Chuck Spinney: Kelly Vlahos on the Militarization of Yale Neuroscience

Academia, Military
Chuck Spinney
Chuck Spinney

.. Or Escalating the Old Boot On Campus Game

Below is an important, excellent and scary report by Kelley Vlahos.  But the MICC's infiltration of elite campus's is even worse that Ms. Vlahos says, because it builds on deep historical roots and tradition.

Yale, a main focus of her report, has a long history of its alumae being being linked to espionage operations by the US government, dating back to the mists of the Revolutionary War.

Or, consider this entry in the wikipedia from former CIA director Richard Helms‘ bio.  It refers to a 1956 report written for President Eisenhower that criticized the out-of-control covert operations by the CIA, especially wrt to its overthrow of the democratically elected Iranian Prime Minister Mosasdegh in 1953:

The report “sharply denounc[ed] ‘King Making' by the CIA. It warned that all those bright young men being recruited by the CIA out of Yale were becoming freewheeling, well-financed buccaneers. Lovett and Bruce cautioned Eisenhower that the agency was out of control, that it needed formal oversight… .”[138]

Kelley makes it quite clear that new and even more dangerous skills  are being added to the old boots-on-campus game.  Too bad James Jesus Angleton, is not around to remind us of where this kind of inbred secret coziness leads.

Boots on Campus

Kelley B. Vlahos – Antiwar – 25/02/13

Have American university campuses become so inured to the militarization of policy, culture – our thought – that they can’t see the Trojan horse sitting in the quad, its occupants pouring out and passing out sweets and credits to all the Ivy Leaguers passing by with goggled eyes and open arms?

A caricature for sure, but is it so off base? How else does one explain the muted response to news that the Department of Defense may have been funding the “U.S. SOCOM (Special Operations Command) Center of Excellence for Operational Neuroscience,” at the Yale Medical School in New Haven? The proposed program, according to a report by ABC News last week, would teach special operations personnel the art of “conversational,” and “cross cultural” intelligence gathering, and pay volunteers from the community’s vast immigrant population (mainly poor Hispanics, Moroccans and Iraqis) to serve as the guinea pigs test subjects.

ABC got wind of the story from both The Yale Herald and the Yale Daily News, the pages of which were used by students to complain about what they saw as their school/alma mater inviting military intelligence to campus to hone their wartime interrogation techniques on the local non-white population. Their outrage – which played out on only two national mainstream news outlets, by the way – ABC and The Huffington Post – was apparently enough for the school to announce Friday night that the program would not be coming to Yale, “until we have investigated all these issues” (we think the prestigious Ivy League got freaked when med school alumni start talking about withholding donations). However, as Nathalie Batraville, a Yale graduate student who wrote about her aversion to the program in The Yale Daily News, told Democracy Now! on Feb. 21:

…there has been an increase in recent years in the influence of the military in universities, in the presence of programs designed to help the military achieve its goals. And we would really like for this – you know, we would really like (to) make an intervention in terms of drawing a line and figuring out what is ethical, what is unethical, what is the relationship, how does this affect immigrant communities in New Haven, how does this affect the student body. And so, we’d really like more transparency, and we’d like to have an open discussion about the role of the military in the university.

It doesn’t seem like too much to ask for a school that has done everything but plant military insignia outside the administration building in order to make it feel welcome, the very least of which was to invite the ROTC (Reserve Officers Training Court) back onto campus in 2012. Last year we read about how Yale students who more than 40 years before had marched in defiance of the Vietnam War and of the FBI’s COINITELPRO and Black Panther trials, were lining up like groupies to get into a new “leadership” seminar taught by rock star Gen. Stanley McChrystal, who was fired from his command in 2010 for badmouthing the president, and who was never held accountable for the beating and torture of individuals under his authority in Iraq.

“It is symptomatic of a much broader issue that speaks to the way that the military industrial-academic complex is evolving in ways that are completely at odds with the presupposition that universities should operate as a democratic public sphere,” declared cultural critic and author Henry Giroux, who penned The University in Chains: Confronting the Military-Industrial-Academic Complex, in 2007.

Giroux told in an interview that “9/11 was a turning point,” when the Bush Administration and the neoconservatives gunning for a unilateral military response turned on academia as “the weak link in fighting the war on terror.” He pointed directly to a stunning 2001 report by the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, led by Lynn Cheney, spouse of Vice President Dick Cheney and then-Sen. Joseph Lieberman, which attacked specific academics for “failing America.”

“I think it put such a pall on the universities and enshrined this idea of nationalism,” said Giroux. Now, the military had “this new reference point for entering the university.” In addition to the money coming in, universities wanted to prove their patriotism. Now, he added, “they were going to shore up the fight.”

About that time, Yale was establishing itself as the flagship campus for the so-called Grand Strategy Program network staking territory in various history and international affairs departments across the country. By 2009, it was in full swing. Two things one should know about this “GSP” trend: one, curricula are often disproportionately focused on military history and empire, and two, the programs taking place at major schools like Duke, Temple and Columbia Universities, were made possible by preeminent conservative supporters, mostly in the name of neoconservative philanthropist Roger Hertog, who is wildly wealthy and affiliated with the best-known neoconservative foreign policy foundations and think tanks, including the Manhattan Institute, the American Enterprise Institute, and the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. He was cited as one of the critical “New York moneymen” who were “financing neoconservatism” on the eve of the Iraq invasion. His full bio here.

This means many of the program heads, professors, and especially guest lecturers and speakers, are retired military officers, bureaucrats or national security executives. It is a forum for which Henry Kissinger resides as spiritual dean, and books written by one or more members of the Kagan Clan inhabit the reading lists. It means total ratification and very little creative dissent from the current foreign policy/national security establishment that brought us the Cold War, Vietnam, Iraq, counterinsurgency (COIN) and the Global War on Terror.

It means that in a world teeming with revolution, not to mention alternative global worldviews, multi-cultural vantage points, vibrant political philosophy and wars that should have shaken preconceptions and closely held beliefs about “grand strategy” to the very core, our so-called top academic forums are rotating the same shopworn elite (think Condoleezza Rice, Peter Mansoor, Eliot Cohen, Peter Feaver, Michele Flournoy, David Petraeus, John Nagl, Douglas Feith, Mike Mullen and former Special Ops Chief Eric Olson) as top thinkers and agenda-setters.

The Grand Strategy Program at Yale is run out of the school’s International Securities Studies department, which gets a steady stream of funding from the wealthy – and conservative – Smith-Richardson Foundation. The Grand Strategy Program is funded through the Brady-Johnson Program Endowment and is led by career diplomat Charles Hill (once Rudy Giuliani’s foreign policy advisor) and popular historians Paul Kennedy and John Gaddis, whose vaunted book about Cold War diplomat and scholar George Kennan was quoted no less than seven times in Sen. Rand Paul’s pro-containment foreign policy speech at the Heritage Foundation on Feb. 6.

Gaddis himself spent much of the early 2000’s supporting George W. Bush’s preemptive war strategy, however, and is a close associate of Henry Kissinger. Boston University military historian Andrew Bacevich called Gaddis’s 2004 book, Surprise, Security, and the American Experience, “an odd, half-formed little book that attempts to set the Bush administration’s response to 9/11 in a larger context” – in short, an apologia for preemptive war. Taking a harder tone, columnist and Yale professor Jim Sleeper says the book “trolled American history for precedents for preemptive war, winning him an invitation to the White House, where Bush met him holding a marked-up copy of the book. Gaddis huddled with historian Victor Davis Hanson and others to help draft Bush’s second inaugural address.”

In 2009, Gaddis welcomed Amb. John Negroponte to serve as a distinguished fellow of the Yale GPS program. Negroponte, who just finished a long tour of duty putting out fires in President Bush’s administration, is a diplomat with a long history. The taint from his failure to report the horrific atrocities committed by the CIA-supported, rightwing contras against the elected leftist Sandinista government in Honduras when Negroponte was ambassador to that country from 1980-85 may have been “gotten over” by his friends in the GSP club, but never by his critics.

Still, this really is a club, one that, along with being a bulwark of the status quo, is one that supports the creeping militarization of American foreign policy that we now see in this university-based GSP “network” and in other programs, such as the one apparently aborted by Yale just last week.

From Steve Horn and Allen Ruff’s “How Private Warmongers and the US Military Infiltrated American Universities” at Truthout in November 2011 (the men also described, in greater detail, the academic-military nexus in the now-defunct University of Wisconsin-Madison GSP):

The so-called “Grand Strategy Programs” represent but one small component of a proliferating Long War University complex. The number of university programs connected to the national security state, the imperial foreign policy establishment and military planners is vast; so, too, are the numbers of campus-based think tanks and related institutes – well funded by foundations, individual “philanthropy” or federal spending – in service to empire.

Back to Yale. According to Dr. Charles Morgan, the DoD had already promised him $1.8 million to fund the Yale-SOCOM Center of Excellence (which the Pentagon is now denying – “curiouser and curiouser,” notes reporter Matt Sledge). But this certainly wasn’t the first time Morgan and the Yale medical school had worked with the military, with DoD money and in this field of study. In fact, as this 2009 Truthout article details, Morgan has been affiliated with both SOCOM and the CIA as a researcher in interrogation practices and SERE (Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape) training for soldiers for years.

Morgan is considered an authority in the study of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and, according to his Wikipedia entry, has conducted numerous studies on SERE and PTSD at military facilities. He is regarded as a critic of harsh, extended interrogation techniques, and his latest SOCOM endeavor reflects that, according to John Stillman, writing for The Yale Herald:

Morgan’s challenge is to convince the Green Beret’s to try the psychiatrist’s approach: he suggests that non-coercive conversation captures intelligence more effectively than playing hardball. “For years,” he says, “I’ve been telling the military folks, ‘Wouldn’t it be nice if we could teach people to talk to people without scaring them?’ I think we’d win more friends and have more influence.” …

The training Morgan’s students will receive at Yale presents an opportunity for them to learn the importance of diplomacy in conversation. Morgan remembers working with one soldier years ago, whom he helped to overcome his militaristic tendencies. “I had to ask him, ‘Do you know you sometimes look intimidating? Do you know that you never smile?’” …when Morgan ran into him much later, he said he’d been practicing his smile. To the director of the Center of Excellence, this represents a step in the right direction: “I think there’s…evidence that people keep our soldiers safe and tell them where the bad guys are when they like them,” Morgan tells me.

Morgan is clearly seeking a shift to non-violent/no-stress military interrogations, which is not a bad thing, but the question remains, is it Yale’s responsibility to help the military achieve best practices? Particularly right there on the New Haven campus? “It they want to do this, they have their own institutions to do this,” charges Giroux, namely the SOCOM headquarters in Tampa.

“The mission of the school of medicine is to improve the practice of medicine and to improve – to treat disease and improve health,” pointed out Michael Siegel, professor of health sciences at Boston University and a Yale Medical School graduate, on the recent Democracy Now! broadcast.

“There is no way that this (SOCOM) research has any relationship to improving disease or improving health. This is strictly research designed to develop advanced interrogation techniques. That’s a military goal, a military responsibility, and it has no place at a school of medicine.”

One wonders what might have happened if the students hadn’t made a stink. What else don’t we know about the soft takeover of academia by the military, and how much can we really do to stop it? If the student body fails to take umbrage, if administrations open their arms (for the money, the prestige), if the faculty stay silent (or in the case of Morgan, deeply involved), will our liberal arts institutions become mere satellites of the service academies and war colleges?

Good questions – but sadly, perhaps too late to ask.

“What is so shocking, is that the university has so embraced this connection (with the military),” exclaimed Giroux. “I find it quite frightening.”

We all should.

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