Espionage in Latin America

September 25, 2007

Book Review
by Lois Reivich, Gregorio Selser, Espionaje en America Latina: El Pentágono y las técnicas sociológicas.
Buenos Aires: Ediciones Iguazú, 1966.
Argentine journalist Gregorio Selser confronts the North American reader with the Latin American perspective on U.S. government-sponsored foreign area research. Much of the material, compiled from newspaper coverage and documents deals with Project Camelot, the army-backed investigation of "instability" in five nations. (see also a review of Horowitz's The Rise and Pall of Project Camelot -- NACLA Newsletter Sept. 1967). While much of the raw material is available to readers in English, and while fault can be found with the organization of the materials, it is important to read the warning he imparts to his Latin American audience.

Selzer's concern with U.S. intervention in Latin America is broader than U.S. army- counterinarugency studies. When he reports on the large number of CIA agents in Brazil and when he tells us that the President of Peru has his telephone monitored(p.13) we begin to understand the basis of Latin Americans' paranoia--reality. Selzer calls into question the Peace Corps, not the most important U.S. agency operating in the Third World, but another part of the increasing penetration of the United States in the underdeveloped world. He also describes U.S. intervention in Labor organizations designed to combat "communist" trade unions.

Selzer's context for the discussion of Project Camelot is hinted at when he cites the report of the Presidential Commission on Foreign Area Research, 1959 (composed of foundation functionaries and headed by Dean Rusk, President of Rockefeller Foundation 1952-60). This report reaffirmed the role of the university in studying other societies and in practical policy-making abroad. Administrators of the knowledge industry
(see, for example Clark Kerr's The Uses of the University Harper Torchbook 1963) also accept this view of the university. It is researchers themselves who cling to their image of "ivory tower" intellectualism. Convinced of the neutrality of their work, or, more naively, of their ability to exert a liberalizing influence on the government, the social scientists put their intellectual skills and abilities at the service of U.S. Third World domination. Selzer flatly rejects the possibility of a neutral self-image. He invokes C. Wright Milles view that in undertaking any study in today's world, one is acting morally and politically as well.

What the Camelot working papers reveal is the familiar ideological assumption that if a social class is "apathetic," it is not because its human faculties have been thwarted but rather because it supposedly has no real needs which the prevailing system is not able to satisfy. The job of the research project, then, is to identify the factors (assumed to be accidental) which account for any departure from the state of apathy, in the hope that such factors can be eliminated by the established authorities.

Whatever the "technical" shortcomings of the Camelot papers, their guiding approach differs little from that of the mainstream of contemporary political sociology. Apart from the sheer scale of the project and its direct military promotion, its main distinguishing feature -- and the most obvious sense in which Camelot deserves to be considered an espionage operation -- is the inclusion of "participant observers" assigned to write regular bi-weekly reports on the subject-communities (p.228).

Suspicion of various social science undertakings is still prevalent in Latin America. In August 1965, just a few months after the Camelot scandal, the press reported a similar project in Brazil. Ambassador Lincoln Gordon was able to stay the study's death-sentence because it was so near completion.

Selzer's suspicions of two other studies--an attitude survey of the Latin American diplomatic community undertaken by ~MU and the University of North Carolina (summer 1965) and a political attitude survey undertaken 1966 by Audits and Surveys Argentina, located in New York City, raise the broader question of what can be considered legitimate research in Latin America. The inclusion of these two studies as "espionage research" implies another level of discussion which Selzer does not pursue in an organized manner. If the espionage nature of this research is not that it is designed or paid for by military intelligence, then it is that such work, regardless of intent, may be used for such ends. While Selzer leaves us with no doubt that traditional espionage is appalling to the Latin American intellectuals, he does not offer many guidelines for a much-needed discussion of the overall orientation of social science research conducted by U.S. scholars.

The forthcoming issue of Viet Report will be devoted to Latin America. Four NACLA staff members are among the contributors to the special issue. To order copies write: VIET REPORT, 133 W. 72nd St., NY NY 10023


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