertise on all of that, but it's just not easy to do or maintain. So if you can find someone to supplement the in-house capability, it's very useful."

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