the intersection of anthropology and the military and intelligence community
Since the early 1990s I have been researching historical and contemporary interactions between American anthropologists and military and intelligence agencies. I have relied heavily on documents released under the Freedom of Information Act, interviews, archival research, published research, and published work to gather information documenting how anthropologists have interacted with agencies like the CIA, FBI, NSA, and the Pentagon.
My writings on interactions between anthropologists and military and intelligence agencies can mostly be split into two categories: publications examining the surveillance and harassment of scholars engaging academic or political activism challenging the status quo's interests as protected by the FBI and other agencies, and publications examining anthropologists' willing and unwitting contributions to military and intelligence agencies. When I started using the Freedom of Information Act to work on the history of anthropology, I was trying to gather records from the FBI, OSS and other agencies of anthropologists who had contributed to the American Second World War effort, and I was startled to discover a pattern of FBI surveillance and harassment of anthropologists working as public activists for racial equality in the 1940s and 1950s. The extent and impact of this surveillance is documented in Threatening Anthropology, anthropologists' contributions to the Second World War are examined in Anthropological Intelligence, and I am now working on a third volume critically examines anthropologists contributions to military and intelligence agencies during the Cold War. Weaponizing Anthropolgy is a collection of essays (mostly adapted from essays originally appearing in CounterPunch) and talks focusing on the increased militarization of anthropology and education in post-9/11 America.
I am in the midst of writing what will be a three book series documenting the historic relationships between American anthropologists an intelligence agencies. The first volume, Anthropological Intelligence: the Deployment and Neglect of Anthropological Knowledge during the Second World War (Duke University Press, 2008) was published in the summer of 2008. The second volume of the trilogy was published in the spring of 2004, Threatening Anthropology: McCarthyism and the FBI's Surveillance of Activist Anthropologists (Duke, 2004) and makes extensive use of the FBI files I had declassified under the Freedom of Information Act. I am currently writing the third volume of this series (with the current working title of, "Dual Use Anthropology: The CIA and Pentagon's uses of American Anthropology During the Cold War"). I am now editing down this third book in the Duke series into a more focused narrative than the sprawling 250,000 first draft presented. I hope to finish this book during 2014. Some bits and pieces of segments of this project have been published and are listed here.
At the top of this page are links to pages listing my published works. These pages sort these publications into three categories: articles on anthropology and the First and Second World Wars, articles on anthropology and the Cold War, and anthropologists and the terror war. A forth page lists all of these articles (along with others that did not fit these categories, as well as conference papers, interviews and other resources). Where possible I have tried to make these articles available online. Below are summaries of the three written volumes from this project. --dp 12.19.13
WEAPONIZING ANTHROPOLOGY: SOCIAL SCIENCE IN SERVICE OF THE MILITARIZED STATE. (CounterPunch Books/AK PresS, 2011)
The essays collected in Weaponizing Anthropology
detail the rapid militarization of anthropology and incursions by
the CIA and other intelligence agencies onto American university
campuses. With the rapid growth of American military operations
relying on cultural knowledge as a strategic tool for conquest and
control, disciplinary loyalties aligning anthropologists with the
peoples they study are strained in new ways as military sponsors seek
to transform research subjects into targets and collaborators.
Weaponizing Anthropology delivers political and
ethical critiques of a new generation of counterinsurgency programs
like Human Terrain Systems, and a broad range of new academic funding
programs like the Minerva Consortium, the Pat Roberts Intelligence
Scholars Program, and the Intelligence Community Centers of Academic
Excellence, that now bring the CIA and Pentagon onto university
campuses. Weaponizing Anthropology offers a concise and
profound critique of the rapid transformation of American social
science into an appendage of the National Security State.
anthropological intelligence: The deployment and neglect of American anthropology in the second world war. (duke university press, 2008)
Anthropological Intelligence: the Deployment and Neglect of American Anthropology in the Second World War is the culmination of over a decade’s research using archival sources, interviews and the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) to document instances of American anthropologists working for military and intelligence agencies during the Second World War. Anthropological Intelligence establishes how American anthropologists contributed to the war effort and it and critically examines the ethical and moral issues raised by the applications of anthropology in warfare. The book opens with an examination of Franz Boas and other anthropologists objections to the uses of anthropology during the First World War, and Boas’ censure by the American Anthropological Association (AAA) for his public charge that four American anthropologists had used their professional credentials as a front for espionage. The AAA’s treatment of Boas is shown to have had important consequences for the development of standards of acceptable wartime contributions during the later wars of the twentieth century.
As America entered the Second World War, a number of American anthropologists hesitated before they and the discipline as a whole decided to wholeheartedly commit their academic skills and ethnographic knowledge to the war effort. Once America entered a state of total-war, half of America’s anthropologists joined the war effort working for over a dozen agencies. The book examines the contributions of anthropologists assigned to such agencies as the Office of Strategic Services, Office of Naval Intelligence, the Ethnogeographic Board, Office of War Information, The M Project, and the War Relocation Authority.
Anthropology’s contributions to the war effort brought challenges and serious questions from a vocal minority about the propriety of such actions, chief among these were concerns that—as Laura Thompson put it—anthropologists were simply becoming "technicians for hire to the highest bidder." The formulation and suppression of this critique reveals that some anthropologists recognized the presence of complex ethical dilemmas embedded in using anthropology as a weapon or tool in warfare. In later years many anthropologists reconsidered their war work with some ambivalence—some had misgivings about their wartime work or applied work in general while others came to see their actions as regrettable but necessary during trying times.
threatening anthropology: McCarthyism and the fbi's surveillance of activist anthropologists. (duke university press, 2004)
BOOK JACKET PROPAGANDA: Threatening Anthropology offers a meticulously detailed account of how U.S. Cold War surveillance damaged the field of anthropology. David Price reveals how dozens of activist anthropologists were publicly and privately persecuted during the Red Scares of the 1940s and 1950s. He show that it was not Communist Party membership or Marxist beliefs that attracted the most intense scrutiny from the FBI and congressional committees but rather social activism, particularly for racial justice.
Price draws on extensive archival research--including correspondence, oral histories, published sources, court hearings, and more than 30,000 pages of FBI and government memorandums released under the Freedom of Information Act. Today the "war on terror" is invoked to license the government's renewed monitoring of academic work, and it is increasingly difficult for researchers to access government documents, as Price's appendix describing his wrangling with Freedom of Information Act requests reveals. A disquieting chronicle of censorship and its consequences in the past, Threatening Anthropology is an impassioned cautionary tale for the present.