Enlisting the Social Sciences

By González, Roberto J. | Academe, November/December 2012 | Go to article overview
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Enlisting the Social Sciences

González, Roberto J., Academe

Enlisting the Social Sciences WEAPONIZING ANTHROPOLOGY: SOCIAL SCIENCE IN SERVICE OF THE MILITARIZED STATE David H. Price. Petrolia, CA: CounterPunch and AK Press, 2011.


Over the past twenty years, David Price has carefully untangled the twisted history of American anthropology's troubled relationship with the FBI and its grim encounters with McCarthyism. In his most recent book, Price unflinchingly sets his sights on the present. Weaponizing Anthropology is a blistering exposé of the post-September 11 militarization of the social sciences and the growing presence of the CIA and other intelligence agencies on American university campuses. Meticulously researched and masterfully written, this gripping book is a powerful example of politically committed social science.

Price begins by reviewing historical moments in which anthropology was deployed for war. He convincingly argues that the "weaponization" of anthropology during the two world wars, the Vietnam War, and now the "war on terrorism" led to ethical crises and, eventually, professional ethics codes. But an obsessive focus on ethics can sometimes result in avoidance of political action-or, worse yet, indifference. Price argues that historical amnesia about CIA-orchestrated coups and assassinations and about the agency's support for death squads has contributed to apathy among many US academics today. At the same time, the growing "corporatization of university campuses has leftunderfunded departments willing to consider anything that promises to provide funding."

It is in this context that US intelligence agencies have returned to American campuses over the past decade. In response to the September 11, 2001, attacks, several new scholarship programs were created, including the Pat Roberts Intelligence Scholars Program, the Intelligence Community Scholars Program, and the National Security Education Program (NSEP). These initiatives are particularly insidious for two reasons: first, because they help foster an atmosphere of fear in the classroom (since scholarship recipients remain unidentified); and second, because they typically require "payback." Scholarship recipients are obligated to work for national security agencies after graduation or else face the prospect of paying back their financial awards, plus steep penalties. This is not an idle threat. Price describes the case of Nicholas Flattes, a University of Hawaii student who received an NSEP scholarship but then decided not to seek work in the national security field. In 2008, the Department of Defense contacted Flattes with a demand that he either begin working for a US national security agency or pay the cost of the scholarship and penalties. For Price, the significance of this episode is the way in which Pentagon officials are using debt as a means of pressuring Flattes and perhaps others to do national security work.

Another post-September 11 program is the Intelligence Community Centers of Academic Excellence (ICCAE), originally created to diversify the pool of US intelligence agents by pumping funds into universities with large numbers of African American and Latino students (among the grantees were Florida A&M University and the University of Texas-El Paso). Such programs are problematic because they ultimately threaten academic freedom by "bring[ing] chills to open classrooms. . . . As ICCAE students graduate and begin careers at the CIA, NSA, FBI, and other agencies requiring security clearances, accounts of all sorts of academic discussions stand to make their way into intelligence files." Price's deep historical knowledge of US spy agencies' infiltration of student organizations, militants like the Black Panthers, and other activist groups through programs like the FBI's COINTELPRO effectively informs his analysis of the present.

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