Mission: Intelligence – Spy schools
By JACK STRIPLING
Sun staff writer
The photo ops have been great.
Speaking on the University of Florida’s campus in recent months, former U.S. Sen. Bob Graham has flashed gleeful grins alongside a host of former governors, as well as current senators and policymakers. It’s the sort of press that money can’t buy, and it’s exactly the kind of image UF officials expect to see more of as the university’s Graham Center for Public Service takes root.
But behind the curtain of Pugh Hall, a gorgeous new building that houses the center, there is some discomfort and concern. Several faculty members on campus have said they’re worried about Graham’s possible vision for the center, which they fear will too closely tie UF to U.S. intelligence agencies.
While most faculty embrace Graham’s desire to equip students with a knowledge of Middle Eastern languages and cultures, there’s trepidation that one of Graham’s stated goals for the center – preparing students to work for intelligence agencies – will create the impression that UF is in the business of training spies.
The debate about the center has thus far happened relatively quietly through back channels. In late October, the director of UF’s Center for Latin American Studies sent a letter to the Graham Center’s interim director explicitly stating that some 180 Latin American specialists at UF would not have anything to do with the Graham Center if intelligence training was one of its functions.
"In our view, intelligence training is not a proper activity for a university campus, for, associated as it must be with covert activity, it goes against the most basic academic principles of free and open inquiry," wrote Carmen Diana Deere, the director. "Moreover, the very association of the University of Florida with intelligence training places the scholarly enterprise of area studies centers at risk."
Over the course of reporting for this story, some faculty who previously expressed concern say they’re now pleased that Graham appears to have toned down his talk about the links between the center and intelligence agencies. Even so, the center’s interim director, Walter Rosenbaum, said recently that he anticipates the issue will continue to reverberate. "I accept the fact that this is always going to be a problem that’s latent," he said.
Rosenbaum is emphatic about keeping an intentional distance from the intelligence community. The center won’t recruit students into intelligence agencies, for instance, he says.
Rosenbaum also has leaned on Graham to be careful with his words. Indeed, he successfully convinced Graham to alter a draft version of a brochure for the center. In an initial draft authored by Graham, the former U.S. senator and governor had suggested UF discuss the center’s role in training students for careers in "intelligence."
Leery of the charged word, Rosenbaum convinced Graham to alter the passage, substituting the word intelligence with "foreign affairs and national security." A subtle difference to be sure, but emblematic of just how sensitive the issue has become.
Graham is not a member of the center’s staff, although he has an office in the center, and a sculpture of his likeness greets visitors as they walk through the door. As Rosenbaum describes it, Graham doesn’t call the shots, "but he’s the 800-pound gorilla in the room, obviously."
The Latin American center’s letter argues that UF researchers would basically be put out of business if people who live in the countries they study perceived UF faculty as somehow in cahoots with U.S. intelligence services. If a researcher is thought to be working for the CIA or another intelligence agency, "That’s it, you’re finished," according to Leonardo Villalon, an associate professor of political science and director of UF’s Center for African Studies.
The Graham Center’s stated areas of focus are threefold: zeroing in on homeland security, public service and "hemispheric studies." Hemispheric studies would have a particular focus on Latin America, and the Latin American center – founded in 1930 as the first such center in the nation – is the assumed linchpin of the hemispheric studies portion of the Graham Center’s mission. As such, losing the support of faculty from Latin American studies would be a major blow.
"I’m trying to be very sensitive to all of the interests, and I can appreciate why some scholars are concerned about the world of intelligence," Graham said. "But the reality is that one of our major national security risks is the deficiency of people who understand the language, history and cultures in areas of the world in which our principle adversaries are now operating."
It’s no surprise that intelligence is Graham’s personal passion. He headed the powerful Senate Intelligence Committee, and he says the limited intelligence the U.S. did have on Iraq had a compelling influence on his vote in the lead-up to the now unpopular war.
"I voted against the war because I knew what the information was," Graham said.
Graham argues that UF has the ability – dare say the duty – to help address the deficiencies in the intelligence community. His concerns about those deficiencies are corroborated by reports like one that ran in The Washington Post in 2006. The Post found that five years after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, only 33 FBI agents could speak Arabic with even limited proficiency.
UF students are already flocking to Arabic, which is the university’s fastest-growing area of language study. One Enrollment in Arabic courses has jumped from 55 students in 2000 to 343 today – an increase of about 524 percent.
Graham says he prefers a ROTC-style model for UF students who study in the center and also hope to work for an intelligence agency. UF could maintain its control over curriculum, but an outside entity (like the National Security Agency) could provide additional training to prepare students for the world of intelligence gathering, he said.
"I think what we’re going to be doing is producing students who may spend the first few years with, let’s say the NSA, but thereafter they’re going to be a very valuable citizen with their knowledge of the languages of this region and some background in area studies," Graham said. "They may end up working for another government agency, the State Department or private interest. By God, they could even end up being a journalist for The New York Times."
With an ROTC model in mind, Graham spearheaded legislation in 2003 that created the "Analysis Training Program," a scholarship program sponsored by the NSA. In pushing the legislation, Graham helped assure that UF was one of just six institutions where the program was first implemented.
The training program covers full college tuition for qualifying students, and it assures them a job with the NSA after they graduate. The program accepts students majoring in foreign languages like Farsi and Arabic, as well as those in computer science, international relations and other fields with clear applicability in the world of intelligence.
The NSA program has accepted two UF students, according to a spokesperson at the agency. The program is currently on hold, however, as it is being moved under the umbrella of the Director of National Intelligence. The Director of National Intelligence, which reports on national security matters directly to the president, was formed in 2004 as a result of recommendations made by the 9/11 Commission.
While faculty interviewed for this story didn’t object to students pursuing careers in intelligence, they invariably said that having an intelligence agency play any role in shaping university curriculums would be inappropriate.
"I would certainly put tailoring the curriculum to U.S. intelligence demands on the far side of the line where I wouldn’t go," said Villalon, who studies Muslim politics in West Africa. "On the other side of the line, I would say that what a student wants to do with his or her education is completely the student’s choice. A student is free to choose. If a student wants to go into the CIA afterwards, that’s fine."
As a participating institution in the NSA’s program, UF received $493,745 from the agency over the course of 2006 and 2007. An NSA spokesperson said the funding was for "curriculum development," although UF officials dispute that characterization.
Ann Wehmeyer, chairwoman of the Department of African and Asian Languages and Literatures, said the money was used to renovate language labs.
In the NSA’s initial discussions with UF, the agency had suggested a more intensive certificate program, in addition to simply offering scholarships. That proposal was rejected by faculty, according to Wehmeyer.
"UF faculty in (the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences) were not supportive of collaborating with NSA to create a certificate program, nor were they supportive of creating new courses to satisfy the goals of the NSA," Wehmeyer wrote. "Therefore, we did not create a certificate program, nor did faculty propose any new courses."
In a Power Point document outlining the NSA’s early vision for the program, the agency suggested a "visiting professors program" that would provide paid sabbaticals to professors from participating schools, as well as "top-level security clearance" and "first-hand exposure to NSA analytic work." Wehmeyer said the program never came to fruition, at least to her knowledge.
While sensitivities vary about the nexus of the worlds of intelligence and academia, it’s not uncommon for universities – particularly those with public policy centers – to work with the intelligence community.
At the University of Maryland’s School of Public Policy, situated right in the backyard of the U.S. intelligence apparatus, faculty actually teach on the property of the National Reconnaissance Office, the arm of the intelligence community that designs satellites for the CIA and the Department of Defense.
"I don’t think the (association with intelligence agencies) is a concern for us, because it’s never come up," said Steve Fetter, dean of the school. "We train students here to do analysis of all kinds, and intelligence agencies do analysis. Analysis is different than spying, and we don’t train people to do that."
Speaking about his goals for the Graham Center, Graham draws a similar distinction between "spies" and "analysts."
"There tends to be an immediate thought that we are training somebody to be the next James Bond," he said. "The fact is, the majority of people that work in an intelligence agency never drive an Aston Martin or have glamorous female companions. They sit in rooms with a lot of information and they try to make sense out of it. They’re analysts."
John S. Adams, who was the first director of the Hubert Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs at the University of Minnesota, said public-policy schools are always subject to scrutiny because they are by their very definition wrestling with politically sensitive issues.
Particularly in their nescient stages, the schools are often cast in the image of the person for which they are named, he added. As such, the Humphrey Institute is still fighting the stereotype that it’s a liberal organization some 30 years after its founding.
"Everything we do here is inherently political, because it has to do with the public business, as Hubert Humphrey used to say," Adams said. "The question is, if you’re doing the public’s business, how do you do it in defensible academic ways?"
Jack Stripling can be reached at 352-374-5064 or Jack.Stripling@gvillesun.com.
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