Inside Higher Ed is running “a column”:http://insidehighered.com/news/2006/09/01/anthro on the AAA’s attempts to figure out the ethical implications of collaborating with the government’s intelligence community. The article covers topics famliar to anyone who has followed debates about this on AAA. What I find really interesting are the comments on the article, several of which denounce anthropology for, as two commentors put it, “working for the terrorists” and “undermining the foundations of freedom”. Another person suggests that since there are so many graduate students in anthropology the CIA could get all the analysts it needs in a year and a half! It will be interesting to see how the comments on the site will pan out — it’s fascinating to see some of the misunderstandings people have about the ethics and ease of our discipline.
45 thoughts on “Anthropology and the CIA (again)”
I haven’t responded in a while to any posts here (because of my move to a new city to start working on my Phd.) but the responses on inside higher education miss a lot of important ethical issues. I had a large post prepared but I accidently lost it by closing my browser window. Suffice it to say that it boggles my mind that people don’t understand issues of informed concent and research ethics. If anything this shows how much we as anthropologists need to do to educate others (and apparently other academics) about what we do.
I thought the comments from the historian working in China were very telling. She got all pissy that anthropologists wouldn’t jump to attention do their loyal duty and join the CIA or Homeland Security, so I guess this is why historians are such easy marks for the CIA.
The new issues of the Anthropology News listed the members of the new AAA committee and it did look pretty balanced, with prominent people from both sides of this question. I hope this doesn’t mean they accomplish nothing, the AAA needs to take a strong stance against CIA work.
There is something to be said for clarity of principle; “Thou shalt not….” sounds mighty fine. But, as John Wager, a contributor to the lit-ideas list once remarked, real moral choices are only made in ambiguous situations.
I think of a conversation that my wife, who was upset when our daughter decided to accept an appointment to the U. S. Naval Acaemy, had with a friend whose father had been a Brigadier in the British Army during WWII.
The friend asked, “Do you favor unilateral disarmament?”
My wife said, “No.”
The friend asked, “Do you think that the U.S. military should be run by knaves and fools?”
My wife said, “No.”
The friend asked, “Wouldn’t it be better if at least a few officers had your daughter’s experience of growing up outside the U.S. and were used to the idea that people in other places don’t react to events the way in which Americans do?”
My wife said, “Yes.”
The friend asked, “Why not your daughter?”
Personally, I opposed going to war in Iraq. Wrong country, wrong cause and….yes, inexcusable lack of preparation: Not nearly enough troops, troops badly equipped and trained for the mission, and….yes, incredible ignorance of cultural issues in the place those troops were being sent.
I can’t help wondering if it mightn’t have saved lives, including a lot of Iraqi lives, if somewhere in the U.S. government there was somebody who could play the role that Ruth Benedict played in WWII, working for an office that was, as I recall, one of the precursors of the CIA.
Given the current administration she wouldn’t be listened to, and, yes, using local knowledge obtained through fieldwork to finger village leaders for assassination squads is utterly unacceptable. Yes, too, truth be told, it would be much more convenient for us when we do our own fieldwork to be free of suspicion that we might have ulterior motives. That, however, can be dealt with by being frank and clear about your research objectives and behaving in a way that demonstrates the truth of what you are saying.
I have a huge respect for conscientious objectors, who reject war under any circumstance and are willing to bear the consequences. As for the rest of us, do we really think it a good idea to be so holier-than-thou that we won’t even consider the possibility that what we have to offer might shorten a war, or make the consequences of war less of a total clusterfuck than the current situation in the Middle East?
I thought the Inside Higher Ed piece was pretty good, but I am sure the AAA committee won’t accomplish anything because the AAA is too committed to government funding for members.
With all due respect to Mr. McCreery, asking if we wouldn’t be better off if anthropologists were among those making decisions and setting policies, asks the wrong question. We shouldn’t be in any of these (as McCreery calls them) “clusterfucks,” and the specifics of which “good” or “bad” individuals or disciplines join this doomed clusterfuck in no way changes the nature of said clusterfuck: it only corrupts those who join the unjust fight. Just critics joining an unjust fight do not thereby make the fight just.
The problem is that the few anthropologists secretly joining this fight are going to pull us all down with them when they are exposed.
Well I think the AAA panel will take an enormous amount of time to do nothing at all — which is to say, it will behave as any other AAA panel.
In other threads on SM in the past we’ve talked about the ethics of this sort of work, and it seems to me there are two issues: 1) do you, as an anthro, want to talk to the intelligence community? It seems to me that this is questions could also be asked of newspapers. It’s not, I feel, a core requirement of anthro as a discipline to talk to either, and there are many reasons other than fear and loathing of reporters/CIA agents that would lead you to opt out (i.e. apathy).
But the more crucial issue, it seems to me, is 2) what exactly you are telling reporters/CIA agents. The debate so far has been fixated on the identity of the person you are speaking to, not what you are telling them. A reasonable — VERY reasonable — concern with talking to the intelligence community is that often WHAT they want to know is information that it would not be ethical to give to ANYONE. This, it seems to me, would be the main issue today
(there is also the ‘project camelot’ issue of closing research that should be open in the name of security, but that doesn’t seem to apply to the current case).
Here is a thought experiment: if the CIA called you up and wanted you to come brief them on ‘structure-functionalism’ because they’d all been reading ‘on joking relationships’ and didn’t understand it, would you?
I’m with Rex on a couple things (surprise surprise!). While I don’t disagree with John McC’s notion of ethics in ambiguous situations, I think we have to privilege openness and transparency — will you give to the CIA information you wouldn’t give to the AAA’s membership? Why? In my earlier posts on this subject, one area I highlighted was the issue of control over the flow of information — I happen to think that anthros are better prepared to exercise meaningful control over their data than the CIA, and it concerns me that an anthro directly embedded with the CIA or other military/intelligence agency would lose that control. This doesn’t mean that the CIA or anyone else shouldn’t be allowed to use any anthropological data at all — I mean, it’s out there, when ever they feel like getting a library card or hitting up Amazon — but I worry about the kind of privileged access arrangements like PRISP seem intended to foster. It’s bad for science, it’s bad for anthropology, and it’s bad for the people anthropoogists study. Of course, some people might be willing to pay that cost, or worse, force the rest of us to pay that cost, feeling it is outweighed by the benefits of loyalty to crown and country.
Precisely. On this point, I, too, agree with Rex. I also agree with Ghyslain that,
and with Dustin (albeit with some qualification) that we should
To Ghyslain, however, I would pose the question, “Are all fights unjust?” If the answer is, “Yes,” a conscientious objection that even-handedly condemns all violence and is prepared to suffer the consequences, that position has, as I indicated, my highest respect.
To Dustin, I would pose the question, “Is openness and transparency an absolute rule?” If so, what happens to, for example, our conventional reluctance to name names when writing up our fieldwork, to protect our informants from what can be, in some cases, serious personal danger if their cooperation with us is made public?
When Rex asserts that the critical issue is what we tell, he is, to my mind, spot on. The deep rule here is that we should do whatever is necessary to protect those who have taken the risk of extending their trust and sharing their lives with us.
Thus, for example, I was, while doing fieldwork in a time and place where open criticism of the regime in power could result in people disappearing, very careful indeed about even discussing politics and would never, ever have reported on the occasional conversations where the topic came up to the foreign affairs policeman, whose job it was to keep an eye on what I was doing. I was and remain horrified at rumors of anthropologists who, in places like Vietnam or certain parts of Latin America, functioned as undercover agents and used what they learned to finger individuals who had trusted them for arrest or assassination.
On the other hand, when I think of the work of Ruth Benedict, there I can say
1. The fight was just
2. The information was made public (albeit after the War), and
3. The understanding the anthropologist provided influenced both the conduct of the war and, more importantly, the postwar Occupation of Japan in generally positive ways.
I observe further that, like most people I know with anthropology or Asian Studies degrees who go to work for the CIA, she betrayed no one’s personal trust. Like most intelligence analysts, she worked primarily with secondary sources and offered generic insights based on her research. Insights with sufficient empathy that extracts from Kiku to Katana, the Japanese translation of The Chrysanthemum and the Sword, are still used in Japanese public education.
The one serious qualm I have is whether or not her explanation of why Japanese would fight to the end for the Emperor could have played a role in Harry Truman’s decision to use the atomic bomb. But nothing I have read to date suggests that this was actually the case; Truman’s decision having being based on projections of likely casualties of a campaign in Japan’s main islands from casualties suffered on both sides on Iwojima and Okinawa.
To answer John McCreery: no, all fights are not unjust, fights for true self-defense can be justified. My responses relate to the fights that George Bush has chosen for us to fight. All the fights that George Bush has chosen are unjust fights waged for Neocon reasons of empire. Anthropology should not aid these corrupt wars.
It’s funny to hear about the benefit of Benedict’s work on Japan, when the stuff that she and (iirc) Weltfish published on race and the army was so poorly received by the Forces That Be.
/me savors moment of solidarity with Oneman 🙂
I’ve been meaning to come back to this, but what with school starting and all I’ve been a little hectic. I’m not suggesting that “absolute transparency” is the goal — ethical concerns aside, who among us can claim to have that kind of relationship with our own notes and observations? Of the material that we collect and understand, however, my concern is with *who* makes the decisions about what is released or not released. I tend to feel that where anthropological data must be withheld it should be for anthropological reasons: undue dangers posed to one’s subjects, for instance. I’ve made this point before, but again: who do you most trust to make anthropological decisions about our data? The anthropologist who collected it, or the body of policy-makers that make up and oversee intelligence agency policies? This isn’t to say that all anthropologists must necessarily make the same decisions (it wouldn’t be ethics if we all knew exactly what to do in every circumstance) but that we are far better prepared a) to understand the consequences of withholding or publishing data for the people we study, and b) to understand the ramifications of our actions for other anthropologists. An intelligence or military agency not only cannot make decisions based on anthropological concerns but *should not* — it would hamper their ability to pursue their own objectives.
That’s the general principle, but I have a specific objection when it comes to the CIA. I take very seriously the injunction that our work needs first and foremost to avoid harming the people we study, and if possible to be of some benefit to them. I cannot think of a single instance where the CIA has done something positive in the world, particularly where the types of people anthropolgoists tend to study are involved. If it were at all possible, I’d like to see them barred from using even our publically available work* — I certainly am going to be very suspicious of their attempts to secure an internal channel for anthropological data and analysis.
* We oughtta write an Anthropological Creative Commons License, like “Attribution Share-Alike Non-Military Use Only”. Nobody knows what kind of “teeth” CC livenses have, but since the courts seem perfectly content so far to support, say, a record companies absolute rightto dictate how their products are used by consumers, it doesn’t seem too far-fetched to think that we anthros could do the same.
Oneman: “I cannot think of a single instance where the CIA has done something positive in the world, particularly where the types of people anthropolgoists tend to study are involved.”
Long pause after which a feeble voice says: The aqueduct?
John Cleese: Well yeah, that’s true. They did give us that.
Another voice: And how about sanitation?
John Cleese: Ok I grant you. The aqueduct and sanitation are the two things the CIA have given us.
Another voice: And the roads.
John Cleese (becoming irritated): Well apart, from the aqueduct, sanitation, and the roads, What have the CIA…
Other voices: Irrigation, medecine, education, fresh water, public baths, safety on the streets.
John Cleese: All right. But apart from the aqueduct, sanitation, the roads, medecine, education, fresh water, public baths, safety on the streets. WHAT has the CIA
ever done for us?
Actually, I was unaware that the CIA had given us the aqueduct and public sanitation. I stand corrected.
Python: I think Life of Brian is a funny movie. But does your comment actually have any substance? Are you suggesting that the CIA has provided aqueducts, sanitation, roads, medecine, education, fresh water, public baths, and safety on the streets amongst populations anthropologists typically tend to study? And do you think that a Monty Python movie accurately reflects the opinions and thoughts — and infrastructure — of Roman Judea? Typically when someone tries to convince me of something they use, you know, arguments and evidence.
Frankly Rex, I wasn’t expecting the Spanish inquisition, but since you ask, sure, the CIA and its old silent partners USIAD and the IMF have built plenty of roads, water systems, sanitation systems and established police forces around the world. Just read Confessions of an Economic Hitman to see how it all works.
Having read Confessions of an Economic Hitman, I’m sort of terrified that you think the examples presented therein represent a reason for anthropologists to collaborate with the CIA.
How is working for the intelligence community any different from working for other types of communities? How about working for an oil company with large interests in Africa, or a mining company with interests in Indonesia, Burma or Mongolia? Secrecy will be involved in “regular” communities as much as in the intelligence world. And companies too will use information to their advantage. Are you going to provide the company you work for with information or advice on how to deal with local demonstrators, how to use local superstition to prevent opposition, or how local leaders can be persuaded (bribed?) to rule in favour of the company? Or are you going to shurk your responsibilites to your employer, whose probably paying you a nice, cosy salary?
This has been covered over and over on earlier posts (e.g. here and here). The short version is this: I am opposed to secrecy in commercial research as well, though it’s nto a view all anthropologists share. The AAA Code of Ethics used to be very strongly against secret research; this is no longer the case. However, even if one somehow convinces themselves that secrecy is in the best interest of them, their employer, and anthropology as a whole, there is still the question of whether their research — secret or not, really — protects the best interests of the people they are studying. I tend to think informed consent is an important part of protecting the rights of our subjects, and I don’t see how that is possible under the kinds of secrecy the CIA is known to enjoy.
RML asks the right question, but seems to have no clue about the answer. The answer is that working for Big Oil is every bit as unethical as working for the CIA under these conditions, and anthropologists must avoid both of these entanglements or they will become dangerous whores.
I may not have clue, true. Yet, almsot every employer will insist on secrecy to protect the company’s business. Would that mean that anthropologists shouldn’t work for those employers, thereby limiting themselves to a very limited job market?
The links refer to post which discuss the ethics involved with signing up/ working for PRISP or the military/intelligence community, not commercial business. Would it be unethical for an anthropologist to work for a marketing firm or department? The person in question might have studied local communities in NYC and now be part of a project to promote products with those exact same communities. Would informed consent be something to consider here? How about if the person in question works on a similar project but aimed at similar communities in LA? How would informed consent be reached here, or would not be necessary because the information would be based on other anthropologists’ research?
IMO much of the informed consent “issue” is an academic one; a theoretical problem that gets more attention than warranted considering how easily an anthropologist working for a commercial entity might step outside his/her personal and direct field of experience and research, and end up using someone else’s research results without ever having to consider the informed consent issue. Why else than to be used by others would research results be published?
In our graduate theory seminar we spent two weeks reading into the history of the AAA’s ethics code. Two essays that we read really impacted me. One was an introduction to an edited ethics book that gave a good chronology of the aaa ethics code, the second was an article in The Nation from a few years ago that first looked at the WWII espionage of one of the spies who Boas criticized in WWI. The second half of this article made the same point you do; that the issues faced by anthropologists working in corporate settings are often the same as those of anthropologists working for the CIA, but the author made a nice connection to the history of the AAA ethics code and argued that it was pressures from industry to chage the ethics code that has opened the door for the anthropologists now working at the CIA and that all of these should stop. Anthropologists shouldn’t spy or work in secret no matter who they are working for.
I think Rex is right on with his point about what vs who. On that note I disagree strongly with
Call me crazy, but I really don’t think that the AAA should model it’s ethics after the actions of the RIAA.
I also think that talk about just/unjust clouds the issue, because the argument seems to apply to anyone who would work for the military/CIA/etc–regardless whether they are an anthropologist, computer scientist, or telephone operator. Each could be assisting an unjust cause and becoming a “dangerous whore”. Therefore, I don’t see how that has a place in a body of ethics designed specifically for anthropologists.
With all due respect, I don’t follow your line of logic. Yes, an anthropologist (or anyone with a library card) could use another’s research to develop a marketting plan. This clearly has very little bearing on informed consent. The difference between that and what they are talking about (as I understand it), is that the anthropologist has more information than is ACTUALLY PUBLISHED. Why would the CIA, or Intel, hire a PhD to read a book that anyone could have read and summarized? And even if they did, why would anyone care? (re: Rex’s thought experiment, unless of course he thinks that you shouldn’t brief them and I would then disagree). They are, more than likely, looking for some “slant”, some piece of personal information or intelligence that may not be appropriate to divulge. In that case, there is an issue, whether the employer is Greenpeace, an indigenous movement, or Exxon/Mobil.
I don’t think that working for big oil is a priori unethical in a professional (vs. personal/political) sense. Nor do I even think that it is necessarily wrong personally/politically. It might be out of character, but they are capable of doing something good too 😉 Maybe that is a bit optimistic, but the alternative (you bad guy, me only work with good guy) is too simplistic to my mind.
I just wanted to more directly address this:
For starters, I find it basically impossible to answer the first few rhetorical questions because they are too general. What “information or advice”, specifically? What does “deal with local demonstrators” mean? etc. Assuming the worst (which is what I think RML is implying), then no, it is not personally ethical to assist them. I have no idea about a general anthropology ethics. I suppose if you wanted to enforce such things you would need something a bit stronger than anything the AAA (ie laws). Like, you know, how it is actually illegal for americans or american companies to bribe foreign officials? His second point, then, about the “cosy salary” I find disingenuous. A salary doesn’t also buy your ethics/integrity (ideally, if not for everyone and in practice). Just because they pay me, doesn’t mean I will do ANYTHING, nor do I have the “responsibility” to do so.
I was kinda joking about the Creative Commons license, though I find it interesting that a concept developed to fight against RIAA-type controls is called RIAA-like. Clearly the “non-commercial” license is no less intrusive than a “non-military-use” license would be?
But that’s an aside. What’s really bothering me is the insistence that if Rex, or me, or anyone else brings up the issue of ethics, we have to provide a list of exactly which actions are moral and which aren’t. Is working for an oil company or operating a switchboard at the CIA unethical? Absolutely — if I did it. But I eject the demand for an ethical fundamentalism that would in essence forestall the need for ethics altogether — you could just do what the rules said and know you were doing right.
What makes CIA or other military-oriented work ethically problematic is not the nature of the information an anthropologist gathers, but the way it is gathered and distributed. A description of a Ghost Dance (to take an example that I imagine would be pretty innocuous today) is unethical if a) the data is gathered secretly and b) the data is published to a restricted audience — even if it could have no possible negative consequences. I think that’s pretty clear if we’re talking about our own privacy — it’s why, for instance, most of us feel a tad bit icky about the thought of the NSA listening in on our phone calls, or the FBI monitoring our meetings — even if we don’t say or do anything that could remotely get us in trouble. Why the unwillingness to recognize the same ethical issues in our work on ostensible Others?
The issue of informed consent is hardly academic when, for instance, you’re the *next* anthropologist at a field site. Then the behaviour of your predecessors becomes of very immediate practical concern! It’s also hardly academic when the information gathered is used to, say, identify and kill local radicals. Now, our piblished reports might also be used this way, but we’ve at least had a chance to vet that information — to protect the identities of persons involved in illegal actions, for instance, or to protect the locations of secret places of particular ritual importance (I have in mind Basso’s “Wisdom Sits in Places” here). Somehow I don’t think that an anthropologist directly attached to the CIA can expect to exercise that kind of discretion; instead, decisions about what information is shared with whom will likely be made by people whose understandings of the implications of their data is secondary (if that) to their political interests.
Fair enough regarding the CC-license. Hrmm, I wouldn’t say its “interesting” (I am reading into that word a bit) re: the RIAA though 1) you were the one who brought up record companies and advocated a kind of “me-tooism” (at least that is what I understood) 2) you are conflating my criticism of a non-military CC license with a criticism of CC in general. To be fair, a non-military license would be somewhat similar to the non-commercial license. I feel that license is problematic also, although I would argue that it is directly fighting the RIAA by subverting its methods, while a non-military license is simply co-opting RIAA methods for other purposes (ie, they have nothing to do with “free culture”). At any rate, I suppose it doesn’t really matter. There is probably very little anthropology the CIA reads anyways, and if they did read/use a CC non-military document, it would be very difficult for you to 1) figure it out 2) build a solid case and sue them.
I’m not sure if its just a typo, but I’m wary of conflating ethics and morals ala “What’s really bothering me is the insistence that if Rex, or me, or anyone else brings up the issue of ethics, we have to provide a list of exactly which actions are moral and which aren’t.” Or maybe that is your point. I’m not sure.
As far as the gathering of data–I agree generally. I hesitate to mention this, since I think its a bit of a touchy anthro subject, but I was reading this piece of investigative journalism (don’t hate) in the Atlantic, or similar, a while back about a reporter who went sort of “undercover” on one of those vacations to East Europe where lonely American men get introduced to a huge number of Ukraine girls. Sort of a mail-order bride vacation or whatever. At any rate, what struck me is the extreme contrast with the ethnographic prohibition against “secretive research”, “informed consent”, etc. Obviously not a new idea, but that is a lot closer to what anthropologists do than FBI wiretaps.
The pragmatic argument I guess is valid, but I find it a bit dissatisfying. It just seems a bit economitistic/utilitarian/etc.
prohibition against “secretive research”, need for “informed consent”…
Or that kind of thing. You probably know what I meant 😉
After re-reading your post, I think maybe I misunderstood something. Are you saying that the work for the CIA is unethical because it is both performed in secret AND the results are published secretly? Or is it either condition that can make the work problematic? I can’t really see how it could both of those things put together that is the problem… presumably the privacy issue is because you told someone something they shouldn’t know, not because you didn’t tell everyone?
Re: CC/RIAA — Like I said, I wasn’t entirely serious when I mentioned that, so I’m not going to defend it too vigorously. My main issue is, if we take seriously that an author has some rights to control how her/his work is used (and that’s an issue that is rightfully debated), why not use those rights to protect our work from whatever uses we disagree with? Totally impractical, as you mention, jsut something worth thinking about (though I’d most likely come down on Maniaku’s side on this).
Re: Moral/ethical — yes, I was trying to get at the fact that ethics is a process, and that it sort of disappears when someone says “so it’s wrong to work for Intel?” or whatever.
Re: Secrets — it’s problematic to collect data secretly, and it’s problematic to publish it restrictively. At least, so says I. There may well be situations in which a) the data is so important that the ethical concerns are outweighed by the necessity, and b) the data cannot be collected any other way, but that doesn’t erase the issue. As far as publishing is concerned, it *is* a problem because you don’t “tell everyone” — I think pretty highly of the notion that science is public, that we have an obligation to our fellow scientists, and to humanity as a whole. I see former CIA employees talking about submitting the books they write *after* leaving the CIA for vetting — the thought of an anthropologist’s work being locked up like that is very disturbing. Who knows why the vetters might object to some piece of data or analysis being published? I’d like to think that, when data is withheld, it is done so either because a) it serves no anthropological purpose to publish it (which is pr’y pretty rare) or b) because someone who is deeply familiar with the data recognizes risks to the people under study.
If an anthropologist working for any employer, CIA or otherwise, cannot publish as freely as s/he’d publish if s/he had done the same research under different sponsorship, I think that’s a pretty big problem.
I tossed up an entry on the CIA involvement in anthropology on my blog. As a former anthropology student myself (B.A. ’93) I’m shocked that any honest scholar would entertain joining these creeps: torture, toppling of governments, looking the other way (or worse) with regard to drug lords and Latin American thugs or opium farmers (more recently), etc.
Scholarship is an open enterprise, anthropology is the study of culture — not the study of subverting governments or individuals.
And so you can’t practice honest scholarship in secrecy, or under ulterior motive.
Maniaku asks: “Why would the CIA, or Intel, hire a PhD to read a book that anyone could have read and summarized? And even if they did, why would anyone care? (re: Rex’s thought experiment, unless of course he thinks that you shouldn’t brief them and I would then disagree.”
It’s not just a thought experiment. They have hired Ph.D.s to not only read and summarize public work, but in one particualr case even hired the author himself to summarize his work for them. (He was not an anthropologist BTW.) He thought it was phenomenally silly that they would pay him oodles of money to do this, but was quite happy to take the money since his research had been published and accessible to the CIA et al. for years.
Why does the CIA do it? I don’t know. Perhaps an ethnography of the CIA is called for. Participant-observation anyone?
On the other hand, I have some Middle Eastern specialist friends (linguists and anthropologists) who tried to offer their services to the U.S. military at the start of the Iraq War. These were people who were very familiar with and horrified by what Saddam was doing in Iraq and felt strongly that they should contribute their knowledge and analytical skills. I was disgusted, I’ll admit, but these people made what was for them a deeply moral decision, and I can not fault their attempt on those grounds. (I can and do fault it on the grounds of naivete.)
The conclusion to this story is, of course, that the U.S. military wanted nothing to do with area specialists. The history of the Bush administration’s attitudes and actions toward area specialists and “old hands” is now widely reported. I don’t know that having people knowledgeable about the Middle East and particularly Iraq would have made much difference, however; the military and intelligence worlds have their own cultures, as many who in all integrity worked in Vietnam in the 1960s and 1970s learned.
Kate, Who were these anthropologists who tried to join the CIA?
Obviously, I’m not going to give out that information on a public web site. They were making a well-considered moral choice for them. And it was the military, rather than the CIA.
The point was the the U.S. military does not want area/language specialists.
For what it’s worth, the truth of the matter may be less that the military doesn’t want area specialists than its not having well-developed career tracks for them. Cross-cutting relationships may also be a problem.
In the case of my daughter, Annapolis Class of ’98, who grew up bilingual and bicultural in Japan, one possible path would have led from her first temporary duty in the Far East office of the Pentagon to a billet as an Admiral’s adjutant in Japan, where her fluent Japanese would have been very useful, indeed. She rejected this assignment because (1) it would have isolated her from the helicopter community in which she was trying to prove herself as a pilot and (2) would have meant immediate, long-term separation from the fellow who is now our son-in-law, whom she met in flight school at Pensacola.
Also, the problems she faced in balancing the usefulness to the Navy of her Japanese language and culture skills against other career and personal goals are familiar and recurrent issues for people pursuing careers in multinational corporations, where “going native” in one place becomes a barrier to promotions that mean going elsewhere.
P.S. My daughter’s case is, of course, only indirectly relevant to the question of whether civilian area specialists will have much impact on military decisions. The critical point is, however, that while there are three possible sources of linguistic and area expertise on which the military might draw–(1) the “accidental” expertise of which my daughter is an example, (2) the “military-trained” expertise produced by, for example, the Monterey language schools, and (3) civilian area expertise of the kind that most anthropologists represent–none is a path to high rank in the chain of command. Thus, area-specific knowledge remains at best only one of the factors high ranking officers consider in making military decisions, and for structural and training reasons it is not likely to be weighted very heavily until, as Iraq illustrates, the fecal matter has hit the fan, by which time it becomes too little, too late.
Kate Gillogly: Why do you support and enable these anthropologists working for the CIA? You don’t think the CIA really turned them down do you? I thought everyone knew that when people are “rejected” after doing all the appliations and background checks that they are really working for the company. Why do you support such CIA incursions into anthropology?
Red Pill: Read before posting, or you will be banned.
Kate, John, and Red Pill — although I’m obviously not on the side of Montgomery McFate, I think it is relevant to the discussion here that her campaign is not especially directed at convincing anthropologists to put our expertise at the disposal of the government (if that were her goal, she’d have published in anthropological journals, not military ones) but is rather aimed at convincing the military and intelligence agencies to take advantage of the expertise anthropologists have developed. This is as much of an uphill battle — if not more — as convincing anthros to sign on! The military-intelligence rejection of anthropological knowledge (along with the rest of the social sciences) is much longer-standing than the current administration’s War on Knowledge — the anti-Communist witchhunts of the ’50s effectively purged social scientists from the State and Defense Departments, and the social sciences (except economics, maybe) have had a hell of a time re-establishing more than a foothold ever since.
Dustin is right about Montgomery McFate. My thoughts in re the daughter’s experience may help to explain why she faces an uphill battle. Not so much because someone has decided a priori that anthropological knowledge doesn’t amount to much, but instead because anthropological knowledge comes at the end of a long list of other things an officer needs to know to be promoted. It’s one more thing to learn in a list that is already too long. (Which reminds me of something I read in the Trident, the US Naval Academy’s student newspaper: “The coach wants me sixteen hours a day, the dean wants me sixteen hours a day, the commandant wants me sixteen hours a day….We learn to prioritize.”)
This is what structural issues come down to in practice. Until the organization changes to create a career path in which anthropological knowledge weighs heavily in achieving success, the answer to those who suggest its value will continue to be “Right, that’s nice, could be useful….but….”
Dustin, that is absolutely the point — even if anthropologists wanted to do this work, there are many political, structural, and cultural reasons why there’s a poor fit between what anthropologists (and other social scientists) do and what the military does (keeping in mind the different branches have their own cultures as well). A few years ago, Catherine Lutz won the SUNTA Leeds Prize for “Homefront: A Military City and the American 20th Century” (Beacon Press, 2002). I spent an hour or so at the local book store looking through it while I considered using it for my Urban Anthropology class (ah, yes, the local bookstore as the library replacement for under-employed adjunct faculty/grad students!). It was a careful and compassionate discussion of how the interests of the people in the city were formed by and in conflict with military interests. It would be great to have more ethnographies like that. Of course, again, we face the structural difficulties of the type John delineates in carrying out such research.
But in all of the anti-military rhetoric, I am reminded of my first fieldwork in the Solomon Islands. At the time, anthropology was still fixated on the ‘traditional,’ and we turned up our noses at the missionized peoples as somehow ruined. At the very least, my partner and I were decidedly anti-religion and so avoided the evangelicals as much as possible for a time, until I got stuck in a truck with some evangelicals one day and was confronted by a worldview so profoundly ‘other’ that I had that aha moment — hey, why apply cultural relativism to the ‘primitives’ and not to the ‘moderns’? Isn’t that, you know, ethnocentric? I want to understand worldviews, perspectives, culturally-constructed legitimations, structural tendencies, etc. etc. before I decide others are bad people.
No. This isn’t the only point involved in this, but it is rather interesting to see how narrow the lines marking the borders of dissent are across the Pacific over at Savage Minds, defender of American ways of thinking. While apparently disagreeing on one’s role in protecting CIA aspiring anthropologists brings censorship and the sudden wrath of Kerim, I would state again that there are actually many anthropologists working for the CIA. Reports that anthropologists are being rejected are exagerated by CIA friendly anthropologists like Dr. McFate. Yes, I am sure these anthropologists believe they are following their own moral principles, but the CIA always thinks this even when the torture people and murder people. Big deal. My point is that anthropologists shouldn’t do this. Some of you Americans think this is OK, this is oh so American of you. I think we shouldn’t even help people who are doing this. Some of you think this is OK. I think that if you shield the people who are doing this or who are trying to do this, then you are helping them do this. I won’t help people do this. None of us should. It is not a fine thing to do. So go ahead and pull the plug me, I’ve seen enough of Savage Minds. Take the blue pill and go back to what you doing.
Red Pill — a few points:
1) “Savage Minds” is not a think tank, a policy institute, or a professional organization. There is no “Savage Minds philosophy” or “worldview” or anything, aside from the fact that we all share a general commitement to making anthropology more public (of course, we disagree about what that means and how that might happen). It’s entirely possible that one of us agrees with you wholly while another of us does secret work for the CIA on how best to torture American citizens who dare to express dissent.
2) You are responding to comments that were not all made by SM members, and I don’t think you want to imply that providing a space for discussion equals endorsement. There are several posts on SM that deal with anthropologists’ involvement with the military/industrial complex — I suggest you search the site for “CIA” and read them.
3) I see no call for abuse — not everyone has the super-special privileged insight to the ethical workings of the state that you claim for yourself, and I think it’s fair to admit that reasonable people — even well-meaning ones — can disagree on issues of such moral complexity.
4) My own research, and that of others dealing with the relation between anthropology and the military/intelligence apparatus, does not suggest anything like a massive conspiracy to downplay the number of anthropologists actively working in military or intelligence endeavors. Yes, there are some — and many “canonical” figures in the field have also gotten into bed with the state: Mead of course, but also Murdock, Kluckhohn, and Wittfogel, to name a few. But by and large anthropological knowledge has been marginalized in the US — and even in the colonial empires of Britain and France, anthropologists have had to fight hard for even minimal standing. Think about it for a second: if intelligence jobs were so attractive and so acceptable to anthros and other social scientists, they’d hardly need to offer incentives like PRISP — which promises a free ride in college if only students will *consider* a career in intelligence — and they’d hardly need to go to such great lengths to keep students’ involvement in the program a secret.
I have to add another point on secrecy and revelation.
Many anthropologists are opposed to working with the military/intelligence industry — as well as with corporations and design businesses — because of the secrecy involved. What is the point of secret research? How does it contribute to a body of knowledge that is publicly available? How do we ensure that knowledge is not misused or appropriated and commercialized, and used against the people who kindly let us study with them? These are constant ethical questions for those of us actually doing/practicing anthropology. Open and transparent discussion is one of our protections from abuse of power.
However, as in any fieldwork situation, we protect the names of those who have given us information especially when that information might endanger them. Such danger might come from community backlash; from their own governments’ oppression; or from international intervention. Our study participants have confidentiality unless they agree to be publicly identified.
There’s a fundamental difference between the degree of openness that is appropriate for the researcher or the researched.
In the spirit of open discussion, many of us involved in discussion on SM use either our names or our names and contact information are available to the SM community with via hyperlink.
I have identified myself; I’m willing to take the risks involved in talking intelligently about this topic on myself, because we need to talk about the elephant in the room.
Red Pill, I love irony.
In a spirit of comparable transparency, allow me to note that I will be giving a paper on collaborative research involving business folk in Taiwan in December. One critical point I want to make is that from a business perspective the value of proprietary information normally declines very rapidly. To someone who needs to make a decision on what markets or consumers are doing today and are likely to do in the near future, research that is even a year old has already become (to borrow Joseph Levenson’s phrase) “of merely historical value.” It may, however, remain of considerable value to historians or social scientists with the leisure to ponder the course of social and cultural change over longer periods of time. To me this represents an opportunity for anthropologists as well as other scholars to persuade corporations to open their archives for research. The questions of how to gain access and when and to what extent information will be “declassified” are the critical practical issues facing anyone who pursues this opportunity.
Kate, are you doing an ethnographic study of anthropologists who want to work for the CIA and you are protecting their identity as research subjects in your study? This sounds like an important and interesting study. Let us know when you publish this fieldwork research.
The obvious answer regarding the secrecy issue is that an anthropologist working for a company or a government has different ethical obligations than a research anthropologist working for a university.
Saying that an anthropologist shouldn’t work for the government because his research and work on behalf of the government will be secret in violation of an ethical obligation to publish knowledge seems sort of like… saying that an attorney shouldn’t work as a criminal defense lawyer because it doesn’t uphold his obligations as a prosecuting lawyer.
The topic of anthropology and the CIA is drifting to the center of the discipline.
The current issue of US News & World Report has a major article, “Hey Lets Play Ball” on anthropologists working for the CIA (11/6/06 PP:52-57). I’ve heard that there are several sessions on this at the AAA and that motions will be brought to the AAA business meeting.
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