Obama’s CIA-on-Campus Program Jon Wiener
The CIA-off-campus protests of the 1980s may need to be revived–this time addressed to President Obama. The administration has asked Congress to establish a new “intelligence officer training program” at colleges and universities. The proposal, buried in the 2010 intelligence authorization bill, would invite schools to apply for grants for courses that would “meet the needs of the intelligence community.” Students taking the courses would have to receive security clearances, according to Walter Pincus of the Washington Post, and their participation would be kept secret. After graduating, they would be required to work for the CIA or another intelligence agency.
Obama clearly wants a better CIA and hopes universities will help. But mandatory security clearances and secrecy conflict with universities’ commitment to openness and free inquiry. Yale, for example, says “the principles of openness, trust, and free inquiry…are fundamental to the autonomy and well-being of a university.”
The CIA’s problems have included domestic spying, in violation of its charter; assassination plots against Castro and others; and coups that overthrew governments in Iran, Guatemala and elsewhere. These were exposed in the 1970s by Frank Church’s Senate committee, but in the Reagan years covert activities returned with a vengeance, and renewed protests focused on campus recruiters. As The Nation reported in 1988, “students at more than seventy colleges and universities have organized energetically: physically barring recruiters from campus, disrupting interview sessions, taunting C.I.A. representatives, holding sit-ins and demonstrations to protest university decisions.”
Under Obama’s proposal, interested students would have to apply to the director of national intelligence for admittance to the program. Selected students would get money, including not only tuition and funds for books but also a monthly stipend and travel expenses. We’re not talking about federal Pell Grants here; this money would come from the Pat Roberts Intelligence Scholars Program and would include paid internships at the CIA or other intelligence agencies. Students receiving financial aid, according to Pincus, “would be obligated to serve” at the CIA or another intelligence agency “for the same length of time as they received their subsidy.” The CIA, of course, is the agency whose use of torture has just been documented in sickening detail by an official report. Defenders say that’s all in the past, but Obama’s CIA director, Leon Panetta, opposes a Justice Department investigation of the torturers.
The bill with the CIA-on-campus program was approved by the Senate Intelligence Committee on July 16 and is awaiting approval by Congress. Remarkably, committee debate did not touch on the new campus program but instead focused on CIA oversight and failures of agency reporting to Congress.