A SPY IN OUR MIDST: Montgomery Sapone/Montgomery McFate

This should confirm many allegations that have been circulating concerning the role of Montgomery McFate as a spy, who in part traded on her credentials as an anthropologist. It should serve, on the other hand, as a wake-up call to those anthropologists who, perhaps a little young and naive, are not quite aware of what they are dealing with when dealing with McFate, who has made a career as a spy and recently puts on sockpuppet performances as her own best friend on blogs, calling herself “Dee,” the former “Pentagon Diva” with her anonymous blog that was pulled down as soon as news of the identity of the author was circulated more widely. I want to especially thank an anonymous reader of this blog for directing my attention to a published report in Mother Jones, titled “There’s something about Mary: Unmasking a gun lobby mole,” published yesterday, July 30, 2008, and authored by James Ridgeway, Daniel Schulman, and David Corn. Most of the article is about Montgomery McFate’s mother in-law, Mary Lou Sapone/Mary McFate, who for many years has practiced as an intelligence gathering agent for the gun rights lobby and various corporations, infiltrating activist groups in favour of gun control and animal rights, acting as an agent provocateur in one instance. It is very interesting reading on its own, but it becomes even more interesting when the article introduces a certain “Montgomery Sapone” and her husband, “Sean Sapone” both of whom were in this instance using the maiden name of Montgomery’s mother in-law. Here are the relevant sections of that article, quoted in full:

In the 1990s-while working within the gun control community as McFate-Sapone formed her own intelligence-gathering business. And she enlisted family members for its operations. “In our business, it’s my daughter-in-law, Montgomery Sapone [who] does all the analytic reports, forecasting, and white papers,” Sapone wrote to a client in an August 1999 email obtained by Mother Jones. “She produces a very professional product.” Sapone continued, “We are warning our clients that activist groups are moving towards ballot initiatives…And it’s easy for groups like Greenpeace to emotionally shape a looming crisis in a 10 second TV spot 2 days before a referenda election. My daughter Shelley specializes in that aspect of our business. We are doing a lot of work now to help clients in the 2000 election.”

A resume that Montgomery Sapone used around 1999 describes her role within Mary Lou’s business: “Collect and analyze intelligence on European activities of major international environmental organization for a company specializing in domestic and internal opposition research, special investigations, issues management and threat assessment. Write weekly intelligence update on European animal rights and eco-terrorist activity. Assist in confidential litigation support research.” Sapone’s son Sean, a Brown- and Harvard-educated paratrooper who served with the 82nd Airborne Division, was managing director of this firm, which at one point was called Strategic Solutions Group LLC and maintained an office in Washington, DC. According to a Strategic Solutions Group invoice sent to BBI in November 2000, Montgomery Sapone-a Harvard law school grad and Yale-trained anthropologist-once billed the security firm $400 for four hours of her time, which included a “visit to target’s office.”

Sapone made her gun control work a family affair as well. Around 2003, Montgomery volunteered at the Brady Campaign, according to Becca Knox, the group’s research director. Occasionally, Montgomery would also sit in for her mother-in-law at Washington strategy meetings attended by officials of the gun control movement, according to the Violence Policy Center’s Kristen Rand. And Sean Sapone once offered to help Rand’s group on a campaign against the civilian use of .50 caliber rifles, Rand recalls. But after attending one meeting, Sean Sapone never followed through.

These days, Sean and Montgomery Sapone are better known as Sean and Montgomery McFate, a successful Washington couple whose current bios make no mention of any past intelligence-gathering or opposition-research work. Sean is currently the program director of the national security initiative at the Bipartisan Policy Center, a Washington think tank boasting an advisory board composed of four former Senate majority leaders: Howard Baker, Bob Dole, George Mitchell, and Tom Daschle. An expert on military affairs, he previously worked for Amnesty International and for military contractor DynCorp. According to an online biography, he helped to organize “the first major legal arms shipment to Liberia in 15 years.” Montgomery has made a name for herself as one of the primary architects of the US military’s human terrain program, which teams social scientists with military units in Iraq and Afghanistan to help soldiers better understand the local culture. (The controversial program has been sharply criticized by the American Anthropological Association, which fears it may cross an ethical line, and has been described by detractors as “mercenary anthropology.”) Now a top Pentagon adviser, Montgomery also contributed to the Army’s Counterinsurgency Field Manual drafted under the guidance of General David Petraeus.

Montgomery McFate did not respond to an email request for comment. Nor did Mary Lou Sapone’s daughter, Shelley McGonnigal. During a brief phone call, Sean McFate told Mother Jones, “I’m familiar with what you are doing. But I don’t want to talk to the media.” Asked to explain his mother’s double life as Mary McFate and Mary Lou Sapone, he said, “You have to talk to Mary Lou.” Then he hung up.

Once again, a published report, made widely available, without contradiction from McFate.

Beware of who you cozy up to online, when jonesing for that position, for that publication, for an interview for your research, to be let in to her club.

The Mother Jones report is currently spreading from outlet to outlet online, gaining quite some traction. Here are just a few links I have gathered in the past few minutes:

Paul Hemke, The Huffington Post, July 31, 2008
The NRA’s Dirty Tricks

MarketWatch, July 30, 2008
Investigative Report Reveals Gun Control Activist Leads Double Life as Gun Lobby Informant

Bruce Sterling, Wired, July 30, 2008
Private Spooks in American Politics

Knute Berger, Crosscut, July 30, 2008
Spying in Defense of Liberty

18 thoughts on “A SPY IN OUR MIDST: Montgomery Sapone/Montgomery McFate

  1. erikwdavis

    Hah! There was brief mention of this during the introductory headlines of DemocracyNow today, and when I heard the name, my neck almost snapped around. I wondered if you’d weigh in. Nice to not be disappointed!

    The McFates should continue to be publicly humiliated by those whom they had the temerity to call colleagues and comrades. No mercy for this sort of stuff, just the constant whirr of the publicity they’ve sought for so long, and now probably don’t want.

  2. Maximilian Forte

    If you get a chance to see McFate’s sad attempt at a defense on the Savage Minds blog discussion, she asserts that this is just “guilt by association” — insulting the intelligence of everyone there who can plainly read that this is not just passive association, just a relative, but actively took part herself. She had her anthropology degree then, but says she did not spy as an anthropologist…but a few years later, when promoting herself to the military and the public, suddenly she is an anthropologist again. You’re right she is far from a colleague, and I am still nauseated by what I have been reading.

  3. Guanaguanare

    Well Max, the plot thickens…and I do regret telling you a while back that Anthropology is boring. Your watchfulness is to be commended but it’s also interesting how, while you took on the job of point man, Anthropology’s “parasitic bloggerati” (to use our mutual friend’s expression) just looked on, content to distance themselves from your protests, while standing ready, with studied indifference, of course, to harvest the fallout. Amusing, as well as irritating, were the bleatings of the “Conversational Terrorists” who preferred to engage you from a great distance with their weapons of mass distraction.

    For my part, I remain impressed by your generous inclusiveness in continuing to address ALL your readers – those who have the capacity to engage in intelligent, honest, informed discussion and also the specially abled among us who’ve been raised solely on a diet of red herrings.

    About this McFate, if everything else could be forgiven, I’d say that the error of drawing attention to herself was the fatal one. When you are engaged in work of this nature, your interests and those of your employers are best served by a commitment to flying way below the radar and solo, that is, completely detached from any guild and its code of ethics.

    I didn’t know much about Anthropology before but this debate has made me refer to your code of ethics and that, I feel, is definitely worth defending.


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  5. Warren Street

    Thank you for this post–I’m going to do a post tonight on Montgomery McFate, and add it to the one we already did on Mary McFate:


    Our blog is mostly progressive politics, defense issues and Veterans issues, and we have seen multiple “pings” on our site from people looking for stories on Montgomery McFate, as I am sure you will after this excellent post.

    Let’s just say that the level of interest in the activities of these people has set of warning bells everywhere, and I hope more people research and write about what they have been up to and will link back to your work here and cite what appears to be some pretty credible evidence of some serious ethical breaches and unprofessional behavior.

    Thank you again,

    Warren Street

  6. Maximilian Forte

    Warren, coincidentally that is how I found your own excellent post today, doing a blog search for other coverage of this issue. I especially like this question that you raised: “Anyone who deals with these people is asking for serious trouble–there’s no telling who they would sell out to make a dollar. For all we know, Sapone and her family are selling secrets to the highest bidder–and that’s not hyperbole when you speculate that they have the capability to do that kind of thing, coupled with a long history of actually doing it. You have to seriously question anyone who acts as a “mercenary” and is willing to spend years–years–duping people for money. Who know what they’ve been up to, or who they plan to sell out next.” Right now, if I were one of her employers, I would be stopping to think seriously about this.

    I also like the observation made by Iqra’i: “DO NOT: design Pentagon-funded anthro-warrior schemes that make the anthropological establishment leery, then decide that the perfect anthropologist to present the public face of these schemes is the daughter-in-law (and former support staffer!) of a former gun-lobby double agent. (h/t Open Anthropology)”

    A diligent attempt was made to fuse messenger with message by those who believed in these activities, in this “applied anthropology,” and when their actions met with criticism the response was to demonize the critic in the hope of distracting from what was being criticized. I don’t think it worked.

    Thanks again and I will be adding your blogs to my lists on the side here.

  7. Maximilian Forte

    Guanaguanare, Guanaguanare … your comment left me thinking long and hard about a great many issues, and as my comrade I always appreciate the inspiration that you, and of course our mutual friend Roi, gave/give to me and in many ways reshaped how I see what I do as an anthropologist. Roi said in one of his music poems that he wished he could “light a big mauve candle to shine light on the injustices in the global village,” that he wished he were “an obeah man, manifesting and distributing spirit blows”…and as you know his life and his passage left a very deep imprint on me.

    Let me start by answering your very perceptive comment this way: this is a fundamentally political struggle, and a fundamentally public one. One has to grasp this first before deciding what to do as an anthropologist, in public, in a political conflict. I tend to think of politics in political terms, that is, in terms of strategies and tactics, in terms of positionality, intentionality, and consequences. Anthropology bloggers need to remind themselves that these blogs have no walls — they are in public now, not sequestered within a private, departmental setting where their statements, or silence, will have little consequence beyond the walls of their respective institutions. Knowing that, you would think, would lead them to understand themselves in a different light, and to have a heightened self-consciousness of their social positions.

    I think there are at least five positions that I see marked out in a public debate such as this one, where anthropology bloggers are concerned (by the way, I loved “parasitic bloggerati”…it reminds me of Panday’s “parasitic oligarchy”). The first is a position of fear, or apprehension: I am young, I have a lot at stake, I have no tenure, or as a student my supervisor will hate me if I say the wrong thing, this could mark me forever, things change, I better leave my options open, I should stay silent. The second position is that of spectator, who sits back and watches things unfold as if they were being played out for his/her amusement and entertainment. The third is the one whose favourite position, embodied by a messenger on the bloodied side of the argument, effects a tactical retreat into the shadows, looking to snipe in more abstract terms in the future, from the sidelines, in terms of “objectivity”, etc. The fourth is the apolitical intellectual, who thinks, despite all the evidence to the contrary, that one can be scientific and detached from political beings in political contexts in political conflict, a terrible mismatch that produces literally unbelievable results, as in not credible. The fifth, and perhaps the one I like the least of all, is what I am calling the “12th hour, 1st minute, middle messiah” — the one who decides to make an entry only après-coup. This is the person who waits for the battle to have taken its course, the sea parted by the combatants leaving a nice, clean and open platform, to step in and say, “Here I am, the calm and polite voice of reason, the synthesis, the mapper of the third way, you can all disarm now and collectively breathe a sigh of academic relief as I return you to normalcy.” That is a cynical exploiter who profits from the work of others, who has a side, and pretends to be “more” objective.

    On the whole, given that anthropology bloggers have by and large remained silent, watching this struggle unfold, I am not accusing them of anything, knowing the varied positions above, but they must be reminded one of the most basic realities and outcomes of public, political struggles, and that is: their silence is damning.

    Keep in mind that McFate repeated over and over that my blog was NOT (her capitals) the model that should be followed, the way to debate, etc., etc. She wanted this silenced and wanted to instruct others on the proper terms for engaging in critique, naturally in a way that would favour her most. I would have been chilled to see her feeling at home on this blog, I would take it as an indictment.

    Finally, and my apologies for this off the cuff essay here: messenger + message. In public politics, leadership, charisma, image, and role modeling matter, and the military and “patriotic” media know that. This whole ugly story began with all of us being lectured at that we were safe, comfortable academics (McFate’s words), lounging in our Ivory Towers of social irresponsibility and self-indulgence, and by our inaction we were basically making life easier for the enemies of the Whole Universe As We White Western Christians Know It. I could be itsy bitsy and say, “now that’s a personal attack, that’s slander.” But I didn’t. My response was, “Well if this is the new role model for us to follow, let’s have a closer look.” And the issues are not disconnected either, that is, spying and the Human Terrain System. In both cases McFate’s applied anthropology manifested contempt for the “locals,” for activists or insurgents fighting to defend their countries. In both cases there is a position of political support for corporate power, for maintaining the status quo. In both cases there is an attempt to suppress and subvert dissent. This is police state/ imperial anthropology, which she and her sponsors tried to sell by, very foolishly, fatally, using her as the champion.

    Those who don’t understand this, need to hurry and catch up.

  8. Beth

    The Iraq war has become so dirty and so dependent on mercenaries that no one in the Pentagon or white house care that McFate appears to be so unstable, plagiarized from others (have others heard that two victims of the COIN manual are preparing to take legal action?), engages in domestic espionage, can’t keep her story straight…and isn’t a very good anthropologist.

    We know the military doesn’t care, but what about the AAA? We need some motions as the business meeting to publicly sort out what anthropology does and doesn’t stand for.

  9. Maximilian Forte

    Beth, thanks for your post here, I just wanted to ask if you could find any more details about what you mentioned above, “two victims of the COIN manual are preparing to take legal action.” If so please feel free to post them here or to write to me by email (see my About the blogger page for email links).

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  12. G. Hockett

    Seeing one of Mrs. McFate’s most steadfast supporters and defenders, Marc Tyrrell, posting here makes me wonder what Tyrrell and other military working anthropologists think of the latest disclosures about McFate’s infiltrating and spying on American political groups, her $400,000 a year payments from Human Terrain, problems with no-bid contracts at HTT?

    At what point do you guys criticize your own? It seems that the counterinsurgency manual’s plagiarism didn’t phase you, AAA condemnations for unethical practices in Human Terrain didn’t matter, now we learn of these corrupt practices, so what will it take?

  13. Maximilian Forte

    Thanks G. Hockett, because that is a good question. Right now, at least on some anthropology blogs, there seems to be some resistance to criticism. In fact, I get the impression that some are more likely to criticize the critic than look closely at what is being criticized and why. Obviously there are welcome exceptions, such as yourself.

  14. Maximilian Forte

    Thinking about that outline of blogger positions as this latest round of debate started, I realized that while I can see examples of each position, I left out other possibilities, such as people picking up where I left off. Alex Golub (“Rex”) went from the second position to the fifth, and that was only when Savage Minds readers began to complain about the absence of SM bloggers from the debate on their own blog. Ever defensive, and just a little too smug, Golub used the opportunity to complain about the complaints and then at one point took the side of McFate/Dee in saying it was fair to “decry” my engaging in “villification” (sic). Good of him to embrace a public official, in the employ of the military, with a definitely mean anti-anthropological mission, within the fold of what he thinks is collegiality. Good of Golub to reduce the matter to whether an ad hominem was used improperly. Unfortunately, it all misses the point.

    Luckily, other commenters with better developed political, ethical, and moral consciences necessary to sustain determined opposition came and said virtually all of the same things I have been saying on this blog. Otherwise I am afraid that Golub missed the big picture, though he did an excellent job of pinning “Dee” down repeatedly for her continual lack of substantiation for any of her counter claims and allegations. I raised that in my very first encounter with “Dee” over a month ago, and by now I had had enough to proceed to my own conclusions.

    Have I been polite? I hope that I have not been so too often, it would be a terrible way to put collegial lipstick on a militarist pig.

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