Review of “Militarizing Education: The Intelligence Community’s Spy Camps” by Roberto J. Gonzalez

Gonzalez, Robert J. (2014). “Militarizing Education: The Intelligence Community’s Spy Camps”. Chatterjee Piya, and Sunania Maria (Eds.) The Imperial University: Academic Repression and Scholarly Dissent (pp. 79-98). Minneapolis, Minnesota: University of Minnesota Press.

In his article Militarizing Education: The Intelligence Community’s Spy Camps, Roberto Gonzalez walks his readers through some of the attempts that the US intelligence community has been making to create inroads into the recruitment of students at American schools and universities. Through the creation of “Spy Camps” and Intelligence Community Centers, the US government has been working to recruit and train a new of generation of intelligence operatives who, to quote House Intelligence Chair Jane Harman, will “look like their targets” and “speak the dialects the terrorists use” (Gonzalez, 80).

To this end, these programs have been targeting beleaguered and chronically underfunded schools whose student bodies are primarily visible minorities. By dangling enormous sums of money in front of administrators in return for cooperation with the program, they have managed to establish themselves in countless universities and colleges throughout the United States.

Gonzalez identifies 3 of the primary methods which are being employed by spy agencies to build these inroads and gain a foothold in universities and colleges in the United States.

The first approach Gonzalez discusses is that of curriculum development. Intelligence agencies have sought both to provide their activities with an academic under-girding and to generate interest in careers in the intelligence industry through the creation of “Intelligence Studies” as an academic field, graduate programs focused on topics relevant to said agencies, and classes taught in languages “deemed important to US Security” such as Arabic and Mandarin (Gonzalez, 83).

The second method by which intelligence agencies can be seen to be increasingly moving into the academic sphere is through the organizing of events such as academic conferences and guest lectures which, in many instances, can be seen to function as recruitment pitches for spy agencies.

Lastly, Gonzalez points to the proliferation of numerous scholarship and travel abroad programs such as the “Intelligence Community Scholarship Program” which sees students taking courses relating to matters of intelligence so as to facilitate study abroad programs and internships with spy agencies. Once students accept these scholarships they are forced to take jobs with US intelligence agencies once they graduate – under pain of having to repay all of the money given along with interest rates that in some cases are set at three times the legally permitted amount (Gonzalez, 84).

A major concern here is that when education is funded by the military, universities open themselves up a process wherein knowledge becomes militarized and militarization becomes normalized. Military assumptions and means towards ends are taken increasingly as common knowledge and the ability for people to be openly critical of such institutions is severely compromised. To quote Hugh Gusterson, this militarization of knowledge makes it possible for “the military [to] further define the basic terms of public and academic debate” (Gonzalez, 85).

Gonzalez goes on to describe his experience looking into an IC Center program at the primarily Chicano University of Texas, Pan American, a university he worked for in the past. Like those at many other universities, UTPA’s humanities and social science departments have long struggled with funding issues. The $2.5 million dollars over 5 years offered by the Director of National Intelligence to UTPA for the creation of an UTPA IC Center was seen as too good to pass up by many of UTPA’s faculty and administration. Voices critical of the program and its potential to compromise academic freedom and place military interests over the interests of the students were largely ignored.

Gonzalez goes on to describe what he views as the primary dangers of these kinds of activities. Of particular concern to Gonzalez is the fact that the kinds of programs described above speak nowhere of the human right violations, terrible violence and torture and egregious manipulation committed routinely by organizations like the CIA (In Iran, Guatemala, Chile, Indonesia, El Salvador, et al.), and the FBI (the example of COINTELPRO comes to mind). This effectively sanitizes the shady history of these organizations in the eyes of a new generation of students. Moreover, institutions and faculty who cooperate with these programs and “tow the line” are given funding, and those who speak against them and their progenitors see their funding cut.

Lastly all this is even more concerning insofar as many of those targeted are children who are perhaps somewhat naive or impulsive and might not be fully aware of the long term consequences of working for the military or accepting military funding. The danger is not just for themselves in the terms of potentially doing dangerous front line work for years at a time, as well as being potentially saddled with crippling debt should they decide they do not want to pursue intelligence work as a career, but it also concerns the consequences of what they will be used for by the American state and the potential for inflicting harm on the people of other nations and even members of the communities from which many of these students hail.

While Gonzalez does us all a service by highlighting these activities, most of this should not come as that much of a surprise. Many have had experience with police “guest speakers” in grade school. Under the guise of educating youth about issues such as the “war on drugs”, there is a degree of propaganda and a subtle flavor of recruitment in such talks, especially when they are directed at young and impressionable minds. In many ways, “Spy Camps” and “IC Centers” are the logical next steps on an agenda that seeks to normalize militarization.

Although Gonzalez’s article was first published in 2010, the issues he raises about academic complicity in such projects is as relevant as ever. The continued streamlining of education and research and development towards military purposes and the high cost paid for it by intellectual freedom and academic integrity are issues that still have much traction today.

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