Saturday, June 04, 2005

Softly softly, catchee monkey...

Very interesting story:

A CIA scheme to sponsor trainee spies secretly through US university courses has caused anger among UK academics.

Yowzer. Well if anything is going to make the US intelligence community change it's mind, it's bitching from academics who aren't American and don't even have anything to do with the US education system. I'll wager Pat Roberts has spent the past few nights lying awake, feverishly wrestling with his conscience. Nice one, lads, you've got the buggers on the run.

Joking apart I can see an upside and a down side to the plan.

On the one hand it seems to me that in many ways this is just what is needed. Not only could it be very useful in terms of sourcing intelligence officers with serious regional knowledge and the skill set that goes along side that, it could also be an interesting pathway to creating a cadre of civilian experts whose skills and knowledge base could be drawn upon at short notice and minimal cost in the event of a region-specific crisis.

On the other hand, it seems to me that ensuring discretion among students participating in the programme is going to be beneficial only if the programme itself is fairly discrete. And judging by the fact that it's already splashed all over the BBC website, it, er, isn't. The programme's critics raise several ethical objections which I frankly don't warm to, but it seems to me that it is a reasonable criticism to suggest that if this programme's existence becomes fairly widely known in foreign climbs then it is, in fact, going to make life a lot harder for students - both those involved in the programme and those not involved - trying to operate abroad, especially in places like the Middle East. It could serve to see access for students cut back. It could also be just plain dangerous.


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