Anthropology and CIA: "We need more awareness of the political nature and uses of our work"
In the newest issue of Anthropology Today (to be published in October), David Price continues discussing how CIA and similar agencies “covertly set our research agendas and selectively harvest the resulting research” and writes that “sometimes we may need to follow Delmos Jones’ Vietnam War-era example of withholding materials from publication when there is a risk of abuse by military and intelligence agencies:
Given the abuse of power we have already witnessed and the uncertain future we face in relation to the security state that perpetrated this, how far should we permit our professional involvement to go in this matter? We need more awareness of the political nature and uses of our work. As long as we publish in the public arena, anyone can use our findings for ends we may not approve. But we also analyse and advocate on the basis of data we collect, and have a degree of control over our own interpretations. Though secrecy may limit our knowledge of how our research is deployed by the security state, we must continue to expose and publicize known instances of abuse or neglect of our work.
Price’s text “Buying a piece of anthropology. The CIA and our tortured past” is the second part of a two-part article examining how research on stress under Human Ecology Fund sponsorship found its way into the CIA’s Kubark interrogation manual. Abuse of detainees at Guantánamo Bay, in Afghanistan and Iraq, and in the CIA’s network of secret ‘rendition’ prisons involves tweaking techniques described in Kubark:
As I have argued here, new information has become available that shows how anthropological knowledge has been applied to devising coercive interrogation techniques in the past. Also, we now know that Tony Lagouranis, who joined Abu Ghraib as an interrogator after the torture scandal broke, has described how Patai’s The Arab mind was abused by military personnel attempting to help interrogators dehumanize Arab enemies (Lagouranis and Mikaelian 2007). We must take this backdrop to the involvement of our discipline into account if we are not to become complicit.
Those who lead calls for social scientists to design improved interrogation methods (see ISB, Gross 2007) claim to do so in order to move away from torture towards a more humane interrogation, but they fail to acknowledge the irony that those they hail as pioneers of scientific interrogation were key CIA MK-Ultra-funded scientists who unethically commissioned and mined research for this purpose (Shane 2007). As a discipline we cannot afford to condone torture; were we to allow our work to be used for such ends we should become ‘specialists without spirit, sensualists without hearts’ (Weber 1904: 182).
Among other things, Kubark discussed the importance of interrogators learning to read the body language of interrogation subjects. The HEF funded the research by anthropologist Edward Hall on this issue, David Price writes. Several pages of Kubark describe how to read subject’s body language with tips such as:
It is also helpful to watch the subject’s mouth, which is as a rule much more revealing than his eyes. Gestures and postures also tell a story. If a subject normally gesticulates broadly at times and is at other times physically relaxed but at some point sits stiffly motionless, his posture is likely to be the physical image of his mental tension. The interrogator should make a mental note of the topic that caused such a reaction. (CIA 1963b: 55)
In 1977, after public revelations of the CIA’s role in directing HEF research projects, Edward Hall discussed his unwitting receipt of CIA funds through the HEF to support his writing of The hidden dimension (Hall 1966):
Hall conceded that his studies of body language would have been useful for the CIA’s goals, ‘because the whole thing is designed to begin to teach people to understand, to read other people’s behavior. What little I know about the [CIA], I wouldn’t want to have much to do with it’ (Greenfield 1977: 11).10 But Hall’s work, like that of others, entered Human Ecology’s knowledge base, which was selectively drawn upon for Kubark.
However, it does not take CIA funding for anthropologists to produce research consumed by military and intelligence agencies, Price stresses:
During the 1993 American military actions in Somalia I read a news article mentioning an ethnographic map issued by the CIA to Army Rangers. Because of my interest in ethnographic mapping, I wrote to the CIA’s cartographic section requesting a copy of this map. A CIA staff member responded to my query, informing me that no such map was available to the public. This CIA employee also politely acknowledged that she was familiar with a book I had published while a graduate student that mapped the geographical location of about 3000 cultural groups (Price 1989).
Given the CIA’s historic role in undermining democratic movements around the world, I was disheartened that they were using my work, but I should not have been surprised. Obviously nothing we publish is safe from being (ab)used by others for purposes we may not intend.
For more texts by David Price on anthropology and CIA, se his homepage