by Isaac Elster / The South End Published: Sunday, March 15, 2009
The Intelligence Community — made up of the CIA, FBI, and fifteen other government agencies — is hoping to expand its presence on college campuses more than ever, including Wayne State.
This goal is now in the process of being realized with the Intelligence Community’s Centers of Academic Excellence Program in National Security Studies. The Program focuses on building relationships between colleges, students and the IC.
According to Vaneé Vines, a spokesperson for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, the Program is one of many necessary academic-outreach initiatives stemming from the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004.
“The nation faces increasingly complex global threats,” Vines said.
“As a result, the Intelligence Community must have a work force that reflects America's diversity and has a deep understanding of global cultures; foreign languages; science, technology, engineering, math, and economics; plus other key issues.
“Clearly, the CAE Program is needed to build a work force that will help the nation tackle national security challenges.”
Interestingly enough, this planned enlargement of the IC work force has largely been met not with hostility or protests, but with apathy. Several American college campuses have been hostile to the presence of CIA recruiters at some point in time, even towards the later years of the Cold War.
Social and political activist Abbie Hoffman was quoted in the Fall 1988 edition of “Business Today” as saying in “the last three and a half years, 102 universities have been forced to join the divestment movement … because of organized pressure by students.”
Ten college universities were designated to make the launch of the Program: WSU, California State University - San Bernardino, Clark Atlanta University, Florida International University, Norfolk State University, Tennessee State University, Trinity University, University of Texas – El Paso, University of Texas - Pan American and University of Washington.
WSU’s program is the Center of Academic Excellence-National Security Intelligence Studies. While applications for the Scholars Program were being collected, a Teachers Workshop in which middle and high school teachers learned about Middle Eastern languages, the High School Engineering Training Institute and the Study Abroad Grant were put into action.
Not a single voice was raised in public protest of these developments. Why has WSU — a university that was listed in Ami Chen Mills’ book “CIA Off Campus” as a college where anti-CIA actions took place between 1987-1991 — accepted this program?
WSU student Sicily McRaven said the program hasn’t been protested because it is still relatively new to students. McRaven, a member of Detroit Students for a Democratic Society, said that people might negatively react to the CAE-NSIS if news of it spread to WSU’s various colleges (the program is grounded in the university’s College of Engineering).
“WSU is a commuter's school, so not that many people are aware of what is happening outside of their college,” McRaven said.
“It is possible that through our desperation for funding, we may start to become more beholden to these agencies and allow them to shape the agenda and type of learning that students experience.”
Is it because of the economy’s downturn, and people’s subsequent willingness to explore new options for employment?
“If students get in the program, they will have a greater chance of finding a career than with the Big Three [automakers],” said Michelle Reaves, Program Manager for the CAE-NSIS.
“Not many people are getting hired into the Big Three anymore.”
Is it because the CAE-NSIS and its sister programs at other colleges highlight the need for diversity in the IC?
James Robbins, Director of Trinity University’s Intelligence Community Center for Academic Excellence — a sister program of the CAE-NSIS — emphasizes that increased diversity in the IC is in America’s best interest.
“The challenges of the War on Terror have demonstrated that the Intelligence Community needs to draw on the full diversity of our country and not just select groups,” Robbins said.
“Its challenges are so diverse and globally based that we are going to need diverse and globally based solutions to this issue. So it only makes sense to reach out to previously underrepresented communities in the Intelligence Community.”
Although many dissenting voices cannot be found at universities where the Program is present, there are many individuals who visibly protest IC presence on their campuses.
Rochester Institute of Technology student Kenneth Love is a member of the National Coordinating Committee of the Campus Antiwar Network — a grassroots network that has protested the IC’s presence at American college campuses — and a former Army ROTC cadet.
Love objects to the CAE-NSIS because it is essentially no different from other IC recruiting efforts. Love argues that no matter how overt the recruitment is, students who graduate from this program will be offered the same jobs that they would have if the recruitment was instead covert.
“I know students that created technology using mathematical algorithms to detect terrorist activity among radical minded students on the popular social networking website Facebook … students who created through computer science technology better programs to catch dialect on the telephones, especially Arabic,” Love said.
“This egregious exploitation of students’ educational capacities is actually directly counter-posed to their own interests.”
Love suggests that students who object to the IC’s presence on campuses should contact the CAN. Elizabeth Wrigley-Field is a graduate student in sociology at University of Wisconsin-Madison and a member of the CAN.
She believes that the IC’s methods to attract students remain nefarious despite its more open recruitment policy.
“I consider it the height of cynicism for intelligence agencies to say they're providing much needed jobs for graduates or much needed educational funding for schools,” Wrigley-Field said.
“The government is taking away educational funding with one hand and holding out the military with the other. It amounts to holding schools hostage, and I think students need to fight back.”
Chris Dols, a fellow UW-Madison student and a member of the CAN’s National Coordinating Committee, agrees that the IC’s use of funds to attract college students is inappropriate and harmful to all universities involved.
“The idea that these programs cannot hurt your school depends on believing that your school and its community are somehow detached from the rest of the world,” Dols said.
“That in order to gain a foothold in higher education, the Intelligence Community is exploiting the lack of employment opportunities available to students and the similar lack of research grants available to their schools should be proof enough that they have no interest in solving these problems. It is precisely the opposite.
“They rely upon the desperation of our schools in order to get in the front door. They have an immediate interest in limiting our options so that they're our only alternative.”
Those involved in the IC’s programs say that they have not heard any objections to this project, but they believe that those who might raise their voices in protest are wrong to do so.
“Those who oppose this kind of approach are not thinking clearly, even based on their own interests,” Robbins said.
“If you make everything open and transparent, you make it less likely that anything bad is going to happen.”
Gerald O. Thompkins, Program Director for WSU’s CAE-NSIS program says that he does not believe that his college will ever see demonstrations against this program because it is just as harmless as government agencies’ individual attempts to recruit students.
“This is no different than if a student decided to go into the National Guard,” Thompkins said.“You are working for the federal government.
"The main thrust of this program is to create employment opportunities at the federal level.”
Reaves takes another approach, justifying the CAE-NSIS, saying that students can take the skills that they have learned in the program to any other type of job.
“This program’s courses that are set up increase the critical skills that are necessary for an employer,” Reaves said. “These skills are necessary whether you work for the IC or the IBM.”
So why is there no public outcry now that the IC is attempting to install programs that expose students to each of its agencies on a national level? Will this acceptance of the Program continue if it expands to private and community colleges?
Or has America, for the most part, become used to the IC’s presence in its colleges? Has the IC tamed the beasts that are colleges, or will the beasts struggle to remain wild?