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Sunday, 1 January 2012

The Political-Military-Academic Construct

Dirty work & ‘good people’
The Political-Military-Academic Construct
robi chakravorti
IN his farewell address many years ago, the US President Eisenhower emphasised the linkage between the military and industrial complex. He also hinted at the potentiality of the operation of the military-industrial complex in the political-academic segment. A free and critical university, he noted in his address, as the “fountainhead of free ideas and scientific discovery, has experienced a revolution in the conduct of research... A governmental contract becomes virtually a substitute for institutional curiosity.”
Government funding to academic institutions has increased a great deal since. The CIA has provided funds, directly or through academic institutions, to influence intellectual activities such as research, publications or conventions.
In 1985 a scandal was reported over a conference on Islamic fundamentalism held at Harvard University. The director of Harvard’s Center for Middle Eastern Studies, who organised the conference admitted receiving a CIA grant of $ 45,000 for the meeting. Earlier, he had received over $100,000 from the CIA for working on a book on Saudi Arabia which was duly published by Harvard University Press
A report published in the New York Times (13 December 2008) revealed that Harvard University received a donation of $20 million from a prince of the Saudi royal family to finance Islamic studies. Saudi Arabia is also economically and militarily supported by Washington. It can be called a US satellite ally in the Middle East. These are instances of a linkage between politics, money and academia. Let me present two cases of direct, open relationship within the military-academic complex.
An article published in The Times, London, (28 March 2006) was titled, “How Oxford has taught America a new way to fight battles”. The article reports how an American military officer, Colonel Nagi who was a Rhodes scholar at Oxford and a senior Pentagon adviser, wrote a thesis on how the British army succeeded in snuffing out the Malayan insurgency between 1948 and 1960. The book is reported to have impressed the US commander in Iraq. The writer of the thesis, once interviewed, quoted an interesting comment by the 19th century British soldier, Sir William Francis Butler: “A nation that draws a demarcation between its thinking men and fighting men will soon have its thinking done by cowards and its fighting done by fools.”
The Footnotes Bulletin (July-August 2005) of the American Sociological Association published a report entitled: “Sociological Skills Used in the Capture of Saddam Hussein.” An American military officer, who wrote the piece, combined official military experience with the sociologist’s status as a PhD student. The University of Maryland, where he was a sociology student, also had an institution called Center for Research on Military Organisations. It advocated sociological training for military officers. The officer, Major Brian Reed, was stationed in Iraq from March 2003 to March 2004. He claimed that a scholarly analysis of the social network of the area, where Saddam Hussein lived, facilitated the strategy that led to his capture. According to his statement in the Footnotes Bulletin, “We constructed an elaborate product that traced the tribal and family linkages of Saddam Hussein thereby allowing us to focus on certain individuals who may have had (or presently had) close ties with him.”
Military sociology courses are offered at West Point, Air Force Academy and the Naval Academy. The Center for Research on Military Operations received $1.1 million for research on “Social Structure, Social Systems and Social Networks.” According to the University of Maryland’s military sociologist and director of the Center for Research on Military Organisations, there are an estimated 700 military sociologists the world over.
The political-academic complex can assume a different form and may win support both from politicians and academics. In March 2006, the Footnotes Bulletin published a report, claiming that public sociology helped the US police control illegal immigration of cheap labour from Mexico.
A report by a sociology professor who worked with the US Border Patrol claimed that he collected data on the US-Mexico border immigration problems and sent them to the US Congress. He was sympathetic towards the plight of thousands of undocumented workers who were apprehended and several hundreds who died every year while trying to enter the US as cheap labour.
One can describe this as a liberal form of the political-academic complex. This is different from covert and overt connections between the military-political-academic complex which can be described as “dirty work” with the help of “good people”. A classic example was the operation of the Heritage Foundation. According to a report in the mid-eighties, Heritage Foundation was used as a conduit for transferring private contributions to Contra rebels in Central America. It formed an Asian Studies Center organising conservative, pro-US think-tanks in South-east Asia.
There are many private organisations that work in collusion with the government’s foreign service agencies. According to a report in the New York Times (5 November 2005) a former CIA agent once said: “Hide spies posing as cultural or economic attache’s in embassy-based CIA status. CIA’s secret training center runs a 6-month course to train spies for such positions ... students, executives can act as CIA spies.”
In many cases, this kind of linkage may cross the thin line between informed give-and-take and improper work like espionage and militant intervention. A book published in 1999 ~ Who Paid The Piper? CIA and the Cultural Cold War ~ referred to many high-level institutions established during the Cold War.  A report presented in the book, Professors, Politics and Pop (1991) alleged that Yale University had links with the CIA for decades.
According to reports based on The Mitrokhin Archive 11: The KGB and the World (Penguin), the KGB also worked in the same style during its money-laundering operations in India at the height of the Cold War. With the decline of Soviet power, the CIA operates to a degree unmatched by any other country. America has one advantage for this kind of activity which other countries lack. As a nation of immigrants, it can use many Trojan Horses from the immigrant population for such operations.
There was a weird case of the CIA-academic linkage during the Cold War. This was described as cultural propaganda that advocated a “liberal” approach in contrast to Communist methods. During the heyday of Soviet power, vast resources were expended on secret programmes for what can be called cultural propaganda, especially in Europe. These programmes were secretly funded and run by the CIA. The major institution was the Congress for Cultural Freedom. It had offices in many countries, published several prestigious magazines, organised international conferences, held art exhibitions and rewarded musicians and artistes with prizes and public performances. The Congress for Cultural Freedom’s most famous product was Encounter magazine. It was a very sophisticated journal that was published till 1970. Its writers included WH Auden, Evelyn Waugh, Stephen Spender, and Isaiah Berlin. The articles influenced liberal Western culture, as opposed to the Communist one. It never published any critique of America. The  Congress for Cultural Freedom propagated freedoms, except the freedom to criticise America. The agency sponsored similar publications in France, Germany and Italy. When the source of funding of Encounter was revealed, its co-editor Stephen Spender resigned. The magazine’s American co-editor, Irving Kristol, a professor of New York University, when aware of the CIA funding openly supported it saying, “I think it is interesting that the only British magazine worth reading at the time was funded by the CIA and the British should be damn grateful.” This is an example of sophisticated avenues of sponsoring support of ideological aspects of US policy in a selective manner.
The writer is former Professor of Sociology, California State University at Sacramento