David Price: On the Costs of Serving Empire

David Price has an interesting exposé in:

Price, David H. (2008). Payback time: The student who decided not to be a spook. Counterpunch, 15 (15), 1-15 September: 6-8.

It involves the case of Nicolas Flattes, an anthropology student at the University of Hawai’i, who was awarded a Boren Scholarship from the National Security Education Program (NSEP) a decade ago. The time came for him to pay back his scholarship by being employed in intelligence for the U.S. Department of Defense. However, as the call for his work came after 2001, he had a significant change of heart/mind in serving the national security state as it entered into invasions, occupations, and anti-insurgency. The only option was for his scholarship to be turned into a loan, and for him to start making repayments — which he did. Flattes faced impossible conditions of repayment, with NSEP demanding full repayment within two years, despite his limited income from his part time work. He sought a four-year term, and obtained a three-year term instead. When he made his first payment, sent by courier, the FBI and Washington DC police contacted him to say his package had been sequestered as the source of an anthrax scare. Flattes thinks this was done in order for the government to claim that he was in default.

David Price’s article explains that the case is part of a history of shifting pay back conditions imposed by NSEP, some onerous enough that at least a few associations have rejected NSEP funds, including the African, Latin American, and Middle East Studies associations. Price notes that the pay back conditions attached to other programs, such as the Pat Roberts Intelligence Scholars Program (PRISP) can be even more severe, demanding full repayment, plus interest accrued from the time the award commenced, at three times the market rate.

What struck me as an especially significant part of the article came with this passage:

Nicolas Flattes wonders if NSEP and other national security payback programs are now providing a way for U.S. intelligence agencies to get around the ban limiting intelligence personnel from traveling to foreign countries or maintaining contact with individuals in countries listed as hostile….Since an intelligence agent is usually unable to travel in or to a hostile or unfriendly country, this makes academics good surrogates and even undergraduate students could be a useful intelligence tool. They can travel freely, and have no obvious association with an intelligence agency. They can provide invaluable information about countries and places that U.S. intelligence agents are unable to visit.

As a result of the implementation of programs such as NSEP and PRISP, I agree with David Price’s argument that academics are being drafted into forms of indentured servitude that turn them into appendages of an imperial state, producing knowledge for both state and empire.

[Thanks to David Price for sending me a copy of this article]

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