24 November 2011

AAA 2011: A Review of Some Presentations on Military, Security, and Intelligence Topics

Report and commentary by AJP member Maximilian C. Forte:

For those who could not make it to the recently concluded conference of the American Anthropological Association in Montreal, or who were there but found themselves compelled to attend/participate in any of a number of other important sessions, here is a summary and review of some of the highlights of presentations made around topics dealing with the military, national security, and intelligence. Originally, I was invited by five different session organizers to present papers on their panels, and after some vacillation, I agreed to present on two, dealing with WikiLeaks and secrecy, and the other dealing with research about the covert and military operations. I attended a few other sessions that had similar themes, and this is the substance of this report. Hopefully, and in the spirit of "accessibility," more people in the future will produce blog reports of the contents of sessions for those who might otherwise miss out completely.

Sharing some of the ideas, details, and interactions that came out of the recently concluded conference meets with a couple of limitations: a) I cannot reproduce entire papers received, because in most cases these are intended for publication; b) in other cases I did not take detailed notes, and so some presentations are not even mentioned here; and, c) there is always the risk that I may not be accurately representing what was said, especially in those instances where I am relying on memory (I have tried to minimize those).

Deployment Stressed

The first session I attended at the AAA conference was "Deployment Stressed: Legacies of the War on Terror in Home Front Communities," organized by Jean N. Scandlyn of the University of Colorado at Denver. (Here I should point out that the University of Colorado had a prominent presence in this conference in particular where military and intelligence topics were the focus.) Recently I came across "Deployment Stressed"  which is also the title of this related project blog at the University of Colorado. Christopher King, anthropologist and social science director of the U.S. Army's Human Terrain System also attended this event as a member of the audience, as well as the other events discussed below.

Andrew Bickford (George Mason University) presented an extremely insightful and incisive paper titled "Super Soldiers and Super Citizens: Armored Life in the United States." Bickford described how in the U.S. (and this could be applied to Canada, and elsewhere), soldiers have been constructed by the state as almost mythical creatures, with the role of myth helping to render soldiers unquestionable. These are the agents of violence, where violence created and sustains the state, which is always prepared to use violence--in that order, the soldier is cast as "the best possible citizen" that the state can produce. Again, it is worth noting how in Canada we also hear government ministers declaring soldiers to be our most special citizens, our most valued citizens, as if their work was the most productive and useful, and as if their "sacrifices" (they volunteer, and get paid) were more important than the sacrifices of others made on a daily basis in the non-violent sectors of society. From there, Bickford began to focus a great deal on medicine and health technology, as a means he argued of mitigating the effects of war, not to end war, which of course would be the clearest solution to preventing the harmful effects of war. The role of advanced medicine, applied to soldiers' bodies, is to create an illusion that they are "superhuman" and thus eminently deployable. Medicine makes war palatable, and makes war seem clean. An array of drugs and psychotherapies are administered in order to shield, enhance, and prolong the life of the soldier, and to demonstrate the inherent superiority of the American soldier. Bickford reconnects these medical procedures and rationales to what he calls "the military imaginary"--which involves the processes and tropes by which states make soldiers. The internal regulation of the soldier becomes the external regulation of the state--the soldier is the state in action. Militarized medicine becomes part of the production of an "armored life" (we can see the influences of both Hegel and Agamben in Bickford's theorizing). The internal armouring of the body of the soldier is the armouring of the state. Bickford ended with some much needed, provocative questions: if the specialists and authorities can banish the fear of warfare, what else can they banish? He asks how the impact of killing, who matters most, why some are killed, etc., are the kinds of questions that are held away by the processes of making medically enhanced super soldiers.

David Bayendor (University of Colorado Denver) presented his work under the title of "Human Terrain Redux--A 'Halfie' Talks Anthropology and the Army," which was also quite unusual for being a presentation by someone both in the military, and anthropology, who is critical of militarist ideology but not without some reservations. While acknowledging the fetishizing of warfare, and the heroizing of the masculinity, "courage" and "sacrifice" of soldiers that forms part of "the military normal" (an idea he credited to Catherine Lutz, involving the militarization of social institutions, values, etc., shaped by and prepared for war), he added that he did not view the military as a total institution. He thus devoted some time to describing the military as an intermediate institution, between the military and the civilian, yet still forming a world that is largely off limits to civilians. As Bayendor noted, quoting from Laura Nader, powerful groups are notorious for resisting being studied. (Throughout the presentation, Bayendor quoted repeatedly from the works of anthropologists critical of militarism/militarization, adding his own perspectives as someone who is also part of the military.) Speaking of powerful institutions, Bayendor who is apparently no fan of HTS, noted how HTS members appear to be very excited about being in a powerful institution, suggesting that whatever their original intent for joining HTS, their perspectives became altered by being in close proximity to high-ranking officers, on bases, and so forth. Speaking of ethnic and generally marginalized minorities who make up a large part of the U.S. fighting force, including foreign citizens from Africa, the Caribbean and Latin America, Bayendor made the point that often it is the victims of the power system that are drawn into service to support the system, participating in their own oppression in effect. Bayendor also commented on how "support our troops", "thank you for our service" and what I would call the yellow ribbon industry, work to keep critical questions at bay. He ended his presentation in speaking of the military's appropriation of anthropological knowledge by means other than HTS, and showed a slide featuring a list of key texts in anthropology from the U.S. Army's own online database--a list he had accessed as late as three days prior to the conference and which featured a number of prominent titles, including Malinowski's Practical Anthropology and Gluckman's Rituals of Rebellion.

Sarah J. Hautzinger (Colorado College) further explored some of the themes raised above, in her presentation titled "Battle-Speak on a Domestic Homefront." (I noted how choosing to term the local and the domestic as the "home front" is itself an example of "battle-speak," which the title of the session seemed to reinforce, though the irony may have been intentional.) Hautzinger discussed the domestication of war metaphors in the U.S., with the adoption of terms such as "battle buddies" and "deployment" among those not militarily deployed abroad, or in any actual armed conflict. Among the facets she raised were "battle" as metaphor, as metonymy, and as synecdoche. The effect is to reinforce war as a paradigm for symbolically ordering understandings of the world, even as those adhering to this paradigm are involved in trying to aid those suffering from war. Hautzinger also raised the point that in talking about the losses suffered from war, the focus is almost always on U.S. losses alone. This was an interesting paper for addressing issues of cultural militarization and hegemonization (her word), in how individuals can become complicit in their own subordination, as they buy into paradigms that sanitize and euphemize war, even when they directly face its bloody consequences. Her work, as I suggested, took some of the panel's themes on language a bit further, speaking in terms of civilian-military code-switching and the use of insider argot to build solidarity across civilian-military lines.

Jean N. Scandlyn (University of Colorado Denver) in her presentation, "Promises, Promises: The Military and Opportunity Structures for American Youth," was clearly pressed for time--and in a long session, my own attention began to wane. As a result, I came away with just three particularly interesting arguments made in this presentation, but which I present in a disjointed fashion given the state of my notes: 1) that those motivated to join the military in pursuit of economic and/or educational benefits (these are often the same), are also those suffering from higher rates of PTSD; 2) most recruits come from southern states--the south-east and south-west--from economically disenfranchised conditions, where there is also a long tradition of military service...and she suggested that the relationship between the two is not merely incidental; and, 3) practices that depersonalize "the enemy," beginning with the use of silhouette targets used in weapons training.

Christopher King, Human Terrain System:

Originally, seven papers were scheduled for this session, with no time at all for discussion--as was strangely common at this AAA conference, remarkably not what one would expect in a conference if there is no room for actually conferring. With one cancellation, we had about 10 minutes of discussion that was dominated largely by a very talkative Christopher King from HTS. He was not presenting any papers at the conference, but was present at almost all of the events of direct relevance to military, security, and intelligence themes, and I had the chance to converse with him on several occasions, especially as we tended to sit together or very close. I am not sure if King was aware that he raised some eyebrows when--speaking as someone representing a program that for a long time stressed that it was not about "gathering intelligence"--said that he could put a number of the panellists in touch with people he knows in the "Department of Intelligence". He seemed to be eager to get the panellists to communicate with the military, which of course they already were since their research was grounded in that communication. When he began to say that one of the "nice things" about the military is that it can "really be self-reflective"--thereby missing the point of evidence to the contrary--he seemed to wear some patience thin and the moderator interjected to move on to someone else. On the other hand, King is neither an abrasive nor aggressive person, so the panel could have suffered much worse.

It was at this event that I overheard one young woman approach King, who stood in front of me, to ask him about working for the military--and he gave her his card. Interesting move, that of choosing a session critical of militarization in the hope of finding someone from the military in the audience so as to market oneself. One of the panel participants later asked me what King was doing at the conference, and if the AAA had not censured HTS.

Human Terrain: War Becomes Academic

I had the great pleasure of finally seeing James Der Derian's now well-circulated film, Human Terrain: War Becomes Academic. And who better to sit next to for the whole film and discussion, if not HTS' Christopher King? At this event, King did not take part in the discussion--it would not have been a welcoming crowd. I stayed silent, as it was important for me to observe American anthropologists, whom I have never heard from before, weigh in on these topics, only to discover that if they were in any way a representative sample then HTS meets with fairly wide condemnation among AAA members.

The room was packed with people, many standing, and the discussion afterwards was quite animated, in-depth, and intelligent. During the film, members of the audience got quite loud on occasion, either laughing at some of the speakers (the Marine officer who proudly boasts, "we are not killers...we are professional killers," or the suggestion that Arabs, because of their inherent cultural difference, yes, really would fear being stripped naked, jeered at by women, and having angry dogs barking at their crotches--"unlike American men," as one audience member joked), or even hissing at Montgomery McFate, quite sinister and dark by way of contrast to the man sitting next to me. Overall, King, who said that he too had never seen the film before, seemed to think it was fair and liked it. I also thought it was a remarkable film from which I even learned a few "new" details (that is, new to me).

Der Derian definitely deserves all of the praise he has received for this film, for the complex questioning, editing, and narrative structure. There was some debate about "balance" in the film--yes, we hear from almost all sides (the Afghan side is, of course, once again mute...a little more than a small omission from almost all debates about anthropologists joining the military, or even in debates about the occupation of Afghanistan). Some felt that, nonetheless, the film clearly, and on balance, swings the argument against HTS. Even those closest to one of the featured protagonists, the late Michael Bhatia (HTS' first fatality), are clear in saying they argued against his joining HTS in the first place. Others instead feel that the film kicks a bit of sand in the eyes, dulling anti-militarist perspectives by encouraging identification with, and sympathy for Bhatia, while raising "good intentions" of "helping to improve" (improve what? war? conflict?) by aiding the military in becoming more "culturally aware"--not that HTS serves to offer classes in hand signals, or the etiquette of drinking tea, which by now surely have been abundantly learned anyway.

Perhaps the sharpest and most memorable part in the whole film for me came from Hugh Gusterson when he explained that the U.S. military, and politicians, make the fundamental mistake of thinking that the continuing conflict facing occupation forces is simply the result of "cultural miscommunication," rather than resistance against foreign domination and social engineering at the point of a gun. The assumption, he noted, is that if U.S. troops could better understand local cultures, then there would be less conflict, which ignores the totally separate motivations for resistance. Invasions and occupations are not the result of some sort of "cultural" mishap, so that the turn to culture--and particularly static and outmoded, functionalist conceptions of culture at that--can only deceive U.S. military practitioners that programs like HTS are a solution, a way of winning the war. As Gusterson said, when you ask the wrong questions, you can only come up with the wrong answers.

As for Bhatia, there was some discussion about how he could delude himself into thinking that by going from being a researcher to a practitioner, he could change the world, and yet remain unchanged himself.

Anthropologies of the Covert

Organized by Carole McGranahan (University of Colorado Boulder), "Anthropologies of the Covert: From Spying and Being Spied Upon to Secret Military Ops and the CIA," was a very long session lasting four hours, on which I served as a discussant.

HTS' Christopher King attended this event also, that is until Roberto González finished his presentation.

David H. Price (St. Martin's University), led the session with his historically dense investigative research into CIA ties in funding the AAA via a front organization called the Asia Foundation. His paper, "The CIA, the Asia Foundation, and the AAA: How the AAA Linked Asian Anthropologists to a CIA Funding Front," is part of a larger work in progress. Price demonstrated the significant extent to which anthropologists, like other social scientists, were linked to military and intelligence agencies throughout the Cold War period, even if unknowingly. As he indicated, if we exclude foundations such as the Ford, Rockefeller, and Carnegie foundations, the CIA was involved in nearly half of the research grants offered in the 1960s. Not seeing the case of the Asia Foundation in isolation, Price reminded us that, "the CIA approached the AAA in 1951 and established a covert relationship with the Executive Board through which the AAA secretly gave the CIA the raw information it collected for its detailed roster with the understanding that the CIA would keep information from this roster for its own uses."

Carole McGranahan followed with "Sympathy for the Devil: The CIA, Tibet, and the Humanity of Empire," in which her stated intention was to "humanize" the CIA by two routes, one being by highlighting their affective ties to Tibetan resistance fighters, symbolized by tearful embraces, and two, by arguing that the CIA engaged in covert humanitarianism. Another stated goal was to challenge what in her spoken version she called the "knee jerk reactions" of critics of the CIA, and what in her written version she referred to as "leftist critiques." It was a fairly interesting and controversial paper that seemed to provoke mixed reactions, especially when viewed in contrast with some of the presentations that followed, like the next one.

Anna Roosevelt (University of Illinois Chicago), in "THE HEART OF DARKNESS IS WHITE: The role of the NATO countries in the chaos and killings in Central Africa," presented a shocking litany of a very long history of intense, and often grotesque, Western interventions in the Congo and Rwanda, while also featuring some of her own investigative documentary research that uncovers and exposes the identity of a leading military intelligence agent behind numerous local plots. As I said in my discussion after these three papers, Anna Roosevelt does not write like any Roosevelt I know--and yes, she is related to all of the prominent Roosevelts that readers will know.

Briefly, in my discussant's remarks I said: 1) that I would like to see David Price theorize his work more, and that the case he features seems to contain a lot of ambiguities; 2) that Carole McGranahan ought to explain how an affective approach to some CIA agents can in any way become an anthropological theory of empire, and why in opposing herself to unnamed leftists, she creates the kind of binary that she disdains; and, 3) that Anna Roosevelt's work might be useful as part of a critical dialogue with "responsibility to protect" and other forms of "humanitarian interventionism" that call for foreign military intervention in the Congo--as if more such intervention will fix the problems caused by foreign military intervention in the first place.

One productive coincidence came when both Roberto González and I discussed various research methods for gaining information about military and intelligence agencies. I listed documentary research (such as Price using Freedom of Information Access); interviews and participation in public events; the role of deception as in covert ethnographic research to penetrate state agencies; the use of leaks; and, antagonism. In his excellent presentation, "Methodological Notes on Researching Military and Intelligence Programs," Roberto J. González (San Jose State University), spoke of documents, followed by interviews (with public writing about the contents of documents prompting some from the military and intelligence communities to come forward), and self-analysis (which, in part, involves reflecting on reactions to one's research). Interestingly, a former geospatial intelligence agent on the panel, Nate Keuter, said that he saw the work being done by González as similar to that of an intelligence analyst--and this tied in with his own presentation that argued we could look at the CIA as a research organization (except it's one that kills).

An exceptional paper, with a long-term view of anthropological research of secrets going back to James Mooney and Franz Boas, my favourite passage in González's paper came toward the end when he explained, ever so politely, that, "...this kind of anthropology often requires the use of theoretical concepts or hypotheses to make sense of certain phenomena. An example of this might be the use of the Whorf-Sapir hypothesis, which can help explain how terms like human terrain lead to the treatment of humans as dirt (or at best, as territory to be conquered) by those who have uncritically adopted the phrase." I believe that it was on this note that HTS' Christopher King, whose presence was indirectly noted by González in his talk, left the room.

23 November 2011

Students Take Anthropology Back Into the Streets: A Report on Off-AAA

Report and commentary by AJP member Maximilian Forte:

From Questions, to Critique, to Protest

Students took Anthropology into the streets on Saturday, 19 November, 2011, in an action that was (in part) designed to protest the exclusive nature of the recent American Anthropological Association conference held inside the Palais des Congrès, with exorbitant registration fees that barred the attendance of most Montreal students. Students occupied the park outside the Palais and took the initiative to mobilize against what some of them called "bourgeois 'science'," and the commodification of knowledge that turned anthropology into an elitist fetish. As natives and residents of this city, they emphasized that this is their space, and the time is one of global ferment against capitalism, inequality, and elitism. Hence, the Occupy Montreal camp sent its banner in solidarity to be put on display at this event, dubbed Off-AAA. As the students questioned in announcing their initiative and inviting participation by faculty, "shouldn't we be generating critical thinking on our own institutional dynamics? Is research only an interest or a tool for social change?"

At the event, while some of the students suggested that they wished they had organized it better, the fact is that the numbers in attendance (on a cold and rainy Saturday afternoon as the semester nears its hectic finale) ranged between 30 and 50, and several faculty made presentations at the event and engaged in debate, including myself, David H. Price (St. Martin's University), Rob Hancock (University of Victoria), and Terence Turner, and others. The students organized in advance using Facebook and Indymedia Quebec, among other sites. They brought coffee for all, chairs, mats, a table, a megaphone, and later even a microphone that seemed to serve no function other than to be passed around to mark the next speaker. There were at least two persons recording the event with video cameras on tripods--but I don't know if their videos will be made available. The students were animated, speaking mostly in French (with simultaneous translation), with a passion for ideas for an alternative anthropology. At different points, some passers-by stopped to hear what was going on--behind us instead, within the multi-coloured glass walls of the Palais, I was stopped on two occasions and asked for my conference badge...the excuse being that the attendants were trying to block access to homeless persons (I was in a suit and tie on one of those occasions).

This was anthropology in public, but with frequent calls by the students for more public anthropology, for more activism, for more research that is undertaken for more than just communicating it to colleagues in closed sessions hidden behind pay walls. Far from the hackneyed, right wing stereotype of students "brainwashed" by their allegedly "radical" professors, here were the students radicalising faculty and drawing the latter out from the enclosure of pay-per-view anthropology, conducted safely and quietly, away from the public's ear.

The Geopolitics of Anthropology: As Seen from the Canadian Periphery

Indeed, we should question the logic behind the AAA locating its event here, as if Canada had no Anthropology association of its own. After some quiet protest by the Canadian Anthropology Society (CASCA), the local association was given the grand gift of a booth at the AAA event, and allowed to organize a reception. While this assertion of U.S. hegemony is troubling--and one of the main reasons for why I have not travelled to the U.S. to take part in AAA conferences--we have to admit that "Canadian" anthropologists (many of whom are actually American, and many of whom obtained their PhDs in the U.S.*) are part of the problem. Some of these nominally Canadian anthropologists tell their graduate students that if they wish to obtain academic employment in Canada, they should earn their doctorates in the U.S. (thereby invalidating their own positions, and the responsibility to train the next generations of Canadian academics). It seems that our job is to locally produce the part-time sessional instructors, and to import the full-time tenure-track faculty. Many others enforce a dependency on U.S. texts and other assigned reading materials written by their U.S. colleagues. Some departments are even structured on the U.S. "four-field" model, thereby establishing themselves as beachheads of American academic exceptionalism in Canada. Each year, entire departments are vacated in November as faculty make their annual pilgrimage to the AAA, travelling to the U.S. conference venues of their intellectual masters, massaging the ego of the monster as they pay tribute to the U.S. dominance that they reinforce.

This year the CASCA conference in Fredericton, at which AJP launched a symposium and gained new members, was thinly attended by less than a third of CASCA's regular members, most of whom were holding out for the AAA conference in Montreal. The AAA did not cause that, but it did enable it, and the result was a huge plunge in revenues for CASCA. Virtually none of the representatives of Canada's largest Anthropology departments, organized according to the U.S. four-field model, were in attendance in Fredericton. The event became an unintended celebration of our peripheral status, within the Canadian periphery that are the Maritime provinces. So if the AAA event was exclusive and occupied our attention, it is also our fault. We had Montreal anthropology faculty on the AAA's Executive Program Committee--and none of us thought that, as a basic courtesy, the invading association should at least offer free access to students bearing local ID cards--and a public explanation for why the AAA thinks that Quebec comes under its umbrella as a U.S. body.

It is interesting to observe such a phenomenon displaying itself at the same time as some tout the value of "world anthropologies" (as published in dominant U.S. journals). Perhaps the potential for irony is limited by the fact that much of what constitutes itself currently as "world anthropologies" is fashioned by anthropologists based in, trained in, or oriented toward the dominant American centre and its UK counterpart.

[* In a recent survey published by CASCA--Demographics and Opinions of Canadian Anthropologists--it was found that out of 306 respondents with a PhD, 168 (55%) have Canadian PhDs, 77 (25%) have U.S. PhDs, and the remaining 61 (20%) have degrees from other parts of the world--I am included in the latter category, though I did not know of the survey when it was being undertaken and thus did not respond. Narrative responses to the survey tellingly included calls for developing more "Boasian" graduates, and for getting our journal into Anthrosource, which is the AAA's publications database.]

The Speakers: From Corporatization to Militarization to Free Knowledge

I asked David Price to accompany me to the event, since it followed a AAA session in which we both participated, and since my comments would dovetail into subject matter of which he is a leading expert, yet expertise that might not have been familiar to the assembled students. So we performed what I called a duet.

"I am here under an alternate identity," I said, "in there [where the AAA was meeting] I am an associate professor in anthropology at Concordia University...but out here I speak in my capacity as a member of Anthropologists for Justice and Peace." I began by speaking about the increased pace by which private business interests were appropriating the university as a common, public good--in some cases, very directly, with the university hiring individuals from the private sector (in crisis) who had as little as a BA and four years of working experience, and getting paid more than a full professor, for performing obscure and minimally useful administrative tasks. Indeed, the inflation of administration, and the bloating of its operating costs at the expense of the core missions of the university, represents a hidden bailout package for the private sector by essentially handing them lucrative university positions and contracts. Regardless of the current track record of massive corporate failures, the university has adopted corporate management models, led by CEOs of private corporations who sit on our Board of Governors. From there I took the students into research done by a student in my New Imperialism seminar, Laura Beach (see this and this), who shows that several of the members of the Board of Governors of Concordia University are also defence contractors. In addition, it was one of them who pushed through Project Hero, with little in the way of discussion or advance notice. Having established a corporate presence with militarist leanings, I spoke of how the university--while not yet interfering in dictating what we should research, and thus directly curbing our academic freedom--has nonetheless gradually altered the university's reward structure to publicly favour and promote only specific kinds of projects--those funded by the Department of National Defence's Security Defence Forum, for example, to engineering projects dedicated to developing UAVs, better known as drones. (There is no "Canada Research Chair in Studies of Imperialism" nor any Anti-War or Peace Research Institute in Montreal.) Those students who had been to Concordia had not seen any of the drone prototypes suspended from the ceilings in public areas. I also spoke of how the university markets certain "signature areas," one of which is the interventionist, private- and military-funded "Will to Intervene" project (students recoiled at the very name). I noted how the university administration had, seemingly overnight, rewritten its mission statement, from one that emphasized the role of the university as social critic, engaged in public debate, and valuing academic freedom--to one that made no mention at all of any of these, instead emphasizing "harmony" and "strengthening society." From there I proceeded to remark to students that in being faced with limited job prospects, they would be tempted to apply their anthropological knowledge toward well-remunerated, imperialist ends, and I advised them to pay close attention to what David Price would tell them about the Human Terrain System (HTS). I mentioned how just a few blocks away from where we stood, a Montreal head-quartered company, CGI, was doing the recruiting for the U.S. Army's HTS. This is a reminder of how porous is the border between the U.S. and Canada, and how blurred are the lines between the two--making us as susceptible to U.S.-funded and U.S.-inspired militarist projects as we were to the AAA meeting in the edifice that formed my backdrop. Finally, I congratulated the students for their imagination and initiative, and reminded them that without their leadership, little would change, as even tenured faculty for the most part are trained into fearful silence and many are demoralized and thus unlikely to spearhead any movement for change. To date, this Off-AAA assembly is perhaps the most remarkable, encouraging and productive "conference" experience I have had.

David Price then stood up in the circle of assembled students, cold wind blowing, and remarked--using the metaphor of the drones hanging from our ceilings, which are there and which we do not see--about the insidious spread of war corporatism in the university. He spoke of his work in uncovering the CIA connections to anthropologists, and of the use of anthropologists in counterinsurgency, giving a brief history of HTS. It's not over, he noted, as we had just come from a panel where some of the papers were about creating sympathy for the CIA or its local agents, and casting the CIA as a "humanitarian" actor. David Price also remarked on the fact that just because the students are in Canada, not to think that they are immune from the current wave of university militarization, which has proceeded apace in the U.S. (and, in fact, he is right--not least because some of our military research in universities, such as in fuel air explosives at McGill, is directly funded by the Pentagon, with the university's code of "ethics" revised to suit). David added that many students like those assembled, faced limited academic employment prospects, especially with the tendency toward hiring only temporary and part-time faculty, and that many such individuals are motivated to join programs such as HTS for monetary reasons. When David mentioned how much HTS employees get paid when deployed, circa $225,000 U.S., there was a loud gasp of disbelief from the students, some laughing at how extraordinary the salary appears. An American student in Montreal (from Ohio, if I recall), asked to interject--and told David that in the town where he came from, the sole source of employment, a mine, had shut down, so that really the only available employment presenting itself is to join the military. David concurred, noting the same is true of the town he came from. In fact, a number of the Montreal students assembled are themselves from the U.S., and tend to be both highly critical of U.S. foreign policy and very much committed against militarism--so that David somehow managed to speak to what was partly a "home crowd" even in Montreal, and a home crowd as well for sharing his concerns about militarization. David was very well received, but unfortunately had to leave soon after his talk.

Rob Hancock then stood up and made the point of welcoming those assembled to traditional, unceded Mohawk territory. In this welcome, noting that we are on Aboriginal land, Rob made the point that this land has been "occupied" by settlers for too long, and he took some issue with the naming of the "Occupy" campaign currently spread across North America. This was not an incidental point, as Rob then proceeded to talk about how he and others worked to make accessible anthropological knowledge around Indigenous rights in Canada. In this vein Rob outlined an absolutely remarkable project in which he is engaged, known as the Free Knowledge Project (also see their Facebook page), with at times many dozens of members of the wider public taking their free classes offered at local cafes in Victoria, BC. This is the kind of public, and very open access anthropology (open in cyberspace, and open in physical space), which met with very obvious approval from the assembled students.

Unfortunately, in the cases of the remaining speakers, I have forgotten the name of one (from Vermont) who made some very profound comments about being a fully embodied anthropologist and activist, and Terence Turner who spoke at the very end, after I had already left.

Student speakers took turns to build ideas for a more public, activist anthropology. One of the event organizers, devoted particular attention to the Quebec Public Interest Research Group at Concordia--QPIRG-Concordia--and to its sponsorship of Community University Research Exchange (CURE), as concrete examples of already existing projects that students could support and carry forward. Indeed, in some respects QPIRG appears as the embryo of a new university, growing within the shell of the old university, one deemed "corrupt" by one of the speakers.

I left the event feeling both inspired and very proud of our students here in Montreal, and I am looking forward to more such events.

First Nations Under Surveillance in Canada

In our continuing coverage of reports of surveillance and domestic forms of counterinsurgency in Canada, we present this material, first aired on the CBC's radio program, The Current, from Thursday, 17 November, 2011. It demonstrates the state's continuing efforts to spy on the public sphere and to treat Aboriginals as if they were a potential insurgent threat, a domestic implementation of espionage techniques that tie in with the "return investment" on Canada's participation in foreign counterinsurgency wars, as first demonstrated by the inclusion of First Nations in the draft counterinsurgency manual of the Canadian Forces. For more background, see the prior reports we published on these topics:

From the CBC:

Why is the govt spying on Cindy Blackstock? Cindy Blackstock is an advocate for First Nations children and youth. She has an email trail that shows bureaucrats from the Department of Aboriginal Affairs are tailing her, showing up at more than 70 speeches and appearances, taking notes, following her Facebook page and sharing what they find with their Dept and the Dept of Justice. She calls the surveillance, chilling and politically motivated.

Canada spends millions of dollars each year monitoring and tracking individuals and groups thought to threaten national security. Law abiding citizens aren't typically under the government's microscope. But when Cindy Blackstock applied for access to government documents, she received a fat folder that showed she was being watched. Cindy Blackstock runs The First Nations Child and Family Caring Society.

In 2007, her organization filed a human rights complaint against the federal government, alleging under-funding of child welfare services on reserves. Her Access to Information request revealed, the Federal Department of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development has amassed a large file on her activities, much of it based on first-hand accounts from government employees who tailed her at public appearances. Cindy Blackstock joined us from our studio in Ottawa.

Martin Papillon is a professor of political science at the University of Ottawa. Among other things, his research focusses on Aboriginal self-determination and he was in our Ottawa studio.

For his take on whether and when the federal government should monitor native groups and why it might be keeping tabs on Cindy Blackstock, we were joined by Tim Powers. He's the Vice President of Summa Communications and a Conservative Party strategist. He also worked in the Department of Aboriginal Affairs in the mid 1990s. Tim Powers was in Ottawa.

The Current asked to speak to someone from the Prime Minister's Office. We did not receive a reply. We asked to speak to Aboriginal Affairs Minister John Duncan. Neither he nor anyone else from the department was available this morning, but Minister Duncan's spokesperson did provide us with this statement. It reads:
I can tell you that our government takes Canadians' privacy very seriously. The Minister has asked the Deputy Minister for Aboriginal Affairs to report to him on whether privacy rules were respected.
We also asked to speak to someone from the Department of National Defence. We received no response. The Government's Leader in the Senate, Conservative Senator Marjory LeBreton, was not available to speak to us this morning.

22 November 2011

Libya: The Lies of "Humanitarian" War

From The Humanitarian War, a documentary by Julien Teil:

Overview written by the videographer:

This document makes it possible to understand how international law and justice works, but mostly how its basic principles can be bypassed. The resolutions passed against Libya are based on various allegations: notably on the statement claiming that Gaddafi had led jet attacks on his own people and engaged in violent repression against the uprising, killing more than 6,000 civilians. These allegations were spread before they could have been verified. Yet it was on the basis of this claim that the Libyan Jamahiriya  government was suspended from the United Nations Human Rights Council, before being referred to the United Nations Security Council. One of the main sources for the claim that Gaddafi was killing his own people is the Libyan League for Human Rights, an organisation linked to the International Federation of Human Rights (the FIDH). On the 21st of February 2011, the General-Secretary of the LLHR, Dr. Soliman Bouchuiguir, initiated a petition in collaboration with the organisation UN Watch and the National Endowment for Democracy. This petition was signed by more than 70 NGOs. Then a few days later, on the 25th of February, Dr. Soliman Bouchuiguir went to U.N. Human Rights Council in order to expose the allegations concerning the crimes of Gaddafi's government. In July 2011 we went to Geneva to interview Dr. Soliman Bouchuiguir. Soliman Bouchuguir is an unheard of figure for the most part....Soliman Bouchuiguir, former president of the Libyan League for Human Rights with symbiotic ties to the National Transitional Council, generated the pack of lies that justified NATO's war allegedly to protect the Libyan population. He is currently the new Libyan ambassador to Switzerland.


It is important to understand that this video document provides proof about the fabrication of evidence of Gaddafi attacking protesters with planes, as alleged by the Libyan League for Human Rights, in order to get UN Security Council Resolution 1973 passed. In this video, those who voiced these allegations at the UN, confirm that they in fact had no evidence. Moreover, we discover that the membership of the Libyan League for Human Rights--which had unchallenged influence and prominence in the deliberations of the Security Council--is itself composed of many of the same people who make up the opposition National Transitional Council. The UN Security Council completely failed to question or verify the supposed "facts" being presented to it by those who had a vested interest in regime change. Humanitarianism was thus a false cover for military intervention to back the overthrow of the government of a UN member state, in direct violation of the UN Charter. This year saw the 10th anniversary of the "Responsibility to Protect" doctrine--at the young age of 10, R2P has apparently already entered a state of advanced senility.

Tax Dollars at War

The video above is a good companion to the useful resource developed by several anthropologists, titled Costs of War, and co-directed in particular by Catherine Lutz, a specialist in the anthropology of militarism and militarization, with certain caveats: (i) that the full damage of war, and the militarist ideology and processes of militarization that make imperial wars thinkable and available, can ever be assessed numerically; (ii) that interventionist wars are still immoral, inhumane, and usually legally, even if conducted at a low financial cost, and even if resulting in few civilian deaths; and, (iii) that war does considerable damage to the politics and culture of the imperial societies that launch it. Having said that, here is a compelling analytical summary from the Costs of War project:
  • While we know how many US soldiers have died in the wars (just over 6000), what is startling is what we don’t know about the levels of injury and illness in those who have returned from the wars.  New disability claims continue to pour into the VA, with 550,000 just through last fall.  Many deaths and injuries among US contractors have not been identified. 
  • At least 138,000 civilians have died and more will die in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Pakistan as a result of the fighting at the hands of all parties to the conflict.
  • The armed conflict in Pakistan, which the U.S. helps the Pakistani military fight by funding, equipping and training them, has taken as many lives as the conflict in neighbouring Afghanistan.
  • Putting together the conservative numbers of war dead, in uniform and out, brings the total to 236,000.
  • Indirect deaths from the wars, including those related to malnutrition, damaged health infrastructure, and environmental degradation, may far outnumber deaths from combat. While these deaths are difficult to count due to factors such as lack of comparable baseline mortality figures, a 2008 survey by The Geneva Declaration Secretariat estimates that assuming a ratio of four indirect deaths to one direct death in contemporary conflicts would not be unreasonable.
  • Millions of people have been displaced indefinitely and are living in grossly inadequate conditions.  The current number of war refugees and displaced persons -- 7,800,000 -- is equivalent to all of the people of Connecticut and Kentucky fleeing their homes.
  • The wars have been accompanied by erosions in civil liberties at home and human rights violations abroad.
  • The human and economic costs of these wars will continue for decades, some costs not peaking until mid-century. Many of the wars’ costs are invisible to Americans, buried in a variety of budgets, and so have not been counted or assessed.  For example, while most people think the Pentagon war appropriations are equivalent to the wars’ budgetary costs, the true numbers are twice that, and the full economic cost of the wars much larger yet. Conservatively estimated, the war bills already paid and obligated to be paid are $3.2 trillion in constant dollars. A more reasonable estimate puts the number at nearly $4 trillion.
  • As with former US wars, the costs of paying for veterans’ care into the future will be a sizeable portion of the full costs of the war.
  • The ripple effects on the U.S. economy have also been significant, including job loss and interest rate increases, and those effects have been under-appreciated.
  • While it was promised that the US invasions would bring democracy to both countries, Afghanistan and Iraq, both continue to rank low in global rankings of political freedom, with warlords continuing to hold power in Afghanistan with US support, and Iraqi communities more segregated today than before by gender and ethnicity as a result of the war.
  • Serious and compelling alternatives to war were scarcely considered in the aftermath of 9/11 or in the discussion about war against Iraq.  Some of those alternatives are still available to the U.S.

Domestic Surveillance in Canada: Suspicious Incident Reporting

From AJP member Craig Proulx:

I am wondering if this tattletale site will be used against Aboriginal peoples in Canada. They are already under surveillance by the Canadian security state and have been labelled in the past as "terrorists" by the Canadian Military. The government gets reports on Aboriginal "hot spots" each week. I wonder if some of their information comes from (SIR)? Certainly a lot of these "critical infrastructure" companies must be terrified at the thought of blockades and protests interfering with their right to make cash for the settler elite. This sounds like just the tool to keep the market "free".

Privacy Impact Assessment - Suspicious Incident Reporting (SIR): Executive Summary

The RCMP works in partnership with domestic and foreign agencies to strengthen prevention measures against the threat of terrorism in North America and elsewhere.  The RCMP has primary law enforcement responsibility under sec. 6(1), *Security Offences Act* for investigating threats to the security of Canada, as defined in sec. 2, *Canadian Security Intelligence Service Act.*

Within this mandate, the RCMP is a national partner in protecting Canada’s critical infrastructure (CI). The Emergency Management Framework for Canada defines CI as “the essential underlying systems and facilities upon which our standard of life relies”. It includes physical and information technology facilities, networks, services and assets essential to the health, safety, security or economic well-being of Canadians and the effective functioning of government.

A significant proportion of Canada’s CI is managed and protected by private owners and operators. As per the Participant list in Section 3.5 .The National Security Criminal Investigations ( NSCI) of the RCMP has launched a Suspicious Incident Reporting (SIR) project to collect information on suspicious incidents that could have a nexus to national security. The information provided by external CI Stakeholders is voluntary. Therefore, CI stakeholder handling of their data prior to its submission to the SIR system is not addressed in this privacy impact assessment (PIA)

The collection, handling, storage, dissemination and disposal of personal information for the SIR system conforms to Government of Canada policies and procedures and is consistent with CMP PPU-025 (National Security Investigations Records) and CMP PPU-005 (Operational Case Records) in www.InfoSource.gc.ca. A separate PIA details any privacy issues associated to SPROS our main records system where all SIR incidents will be recorded. Retention and disposal of the SPROS/SIR record will correspond to the Occurrence Classification Table (OCT) as detailed in the SPROS PIA.

Only authorized Critical Infrastructure Stakeholder employees, Police of Local Jurisdiction, or Government agencies may be given access to the SIR system. The Web-based accessed SIR system will be composed of two secure environments: the first is Protected B and the other is a Classified Environment (CE).

Access to the Protected “B” SIR System for external users will be granted through the use of the RCMP Internet Presence Environment (IPE), a secure common web hosting environment where authentication is made through the employment of ePass. Public Works and Government Services (PWGSC) maintains and updates a separate PIA for ePass. CI Stakeholder users will be designated as points of contact through MOUs or formal agreements with participating organizations. In order to be allowed rights to be assigned to their profile prospective users will be screened for at least a Level II Secret RCMP clearance. RCMP Personnel will gain access through the use of NPSN and PMI Secure Access Portal. The Classified Environment ( CE) is an RCMP internal one with no connection to the Protected B SIR system. SIR data received will be manually transferred to the CE systems.

The external facing SIR system application has roles that assign rights to the user and dictates what information they can view at the time of submission. The complete un-vetted SIR containing personal information will be made available to RCMP and POJ for national security criminal intelligence purposes. The originator of the report can also select other participating and RCMP security cleared organizations, with a need to know, to receive a SIR submission that has been vetted of personal information.

The Classified Environment (CE) is an RCMP internal one with no connection to the Protected B SIR system.  SIR data received will be manually transferred to the CE systems.

Data matching and profiling will not occur within the SIR System.

Reference section 5 (3)b of the *Privacy Act*, persons identified as being involved in suspicious incidents will not be notified about the collection of their personal information as it would defeat the purpose of collecting that information for criminal investigative purposes

This Executive Summary will be available to all stakeholders, including the general public, via the RCMP web site. Current participants in the SIR project and key government stakeholders will be notified that the PIA has been filed with the Office of the Privacy Commissioner (OPC). New participants in the SIR project will be advised that a PIA has been filed with the OPC. Communications surrounding the SIR project, including presentations and briefings, will reference key messages on privacy. A vetted version of the PIA will be available if requested under Access to Information. At the upcoming Annual Revision of Info Source, the applicable PIBs (CMP PPU 005 and 025) will be updated to mention the SIR Project.

Treasury Board is responsible for the annual creation and dissemination of a publication that provides a description of government organizations, program responsibilities and descriptions of records with sufficient clarity and detail to enable the public to exercise its rights under the *Access to Information Act*.

Treasury Board is also responsible for the annual publication of an index of personal information that will both serve to keep the public informed of how the government handles personal information, as well as facilitating the public’s ability to exercise its rights under the *Privacy Act*.

15 November 2011

The Accessible Anthropological Assembly: An Alternative for Montreal 2011

Message from anthropology students at the Université de Montréal:

You are invited to an

Accessible Anthropological Assembly

(Voir plus bas pour le message français)


Firstly, it should be highlighted that the American Anthropological Association arrives in Montreal in the midst of massive student mobilizations against tuition fee hikes planned for 2012 in Quebec; but also at a time when Montreal is promoting itself as a cosmopolitan city built on a knowledge-based economy. Hence, it is in a context of commodification of knowledge and of increasingly exclusive access to knowledge that the American Anthropological Association is hosting an overly expensive event in one of the most prestigious establishments of Montreal.

In a period of global resistance (Occupy Together, student movements, Arab Spring), shouldn't we be interested in global struggles and be questioning neoliberalism? Similarly, shouldn't we be generating critical thinking on our own institutional dynamics ? Is research only an interest or a tool for social change?

The anthropology students of the University of Montreal are inviting you to participate in an Accessible Anthropological Assembly. During this event, students, professors and researchers will gather and discuss different themes related to the contradictions mentioned above. Your presence would certainly be an asset to make of this assembly a success.

Where? In the Riopelle park, in front of the Palais des Congrès (1001 Place Jean Paul Riopelle, Montréal)

When? Saturday, November 19th, 2011, from 1:00pm to 3:00pm (Student Fair day)

What? A discussion/debate by everyone for everyone

We will orient discussions based on themes like the fallowing: the commodification of knowledge, the accessibility of knowledge and education and access of anthropology to public debate.

What we would want from you:

Each theme will be the object of a discussion animated by a student. Depending on your interests, we invite you to choose one of these themes to introduce the discussion with a short presentation of 5-10 minutes. We will then assume facilitation of the ongoing debate and you will be invited to contribute as a participant.

In addition:

  • To make the debate more accessible, we will offer simultaneous translation (french and english)
  • Hot beverages will be served
  • The event is, of course, free
In order to plan the event in advance, we ask you to respond to this message before Thursday November 17th if you are available to participate. Please indicate your time of arrival (preferably 1pm) and the theme you would like to discuss. Please don't hesitate to contact us if you have any questions.

Best regards,

Students from the Off-AAA

Send messages to: accessibleanthropology@gmail.com

*Vous êtes cordialement invité à une*

*A**ssemblée **A**nthropologie **A**ccessible*


*Tout d'abord, il est opportun de souligner que l'American Anthropological Association débarque à Montréal dans la foulée des mobilisations étudiantes résistant à la hausse des frais de scolarité prévue pour 2012 au Québec ; à une période aussi où Montréal cherche à dorer son image sur la scène internationale comme ville cosmopolite construite sur une économie du savoir.*

*Ainsi, c'est dans un contexte de marchandisation du savoir et d'accès de plus en plus exclusif à ce savoir que l'American Anthropological Association organise un événement aux coûts exorbitants dans un des établissements les plus prestigieux de Montréal.*

*Dans cette période de résistance globale (mouvements des Occupy Together, mouvements étudiants, printemps arabe), n'est-il pas primordial de s'intéresser aux luttes sociales et de questionner le néo-libéralisme? Dans cette même lancée, ne devrions-nous pas nous livrer aussi à une auto-réflexion et une critique de nos propres dynamiques institutionnelles?*

*Ne devrions-nous pas, de plus, dépasser le simple intérêt de recherche et mettre la main à la pâte?*

*Les étudiants d'anthropologie de l'Université de Montréal vous invitent à participer à l'Assemblée d'Anthropologie Accessible. Lors de cet événement, des étudiants, professeurs et **chercheurs** se rassembleront autour d'un débat-discussion abordant des thèmes reliés** aux contradictions ici mentionnées.** Étant donné que vos travaux de recherche engagés ont inspiré plusieurs d'entre nous, votre présence serait **un atout certain au succès **de cette assemblée.*

*Où? **Au parc Riopelle (en face du Palais des Congrès; *1001 Place Jean Paul Riopelle, Montréal*)*

*Quand? Le samedi, 19 novembre 2011, de 13h00 à 15h00*

*Quoi? Un débat-discussion par tous, pour tous.*

*Successivement, nous allons **orienter les discussions à partir de certains des thèmes suivants **: la marchandisation du savoir, l'accessibilité au savoir et à l'éducation et l'ouverture de l'anthropologie au débat public.*

*Ce que nous aimerions de vous :*

*Chaque thème fera l'objet d'un débat et sera animé par un étudiant. Selon vos intérêts, nous vous invitons à choisir un sujet lié aux thèmes mentionnés plus haut afin d'introduire, lors de l'évènement, le débat avec une courte présentation de cinq à dix minutes. Le débat sera lancé et vous pourrez par la suite partager vos réflexions à titre de participant.*

*Autres modalités :*

*afin de rendre l'évènement accessible, le débat-discussion sera bilingue. Un service de traduction simultané sera fourni au besoin.*

*Des boissons chaudes seront servies.*

L'événement, comme il se doit, sera gratuit.*

*Afin de mieux planifier l'évènement, nous vous demandons de confirmer votre présence avant le jeudi 17 novembre. Veuillez indiquer l'heure de votre arrivée (préférablement 13h00) et le thème que vous aimeriez aborder. N'hésitez pas à nous poser vos questions.*



*Les étudiants de l'off-AAA*


14 November 2011

Case Western Breakdown, by David H. Price

CASE WESTERN BREAKDOWN: Why I’m through with sitting down at academic conferences with military scholars who won’t go on the record.

By David H. Price

Social scientists and other scholars critical of the rapid cooption of our disciplines by military and intelligence agencies face increasing problems engaging in critical academic discourse with colleagues working in militarized settings. The biggest obstacle to these interactions is the rising prevalence of conditions of non-transparency unusual for academic exchanges.

Because I write about historical and current interactions between anthropologists and military and intelligence agencies—for CounterPunch and academic books and journals—I am regularly asked to make a presentation at conferences addressing current efforts to militarize the social sciences. Throughout the last decade I have developed my own standards governing whether or not I interact with military anthropologists or military and intelligence personnel at such conferences or other settings. My chief condition is to insist on normal standards of academic transparency and accountability. Because accountability is a foundation of academic discourse, I do not attend events governed by non-disclosure agreements, or non-attribution agreements. Sometimes symposia are able to meet these simple standards and I engage with individuals from military or intelligence agencies; sometimes they are cannot, in which case I chose to not participate.

Here’s one of many examples of how I work through, whether or not I will attend an event. In 2007 I was approached by Stuart Brand’s GBN Group with an invitation to join a panel GBN was facilitating at a national conference of intelligence analysts from a variety of U.S. intelligence agencies held at Ft. Meade. The panel was slated to discuss issues relating to open source intelligence and problems with intelligence agencies using anthropological information. As a vocal critic of the CIA, FBI and NSA’s history, current methods and politics I was extremely skeptical, but not being one to shy away from opportunities to engage with those I criticize, I did not outright reject the invitation so long as basic conditions of normal academic transparency could be maintained.

I told the organizers that I was willing to participate so long as there were no restrictions on what I said, that I was not required to sign nondisclosure or non-attribution agreements, that I could post my remarks online, and could likewise freely report what had transpired at the conference. I made it clear that my remarks would probably sound like a spanking to those in attendance and would be talking about the damaging and blinding features of our intelligence agencies fetishization of classified sources. I was told by the organizers that they knew this and they were looking for the sort of honest critique that could only come from the outside. Discussions moved forward, but in the end, intelligence agency officials could not abide by my insistence that if I were going to engage with these intelligence agencies I needed to be able to write later about what was discussed at this conference, and as those hosting the conference could not meet my requirements I chose to not participate in this event.

During the last decade I have withdrawn from invitations at several universities where I would have had opportunities to talk with or debate military and intelligence personnel, but the presence of non-attribution policies (such as the Chatham House Rule) governing interactions prevented my participation. These non-attribution policies are generally pitched as providing increased “freedom of exchange,” but functionally they provide participants with levels of non-accountability that should be shunned from normal academic environments. At these academic and military exchanges, these military-aligned anthropologists often have a tendency to represent themselves as marginalized victims or as needing unusual assurances of non-attribution.

I reject such special protections for those who are part of the largest, most lethal, military force on the planet; I have a difficult time conceiving of people aligned with such power as marginalized or needing special protections. They need to be on the record, and their words need the same distribution as those of everyone else in the room. I see any agreement that shields participants from public accountability as lending a helping hand to powerful military or intelligence organizations that want to avoid public accountability. Whatever the arguments supporting these practices, non-attribution, non-disclosure policies and other practices that reduce disclosure of military-aligned scholars’ statements become means for military scholars to duck under normal standards of academic transparency and accountability.

While it is common for most anthropologists to avoid interactions with military and intelligence agencies requiring non-disclosure agreements, not all anthropologists, even progressive or radical anthropologists, adopt my standards opposing non-attribution agreements. In instances where scholars are studying the military, it may make sense for them to adopt the sort of non-attribution standards that any anthropologists would use with a community they are studying, but I always undertake these interactions not as instances of study, but as academic enterprises requiring people to be accountable for what they say.

I have not shied away from engaging or debating anthropologists and other social scientists working with military or intelligence agencies in open settings, but I am increasingly skeptical about the use and value of such engagements—and as I increasingly encounter special treatment or nonacademic expectations surrounding these interactions, I wonder about the propriety of these interactions. My most recent experience in trying to engage in an open discussion with militarized anthropologists, discussed below, pushes me closer to advocating that I and my colleagues should stop wasting our time talking with those working in these constrained environments.

On September 23, 2011, I participated in Case Western Reserve University’s Law School symposium on “The University and National Security after 9/11.” This was a small daylong symposium that included a continuing legal education session featuring a chilling talk by Joseph Margulies on post-9/11 shifts in abuses of public framing of concepts of the rule of law, and an outstanding keynote address by AAUP President Cary Nelson, on “How the Culture of Surveillance and Security Has Saturated The Culture of Higher Education.” Over a month before the event, all participants were asked to sign and submit a standard media release waiver allowing taping and posting online of the symposium. The event had large cameras filming and streaming the symposium (lawyers could get continuing legal education credits for attending some of the sessions in person or online) and we were all told the sessions would be available online. I checked a week after the event and all the sessions were available online.

Two weeks ago I received an email inquiry from my friend and colleague, anthropologist Maximilian Forte, asking me if I knew anything about the removal of the online video from my symposium session. When I looked online, I found that the session in which I had presented my critique of the military’s Human Terrain program was the only one of three sessions and keynote address which were not up and running on Case Western’s website.

I emailed my hosts at Case Western to ask if they knew why this video was removed, and the reply from Alice Simon, Manager, Communications, informed me that the video had been removed by the University. Ms Simon wrote that,
“while we prefer to webcast all of our programs live and archive them on our website, our guests have the choice to opt out if that is necessary for any reason. A member of Panel II did opt out of webcasting. It was my error that the panel was webcast live and posted online. I should have had our A-V department stop webcasting during that panel. Further, I should have let you and the other panelists know it would not be webcast after all. When I corrected the situation and had the webcast taken down, the panel had already been up on the website for a brief time, so some visitors might have viewed it. It is no longer available.”
According to Maximilian Forte, the video was uploaded by Case Western to YouTube on September 23, and was marked on YouTube as having been removed a week later, after Forte published a critique of Christopher King’s symposium performance on the website of the group, Anthropologists for Justice and Peace.

I replied to Ms Simon, explaining that the removal of this video had implications beyond the participant refusing to sign the release, writing that over the last decade I have been involved in policy discussions among anthropologists and other scholars considering the ethical, moral, political and academic freedom issues raised when anthropologists and other scholars engage, even critically engage, directly with military and intelligence agency personnel or subcontractors for these agencies. I wrote Ms Simon that,
“I have long been an advocate of anthropologists continuing to engage with the military and with anthropologists working in military settings so long as such exchanges are open and not bound by restrictions not normally found in academic settings. Transparency and accountability is a central ethical value in my work. I regularly do not accept interesting invitations from organizations ranging from the CIA to prestigious Universities where the event carries either non-disclosure or non-attribution restrictions as both of these are counter to normal academic forms of inquiry or discussion. In accepting to engage in this session at Case Western I had understood that our remarks would be available online so that normal levels of transparency would occur. I would not have participated had I known that unlike all of the other sessions at this symposium, the one that I participated in would not be available for others to see online.”
Neither Ms Simon nor anyone at Case Western bothered to reply to my email.

My panel only consisted of three people: me, George Lucas, (professor of Ethics at the U.S. Naval Academy), and Christopher King (Director, Social Science Directorate of the Army’s Human Terrain Systems Program). I wrote Drs. King and Lucas asking what happened, and Lucas soon replied that he had not requested the removal of the video. Eventually, Christopher King replied that he was blocking the posting of the session on the web because he
“was not comfortable with posting my session online given that I have not taken part in my tape presentation before [sic.]. I still feel however that military and anthropologists were engaged in the conversation. Your presentation should be available for all to see. I was only concerned about my presentation. If yours is not there then CWU is being lazy in their editing.”
To be clear, Dr. King has the right to not sign this media release that all the other scholars at this event signed, but if he is not going to sign it, those impacted by his decision against transparency should have been notified so that they could choose whether or not they wanted to enable Dr. King and the Human Terrain System’s efforts to remain publicly unaccountable for their activities.
I wrote Dr. King and urged him to rethink his decision to keep what participants had assumed was a public discussion private, writing him that,
“insofar as my remarks, the context in which they were made, and the discussion that followed have been removed from public access, your decision to have this removed impacts my academic freedom and undermines general efforts to get university based academics to engage with military anthropologists.”
I warned King that:
“Your decision to withhold your remarks from the public record will also negatively impact your fellow anthropologists working in military and intelligence settings. When the AAA issued its 2007 Commission on the Engagement of Anthropology with the US Security and Intelligence Communities report on engagement it took steps to try and contextualize some military anthropologists’ work within the larger frame of normal anthropological activities, yet your steps to remove your remarks from public view highlights one of the significant ways that military anthropology is removed from normal anthropological and academic practices at a mundane academic conference. Your predecessor at HTS became well known for publicly decrying military anthropologists’ marginalization even while refusing to engage in normal academic discourse or answer criticisms from academic colleagues, and your move to withhold your remarks appears to be a furtherance of this practice. Your decision will inevitably lead anthropologists like myself (who signed off on CEAUSSIC’s 2007 Report) to disengage from any interaction with anthropologists working in military settings because of the conditions of non-transparency and non-accountability that you bring to these encounters.
If you and other anthropologists working in military and intelligence circles want the respect of your mainstream colleagues, you need to act under normal standards of academic transparency and accountability. If you are unwilling to act by such normal standards of academic behavior (as measured in this instance by you being the only person at the symposium to demand this treatment), you need to accept your own contributions to your own marginalization.”

Obviously Case Western should have told the participants in this session what was going on, and they should not have censored my and Lucas’ remarks (both in our presentation and in the discussion that followed) by removing them from the web. Dr. King and Human Terrain Systems needs to stop pretending they are engaged in normal academic discourse when they won’t adapt normal practices of accountability.

I don’t know why Dr. King insisted that this video be taken offline. It may simply be that he went a half-hour past the recommended ten minute time limit we had been given and presented an awkward non-academic military-type-briefing briefing full of busily-cluttered PowerPoint slides, or he might not understand the responsibility to the public for being responsible for reporting on where the funds for his expensive program are going, or it may have been some other reason. Dr. Forte believes King’s decision was made because of how foolish he looked during the question and answer session when I gently turned his own words against him.

After Dr. Forte was told by Case Western University Law School to withdraw the original video from YouTube, the Canadian group Anthropologists for Justice and Peace posted a four-minute video that included a brief excerpt from this symposium session. In this short video clip, a member of the audience asks the following question:
“I have a little bit of background in anthropology, linguistics, and Middle East Studies, and my question may be a little unfair because it doesn’t relate to human terrain mapping and what not, . . .in the counterinsurgency context, but actually right here at home. Because it seems like there is now a domestic civilian application for this program abroad, in that The New York Times and the Associated Press over the last three weeks have talked about an extensive and detailed human terrain mapping of the Muslim, Arab, Pakistani, Moroccan community in New York, with dossiers on 250 mosques, studying coffee shops, barber shops, bookstores, street vendors, mosques, hookah bars, and the Moroccan community has recently basically said, “Look, this is our hair salon. We cut hair all day.” But, . . .this has now come home. So what are the ethical considerations–the “do no harm,” the voluntary consent, you know, the accessibility to these records? All these issues are now facing us square at home with our American Muslim community. And this is just very important to our community. Thank you.”
Dr. King replied to this question saying that all he knew about this program was what had been reported in the New York Times, but he added that he found this domestic application to be “scary.” The video shows that when I was given a minute to respond, I turned King’s words against him saying, “I’ll just quickly respond to the question about the reports in The New York Times, which I would urge you all to hunt down, they are pretty disturbing. You know, Christopher said he also (turning to Dr. King)–I don’t know if you used the word “disturbing” within, or ‘troubling.’” King can be heard on the video saying, “Yes, troubling, that’s for sure.”

I continued, saying:
“I think the meaning of this, though, is that we’re having the same techniques that we’re doing to the Other, that we’re doing in another culture, are hitting us in the face when we do them here at home. You have essentially a parallel situation that’s going on, where domestic counterinsurgency is going on here in the United States, using many of these tactics that I and others are reacting to that are happening abroad. Roberto Gonzalez, in his book on Human Terrain, shows that the term itself actually comes from the 1960s in domestic. . . counter-radical activities that were going on, monitoring the Black Panthers and other internal groups. So it’s really come full circle. So I, I thank you for that question.”
Someone in the audience then commented that “nobody mentioned COINTELPRO,” and a confused Christopher King asked, “the what?,” and I can be seen explaining to King that COINTELPRO was a FBI program and still looking confused he can be heard to say “Oh, I don’t know about it, OK.”

I have no idea if the video record of this performance is why Dr. King wanted the video removed from public view, but I do know that this ongoing pattern of publicly funded militarized scholars refusing to engage in transparent discourse with colleagues (even while complaining about being marginalized in their disciplines) is leading me to consider adopting a position where I will stop trying to carry out such discussions with my militarized colleagues.

This shift has been some time coming. In 2008 I delivered remarks on the poor academic performances—and the all too typical failure to even show up or send an academic paper—by most (but not all) of the military anthropologists in what was to be an academic session at the 2008 American Anthropological Association’s annual meetings. I wondered if the inherent silences dominating these interactions rendered them near worthless. I opened my remarks saying that,
“I appreciate the restraints anthropologists working for the military face, I suppose we all face some sort of restrictions, but there is a point where these restrictions not only overly-constrict transparency, but they limit the public analysis and conversations that can publicly be had with the external world. When these narratives are shared with us on the outside, there are patterns to the silences and unaddressed elements that are informative, even if their presence is mostly marked as empty or “negative spaces”—that is: things not said whose absence defines everything surrounding them.”
My remarks focused on the ways that the military papers present or absent from that session were united by the ways that these absences and silences became their own message. I ended by critically questioning what is gained by these interactions and anthropology’s inability to confront recurrent formations of militarized power relations. After this session a friend who is a fellow critic of anthropology’s militarized turn approached me saying words to the effect that, “well I guess we can finally stop having this same old conversation with military anthropologists.” At the time of these comments, I hadn’t reached this position — if nothing else I’ve always seen such exchanges as a compelling opportunity to publicly illustrate the academic, ethical, and political shortcomings of much of militarized anthropology—but the cumulative toll of a decade of these odd and often stilted public exchanges (and a long trails of non-transparent declined invitations), is such that I have grown increasingly skeptical of efforts to hold academic exchanges with those coming from institutions whose anti-transparent practices undermine normal academic exchanges.

Dr. King has every right to not sign his media release, but my reaction is simply the cumulative effect of frustration and weariness of a decade of efforts to try and engage in an academic conversation with representatives of a group insisting they have been unfairly marginalized by mainstream academics, yet whoseactions repeatedly undermine explicit and implicit standards and practices of academic openness.

DAVID PRICE is a professor of anthropology at Saint Martin’s University. His book, Weaponizing Anthropology, has just been published by CounterPunch Books. He will be presenting a paper this week at the American Anthropological Association’s (AAA) annual meetings on a newly disclosed historical relationship between the AAA and CIA. He can be reached at: dprice@stmartin.edu
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...