National Security Research, Imperialist Emergencies and the Minerva Research Initiative: Some Further Consideration (1.1)

For this post I am once more referring to the contents of this document, just released by the U.S. Department of Defense, soliciting proposals for grants under the Minerva Research Initiative (MRI). The following is a series of topics of concern raised by this document.

On page 2 we read, “Proposals from a team of university investigators may be warranted because the necessary expertise in addressing the multiple facets of the topics may reside in different universities or in different departments of the same university”. The effect of this would be to disseminate the program, to widen its allure, and in an age of viral media, to cast a recruitment net as broadly as possible across academics and their institutions, and not just in the United States as we find out, but internationally as well (see page 4).

On page 4, the document indicates: “It is anticipated the awards will be made in the form of grants to universities”. That is not an unusual practice, at least not in Canada. What it does mean in this instance is that it is not just the single researcher, or team of researchers, who is complicit of supporting an imperial research program, but also the university.

Foreign universities, as mentioned before, are also encouraged to participate, and this information appears on page 4: “This MRI competition is open to institutions of higher education (universities) including DoD institutions of higher education and foreign universities, with degree-granting programs in social sciences. Participation by foreign universities either as project lead or in a supporting role is encouraged”.

On page 8, and this with reference to “furnishings,” “facilities,” and “equipment” for research projects, we are told: “Government research facilities and operational military units are available and should be considered as potential Government furnished equipment/facilities.” Moreover, the document adds, “Maximum use of Government integration, test, and experiment facilities is encouraged in each of the offeror’s proposals”.

The two most important, and equal, criteria for assessing the value of an application are: (1) the “soundness, and programmatic strategy of the proposed social science research”, and, (2) the “relevance and potential contributions of the proposed research” to the Department of Defense (p. 12).

Of lesser importance are criteria such as the qualifications of the researcher, or even the ability of the researcher’s home institution to train students in social science research.

Please note: This is the kind of program that the American Anthropological Association and the National Science Foundation sought to support by adding their peer review structures. The program is formulated by the Pentagon, and would have remained as such, with or without the peer review of the NSF.

On page 13, as is obvious now, the evaluations are conducted in the following manner:

White papers will be reviewed by an evaluation panel chaired by the responsible Research Topic Chief. The evaluation panel will consist of subject matter experts who are Government employees. Results will be provided by the Research Topic Chief. Full proposals will be evaluated by an evaluation panel chaired by the responsible Research Topic Chief and will consist of subject matter experts who are Government employees.

This is one of the more striking instances of irony in the entire document, where the Pentagon urges researchers to respect its limitations with reference to the treatment of “vulnerable populations” (p. 14).

How have the subjects been made vulnerable by U.S. domination? Do vulnerable subjects include the victims of U.S. torture? Do the vulnerable ones include those detained in secret and mobile detention centres? Do they include those made vulnerable by the very intent of the research itself?

Does the report suggest such an equation? On page 17, detailing “FY09 MRI Topic #2”, titled “Studies of the Strategic Impact of Religious and Cultural Changes within the Islamic World” states:

The Department of Defense seeks to support a program of multidisciplinary research that will elucidate the relationships amongst social, cultural, political, religious and economic factors that interact to foster political violence, terrorism or insurgent behavior.

Relevant disciplines, specifically stated, include: “anthropology, economics, political science, sociology, social and cognitive psychology, and computational science.”

Questions to be addressed include:

how can the resurgence of the Taliban be explained, and what does their resurgence mean within the new context of relationships in Afghanistan? How can the West better understand the militant madrassah school and radical missionary movements and their messages in the respective nation-states in which they reside? Are there “counter-dialogues” within Muslim cultures and communities that account for why radicalism and militancy are found more in some places than others? The impact of new phenomena such as global travel, the Internet and other aspects of communications technologies that can span continents should also be considered, placing these studies within a larger strategic context.

The document states that under this heading, “All regions of the globe are open to inquiry” (p. 17), presumably everywhere where Muslims can be found. The MRI is therefore implying that a global surveillance of all Muslim populations be instigated and undertaken by academics, with all such populations held as potentially suspect of terrorism.

Anthropology is called upon more than once in this section, as it is throughout the entire document. Is it a coincidence, a question of mere research methods, that would bring anthropology to mind for purposes of imperial control and containment?

Regarding, “FY09 MRI Topic #4 — Studies of Terrorist Organization and Ideologies” (p. 20):

Another astounding feature of this document is the free manner in which the label “terrorist” is deployed. Does it apply to the “organization” that coined and popularized the phrase “shock and awe” when a civilian, urban area was being bombed in March of 2003 from high altitude? Does it include the “organization” that blanketed densely inhabited urban areas of southern Lebanon with cluster bombs in August of 2006? Does it include the “organization” that electrocuted and sodomized Iraqi civilian prisoners who were guilty of no crime? Obviously not — the focus of the project is against those who fight against their oppressor.

This project also calls on academics to themselves identify an organization or an ideology as “terrorist” without providing any guidelines or list of suggested organizations and ideologies. This drafts academia into the U.S.’ global inquisition.

“This effort will involve the development of models and approaches to study behavior networks, groups, and communities over time” — surveillance is intended, over the long term, and anthropologists are specifically called upon, as “the relevance of context and situation may require field research” (p. 20).

“there is an urgent need to be able to locate the points of influence and characterize the processes necessary to influence populations that harbor terrorist organizations in diverse cultures as well as individuals who identify with terrorist group figures of note” (p. 20).

No, there is no recognition of the role of U.S. military aggression in fomenting an emotional outcry, apparently “non-rational” factors (the documents uses this term) are at work.

“Especially helpful to the Department of Defense,” the document states, is “understanding where organized violence is likely to erupt, what factors might explain its contagion, and how to circumvent its spread. Research on belief formation and emotional contagion will provide cultural advisors with better tools to understand the impact of operations on the local population. This research should also contribute to countermeasures to help revise or influence belief structures to reduce the likelihood of militant cells forming” (p. 21).

The document ends on page 22 with a call for research projects that explore new dimensions of national security.

There is no discussion of what accounts for American national insecurity or how Americans might contribute to, if not cause, that sense of insecurity. There is no questioning of American imperial aggression. There is no questioning of American human rights abuses. There is no questioning of the moral valence that runs throughout the document, where all evil resides with others, elsewhere, “we” Americans simply need to find ways to protect ourselves. There is no questioning of the totalitarian impulses and implications of the national security state. There is no questioning of why the military is taking such a leading role in controlling research that should be addressing the very problems that it has caused.

Islam is clearly a target, the notion that the U.S. “Global War on Terror” being something other than a crusade against Islam can finally be put to rest. Islam and the Middle East figure in as many as four of the five areas of research. And please let us not forget that this comes at a time when being Muslim is virtually a crime in the U.S., as evidenced by the supposedly damning allegations that a presidential candidate (Barack Obama) may be a “secret Muslim”, or that “Muslim ancestry” might render him a Manchurian Candidate or Trojan Horse, and where even a gesture of congratulation between himself and his wife is labeled a “terrorist fist bump” by a leading cable news network (Fox). Obama’s response that he has never been a Muslim, rather than questioning what is the problem if he were, only compounds the rising complex of anti-Muslim hatred.

This is imperial research at its best, at its most scandalous. It is a heinous piece of work, as are all the social scientists who will become involved with it. The national security state is a Nazi state.


Addendum: McClatchy has been running a series titled “Guantanamo: Beyond the Law” at the same time as this project announcement was being made. It’s interesting to see the coincidence where journalists have already tackled, and invalidated, some of the way of thinking behind the Minerva Research Initiative. How to explain the “emotional contagion” behind the spread of “terrorism”? How to circumvent its spread? How to develop countermeasures? McClatchy reporters answer these questions in detail, and the best way to summarize their answers is: shut down Guantanamo, end the illegal detentions, detainees should have been treated humanely. Instead, what Guantanamo did was to convert those innocent of any crime (not that fighting foreign invaders is any crime) into warriors who fought for the Taliban and Al Qaeda after their release. Guantanamo has ended up being one of the world’s radical madrassas, thanks to U.S. policy in action. Does the Minerva initiative want such answers? If so, why would the focus being on the workings of “foreign” cultures, when the problem lies very much closer to home? In the final analysis, by leaving U.S. power and its abuses out of the equation, this Minerva Research Initiative invalidates itself as anything other than a form of exercising surveillance, drafting academics and controlling research, and creating propaganda.

4 thoughts on “National Security Research, Imperialist Emergencies and the Minerva Research Initiative: Some Further Consideration (1.1)

  1. Torquemada

    I would agree with you that this Minerva announcement (NSF08-594) is insidious and foreboding, not to mention highly suspicious. However, you overlook language which is to me the most suspect and ominous, to wit: “to deepen the understanding of the social and behavioral dimensions of national security issues,” “…understanding the role of future societal change in shaping defense activities and capabilities,” “Successful applicants will explore the social, political, and cultural dynamics of authoritarian regimes and what changes are wrought by transitions to and from dictatorial rule,” “the role of national and social identity in building or undermining political unity.”

    You might sum up all this with what to me is their real question: “How can we expect American citizens to react when the government declares martial law?” (for “national security” reasons of course)

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