«“The tradition of the oppressed teaches us that ‘the state of emergency’ in which we live is not the exception but the rule”. Walter ...»
Anthropology and the ‘War on Terror’: Analysis of a complex
MA ADST Programme 2006-7
“The tradition of the oppressed teaches us that ‘the state of emergency’ in which we live
is not the exception but the rule”.
Walter Benjamin, Theses on the Philosophy of History.
The aim of this paper is to critically analyse the complex relationship between
anthropology and the so-called ‘War on Terror’ by emphasising the consequences it has and it might have for the discipline.
The 9/11 events in 2001 were decisive for the development of a ”counteracting crusade” (Wax 2003: 23) to protect the civilised West from what now appears to be its main enemy: radical Islamism. Since then, the most visible consequences of USA’s government led ‘War on Terror’ have been the “Operation Enduring Freedom” started in October 2001 in Afghanistan, and the “Operation Iraqi Freedom”, which started in March
2003. None of these wars, as they are popularly labelled, are considered to have finished yet.
The loss of legitimacy of the USA strategy between a great deal of its former supporters1 seems not to worry the Bush administration but for the electoral consequences it might have. This has evidenced the need of the ‘War on Terror’ theorists to regain support for their principles, something they have attempted to do by appealing to the lack of security that characterises today’s world and to the good intentions behind their theses. In the Azores summit, celebrated in March 2003, President G. W. Bush identified the ‘War on Terror’ as the first war of the twenty-first century (Spence 2005) in which, following his rhetoric, the USA leads the battle against the enemies of democracy for the benefit of the whole world. Critics, however, emphasise this battle is not in the name of democracy but of neoliberalism.
Actions taken in the USA to improve intelligence gathering after the 9/11 attacks emphasise two aspects: the need to improve intelligence analysts' work, and the need to present USA’s interventions as a just response to chaos. In order to satisfy both requirements, USA’s military apparatus has insistently called for the commitment of social scientists to their endeavours in the name of patriotism and security. Independently of the outcome of such calling, which has been diverse, this has lead to an increasing influence of the ‘War on Terror’ thesis on the academic life. Furthermore, the recognition that anthropology’s methods and skills are especially in demand in wartime has once more posed the discipline in a central place within the social sciences, which has revived eternal debates at the heart of anthropology around the ethics of spying and its social responsibility.
1 At the time of writing this paper George W. Bush has approved the sending of 21.500 additional soldiers to Iraq against the will of the Democrats and the moderate wing of the Republican Party.
Addaia Marrades, Anthropology and the ‘War on Terror’ 1 The implication of anthropology with security agendas has already been intensely discussed, particularly in the light of the engagement of a number of anthropologists with the military during the Cold War. Despite the current political context being significantly different, the security paradigm is increasingly re-emerging since the 9/11 episode. This has been more obvious in the USA, although the UK is not far behind. As a result, there has been a dramatic appearance of a security-development nexus in the discipline which has had grave consequences.
The prioritisation of security over development has become dangerously dominant as aid is being militarised. There has been a shift in aid priorities from poverty reduction to fighting international terrorism (especially Islamic terrorism), which means aid is being allocated for political ends rather than genuine needs. Besides, it seems clear that it is not the security of the poor what matters today, but it is that of the West instead (Beall, Goodfellow and Putzel 2006). For anthropology, the security-development nexus raises a number of moral and ethical dilemmas concerning the integrity of the discipline as a whole. Intelligence agencies and governments claim they need the anthropological analysis to improve counter-insurgency and national security, but anthropologists have to seriously consider what does this link mean for the future of the discipline. Although past wartime anthropological connections with the military could have been seen as appropriate for their times (Price 2002b), today the link raises many more complex and problematic issues.
In this essay I will start with a brief history of the past involvement of anthropologist with security agendas in order to contextualise the current calling for a direct engagement of anthropologists with the ‘War on Terror’. I will then examine the USA’s Pat Roberts Intelligence Scholars Program and the UK’s Combating Terrorism by Countering Radicalisation programme putting special attention to the opposed opinions anthropologists have held around them and around the broader issue of collaborating with the military. Following that, I will explore the main dilemmas the commitment raises in the discipline especially in relation to the ethical codes of the AAA2 and the ASA3. The concluding remarks will highlight the main arguments that have been discussed in the paper and will bring up some ideas in order to design new committed and critical anthropologies.
The engagement of anthropology with the ‘War on Terror’ Historical background In 1919 Franz Boas wrote a famous letter to The Nation that is still relevant eighty eight years later. In it he denounced those anthropologists who during WWI used their profession to serve as spies and defended the ethical calling inherent in anthropology by claiming spying polluted the discipline (Boas 1919). Boas strongly insisted the loyalty of anthropologists to their discipline and to science in general was to be over their patriotism. The AAA, however, disapproved that there was anything wrong with anthropologists using their profession to work as spies and censured him (Price 2002b).
2 American Anthropological Association.
3 Association of Social Anthropologists of the UK and the Commonwealth.
Addaia Marrades, Anthropology and the ‘War on Terror’ 2 The involvement of anthropologists with the military apparatus during the main wars of the last century is undeniable. Many anthropologists, borrowing Price’s words, fought with both books and guns (Price 2002b), and it is worth noting that most of them got involved understanding their implication as an ethical responsibility. Under this premise, during WWII there was a widespread application of anthropology to warfare (McFate 2005), and an overwhelming majority of USA anthropologists collaborated with the military, among those “leading students (···) of Boas - such as Margaret Mead, Ruth Benedict and Alfred Kroeber” (Wax 2003: 23). In the case of Britain, important names such as Bateston, Evans-Pritchard and Leach fought as combatants and also applied their anthropological skills in the service of war. As Price points out in the case of Bateston, these skills were very useful but equally troubling (2002c: 3).
Although some anthropologists such as Bateston himself recognised they eventually regretted their attitude (Price 2002c), the Cold War brought many more opportunities for anthropologists eager to collaborate with the intelligence apparatus. This was especially obvious in the USA, where funding allocated to counter-insurgency programs grew dramatically in the light of the anti-communist crusade (McFate 2005). The USA Department of Defence realised the new scenario characterised by enemies organised as guerrillas and not as regular armies required revising conventional military techniques, and this pushed it to consider for the first time the social and cultural conditions that could motivate the appearance of these armed groups in order to successfully combat them. With this strategy in mind, in 1956 it created the Special Operations Research Office (SORO), which was established as a virtually independent research institute with its headquarters at the American University (Washington D.C.). However, its links with the USA military apparatus were obvious, as through the Counter-insurgency Information Analysis Centre a number of anthropologists and other social scientists did clandestine research on counter-insurgency (Solovey 2001).
From that moment on, social sciences in general and anthropology in particular had an important role to play in the national and international politics of the USA. Not surprisingly, USA intelligence agencies became the main funding bodies of leading social science projects carried out from WWII to the 1960s (Solovey 2001). One of greatest importance was the infamous Project Camelot, an ambitious research programme established in 1964 by the SORO the aim of which was to obtain primary data on so-called Third World revolutionary movements in order to oppose them more effectively (Solovey 2001, McFate 2005). The project counted with a multidisciplinary team of social scientists from the most prestigious institutions of the USA4 under the leadership of Rex D. Hopper, a Brooklyn College specialist in Latin America (Solovey 2001). Initially established for 4 years with an enormous budget of USA $6 million, the project planned to carry out secret fieldwork in a number of countries5 starting with Chile, but when this confidential information was filtrated it created a great scandal. The consequences were so grave that McNamara had to cancel the project in 1965 while still within the planning phase (McFate 2005).
Also in the late 1960s, several anthropologists and other social scientists worked on classified projects designed to stabilize the government of Thailand gathering data, 4 Such as California-Berkeley, MIT, John Hopkins, Princeton, Columbia, Michigan, Pittsburgh, Virginia or Standford.
5 Project Camelot was planning to do research in countries such as Bolivia, Colombia, Paraguay, Peru, Venezuela, Iran and Thailand.
Addaia Marrades, Anthropology and the ‘War on Terror’ 3 among other things, on villagers’ attitudes towards communism (Wakin 1992). Although is not known for certain, it is believed that the Thai military used this information to decide where to conduct counter-insurgency operations or carry out development projects to encourage tribal villages to remain loyal to the government (McFate 2005).
As a result of Project Camelot and the Thai scandal “heated debates took place within the AAA’s Committee on Ethics” (McFate 2005: 36), which tightened its ethical rules for researchers accordingly. In the 1971 version of its ethical code the AAA strongly prohibited secret research (AAA 1971), but remarkably references to secretclandestine research had been dropped by the 1990 revised version (AAA 1990, FluehrLobban 1991).
In 1995 Felix Moos, a University of Kansas’ anthropologist who is a fervent defender of the collaboration between anthropologists and the military in the interest of national defence and security, claimed for the revision of the 1990 code of ethics of the AAA. Moos strongly argued that anthropologists “should be permitted -indeed, should feel a duty- to conduct classified research that might help the U.S. government understand global conflicts” (Glenn 2005), and he suggested training college students as analysts for intelligence agencies. Moos thought that if intelligence agencies could not readily get anthropologists to work for them at least they could create them. At that time, however, his claim was mostly unpopular.
Nevertheless, Moos' plea was not totally new, as similar programmes such as the one he advocated for already existed in the USA. The National Security Education Program (NSEP), for example, was created just after the 1991 Persian Gulf War by the then Senate Intelligence Committee chairman David Boren. The NSEP funds USA students to study world regions critical to USA interests and the future security of the nation. NSEP scholars and fellows get funding in exchange for a labour commitment in government agencies related to foreign policy, but only a small fraction of the recipients become intelligence analysts (Glenn 2005). The programme, therefore, was not producing the numbers needed.
After the 9/11 attacks in 2001 and on the light of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq Moos insisted further on his proposal. The 9/11 events revealed that USA intelligence weaknesses were not just embarrassing but catastrophic (Glenn 2005), and within this framework the callings for anthropologists to be active agents on the ‘War on Terror’ in order to improve USA intelligence gathering multiplied. Al-Qaeda is nowadays the embodiment of the new global and diffused enemy, and the new reality USA forces are facing has made evident that “U.S. technology, training, and doctrine designed to counter the Soviet threat are not designed for low-intensity counterinsurgency operations where civilians mingle freely with combatants in complex urban terrain” (McFate 2005: 24).
In order to respond to this changing reality, the USA and the UK respectively launched two demand-driven programmes, the Pat Roberts Intelligence Scholars Program and the Combating Terrorism by Countering Radicalisation programme, which have had very different results. In the USA, since April 2004, dozens of analysts-intraining have entered American universities to burnish their skills in certain languages, cultures, and technical fields that USA intelligence agencies deem to be critically Addaia Marrades, Anthropology and the ‘War on Terror’ 4 important. In the UK, on the contrary, a recent decision has cancelled the programme before it even started. Despite not targeting students of anthropology specifically, both programmes recognise that anthropological skills and methods are on demand, and participants are expected to use the techniques of fieldwork to gather political and cultural information. The literature available on these programmes is mainly accessible on-line, and it is much more abundant in the case of PRISP.
Pat Roberts Intelligence Scholars Program (USA) The USA’s “Pat Roberts Intelligence Scholars Program” (PRISP) is the brainchild of Professor Felix Moos and gets its name from senator Pat Roberts, a Kansas Republican who is chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.