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How the Feds Are Recruiting Spies at Campuses Across the US

Spy agencies have spent millions on funding centers in universities nationwide.

Photo Credit: Vladimir Gjorgiev/


The following is an excerpt from The Imperial University: Academic Repression and Scholarly Dissent edited by Piya Chatterjee and Sunaina Maira. Reprinted with permission of University of Minnesota Press.

In July 2005, a select group of fifteen- to nineteen-year-old high school students participated in a week-long summer program called “Spy Camp” in the Washington, DC, area. The program included a field trip to the CIA’s headquarters in Langley, Virginia, an “intelligence simulation” exercise, and a visit to the $35 million International Spy Museum. According to the Spy Museum’s website, visiting groups have the option of choosing from three different “scavenger hunts,” in which teams are pitted against one another in activities ranging “from code-breaking to deceptive maneuvers. . . . Each team will be armed with a top secret bag of tricks to help solve challenging questions” that can be found in the museum.

On the surface, the program sounds like fun and games, and after reading about the program one might guess that it was organized by an imagina- tive social studies teacher. But for some, “Spy Camp” was more than just fun and games—it was very serious business. The high school program was car- ried out by Trinity University of Washington, DC—a predominantly African American university with an overwhelmingly female student population—as part of a pilot grant from the U.S. Office of the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) to create an “Intelligence Community Center of Academic Excellence” (or IC Center).

According to the Office of the DNI, the goal of the IC Center program is to increase the pool of future applicants for careers in the CIA, the FBI, the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), and the dozen or so other organizations that make up the U.S. “intelligence community”—in less euphemistic terms, America’s spy agencies.

The idea for IC Centers came about in the wake of the September 11, 2001, attacks, when both the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives held hearings about how the country’s spy agencies missed clues that might have foiled the World Trade Center and Pentagon attacks. As part of the response, Congress passed a sweeping law called the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act (S 2845). In the House Intelligence Committee hearings prior to the bill’s passage, California representative Jane Harman (Democrat from California and chair of the House Intelligence Committee) put it bluntly: “We can no longer expect an Intelligence Community that is mostly male and mostly white to be able to monitor and infiltrate suspicious organizations or terrorist groups. We need spies that look like their targets, CIA officers who speak the dialects that terrorists use, and FBI agents who can speak to Muslim women that might be intimidated by men” (emphasis added).

For this reason, the IC Center program wasn’t aimed at students attending Harvard, Yale, Princeton, or other Ivy League schools or internationally renowned universities like Stanford or Berkeley or the University of Chicago. The program’s architects consciously directed it at schools where minority students are the majority—predominantly African American and Latino universities, which are chronically underfunded. Perhaps this reflects the shape of “multiculturalism” in a militarized society: the government’s spy agencies and armed forces recruit minority students from low-income regions in order to “monitor and infiltrate” people (“targets”) that look and speak like them.

Since 2005, Trinity’s IC Center has had its funding renewed, and “Spy Camp” has continued every summer since. In fact, beginning in 2006, the director of National Intelligence dramatically expanded the IC Center program (of which the “Spy Camp” is only one part), and today there are a total of twenty-one such centers throughout the country. These are located at California State University, San Bernardino; Carnegie-Mellon University; Clemson University; Clark Atlanta University; Florida A&M University; Florida International University; Howard University; Miles College (Alabama); Norfolk State University (Virginia); North Carolina A&T University; Pennsylvania State University; Tennessee State University; Trinity University; University of Maryland, College Park; University of Nebraska; University of New Mexico; University of North Carolina, Wilmington; University of Texas, El Paso; University of Texas, Pan American; University of Washington; Virginia Tech; and Wayne State University (Michigan). Significantly, most of these universities have large numbers of minority students, which corresponds with the original objectives of the IC Center program’s architects. Tens of millions of dollars have been appropriated for the programs, with some centers receiving individual grants of up to $750,000. According to the Washington Post, the DNI planned to expand the program to twenty universities by the year 2015. Apparently, it has met this goal far ahead of schedule. (Since 2008, the DNI has included universities with significantly higher percentages of “white” students. It appears that the DNI quickly exhausted its supply of predominantly Hispanic and African American universities.)

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