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The CIA: Sharing the Students

By Trevor Barnes

THE REFUSAL of Admiral Stansfield Turner, the director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), to heed Harvard's guidelines about the agency's activities on campus is worth serious attention. Catcalls of 'academic freedom' and 'government spying': reflex reactions for many members of the academic community: are not sufficient responses.

The CIA engages in three types of activity on campus in the U.S.--the recruitment of Americans, recruitment of foreign students (both carried out with the cooperation of various academics) and the use of scholars to analyze, collect or even publish information for the agency. A fourth activity, covert support of "moderate" students' groups, gradually wound down after revelations in 1967 showed covert funding for the National Student Association (NSA).

Recruitment is the issue which has generated the most heat recently. A minority of universities all over the country are starting to take action to control what they see as unacceptable practices on campus after a heavily-censored passage in the Church Committee's report revealed in 1976 that "American academics are now being used for such operational purposes as making introductions for intelligence purposes." It took more than a year before President Bok issued his guidelines for the conduct of academics on campus. Bok asks all recruiters to be public and to gain permission of the individual considered for recruitment before passing on his name.

At Harvard, during November 1978, Turner reiterated the agency's determination to ignore the guidelines. University of California students sought relevant files on secret recruiting under the Freedom of Information Act last year but the courts deemed them non-releasable (Gardels v. CIA). In an affidavit, however, the agency did reveal it had covert relations with faculty members. Now Brown University is applying pressure to Turner in an attempt to end covert recruitment.

But Bok's reaction was the exception and not the rule. In spring 1976, the presidents of America's eight most prestigious universities gathered for a secret meeting in Washington's Mayflower Hotel. They were given complete details of the CIA's recruitment of foreign students on their campuses, but a clear majority accepted the status quo and took no action.

Covert recruitment has in effect been admitted, but does that make it proper? Illogical and unfair as it may at first seem. I believe covert recruitment of American students, yet not of foreign students, should be permissible.

This is not, I hasten to add, because I am a foreign student. With recruitment of American students in a covert manner, the moral and academic dangers are either insignificant or outweighed by the necessities of intelligence. This is not the case with foreign students.

Academic integrity and freedom are essential in any self-respecting university which should try as much as possible to remain independent of government control and open about its activities. On the other hand, it is very easy to exaggerate how badly public confidence in academic institutions will be shaken by covert recruitment of American students. If academics observe and then pass on the names of particular pupils, their university is neither subverted by the CIA nor does it become a training ground for dubious covert operations.

For me academic integrity and freedom have little to do with such recruitment. Many who use this argument do so rather because they believe the CIA is a dishonorable organization and conclude that therefore academics should have no links with it whatsoever.

THE YEAR of Intelligence, 1975-when the Church Committee of the Senate and Pike Committee of the House investigated the intelligence services--led to a spate of revelations about the CIA's activities. The agency had conducted drug experiments on innocent individuals, opened mail at home and been involved in nefarious covert operations abroad. It was the climax of the popular distrust for the CIA beginning with the Bay of Pigs. In retrospect the fears leading to the Congressional investigations--Seymour Hersh's allegations in The New York Times--were as exaggerated as some contemporary demands including the total abolition of the CIA. Significantly, the Church Committee concluded the agency was a necessary organization and that on the whole it had not been out of control.

Since 1975, Congressional supervision and the climate of public opinion has narrowed the latitude with which the CIA operated. A covert operation in Iran would have been almost unthinkable in 1979. Many covert operators have resigned as well as members of the 'old guard' who oppose the policy of greater openness initiated by William Colby. Most of the evidence at present points to a CIA with clipped wings, at last under fairly adequate control and concentrating on its major task, intelligence collection. The agency should no longer be thought of as despicable even if it should be treated with healthy suspicion.

Foreign students are sought as employees by the CIA but in a very different capacity--to Americans. They are recruited as agents who might at some future date supply information to the U.S. or influence national policy in it favor. For a long period, this infinitely more troublesome problem has been ignored by the American universities and public. The historyol this recruitment is fascinating. It originated in the 1930s at Annapolis and West Point with foreign military cadets. In 1948 the little-known Office of Policy Coordination (OPC) was founded--the forerunner of the CIA's clandestine services ('dirty tricks') department. The OPC cultivated faculty members who had been with the wartime Office of Strategic Services and used these contacts to find agents among the burgeoning numbers of foreign students--there were only 34,323 in 1955 but about 250,000 in 1975. An increasing percentage of these came from the turbulent Third World in which the CIA gradually took more interest and to which the American-educated student would return as a member of his country's elite.

Vast amounts of money were and are dispensed to buy, bribe or bully the loyalty of many Third World students. William Corson, the intelligence historian, cites one former CIA official as saying in 1976. "By 1985 we'll own 80 per cent of the Iranian government's second and third-level officials." One can almost see Ayatollah Khomeini's beard turn a whiter shade of grey. This ridiculous statement follows from the agency's incurable optimism about its own power and the success of its programs. The official failed to note that once in place only about one ex-student in four remains loyal to his intelligence master and even he is apt to produce worthless intelligence or metamorphose into a double-agent. The intelligence gained is simply not worth the monetary or human cost (at least 40 suicides among such agents in place have been documented according to Corson).

Sources within the agency estimate about 5,000 American academics now work for the CIA and many participate in the screening committees to choose 200-300 foreign students each year. These students are then persuaded or compelled--often by highly irregular means--to serve the CIA. Corson suggests 60 per cent of the academics are fully aware of their employer; the remaining 40 per cent believe they are selecting students for careers with a multinational firm--a perfect case of the CIA exploiting unwitting faculty members.

HERE LIES the real threat to the integrity and freedom of American academic life. Here lies the real menace to privacy as the agency delves into the individual's past to collect incriminating details if the students does not cooperate. One wonders how many of those 2000-3000 foreign students will be found on the Harvard campus this year.

The apathy with which this highly suspect area of the CIA's activities has been treated is explicable by a number of factors. The academics involved obviously do not advertise their role. The protests of the students themselves can be easily discredited; and because the agent works over such a long period keeping a low profile, recruitment can be more easily hid from public view.

Faculty members are used for activities other than recuitment. Some analyze material for the agency: Richard Pipes, Baird Professor of History, for example. This seems unobjectionable at first sight, even essential if the agency is to be successful. But it has subtle perils for both the academic and the CIA. The former's academic integrity can be insidiously compromised by the CIA feeding information to him selectively so that any prejudices are reinforced and events become distorted in his interpretation. It is arguable for example that the ideology of certain professors in the social sciences at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology has tilted to the right as a result of CIA sponsorship and involvement. Much of the information supplied can come only from intelligence sources and its academic recipient can be manipulated by the agency in the same way as a journalist is controlled by a government official who gives him confidential leaks.

The CIA employs mainly faculty members with conservative and/or hawkish views with dire results for some of its intelligence estimates. If one supports the CIA, the explanation is because liberal academics abhor the CIA and cannot be trusted with secrets. It one opposes the agency, the explanation is the CIA's desire to slant its analysis to the right. On balance, however, I believe links in this area between the CIA and the academic community should not be banned although all contacts should be open.

The universities would gain little from a ban on intelligence gathering under cover of overseas research. It would neither cause foreign countries to release secrets to American professors which they had not revealed before nor grant them any wider freedom of travel or access. Needless to say, strange research projects sustained by the CIA--such as MK ULTRA--discredit the agency and faculty concerned as do attempts by academics to spy on radical groups on campus. Congress must insist these activities cease immediately.

In asking CIA recruiters to reveal their identities, the Harvard guideline is hopelessly unrealistic. Although this rule maintains a spurious facade of respectibility for Harvard, it is unenforceable and helps no one, only embittering relations between the intelligence services and academia. A suitable compromise, however, between the agency and the university over telling the American student that his name is being considered is surely impossible. An anonymous letter should be sent by the professor engaged in the covert recruiting to the student he believes suitable for CIA work, asking for an affirmative reply to be returned to a post office box if the student wishes his name to be forwarded. In this way, the student's name should not even reach the CIA if he does not wish it. Covert recruitment of foreign students, on the other hand, must be opposed on grounds of intelligence efficiency, civil liberties and morality. Strict controls over this practice should be included by Congress in the new CIA charter.

ANOTHER possible menace is to civil liberties. Is not the student being pried upon against his will? Privacy is indeed endangered in many areas of modern society and must be scrupulously protected, but concern for privacy cannot be absolute. Secrecy should also have its (narrowly-bounded) place. The point is the world of difference between telephone taps on an innocent individual and a professor assessing the suitablity of a student for CIA work on the basis of personal opinion and open observation. The latter hardly infringes any significant rights of privacy. The passing-on of the student's name without his permission to the CIA is a different matter because the student becomes automatically subject to an unsolicited security check--a far more serious threat to his rights. That such checks occur independently of covert recruitment is of course no argument to challenge controls over them when they are connected.

Of course all would be well if the CIA could recruit openly by advertising in the newspapers and holding interviews on campus but this ignores the necessary confidentiality to prevent infiltration by foreign intelligence agencies, the great loss of talent resulting from a 'passive' rather than an 'aggressive' search for potential employees and the special qualities needed for intelligence work. The CIA should also admit openly that it engages in secret recruitment on campus although in practice it will only so do if the universities agree the recuiters have the right to remain anonymous in order to forestall pressure to expose the academics concerned.

Idealistic as Harvard's guidelines may be they attest to faculty members' concern about the CIA's activities in the university. One hopes their concern will spread.

Trevor Barnes is a Kennedy Fellow at the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences [GSAS]. Barnes, a native of Cambridge, England, has been studying the activities of the CIA.

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