December 1, 2006

The intelligence community funding higher education?

Posted in Student Loan News at 2:51 PM by Joe From Boston


I found this article rather interesting on USA Today.

The U.S. intelligence community pours millions into higher education, paying for hundreds of scholarships, intelligence-related courses and fellowships at nearly a dozen universities, public documents and interviews with officials show.

Last month, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) more than doubled the number of schools in its program. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is also developing a program for nuclear scientists.

The sponsoring agencies, including the CIA, say the programs help ensure they get enough recruits skilled to wage the war on terrorism. The programs began in 2004.

Agencies also pay for internships and summer “spy camps” aimed at attracting high school students to study intelligence.

Since 2004, more than $16 million has been appropriated for courses and overseas fellowships in Middle Eastern and South Asian language studies, engineering, computer science, analytical thinking, Islamic studies and other specialties.

The new programs differ from earlier government assistance plans such as the Title VI fellowships and the National Security Education Program. Those programs sponsor language study for students interested in careers in foreign affairs but are not tied to intelligence agencies.

The programs recognize that 21st-century intelligence officers need skills that can “translate to a variety of areas,” says Lenora Peters Gant, who runs the ODNI’s university outreach program. “We want to hire an engineer that understands world cultures and religions and speaks Urdu and Farsi or maybe Korean. That’s where (intelligence) is going.”

Increased diversity

The programs also target more women and minorities, Gant says. Three of the 10 schools backed by the agency are historically black colleges. More than 90% of students at a fourth college are women.

“We need really good, young officers off of U.S. college and university campuses,” says Charles Allen, a 47-year CIA veteran who is chief intelligence officer for the DHS. “We need young, bright aggressive Americans who really want to serve their country.”

The programs have revived a decades-old debate about the proper relationship between intelligence agencies and academia. They have also invited comparisons to the 1950s, when the FBI sometimes encouraged students to report on professors’ political leanings, and the 1960s, when the CIA paid for the National Student Association and tapped its members for intelligence work.

One program, the Pat Roberts Intelligence Scholars, keeps the identities of its participants secret.

“Secrecy, in particular, is a problem,” says David Price, anthropology professor at St. Martin’s University in Spokane, Wash., and author of a book on FBI surveillance of academics in the 1950s.

“I’ve looked at far too many old FBI documents to ever be comfortable with the idea” of such agencies funding students, Price says.

Academic and intelligence communities share a complicated history. During World War II, the Office of Strategic Services, the CIA’s predecessor, recruited historians, anthropologists and other specialists, according to historian Robin Winks’ book Cloak & Gown. In the 1950s and ’60s, faculty members at Yale, Harvard, MIT and other elite universities served as talent spotters, steering promising students into intelligence careers.

Intelligence recruiters also liked small Catholic schools such as Trinity University in Washington, D.C., says Robert Maguire, an international relations professor who coordinates Trinity’s intelligence studies program.

These days, demographics make Trinity a target for intelligence agency recruiters. More than 90% of Trinity’s approximately 1,000 undergraduates are women. About 70% are minorities.

“The intelligence community of the 21st century has to look and think a lot more like the world around it,” says T.J. Waters, a former CIA officer who teaches in the Eckerd College intelligence program in St. Petersburg, Fla. “These (programs) are a recognition of that.”

The intelligence community’s sometimes dark reputation made an undergraduate intelligence program a hard sell for faculty members, Maguire says. “The usual reaction to the word ‘intelligence’ was images of the CIA and nuns being murdered in Guatemala.”

What sold the program at Trinity was its popularity with students, says Leah Martin, 21, student body president and intelligence student.

Varied course load

Trinity professors received stipends to revise courses and design new ones when ODNI started its first Center of Academic Excellence there in 2004. Intelligence students study creative problem solving, contemporary diplomatic history and social science research methods. The dozen or so who pursue an “intelligence certificate,” essentially a minor in intelligence studies, are required to serve as summer “spy camp” counselors, chaperoning high school students who visit the CIA and attend lectures by intelligence professionals.

Janie Pacheco, 21, an economics major who is pursuing an intelligence studies certificate, took “Written and Oral Briefings for Professionals” to improve her writing skills. The course assigned a standard 20-page paper — hers was on the economic impact of Hurricane Katrina — but added this twist: Students had to boil their research down into a single paragraph that could be used in an oral briefing to policymakers.

“It was really about designing information, depending on how it’s ultimately going to be used,” says Pacheco of Mount Rainier, Md. “You can see the worth of this (to) intelligence, but really, this is a skill that transfers to almost any job.”

Intelligence work, Martin says, appears to combine travel, excitement and, in the post- 9/11 environment, something approaching job security. “You get to travel, to do something different every day, you’re challenged in your work and you get to serve your country,” says Martin, 21. “How cool is that?”

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3 Comments »

  1. Effective insight dealing with this subject, thank you for posting about it.

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