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The CIA's New Campus Spies

by Alexander Cockburn

Tenet Or Not, CIA Must Learn Mideast's "Secret Language"

After disclosure of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's effort to set a new and spectacularly unaccountable version of the CIA in the Pentagon, the sprouting forest of secret intelligence operations set up in the wake of 9/11 is at last coming under some scrutiny. Here's a sinister one in the academic field that until this week escaped scrutiny.

Dr. David Price, of St. Martins College, in Olympia, Wash., is an anthropologist long interested in the intersections of his discipline with the world of intelligence and national security, both the CIA and the FBI. Now he's turned the spotlight on a new test program, operating without detection or protest, that is secretly placing CIA agents in American university classrooms. With time these students who cannot admit to their true intentions will inevitably pollute and discredit the universities in which they are now enrolled.

Even before 9/11, government money was being sluiced into the academies for covert subsidies for students. The National Security Education Program (NSEP) siphoned off students from traditional foreign language funding programs and offered graduate students good money, sometimes $40,000 a year and up, to study "in demand" languages, but with payback stipulations mandating that recipients later work for unspecified U.S. national security agencies.

When the NSEP got off the ground in the early 1990s, there was some huff and puff from concerned academics about this breaching of the supposed barrier between the desires of academia and the state. But there wasn't even a watch-pup's yap about Congressional approval for Section 318 of the 2004 Intelligence Authorization Act, which appropriated $4 million to fund a pilot program known as the Pat Roberts Intelligence Scholars Program (PRISP), named after Senator Pat Roberts (R.-Kansas), Chair, Senate Select Committee on Intelligence).

PRISP is designed to train intelligence operatives and analysts in American university classrooms for careers in the CIA and other agencies. The program now operates on an undisclosed number of American college and university campuses. Dr. Price has discovered that if the pilot phase of the program proves to be a useful means of recruiting and training members of the intelligence community, then the program will expand to more campuses across the country.

PRISP participants must be American citizens who are enrolled full time in graduate degree programs. They need to "complete at least one summer internship at CIA or other agencies," and they must pass the same background investigations as other CIA employees. PRISP students receive financial stipends ranging up to $25,000 per year, and they are required to participate in closed meetings with other PRISP scholars and individuals from their administering intelligence agency.

Dr. Price has determined from his inquiries that less than 150 students a year are currently authorized to receive funding during the pilot phase as PRISP evaluates the program's initial outcomes. PRISP is apparently administered not just by the CIA, but also through a variety of individual intelligence agencies like the NSA, MID or Naval Intelligence.

Secrecy is the root problem here, with the usual ill-based assumption that good intelligence operates best in clandestine conditions. Of course America needs good intelligence, but the most useful and important intelligence can largely be gathered openly without the sort of covert invasion of our campuses that PRISP silently brings.

Anyone doubting the superior merits of open intelligence has only to study the sorry saga of the nonexistent WMDs, whose imagined threat in vast stockpiles was ringingly affirmed by all the secret agencies while being contested by analysts unencumbered by bogus covert intelligence estimates massaged by Iraqi disinformers and political placemen in Langley and elsewhere.

Dr. Price says, "The CIA makes sure we won't know which classrooms PRISP scholars attend, this being rationalized as a requirement for protecting the identities of intelligence personnel." But this secrecy shapes PRISP as it takes on the form of a covert operation in which PRISP students study chemistry, biology, sociology, psychology, anthropology and foreign languages without their fellow classmates, professors, advisors, department chairs or presumably even research subjects knowing that they are working for the CIA, DIA, NSA or other intelligence agencies.

"In a decade and a half of Freedom of Information Act research," Dr. Price continues, " I have read too many FBI reports of students detailing the 'deviant' political views of their professors." In one instance elicited by Dr. Prince from files he acquired under FOIA, the FBI arranged for a graduate student to guide topics of 'informal' conversation with anthropologist Gene Weltfish that were later the focus of an inquiry by Joseph McCarthy). Today, Dr. Prince maintains, "These PRISP students are also secretly compiling dossiers on their professors and fellow students."

The confluence between academe and intelligence is longstanding and pervasive. In 1988, CIA spokeswoman Sharon Foster bragged that the CIA then secretly employed enough university professors "to staff a large university." Most experts estimate that this presence has grown since 2001.

But if the CIA can use PRISP to corral students, haul them along to mandatory internships and summer sessions, and douse them in the ethos of CIA, then it can surely shape their intellectual outlook even before their grasp of cultural history develops in the relatively open environment of their university.

Academic environments thrive on open disagreement, dissent and reformulation. As Dr. Prince writes, "The presence of PRISP's secret sharers brings hidden agendas that sabotage fundamental academic processes. The Pat Roberts Intelligence Scholars Program infects all academia with the viruses dishonesty and distrust as participant scholars cloak their intentions and their ties to the cloaked masters they serve."

© Creators Syndicate

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Albion Monitor January 27, 2005 (

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