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Spies In the Classroom: The Government Is Running a Secretive Intelligence Recruitment Program in Schools

The "Pat Roberts Intelligence Scholars Program" may become a permanent budget item, making universities unwitting agents of state intelligence.
 
 
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As the continuities and disjunctures between the Bush and Obama administrations come into focus it becomes increasingly clear that while Obama’s domestic agenda has some identifiable breaks with Bush’s, at its core, the new administration remains committed to staying the course of American militarization. Now we have an articulate, nuanced president who supports elements of progressive domestic policies, can even comfortably say the phrase LGBT in public speeches, while funding military programs at alarming levels and continuing the Bush administration’s military and intelligence invasion of what used to be civilian life.

The latest manifestation of this continuity came last week when Dennis C. Blair, Director of National Intelligence, announced plans to transform the Pat Roberts Intelligence Scholars Program (PRISP) from a pilot project into a permanent budget item. Blair also announced plans to establish a “Reserve Officers' Training Corps” to train unidentified future intelligence officers in US college classrooms. Like students receiving PRISP funds, the identities of students participating in these programs would not be known to professors, university administrators or fellow students -- in effect, these future intelligence analysts and agents would conduct their first covert missions in our university classrooms.

Four years ago I wrote a series of CounterPunch exposés on the Pat Roberts Intelligence Scholars Program (PRISP), then a pilot project funded under section 318 of the 2004 Intelligence Authorization Act. PRISP links undergraduate and graduate students with US security and intelligence agencies like the NSA or CIA, and unannounced to universities, professors or fellow-students, PRISP-students enter American university campuses, classrooms, laboratories and professor’s offices without disclosing links to these agencies. PRISP was originally conceived by anthropologist Felix Moos, long a proponent of using anthropological knowledge in waging of counterinsurgency campaigns -- an area of growing interest to the Obama administration as it prepares for prolonged soft power counterinsurgency campaigns in Afghanistan.

It seems likely that many of the affected disciplines will offer little resistance and some may quickly warm to announcements of any new funding stream. Traditionally, the disciplines of political science, history or area specialists coming from the humanities have seldom resisted such developments; but for disciplines like anthropology, these undisclosed intelligence-linked programs present devastating ethical and practical problems, as the non-discloser of funding and links to intelligence agencies flies in the face of the basic ethical principles of the discipline. But even without the problems for individual disciplinary ethics codes, the presence of these undisclosed secret sharers in our classrooms betrays fundamental trusts that lie at the core of honest academic endeavors.

While the National Intelligence Director’s move to make PRISP a permanent budget item will damage the academic freedom and integrity of American universities, it will likely be met by the open arms of university administrators facing crashed university endowments and dwindling budgets. That some administrators would so easily accommodate themselves and their institutional integrity for the promise of funds should be of little surprise, but I fear that the combined forces of the current economic collapse conjoined with President Obama’s ability to bring a new liberal credibility to the this warmed-over Bush era project will induce many faculty and students to seriously consider participating in these programs. Times are hard and as funds get scarce it will be increasingly difficult for many to say no.

This development is just the latest installment in on ongoing efforts to increase the militarization of American higher education. None of this should be surprising in a nation that alone spends about 48% of the planet’s military budget. In the social sciences, these shifts away from broad funding sources designed to create independent knowledgeable scholars, to those now requiring indentured servitude has been a long time coming.

 
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