David Price: Anthropologists as Spies

The following is a selection of passages that I have marked out for special attention from David Price’s 2000 article in The Nation:

On December 20, 1919, under the heading “Scientists as Spies,” The Nation published a letter by Franz Boas, the father of academic anthropology in America. Boas charged that four American anthropologists, whom he did not name, had abused their professional research positions by conducting espionage in Central America during the First World War. Boas strongly condemned their actions, writing that they had “prostituted science by using it as a cover for their activities as spies.” Anthropologists spying for their country severely betrayed their science and damaged the credibility of all anthropological research, Boas wrote; a scientist who uses his research as a cover for political spying forfeits the right to be classified as a scientist.

[The names of the four accused by Boas were: Samuel Lothrop, Sylvanus Morley, Herbert Spinden, and John Mason.]

The FBI produced 280 pages of documents pertaining to one of the individuals Boas accused–the Harvard archeologist Samuel Lothrop. Lothrop’s FBI file establishes that during World War I he indeed spied for Naval Intelligence, performing “highly commendable” work in the Caribbean until “his identity as an Agent of Naval Intelligence became known.” What is more, World War II saw him back in harness, serving in the Special Intelligence Service (SIS), which J. Edgar Hoover created within the FBI to undertake and coordinate all intelligence activity in Central and South America. During the war the SIS stationed approximately 350 agents throughout South America, where they collected intelligence, subverted Axis networks and at times assisted in the interruption of the flow of raw materials from Axis sources. Lothrop was stationed in Lima, Peru, where he monitored imports, exports and political developments. To maintain his cover he pretended to undertake archeological investigations.

….almost every prominent living US anthropologist (including Ruth Benedict, Gregory Bateson, Clyde Kluckhohn and Margaret Mead) contributed to the World War II war effort….

In the following decades there were numerous private and public interactions between anthropologists and the intelligence community. Some anthropologists applied their skills at the CIA after its inception in 1947 and may still be doing so today. For some of them this was a logical transition from their wartime espionage work with the OSS and other organizations; others regarded the CIA as an agency concerned with gathering information to assist policy-makers rather than a secret branch of government that subverted foreign governments and waged clandestine war on the Soviet Union and its allies. Still other anthropologists unwittingly received research funding from CIA fronts like the Human Ecology Fund.

The American Anthropological Association also secretly collaborated with the CIA. In the early 1950s the AAA’s executive board negotiated a secret agreement with the CIA under which agency personnel and computers were used to produce a cross-listed directory of AAA members, showing their geographical and linguistic areas of expertise along with summaries of research interests. Under this agreement the CIA kept copies of the database for its own purposes with no questions asked.

During the Korean War linguists and ethnographers assisted America’s involvement with little vocal conflict of conscience. Norwegian sociologist Johan Galtung’s revelations in 1965 of Project Camelot, in which anthropologists were reported to be working on unclassified counterinsurgency programs in Latin America, ignited controversy in the AAA. During America’s wars in Southeast Asia the AAA was thrown into a state of upheaval after documents purloined from the private office of UCLA anthropologist Michael Moerman revealed that several anthropologists had secretly used their ethnographic knowledge to assist the war effort.

[At the 1971 meeting of the AAA, the late great Margaret Mead engineered a report that found no wrongdoing–according to others, she also spat on one of the anthropologists who was publicly critical]

Over the past several decades the explicit condemnations of secretive research have been removed from the AAA’s code of ethics–the principles of professional responsibility (PPR).

[Read the full piece at: http://www.thenation.com/doc/20001120/price]

3 thoughts on “David Price: Anthropologists as Spies

  1. Miyoko Goto

    SJSU is another university which encouraging students and professors to assist the CIA. For example, Dr. English-Lueck, the chair of the anthro department, engaged in the covert communication with the Chinese professors and students for the preparation of the 1989 Tiananmen riot. She was working in a university near the square and helping the students to skip her class but to attend the protesting. When the students and others were caught and imprisoned, they were brought to the US in the name of curing the disease and mental problems.

    If you want to know SJSU anthropology department engage in COINTELPRO on students, check out the video from my own evidences. They simply snatch students from the university with the concern of suicide, and later their “psychiatrists” make up stories like gravely disabled to be used in human experiment. Anthropologists can make up stories to help their theory or bring about the conclusion favorable to the interest groups.

    And watch out for her daughter doing for future unrest in Japan and other countries.

  2. Pingback: Anthropology, Philanthropy, and Empire « ZERO ANTHROPOLOGY

  3. Pingback: Anthropology, Philanthropy, and Empire | My Words

Comments are closed