The Rise and Fall of Project Camelot

September 25, 2007

Project Camelot, a mammoth six million dollar counterinsurgency project, was a creation of the Army's Special Operations Research Office (SORO) centered at American University, Washington, D.C. Its aim was to test a general systems approach to predicting and influencing instability in several Latin American countries. But Project Camelot never passed the planning stages. In May 1965, less than a year after its inception, the indignant reaction of the Chilean legislature and press (after disclosure of an offer to secure the cooperation of a Chilean professor) set off a chain of reactions within the U.S. government which culminated in the cancellation of the project.

In the wake of this debacle, Irving Louis Horowitz, a sociology professor at Washington University in Saint Louis, Mo., has compiled a series of essays presenting the views of various politicians and academicians on the issue of social science involvement in government policymaking and military research. Though not a thoroughly penetrating critique of academic complicity in U.S. government agency foreign policy games, some aspects of the book deserve attention. For example, Horowitz's introductory essay has a section which criticizes the ambiguous methodology and unsound ideological presuppositions of the project. He notes that a sociological study which equates revolutionary social change with social pathology can only be seen as reactionary.

Straining for balance, most of the book contains moderated criticism from various persons. The State Department, in its perennial quarrel with the Defense Department, insisted on ultimate authority over research in foreign areas. Congressional reaction to Project Camelot was unfavorable; Congressmen feared that such shenanigans might jeopardize important foreign alliances. Academic opinion ranged from Ithiel de Sola Pool's defense of CIA research and his admiration for the new cost-effective systems approach they utilize, to Marshal Sahlins' vehement criticism of academic involvement in foreign area research, the intelligence nature of this-"classified" material and the naivete of scholars who attempt to liberalize U.S. strategy in this way.

In the final essay, Horowitz highlights the increasing dependence of American social science on government need and financing. Corporate interests are second only to the government in support of social science research. In sum, the sources of research funds rest in the hands of the upper class. Social scientists deeply involved with policy-making agencies tend to accept an elitist ideology and adhere to a norm of secrecy in their work, thereby eroding one of the key bases of genuine social "science." In an all-too-short section, Horowitz traces the growth of government concern for the development of social engineering rather than of social science, a trend epitomized by the bureaucratic research institutes of today. Horowitz notes correctly that such human engineering efforts were developed both for internal and external use, beginning with
Hoover's Presidential Research Committee on Social Trends, which was financed by the Rockefeller-dominated Spellman Fund.

Though two years have passed since Project Camelot was laid to rest, similar strategic military research not covered in Horowitz's book is still going on. SCRO, for example, has been revitalized as CRESS, and still operates out of American University. (For a summary of important counterinsurgency projects, see the June 1967 NACLA Newsletter.)

Recent social science military intelligence studies on Latin America range from investigations of the changing role of the military in Latin American society and protection of the Panama Canal, to potential insurgency threats in Central and South America. In the non-military sphere, all aspects of society are explored. Studies include an Agency for International Development (AID) sponsored projection of manpower needs for Latin America, and studies on birth control, land reform, the Indian problem and background investigations for U.S. investors.

CRESS counterinsurgency studies include:
1. Fifty-seven case studies of counterinsurgency in the 20th century (three volumes). Volue III: "The Experience in Africa and Latin America."
2. "Non-military Effects of Physical Force by Counterinsurgency 1iilitary Units in Phase I Low Intensity Warfare," previously entitled "Effects of Physical Force in Population Control and Counter-Guerrilla Operations During Low Intensity Warfare."

Project Agile's chief investigator, Hans Weigert, has already produced:
1. Background for Counterinsurgency Studies in Latin America, Volume I (Venezuela, Colombia and Panama);
2. Counterinsurgency Honduras;
3. Counterinsurgency Peru.
Further studies are being conducted in Colombia, Guatemala, Venezuela, Peru, Ecuador and Bolivia.

Seymour Martin Lipset, the reknowned Berkeley sociologist, is writing on "Military Planning and Some Implications of National Development," a cross-national study of students' contributions to stability or instability in a nation, and an examination of the development of educational institutions and their relationship to the modernization process in Latin America.

The Air Force has contracted Hebrew University in Israel for "Innovation, Social Change and Institutionalization," a study of conditions facilitating or impeding the acceptance of the modern Western way of life. Selected Third World countries' successes or failures to bring about orderly change will be measured against the Israeli experience.

Apparently nothing but the most superficial lessons were culled from Project Camelot. The conscience and consciousness of the social scientist seems to have remained essentially untouched.


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