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Nicholas Turse: The Military-Industrial-Academic Complex

Nicholas Turse, writing in www.tomdispatch.com, a weblog of the Nation Institute (April 2004):

Since 1961, thanks to President Dwight D. Eisenhower, we've all been cognizant of the"unwarranted influence" of the military-industrial complex in America. Later in that decade, Senator J. William Fulbright spoke out against the militarization of academia, warning that,"in lending itself too much to the purposes of government, a university fails its higher purposes," and called attention to the existence of what he termed the military-industrial-academic complex or what historian Stuart W. Leslie has termed the"golden triangle" of"military agencies, the high technology industry, and research universities."

While we might intuitively accept the existence of a military-academic complex in America, defining and understanding it has never been simple -- both because of its ambiguous nature and its dual character. In actuality, the military-academic complex has two distinct arms. The first is the official, out-and-proud, but oft ignored, melding of the military and academia. Since 1802, when Thomas Jefferson signed legislation establishing the United States Military Academy, America has been formally melding higher education and the art of warfare. The second is the militarized civilian university -- since World War II and the emergence of the national security state, civilian educational institutions have increasingly become engaged in the pursuit of enhanced war-making abilities.

In 1958, the Department of Defense spent an already impressive $91 million in support of"academic research." By 1964, the sum had reached $258 million and by 1970, in the midst of the Vietnam War, $266 million. By 2003, however, any of these numbers, or even their $615 million total, was dwarfed by the Pentagon's prime contract awards to just two schools, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Johns Hopkins University which, together, raked in a combined total of $842,437,294.

War-Making U or U Make War?

West Point, Annapolis, the Air Force Academy. The mere mention brings to mind a vision of dashing, broad-shouldered, square-jawed, straight-laced cadets in sharp uniforms (or perhaps the shadowy specter of rampant sexual harassment and rape), but if, when it comes to military education, you're only considering the big-3 service academies with the Merchant Marine Academy, the Coast Guard Academy, and private schools like The Citadel thrown in for good measure, think again!

As it turns out, the military and the Department of Defense (DoD) have an entire system of education and training institutions and organizations of their own, including the many schools of the National Defense University system (NDU): the National War College, the Industrial College of the Armed Forces, the School for National Security Executive Education, the Joint Forces Staff College, and the Information Resources Management College as well as the Defense Acquisition University, the Joint Military Intelligence College -- open only to"U.S. citizens in the armed forces and in federal civilian service who hold top secret/SCI (Sensitive Compartmented Information) clearances" -- the Defense Language Institute Foreign Language Center, the Naval Postgraduate School, the Naval War College, Air University, the Air Force Institute of Technology, the Marine Corps University and the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, among others. In fact, scholar Chalmers Johnson has noted in his new book on American militarism, The Sorrows of Empire, that there are approximately 150 military-educational institutions in the U.S.

While the service academies train a youthful corps of tomorrow's military officers, enrolled in the schools of the National Defense University are a group of selected commissioned officers, with approximately 20 years of service, and civilian officials from various agencies, including the Department of Defense, who are schooled in a curriculum that emphasizes"the development and implementation of national security strategy and military strategy, mobilization, acquisition, management of resources, information and information technology for national security, and planning for joint and combined operations." Further, good old' NDU sustains the golden-triangle military agencies, the high technology industry, and research universities by"promot[ing] understanding and teamwork among the Armed Forces and between those agencies of the Government and industry that contribute to national security." To this end, the school also opens spots to"industry fellows" from the private sector who, says NDU president and Air Force Lt. Gen. Michael M. Dunn,"bring ideas from industry to the Defense Department."

Joe College Gets Drafted

In 2002, NDU's budget topped out at $102.5 million -- about what MIT alone received from the DoD… in 1969. While the formal military-academic complex of service academies and DoD institutions is a massive educational apparatus, its size, scope and cost pale in comparison to those in the increasingly militarized civilian higher educational structure.

During World War II, as historian Roger Geiger has noted, educational institutions carrying out weapons development not surprisingly received the largest government research and development contracts. Six of them, in particular, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the California Institute of Technology, Harvard University, Columbia University, the University of California at Berkeley and Johns Hopkins University, received the then-massive sums of more than $10 million each. Following the war, military entities like the Office of Naval Research (ONR) sought to establish, strengthen, and cultivate relationships with university researchers. By the time the ONR officially received legislative authorization to begin its work in August 1946, it had already entered into contracts for 602 academic projects employing over 4000 scientists and graduate students. Academia has never looked back.

For example, at the close of World War II, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology was the nation's largest academic defense contractor. By 1962, physicist Alvin Weinberg sarcastically remarked that it was becoming difficult to figure out if MIT was a university connected to a multitude of government research laboratories or"a cluster of government research laboratories with a very good educational institution attached to it." By 1968, a year after Fulbright coined the phrase"military-industrial-academic complex," MIT already ranked 54th among all U.S. defense contractors. In 1969, its prime military contracts topped $100 million for the first time. By 2003, that number had grown to $514,230,083, good enough to make the Massachusetts Institute of Technology the 48th largest defense contractor in the United States.

But MIT is far from alone. Today, the scale of interpenetration of military projects and academia is as dizzying as it is sweeping. According to a 2002 report by the Association of American Universities (AAU), almost 350 colleges and universities conduct Pentagon-funded research; universities receive more than 60% of defense basic research funding; and the DoD is the third largest federal funder of university research (after the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation).

The AAU further notes that the Department of Defense accounts for 60% of federal funding for university-based electrical engineering research, 55% for the computer sciences, 41% for metallurgy/materials engineering, and 33% for oceanography. With the DoD's budget for research and development skyrocketing, so to speak, to $66 billion for 2004 -- an increase of $7.6 billion over 2003 -- it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that the Pentagon can often dictate the sorts of research that get undertaken and the sorts that don't.

The power of the Pentagon extends beyond an ability to frame or dictate research goals to significant parts of our civilian education establishment. Higher education's dependence on federal dollars empowers the DoD to bend universities ever more easily to its will. For example, as Chalmers Johnson notes, until August 2002, Harvard Law School"managed to bar recruiters for the Judge Advocate General's Corps of the military because qualified students who wish to serve are rejected if they are openly gay, lesbian or bisexual." However, thanks to a quick reinterpretation of federal law, the Pentagon found itself able to threaten Harvard with a loss of all its federal university funding, some $300 billion, if its law school denied access to military recruiters. Unable to fathom life ripped from the federal teat, Harvard caved, ushering in a new era of dwindling academic autonomy and growing military control of the university.

But the Department of Defense isn't only about the stick. As noted above, it spends most of its time directing research by bestowing plenty of carrots, in the form of money and, sometimes indirectly," credentials" (that lead to money). Take the National Security Agency (NSA), the DoD-allied intelligence organization that runs the National Cryptologic School which"serves as a training resource for the entire Department of Defense." In addition to listening in on the globe and running its own school, the NSA doles out a seal of approval, in the form of a CAE designation ("Centers of Academic Excellence in Information Assurance Education") that puts other schools in the running for lucrative DoD"Information Assurance Scholarship Program grant awards." For 2003-2004, some 36 civilian schools and 4 military learning centers earned CAE honors. These include long-time DoD stalwarts like Stanford University, big state schools like the University of California at Davis and the University of Nebraska at Omaha, and lesser-known institutions like New Mexico Tech, West Virginia's James Madison University and Vermont's Norwich University (the self-professed"oldest private military college in the United States").

The NSA, however, has to share the spotlight with a host of other military, militarized, or intelligence agencies and subagencies when it comes to the military-academic action The credo of the Army Research Laboratory (ARL) in Adelphi, Maryland, for instance, is"delivering science and technology solutions to the warfighter" which it strives to do by"put[ting] the best and brightest to work solving the [Army's] problems" by employing"a variety of funding mechanisms to support and exploit programs at universities and industry." The Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command (SPAWAR) is also high on"University relationships" that provide it with"an excellent recruitment resource for high-caliber graduate and undergraduate students." Its SPAWAR Systems Center in Charleston, S.C, alone, has cooperative agreements with Clemson University, the University of South Carolina, The Citadel, the College of Charleston, Old Dominion University, North Carolina State University, Virginia Tech, Georgia Tech, the University of Central Florida and North Carolina A & T State University.

March (and April and May and June and…) Madness

With the NCAA's"March Madness" just behind us, perhaps it's a perfect moment to reflect on college national champions. As always, the basketball crown was decided by a simple elimination tournament that gave us a clear winner (unlike the 2003 NCAA Division I Football season which ended in a split decision). In keeping with the spirit of crowning college champs, Tom Dispatch offers its own national championship series, the DoD Bowl!

The college hoops tourney is always replete with a Cinderella squad -- a small-time five that shocks the field of sixty-five by knocking out a few top teams. In a Tom Dispatch tournament these might be schools from the DoD's"Historically Black Colleges and Universities and Minority Institutions Infrastructure Support Program." Such institutions don't get the big dollars of a national powerhouse, but they get modest awards to"enhance programs and capabilities at these minority institutions in scientific disciplines critical to national security and the DoD." Under this program, researchers at Oglala Lakota College, Si Tanka University (chartered by the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe), Sitting Bull College and the College of Menominee Nation, among others, were designated for grants ranging from $76,000 to $400,000.

Of course, grants of this size are small potatoes when it comes to the DoD."Big time" schools get a whole lot more. As such, the DoD Bowl seems like a perfect place to settle a matter that failed to be resolved on the gridiron last season. Just who is the national champion -- LSU or USC? Late last year three Louisiana State University units -- its Center for Advanced Microstructures and Devices, the Advanced Materials Research Institute at the University of New Orleans, and the Neuroscience Center of Excellence at the LSU Health Sciences Center -- received the first installments of a $7.5 million, five-year project sponsored by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. But even with a big chunk of DARPA-bucks, LSU can't touch USC! If the football national championship could be decided by DoD cash, the University of Southern California would win it hands down. Not only is USC the site of the Institute for Creative Technologies, a $45 million joint Army/USC venture begun in 1999 and designed to link the military ever more tightly to academia and the entertainment and video game industries, but last year USC received nearly $35 million in DoD Contract Awards for Research, Development, Test, and Evaluation (RDT&E). And even with that, USC ranked only 74th on the DoD's Top 100 list of RDT&E awardees, while poor LSU didn't even make the list.

While almost $35 million in research dollars isn't chump change, it doesn't come close to winning you the DoD bowl. And while USC beats its rival the University of California system, which rakes in only $29.8 million in RDT&E awards, it can't top Carnegie Mellon's $59.8 million and the University of Texas system's $86.6 million. None of these schools can touch Penn State which, at number 27 on the list, handily trumps them all with a total of $149 million in RDT&E awards. Still, even Penn State has a long way to go to win it all.

Two schools are consistently tops in RDT&E money and have, in the past, duked it out for numero uno. In 2002, Johns Hopkins University ($363,342,491) bested MIT ($354,932,746) by less than $900,000, the equivalent of an inch in your basic fourth-quarter goal-line stand in football! In 2003, though, it wasn't even a contest. Last year MIT raked in a whopping $512,112,618 in RDT&E dollars to Johns Hopkins' positively puny $300,303,097, making it the clear-cut national champion! No polls needed!

MIT's numbers were good enough to rank it as 11th on the DoD's 2003 RDT&E Top 100 list. But even that ranking doesn't convey the full dominance of this champion. At 23 on the RDT&E Top 100 list is the MITRE Corporation, a not-for-profit originally made up of several hundred MIT employees and formed in 1958 to create new technologies for the Department of Defense. Today, MITRE provides engineering and technical services to the federal government through three Federally Funded Research and Development Centers (FFRDCs) -- one of which, the DOD Command, Control, Communications and Intelligence FFRDC, happens to serve the Department of Defense. Moreover, MITRE, itself, is thoroughly wrapped up in the military-academic complex. It provides support to a"broad base of customers within the DOD and intelligence community," while"organizing and managing the first-of-its-kind Northeast Regional Research Center (NRRC) for the Advanced Research and Development Activity," which includes among others Brandeis University, Brown University, Columbia University, Cornell University, Dartmouth College, Harvard University, Johns Hopkins University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Princeton University, the State University of New York-Buffalo, the University of Massachusetts, the University of Pittsburgh, the University of Rochester and Syracuse University. Talk about webs within cogs within wheels!

With all this work for the DoD, MITRE rakes in a cool $186,389,105 in RDT&E awards. And if the funding dollars of MIT's offspring are added to MIT's total, the resulting $698,501,723 would move MIT out of the college bowl game entirely and into the charmed circle of top 10 defense contractors, including the likes of defense industry giants General Dynamics and Lockheed-Martin.

Academia's Unnoticed Identity Crisis

Even without MITRE's money added in, MIT's Pentagon-financed research dollars make it look more like a military-industrial giant than an educational institution -- a far more severe identity crisis than the one Alvin Weinberg hinted at back in 1962. But, while MIT might be the champ, it's only a small part of the story -- about 1/350th of it. Today, the Pentagon not only runs a massive educational apparatus of its own, but with its enormous budget and arm-twisting ability, it can increasingly bend civilian higher education to its will. There is, however, little awareness of this influence, let alone outcry over it. Instead, the militarization of academia reaches new levels -- unnoticed and unabated.

The military-academic complex is merely one of many readily perceptible, but largely ignored, examples of the increasing militarization of American society. While the Pentagon has long sought to exploit and exert influence over civilian cultural institutions, from academia to the entertainment industry, today's massive budgets make its power increasingly irresistible. The Pentagon now has both the money and the muscle to alter the landscape of higher education, to manipulate research agendas, to change the course of curricula and to force schools to play by its rules.

Moreover, the military research underway on college campuses across America has very real and dangerous implications for the future. It will enable or enhance imperial adventures in decades to come; it will lead to new lethal technologies to be wielded against peoples across the globe; it will feed a superpower arms race of one, only increasing the already vast military asymmetry between the United States and everyone else; it will make ever-more heavily armed, technologically-equipped, and"up-armored" U.S. war-fighters ever less attractive adversaries and American and allied civilians much more appealing soft targets for America's enemies. None of this, however, enters the realm of debate. Instead, the Pentagon rolls along, doling out money to colleges large and small, expanding and strengthening the military-academic complex, and remaking civilian institutions to suit military desires as if this were but the natural way of the world.

NOTE: If you're keen on enrolling in the military-academic complex, check out these links that are sure to send you to the head of the class: The National Defense University; Air University; and the Marine Corps University. Or, for those with"top secret/Sensitive Compartmented Information clearances," why not apply for a spot in next year's freshman class at the Joint Military Intelligence College. Already have your PhD in war-making from NDU and a certificate in [information deleted] from JMIC? Then why not check out the job opportunity page at MITRE? They're currently looking for an intelligence analyst with"Intelligence Community and Joint experience" for the recently much-maligned FBI (unless another faithful TomDispatch reader has already accepted the post).