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On the take and loving it

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A science is said to be useful if its development tends to accentuate the existing inequalities in the distribution of wealth, or more directly promotes the destruction of human life...

— G. H Hardy, A mathematician's apology (1941)

Academic recipients of the U.S. intelligence budget.

By
Julian Assange (ja@iq.org - Advisory Board)
Date
October 7, 2007

Over the last decade, U.S intelligence funding of academic research has taken on cavalier, even brazen qualities. This article reveals over 3,000 National Security Agency and over 100 Defense Intelligence Agency funded papers and draws attention to recent unreported revelations of CIA funding for torture research.

Contents

Covert CIA-funded torture research

The June 2007 edition of Anthropology Today contains a paper Buying a piece of anthropology, Part 1: Human Ecology and unwitting anthropological research for the CIA by David H. Price, an Associate Professor of anthropology and sociology at St. Martin's University. The article details how during the 1960s the CIA used the Human Ecology Fund to push a covert research agenda into torture and interrogation techniques.

Alan Howard and Robert Scott, two recipients of covert CIA grants who developed a theoretical model for "stress in humans", were given an opportunity to respond:

As David Price points out in his article, we were deeply dismayed to learn that the Human Ecology Fund, which provided a summer stipend to write our article on stress, was a front for the CIA, and that the paper might have been used to generate torture procedures. We are firmly opposed to any actions that are degrading to human dignity under any circumstances, including warfare. All of our contributions to the health and welfare literature have been written with the goal of alleviating human suffering, not using it to gain hegemonic advantage.

While the exposure of the Human Ecology Fund is important in light of the active use of torture by the Bush administration, it leaves the impression that such funding is cold war history. However, as we shall see, current intelligence funding of the academy is pervasive.

The National Security Agency

World telecommunications traffic flows. Many countries communicate phone calls and internet traffic with each other by passing traffic through the United States where the traffic is intercepted in bulk by the National Security Agency

In 1999 I reviewed all National Security Agency patents in order to understand a mystery. Here was the premier spy agency, with bases all over the world and a budget larger than that of the FBI and CIA combined yet it was the subject of a solitary — and vaguely hagiographic — work from 1982, James Bamford's "The Puzzle Palace".

For several years the consensus among NSA watchers such as the Guardian's Duncan Campbell (the C in the ABC trial) was that the NSA had failed in its quest for "the grail" despite over two decades of research. What was this "grail"?

Consider the following joke, popular in U.S university mathematics departments where for several years the NSA had hired half of all new maths Phds:

The NSA offers exciting and interesting work for recent college graduates in mathematics and computer science. Pick up the phone, call your mom, and ask for an application.

The NSA, not known for its sense of humor, was pained that this joke was not a universal reality. While its bases, spy satellites, undersea cable taps and secret deals with telcos could mass-intercept the world's voice calls, the NSA would need millions of employees to listen for "NSA", "application" and whatever else the agency or its political masters were interested in. What the NSA needed was a way to automate both listening and interception.

Removing the human element would permit the NSA to leap from millions of daily voice intercepts, with a few thousand human transcriptions, to millions of daily voice intercepts with millions of transcriptions, archived and "googleable" for eternity. Historically the two primary checks on NSA powers have not been Congressional oversight nor even the economic costs of bulk interception, but of costs of bulk transcription and translation. By 1999 translation had been partially automated (enough for search) and transcription remained as the final barrier to the agency's goal of being the universal spy with an ear in every international (and now every domestic) phone call.

I followed a trail from two of the patents to other sources and front companies such as the "Maryland Speech Research Agency" and showed in the London Independent that the NSA had found its grail.

But this isn't a story about universal hegemonic spying. It is a story about "academic" research.

NSA funding of academic research

During my investigation I discovered that many of the NSA's research funding covers were essentially transparent. U.S intelligence agencies, in finding the ideological playing field to themselves, have little need of complex funding concealment. Efforts to hide the true source of intelligence derived academic funding are now minimal. Research funding cover names, at least for the NSA, are not directed at counter-intelligence, they are shields against cursory third-party social opprobium and apparently largely voluntary. I will mention a specific example.

Grant code 'MDA904' - National Security Agency

The NSA has pushed tens or hundreds of millions into the academy through research grants using one particular grant code. NSA funding sources are often nakedly, even proudly, declared in research papers ("I may be nothing, but look, a big gang threw me a sovereign"). Some researchers try to conceal or otherwise downplay the source using accepted covers, weasel words and acronyms, yet commonality in the NSA grant code prefix makes all these attempts transparent. The primary NSA grant-code prefix is MDA904.

Googling for this grant code yields 49,900 references (Oct, 2007) although some refer to non-academic contracts (scholar.google.com 3,100). From this one can see the board sweep of academic research interests being driven by the NSA.

An examination of academic papers referencing the code gives the impression that most or all research grantees know the true source of their funding. These are not academics who have been fooled. These are willing, even eager, participants.

Various levels of funding concealment can be seen when we subtract out the naked NSA references (from Google search results) and look at what remains.

Googling for 'MDA-904 -"National Security Agency"' reveals the first level of cursory concealment from social sanction -- just use the acronym. This ploy is not so effective anymore, but it must be remembered that it is only in the last few years that the acronym has come into common political or social parlance. Insiders used to joke that NSA stood for "No Such Agency".

'MDA-904 -NSA -"National Security Agency"', shows that many are fond of using the light cover Maryland Procurement Office or the umbrella cover "Department of Defence" or "DoD"

'MDA-904 -NSA -"National Security Agency" -Maryland -DoD -"Defence"', shows that many more light covers abound, e.g Advanced Research and Development Activity (ARDA).

Finally, some researchers are inclined to use the grant code alone without any revealing context.

Example documents

Mass surveillance research is not academic

One may look at an intelligence funded paper such as Geometric Hyperplanes of Lie Incidence Geometries, ostensibly a matter of pure mathematics and ask what the connection is with surveillance powers. It may be hard for us to see the connection, but we know that the paper's funders think there is one. The NSA and other intelligences agencies do not fund research capriciously. There is no NSA funding for HIV education or tastier ice cream cones. Intelligence agencies fund research that they think will give them an edge or establish a closer relationship with the researchers concerned, gradually co-opting them into financial dependency.

In the example of Geometric Hyperplanes of Lie Incidence Geometries, this work is likely related to dimensionality reduction. Massive interception databases of who talked to who and when and about what have high dimensionality. Dimensionality reduction is needed to simplify the complexity until intelligence officers can understand the social relationships they are interested in. Additionally, privacy protecting algorithms used on the internet and elsewhere are designed to be of high dimensionality — and so hard to crack.

In the same way that CIA sponsored research into stress models were used by the CIA to design torture and interrogation techniques, NSA sponsored research into branches of what seem to be pure mathematics are used for global surveillance of communications — the end result of which is to further general U.S. war and intelligence objectives, including handing people over to the CIA for interrogation or torture.

We should not let our lack of imagination about the abstract or arcane deceive us. When a tobacco company funds research into cancer, we may not understand the details, but we know the tocacco company saw something in it for them.

Here is a brief guide to understanding the connection between the major activities of the NSA and research into what appear to be obscure branches of engineering or mathematics.

  1. Interception of communications (collection)
    1. Sensitive antennas
    2. Sensitive microphones
    3. Satellite technology
    4. Video processing
    5. Fiber optic
    6. Internet routing
    7. Computer hacking
  2. Decoding intercepted communications
    1. Signal processing
    2. Protocol conversions
    3. Cryptanalysis (breaking codes)
      1. Mathematics
      2. Quantum computation
      3. Parallel computation
  3. Transformation of intercepted communications
    1. Automated speech transcription
    2. Automated translation
    3. Additional protocol conversions
  4. Analysis of intercepted communications
    1. Speaker identification
    2. Tracking
    3. Clustering
    4. Pattern detection & data mining
    5. Massive databases
  5. Counter-intelligence
    1. Computer security
    2. Cryptography
      1. Mathematics

Additional documents

Grant code 'MDA908' - Defense Intelligence Agency

Similarly, the DIA uses the Virginia Contracting Activity as its contracting and grant making light cover.

Example documents

Additional documents

Conclusion

Far from the "deep dismay" expressed by some academics on being informed about covert CIA grants in the 1960s, modern academic recipients of the intelligence budget are "on the take and loving it".

Educated, intelligent people have many opportunities in life. Those who out-source their minds to secretive and abusive organizations demonstrate to us either a lack of intellectual ability or an impoverished moral standard. They do not earn my respect as scholars or as human beings.

See also


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