Thursday 17 January 2013

The CIA, Thailand & Corrupt Uses of Anthropology

PPT posted a comment by a U.S. operative on the manner in which the Americans helped re-make the monarchy in the teeth of the Cold War. We still haven’t been through all the more than 900 pages of reminiscences that download in one document, and there’s a lot of interesting material.
We felt the following might interest some of our readers, especially given the links between the royal family and the Border Patrol Police, “hill tribes” and many of the other people and interests listed in the account.
These comments are from James L. Woods, who was with the Research Analysis Division, Department of Defense in Bangkok from 1964 to 1967 and then was Advisor, ARPA [Advanced Research Projects Agency] Unit, Bangkok in 1969-1973. with annotations and bold by PPT:

…[I]n the fall of ‘64 I was in Thailand, probably working on a Long-range Assistance Strategy, and found an old management intern friend out there, Lee Huff, running a little office for the Advanced Research Projects Agency, and we got together. He said, “I’ve just been called. They told me I’m going to be posted back to Washington rather abruptly. We’re looking for a replacement. Would you be interested?” I said, “What are you doing?” He explained that this was a special project – Project AGILE – under the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency…. In Thailand it was still operating out of a hotel downtown and at the SEATO Graduate School of Engineering on the Chulalongkorn University campus, with a very small staff under Marine Colonel Tom Brundage…. Lee was running the social-behavioral science research program and asked if I would be interested….

…[W]e worked closely with them [the CIA] in the field, because they were operating out of AID/USOM, running the Border Patrol Police program, and also they were very interested in general in the issues of internal security and they had their advisors in many of the same agencies that we had ours…. We also did some work for something called CSOC, which was a Thai organization, the Communist Suppression Operations Command, run by General Saiyud Kerdphon, and there were a number of CIA advisors over there operating for the most part out of the embassy. We were all part of the country team and the ARPA field unit in Thailand was a U.S. component of that…. The U.S. approach was that this was a counterinsurgency-oriented program. Thailand was the laboratory for the soft side and Vietnam was the laboratory for the hard side or things that go boom. So in Vietnam – I would go over there from time to time, and they would come over to Thailand from time to time to escape Vietnam mainly – they were doing a lot of systems work – village information system, hamlet evaluation system, territorial forces evaluation system. They were doing stuff trying to evaluate how was the war going, for MACV. They were also doing ordnance testing; the Armalite rifle which developed into the AR-15, which developed into the M16…. On our side we were doing studies and analyses and systems research and a good bit of electronic research including remote sensing, trail sensors, testing different kinds of mobility equipment and communications equipment…. Our office – the Research and Analysis Division – was in charge of social and behavioral and systems research, and we worked for the most part through contractors. We brought in rather sizable teams from RAND, RAC – Research Analysis Corporation … – Stanford Research Institute, Cornell Aerolab, BMI, AIR – you name it, we had it – and a lot of individual scholars on contract.

We built some systems and libraries, which were turned over to the Thai, which hopefully they have found useful –for example, the Thailand Information Center with a gazillion documents. Everything useful that had ever been written about Thailand that we could find in the scholarly community was in there. We turned that over to a Thai university actually. Our hill tribes data base, we turned that over to another Thai institution, the Tribal Research Center, in Chiang Mai. The Village Information System, we turned over to a Thai ministry, although it was still very much in an embryonic state…. [PPT: Readers might find this related article of some interest, although the extent of U.S. involvement is not discussed in any detail.]

… [T]hey have Border Patrol Police, which was very much a U.S.-funded program, a lot of it. The CIA provided a lot of the equipment and guidance and so on, but the Thais have kept it up….

After going back to the U.S. and completing a course at Cornell University, with the doyens of Southeast Asian Studies there – George McT. Kahin is mentioned – Woods returned to Thailand:

I went back to the ARPA field unit, or research center, but I was posted immediately to Chiang Mai University in the north for a year as advisor to the dean, which sounds odd but we knew the dean from his previous position in Bangkok and he was trying to establish an expanded research program on northern Thailand, especially the tribal minorities problem. There was a Tribal Research Center, which the Thai government was attempting to operate, co-located at the university, and so my job was trying to build a tribal research program in the north working out of the university….
Much of their [RTG] information came from the Thai Border Patrol Police who were posted to the outermost fringes of the kingdom and were basically a CIA project or at least were getting support and training through the CIA part of USOM…. We were also sponsoring basic ethnographies by a number of anthropologists, European and American, at the time, again trying to collect in-depth ethnographic understanding of several selected lesser known tribal groups. So that’s how I spent a rather odd year as the advisor to the dean of the faculty of social sciences at Chiang Mai University….
This, of course, eventually came to the attention of the American Anthropological Association and some others and got them greatly excited. It’s cited in a book which was published some years later calledAnthropology Goes to War featuring me as one of the devils they identify as corrupting the practice of anthropology…

 .Anthropology Goes to War

Before the war went bad and became greatly unpopular, we had the leading American anthropologists on Southeast Asia on the consultant payroll and they were hard at work, and some of them stayed at work. Dr. Gerry Hickey – an expert on the Montagnards of Vietnam – worked with us throughout the war….

… We had Dr. Ladd Thomas, Northern Illinois University. Now, Ladd, I recall, was a political scientist, and he reported that students invaded his office and threw his furniture and books out the window….  The same thing was going on all over. We had a couple of very senior professors out in California, David Wilson, political scientist, and Herb Phillips, anthropologist, and they had been cutting-edge scholars on Thailand.Herb capitulated. David basically got up on his feet and told all his student and faculty critics to go to hell; they could think what they wanted but they weren’t going to interfere with his right to speak out. But Herb went over; Herb gave up.

Project Camelot is also mentioned. On the impact of this work, Woods says: “So I would say to the extent there was an impact, it was over on the counterinsurgency side where the CIA was very much involved as well and USOM with the USAID development programs…”.