Consult: Robert Albro, PhD


Social Science Consultation on

Anthropology’s Engagement with the Security Sector

Robert Albro, PhD

Date:  June 17, 2009

104-minute teleconference

Transcribed by Jean Maria Arrigo

Edited and approved by Robert Albro on July 12, 2009

Teleconference Participants:  Jean Maria Arrigo, Ray Bennett, Martha Davis, Robert Albro, and Stephen Soldz

Note:  The transcript has been streamlined a bit.

Social Science Consultation with Robert Albro on

Anthropology’s Engagement with the Security Sector

[Ray Bennett, Martha Davis, Jean Maria Arrigo, Stephen Soldz, and Robert Albro come on the line in quick succession.]

ARRIGO:  Everyone is here.  [Usual instructions for the session.]  Let’s begin with introductions.  Let’s go:  Ray, Martha, Stephen, me, and then Rob at the end.

BENNETT:  Okay.  I’m Ray Bennett.  I’m a retired army interrogator.  I retired in 2006 after over 20 years in the field.  I was concerned with the abuses going on in interrogation and all that.  And, of course, in the last couple of years, there has been much public debate about interrogation and interrogation policy.  One thing that was always missing, it seemed to me, was the voice of trained interrogators in these discussions.  So, following the maxim of “If not me, then who?”, I made myself available to the group to act as a subject-matter interrogation expert.  And at this point I think they pretty much just keep me around for comic relief.

SOLDZ:  [Laughing]  Oh, Ray, you’re not that good!

[Discussion of poor reception from Jean Maria’s telephone.  She exits to call in on another line.]

DAVIS:  Martha Davis. I’m a clinical and research psychologist.  Actually, in my first 45 years of research I worked a lot with anthropologists because my area is nonverbal communications, and fortunately anthropologists were in it, not psychologists, in those years.  The research that I did on interview behavior led to some research on criminal confessions that made me involved with law enforcement people.  When I heard about what psychologists were doing in Guantanamo I was stunned enough to get very involved in the activist movement against it.  I’ve done one documentary about interrogation psychologists, and we’re working on a second.

[Jean Maria returns on another bad line and exits to call in again.]

SOLDZ:  I’m Stephen Soldz, also a research and clinical psychologist and psychoanalyst in Boston.  I’ve been writing a lot for web sources.  When this issue hit, I wrote a lot about it, which got me very involved in the movement to change APA policy on the issue.

[Discussion of whether to wait until Jean Maria returns.]

BENNETT:  In my role as comic relief, I’ll say that a rabbi, a priest, and a mullah walk into a bar.  And the bartender says, “What is this, some kind of joke?”

DAVIS:  [Laughing]  That’s not us, is it Ray?

DAVIS:  Maybe you should go ahead, Rob.  We got your materials and we’re thrilled that you’re talking with us here today.  Jean Maria will hear this on the recording.  She’s the one who’s doing the transcriptions.

ALBRO:  Well, my name is Robert Albro.  I’m trained as a social cultural anthropologist.  Actually, my ethnographic area of interest for many years has been Latin America, actually Bolivia.  But I also have a second phase of work that I’ve done for a number of years now that is primarily focused on the ways the contents of culture become instrumental as a problem-solving resource of different sorts, among different communities of practice.

[Jean Maria silently rejoins the call.]

ALBRO:  That includes a wide variety of folks: human rights folks, people in working in development, humanitarian work, and also including the military.  I’m actually in the School of International Service, at American International University, where I teach and work. 

But I was asked by the American Anthropological Association (AAA) some years ago to participate in the Ad Hoc Commission on Anthropology’s Engagement with the Security and Intelligence Communities, which was formed in late 2006, then under the chairmanship of a colleague, Jim Peacock.  Since the beginning of 2008 I’ve taken up the role of chair with the commission, and we do a variety of different things that I’d be happy to talk with you guys about.  Depending on what your interests are, I can tailor whatever I say to those things.  But, essentially, the commission is one part of a process of the American Anthropological Association to, broadly speaking, come to terms with its changing relationship to the security sector, as a capacious category.  And that includes, of course, the ethical dimensions of that engagement.

ARRIGO:  Rob, I think that, from my point of view —

[Exclamations that Jean Maria can now be heard on the line.]

ARRIGO:  — I think that, most interesting to us, is the American Anthropological Association itself, its own structure, as an institution, how it sponsored this and came to its conclusions.  Because, in the APA, we have a very strong influence of military —

ALBRO:  Sure.

ARRIGO: — and we couldn’t come up with what you came up with.

ALBRO:  Well, I’m happy to describe that process.  Just parenthetically, it is kind of interesting to note that in the last years the two social sciences that have had, let’s say, the most spirited discussions about different vantage points around what it means to work with military security and intelligence folks have been anthropology and psychology, and very, very broadly around their different bailiwicks.  In psychology it tends to focus on interrogation and interviewing.  In anthropology it tends to focus on ethnography and participant observation modes of data collection.  It’s always interesting to see the parallels.  The debates have coincided in time.  But it’s also interesting to notice the differences: that they’re focused on different kinds of ways of being part of a process constructively, or not so constructively, and the ways in which the particular expertise or identity of a discipline is identified by people who want something from it. 

ARRIGO:  What is really a significant difference though in reading this report is that your team was actually able to go to the significant questions.  I particularly admired this table on page 12 where you lay out who’s the sponsor or funder of the work, who’s the —

ALBRO:  Oh, you mean the taxonomy.

ARRIGO:  Yes, the taxonomy.  When I asked those questions specifically — they’re in the PENS listserv — and continuing to ask those questions, and we had on our committee the very people who can answer those questions, my questions were not even refused, they were simply ignored.  That’s in the public record.  They were completely ignored. 

ALBRO:  Right.

ARRIGO:   How you got to this place is a great curiosity.

ALBRO:  Well, let me tell you a little about that then.  I’ll just call it the Ad Hoc Commission, since the full name so unwieldy.

[Jokes about naming and acronyms.]

ALBRO:  It was formed in late 2006.  And it was formed specifically on the behest of the Executive Board of the AAA and, I think, with the encouragement of then-President Alan Goodman.  Alan had, like many anthropologists, some working familiarity with some of these questions.  He’s a biological anthropologist and had interactions with security-related work, in a very generic way.  It was clear to him that this was an issue that wasn’t going to disappear from the horizon of the Association. 

In fact, it was, in some respects, a recurrence of a prevailing issue within the professional identity of the Association itself, which is the sort of shifting fault lines between the self-perception of the differences between academic and applied work.  Academic and applied communities of practice within the discipline have always had an uneasy, on the one hand, Venn-diagram-like overlap, which is to say, the one doesn’t preclude the other, and vice versa. But they are also two different things.  Applied anthropologists work outside the academy.  While there’s always been a healthy community of applied practitioners, the relative proportion between the two has shifted over the years.  And, of course, it’s shifted for demographic reasons:  social reproduction of the discipline, excess of PhDs, you know, all the reasons that make it difficult for people to get what people imagine to be the typical or traditional job, working within some department in some college or university.  So you’ve got a wide variety of folks doing all kinds of different things in the variety of walks of life. 

The AAA’s code of ethics was first established fairly late, actually, in the professional development of the discipline, in 1971, in direct relationship to the Viet Nam era and in very close proximity to certain events in which anthropologists were involved — Project Camelot and others.  Are you folks familiar with Camelot?

ARRIGO:  Yes. 

ALBRO:  So I won’t go into that.  Camelot concluded in 1965 – ’66.  And then our code of ethics discussion was taken up quickly thereafter.  The code of ethics and the language of ethics has always been a discussion within the discipline that has also always been about where the parameters are, to the extent of what anthropologists should be doing or not be doing, as the case may be.  So in ’71, that was the first go around.  We actually revised our code of ethics rather extensively in 1998.  That was in direct response to the changing circumstances of applied practitioners.  In ’98 the emphasis was much more on the role of anthropology in the corporate sector and questions of proprietary research and control over data and the relationship to your subjects of research, and so on.  But the language then was already concerned with things like clandestine research and “What does it mean to conduct secret research?”  Is that acceptable?  Is it not?  Contractual obligations as an employee might prohibit the free, transparent circulation of “data sets,” or something like that, because you’re working in a competitive environment.

SOLDZ:  And did you come to any general statement that’s summarizable?

ALBRO:  The general statement is, in fact, the revised ethics code.  At that time, what happened was a making more flexible of the language of secrecy in the code to accommodate the growing community of applied practitioners, or what some might call practicing anthropologists.  But that was an issue that has never gone away.  And in some respects what we’re doing right now is revisiting that somewhat recurrent debate.  And we have an ethics process that we’re undertaking again.  This is the third iteration of the revision of our code that’s ongoing.  And our group (the Ad Hoc Commission on Anthropology’s Engagement with the Security and Intelligence Communities or CEAUSSIC) is part of that process.  In fact, we sort of began it with the 2007 report that we submitted to the Executive Board.

Our group was not really convened specifically around these issues but convened specifically to address two things.  One was the appearance of recruitment ads by intelligence services on our on-line job site.  The CIA had placed some ads and a variety of other agencies.  The other was to examine something called the PRISP program, that was the Pat Roberts Intelligence Scholars Program that provides financial aid for college students who go to college, kind of like ROTC, and then they have to give several years of service to an intelligence or to a security organization, upon their graduation.  And the concern about the PRISP program at the time, as it was raised within this discussion, was that people who were teaching at a college or in a university environment wouldn’t know who was receiving moneys from an intelligence agency to complete what was essentially a pre-professional training in their area.  And so there was concern about that.  In some respects you can see that as a version of the transparency-secrecy issue, as it relates to work in the intelligence field broadly.  And so those were the two specific things that were the mandate that brought us into existence.  But what we ended up doing was to more comprehensively address the security sector as a whole.  —

ARRIGO:  I wonder if you could go back to that moment with Alan Goodman, because for us the PENS effort supposedly came from an uproar from the APA membership, writing to the Board of Directors, saying, “What’s going on here?”  So it was from the bottom up.  How did this work in the AAA?

ALBRO:  This works very differently.  We have an executive board.  They are sixteen in number.  They get elected to three-year posts.  They represent the four fields of anthropology, in a kind of eclectic, open-ended way.  That would mean there are people who are biological and physical anthropologists, linguistic anthropologists, archaeologists, and social or cultural anthropologists. 

ARRIGO:  Do that again.  Who elects them?  Ours are elected by a Council of Representatives.

ALBRO:  They’re elected by a vote of the membership.  The leadership structure of the Association is that there is a president.  The president is a member of the Executive Board.  There’s also a parallel CEO of the AAA, who’s not elective.  There’s a sort of parallel structure.  There’s the AAA staff and the director of the Association who are in paid, salaried positions.  And then there’s an elected board, and there are elected representatives to a variety of committees and sections.  So these are interest groups around different topical issues. For example, we have human rights; we have media and public policy.  But we also have sections like the American Ethnological Society or the Latin American and Caribbean Group or Psychological Anthropology or Medical Anthropology, and so forth. 

DAVIS:  Is there a standing committee on ethics?

ALBRO:  We do have a standing committee on ethics.  The Association makes a distinction between sections and committees.  Essentially, committees are not supposed to be long-term bodies.  They’re convened, kind of like task forces, around some particular issue or other.  So, some years ago, in 2001-2002, there was a real furor around a book published by a journalist that essentially accused anthropologists of engaging in ethically indefensible conduct in their work in places like Venezuela, Darkness in El Dorado.

ARRIGO:  Patrick Tierney.

ALBRO:  Yes, the Tierney book, exactly.  So there was an El Dorado task force that was created, wrote a report, and so on.  Some of these task forces, for a variety of reasons, like the human rights committee, have kind of evolved into standing task forces.  The human rights committee has been around since 1995.  It started as a task group.  So there’s some ambiguity around the committees.  Sections have more standing in the discipline.  They receive financial support from the Association.  Modest — the Association is not a large body by any means.

SOLDZ:  How many members are there roughly?

ALBRO:  Well, there are approximately 12,000 members.

SOLDZ:  Are those all full members?

ALBRO:  There are different member categories, you know, student members, adjuncts, assistant professor members.... We just recently adopted a flexible payment plan for members where, depending upon your salary, you pay a certain amount to renew your membership.

ARRIGO:  What is the amount?  In the APA you’re paying around $300 to $350 dollars no matter who you are.

ALBRO:  Well, it used to be like that.  It’s changed.  In fact, I think they’ve found they get more revenue through their membership fees by allowing people to pay less and inducing more people to be members, as a result.  I think the top membership is maybe $250, something like that.

There’s around 12,000 members in these various and sundry categories.  Then there’s a variety of leadership roles that people are voted into by the membership as a whole.  These are in the sections and on the Executive Board.

ARRIGO:  Where do military anthropologists fit into this?

ALBRO:  There aren’t really people who identify themselves as military anthropologists.  There are people who might identify themselves as security anthropologists. 

ARRIGO:  Do they have a section?

ALBRO:  They do not have a section.  In fact, one of the precipitating factors for our group (that is, CEAUSSIC) has been circling back to this implied academic fault line: the growing perception that the American Anthropological Association as a big tent is interested in maintaining active representation among all of its many constituencies and not alienating any of them, yet recognizing that there are structural differences between the kinds of things people are doing.  There had been a modest effort to create a section for military anthropology. And that went nowhere, mainly because AAA changed its tune with respect to how sections might come into existence.  It has realized that it’s top heavy with sections right now, that there’s maybe too many. 

SOLDZ:  Thirty’s a lot for that size membership.

ALBRO:  Yes, and it may reflect the kind of eclectic quality that the discipline of anthropology as a whole has always courted, whether purposely or serendipitously.  Anthropologists do all kinds of different things and the differences between a biological anthropologist and a linguistic anthropologist are very evident.  They don’t necessarily have a lot of overlap.  And so what you see with some anthropology departments across the country – this was particularly true in the 1990s — departments the size of Stanford or Berkeley have split, where the physical and biological folks have gone in one direction and the socio-cultural and linguistic folks have gone in another direction.  There was the perception that they were more different than they were alike.  But the AAA’s attitude has always been that we want to keep this ship together, however leaky or poorly constructed.  So it’s always tried to be proactive around maintaining a good relationship to the different disciplinary, sub-disciplinary, topical groups of anthropologists doing their various activities.

ARRIGO:  Do you have any direct lines — that you know about — of influence from military or intelligence community into AAA?  At APA, there are research institutes, like HumRRO [Human Resources Research Organization], that do research for the military, and they are very well represented among the insiders at APA.

ALBRO:  I think it’s different.  And it’s different as a result of disciplinary differences between psychology and anthropology, and also differences in long-term relationships of these fields to military security and intelligence more generally.  If we would go back into the World War II era, into the ‘40s and the ‘50s, there was the “personality and culture” paradigm.  At that point it wasn’t uncommon for anthropologists to work actively in things like the OSS and so forth.  And most of the most prominent anthropologists in that era, in a very unproblematic way put their shoulder to the wheel, if you will, on behalf of the good war or whatever it was—you know, Margaret Mead, Ruth Benedict, all these kinds of folks. 

It was really only in the Vietnam era that all that changed dramatically.  Anthropologists were very much involved in areas studies development through the ‘60s, and as Area Studies specialists, the growth of language training, Title 6 [Department of Education] funding, and all those kind of things. The discipline of anthropology was very much at the center of those kinds of developments.  Even now Area Studies continues to be an important dimension of higher education, and anthropologists are often found there.  But since the Vietnam era, what you have seen has been a real disengagement between anthropologists and the military.  I tend to prefer using the term security because it encompasses the military but also other related fields of engagement, like intelligence — civilian intelligence, military intelligence, and so on. 

It’s only been somewhat recently, starting in the 1990s, that the relationship that had existed, for better or worse, began to be built back up in some ways.  And then only since the early 2000s, 2003 and 2004, did that really start to show signs of accelerating, where anthropologists were being actively invited to work for military security and intelligence agencies, in one way or another.  Of course, the most widely reported abuse has been the Human Terrain System program, which has received a tremendous amount of attention in the media.

ARRIGO:  What we had going into the interrogation issue was very strong connection between the security system and the APA.  There are quite credible reports of APA presidents have some kinds of affiliation with the CIA and so on.  You’re saying you just started from scratch in 2003, whereas we had —

ALBRO:  Well, I think any kind of generalization is perilous.  But the circumstances were significantly different.  In the military you have a history of interrogation, PsyOps, etc., etc.  I don’t claim any expertise here, but you know psychology has always had a more robust relationship with the security sector than anthropology, particularly since the late ‘60s. 

ARRIGO:  Does anybody on the line have any sense of psychology breaking with the security system after the Viet Nam War, like Rob says anthropology did?

SOLDZ:  Absolutely not.  When you think of the HumRRO connection —

ARRIGO:  They just left George Washington University [in 1969].

SOLDZ:  But they did keep control of large parts of the APA.  The Monitor did publish one article on the MKULTRA program, but given the magnitude of psychologists’ involvement it would have been a natural place where there should have been a real rethinking, and I’ve seen not even a mention of any such thing.  I believe it was rebuffed.  I believe I read somewhere that attempts were made and they were rebuffed by the leadership.

ALBRO:  I think part of it has to do with the ways in which different social science knowledge production is leveraged, or the ways that it’s viewed as useful or valuable.  One of the problems that anthropologists have in these contexts is the problematic effect, or the perceived problematic effect, upon the discipline’s own well being, of the lack of trust of counterparts when you do fieldwork.  [Project] Camelot was one.  And then, of course, there was Project Phoenix and CORDS, and all the rest of it, which was what counterinsurgency was in the Vietnam era.  One important component of all that was that these kinds of data gathering in the field that really do approximate ethnographic participant observation.

ARRIGO:  Do you feel the psychologists are better able to stay in the background?

ALBRO:What happens is in anthropology disciplinary method and practice are much more contingent upon our counterparts, the people with whom we work.

DAVIS:  You get thrown out of the country, right?

ALBRO:  Right.  So it’s routine for anthropologists in the field to navigate lack of trust and to deal with accusations of espionage and things of that nature, particularly if you’re a North American anthropologist and you’re working in some area of the world, say, Latin America, where there’s been a history of iniquitous relationships.  You bring that history with you as a genealogy in a way that informs your relationships with the people that you’re going to work with, even if you’re doing something very, very far afield from anything that could be problematically related to U.S. goals and aims of a security-related sort.  But it’s just normal to deal with those accusations.  And I think what that meant for anthropologists in the ‘60s was that there was an acutely felt concern about the ability to do anthropology at all, given its ethnographic method.  It had to be completely distinct from any of these kinds of [security] things.

SOLDZ:  You’re saying that, unlike psychology, there was a real self-interest in making these boundaries clear?

ALBRO:  I’m going to get out of my area of strength here.  But, you could have psychologists applying the tools and methods and expertise of the discipline and that might be considered a taint, if it were done in some unethical way. But that’s not necessarily going to be problematic for the notion of psychology or what other psychologists are doing.  You go, “Well, we’re doing this.  We don’t in any way sanction or support that.”  For anthropologists, ethnography looks a lot like espionage.  You’re going around and you’re asking people questions and asking for their good will and for them to tolerate your presence and to put up with you for years at a time.  You know, if it looks like a duck and it quacks like a duck — you know what I’m saying —  so I think that people tend to be very, very careful.

SOLDZ:  I would imagine you actually go to the level of safety being threatened.

ALBRO:  That often happens, right.  I don’t want to oversell this point.  My own personal views as a professional anthropologist are not entirely — I’m not entirely persuaded by the idea that any anthropologists working for the military therefore means that anthropologists everywhere are doomed to be viewed somehow as pawns for the military.  We have a group of folks, an advocacy organization called the Network for Concerned Anthropologists.  Some of the folks that serve on our Ad Hoc Commission are also in the Network.  They’re very proactive about the idea that anthropologists should have no engagement with the security sector, broadly conceived, at all, in any way.  I don’t share that view.  I think that there are ways to constructively work in that environment, but there other ways that are no-go zones, that are ethically and professionally indefensible.  It’s discriminating among these in ways that allow the discipline to continue to exist and to do its work, and also to not feel that that there are certain areas of human endeavor and inquiry that it’s just sort of closed off from, as a matter of principle.

SOLDZ:  For our purposes, what’s most important is that there are still sufficient countervailing forces to what you’re calling security involvement so that there has to be a real disciplinary debate at discussion.  In the APA, the critics have been marginalized.

ALBRO:  The psychology landscape is just so different because there are two competing organizations, APS, APA, blah, blah, blah, so already, disciplinarily, you’ve kind of hived off in ways that concentrate those folks who are more likely to be seeing these kinds of activities as acceptable professional activities, concentrated on the one side of the ledger, maybe not on the other.  I can’t really speak to how all this plays out because I just haven’t followed it closely enough.  You guys —

DAVIS:  I do think your distinction here about how an anthropologist in the field has to consider in very real terms the impact of the work and how it’s going to affect other anthropologists is so striking to our work, because one of the most incredibly difficult things to get going is the seeing what you are doing down there in Guantanamo is harming the field!  It’s a perverse kind of denial.  But, as Stephen says, it’s hard to make it part of the discussion.  It’s a complete denial of the effect on the profession as a whole. 

SOLDZ:  Most professionals don’t see it until very recently when it became a big press issue and all of a sudden they’re saying, “Well, this might impact me and my reputation.” Previously, it was not.

ARRIGO:  Well, Stephen, if people like you would shut up, it wouldn’t impact their reputation. Right?

DAVIS:  That’s what they say.

SOLDZ:  That’s why I developed the press strategy of going public, to do that!  [Laughing]

ALBRO: The role of journalism is interesting in these sorts of things.  We’ve actually had to think a lot about this, because anthropologists occasionally turn up in the news, but the experience of journalistic attention on the Human Terrain System has really been quite extraordinary and in some respects sort of surprising.  It’s several years old now and continues to receive attention.  What we noticed — it’s interesting to compare notes on this – we’ve found that the journalistic frame of reference within which anthropology’s role is defined has actually become a somewhat pernicious problem for us to escape from.  What happens is that the journalists are interested in a particular story.  They’ve gotten hold of this idea, and that’s what they want to talk about.  And they talk about it reductio ad absurdum, I would say.  But also in ways that ultimately do us a disservice as a discipline that is trying to have that rich, collective dialogue.  It serves to preclude other factors and a bigger picture here. 

This issue of what anthropologists role in the security sector, broadly conceived, is going to be is not an issue that is going to disappear with the winding down of Iraq or even Afghanistan.  It’s going to go on.  And the extent to which anthropology is representative of the social sciences more broadly, as they’re connected up to, engage with, and cooperate with, or not, these kinds of efforts is among the more compelling issues of our day, with respect to what social science means for society — and globally.

ARRIGO:  Could we get Ray in here on the Human Terrain System?  Ray was looking for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.  So one might reasonably think that anthropologists might have been significant there.

ALBRO:  In putting the knock on the whole weapons-of-mass-destruction argument?

ARRIGO:  No, in helping people who were looking for them.

ALBRO:  Do you guys know what the “Human Terrain” is?

DAVIS:  We know it, unfortunately, from the news.  [Laughing]

ALBRO:  So what it is, really quickly: it’s part of a broad effort in the military, particularly the army and the marines, to transform itself into a more effective counterinsurgency strategy,  And so you have social scientists, mostly people with area expertise — Iraq, Afghanistan, or whatever — embedded with five-person teams.  They’re mixed teams, civilian-military teams, in battlefield spaces…forward positions.  The idea is that they’re there to provide useful information to force commanders as they make decisions.  As the value of the program has been described, the idea is: if you better understand the population among which you work, then you can more adroitly avoid kinetic engagements — “kinetic” being a euphemism for killing and breaking things. 

There are 29 of these Human Terrain Teams in Iraq and Afghanistan, the focus now having turned to Afghanistan.  Three Human Terrain Team members have actually been killed: one by an IED [improvised explosive device], one by having had a gasoline can poured over her and then she was set on fire, and then one by a bomb of some kind, not an IED, I think in the Green Zone of Iraq.  So the Human Terrain System issue raised the issue of ethnographic work by anthropologists.  Essentially, even though it’s not described that way, anthropologists, in particular, are used as a kind of prototype for what the military wants to put in place, as culture and area experts who can be in the field, working with local communities, civilian communities, to facilitate whatever the objectives of the platoon-level U.S. Army units are at any given time.

ARRIGO:  When you folks went studying this, did you have any direct influences from the security community.  I noticed your method.  [Laura] McNamara and [George] Marcus, they went out and are interviewing practitioners, right?  We [APA task force members] weren’t interviewing practitioners.  How did you do this?

ALBRO:  Our report was jointly authored by everyone on the commission. Although, we have to give Jim Peacock credit for stitching it together.  It was authored in smaller teams.  We had a group of folks, like Laura McNamara and George [Marcus], working on the issue of identifying what anthropologists were doing.

ARRIGO:  You were working on institutions and so on.  I’m pushing you along a little bit so we don’t run out of time.

ALBRO: Yes, I and Kerry Fosher…we were looking at the institutions within which anthropologists were working. And then we also had an ethics group.  Then we all brought our sub-reports together and Jim put it together. So both the institutions and the practicing groups did, if you will, ethnography of a sort, a very rudimentary kind, which included a lot of interviewing of people working in these sectors, and not just anthropologists but their counterparts also.

ARRIGO:  But how did you do it?  We couldn’t talk to anybody.  How did you do it?

ALBRO:  Well, several things.  Our group is of mixed composition.  So we had people from across the kinds of engagement we’re talking about represented in the commission.  The commission includes an anthropologist who works for the Marine Corps.  It includes and anthropologist who works in a national lab.  It includes an anthropologist who works in Fort Drum army base in New York. 

ARRIGO:  Well, we had the head of all military psychologists [on the PENS Task Force], and we couldn’t find out anything.

ALBRO:  What the cement was, we mobilized colleagues and personal networks.  At the time, the military was interested in talking with us, because the idea was that there was an acutely felt crisis on their end that anthropology was not interested in any kind of work with them. And if they didn’t come to us and emphasize their good-faith interest in being collaborative and being collegial, this was never going to happen.  So they were perfectly willing to talk to us about whatever they were doing.  At the same time, many anthropologists who are working in some capacity with respect to security aren’t really doing espionage.  They’re doing really commonplace types of things, things like training, or education in the professional military education system.  Or they’re analysts or something; they write reports.  So a lot of these folks are interested in maintaining relationships with the AAA, while also maintaining some space for activities that aren’t like the Human Terrain but which might also involve going forward, some kind of relationship with the security sector.  This are a lot of different kinds of folks.  We simply didn’t have any difficulties talking with them.

We have had difficulties working with the people who are — you know, the program managers, the policy people in the Human Terrain System program — because that program has become so controversial.  They don’t talk off the record at this point, so what you get are very boiler-plate types of responses to whatever questions you might have.

DAVIS:  But did the AAA ultimately, formally register an opposition to the Human Terrain System?

ALBRO:  What happened was that we produced our report in November of 2007, in conjunction with the annual meeting of the Association.  I emphasize that our committee was not specifically convened to deal with what then became the big issue for everybody, which was the Human Terrain thing.  So we did not essentially deal with the Human Terrain System issue in that report, although we do address it.  Instead, what we decided to do is to use the CIA ads and the PRISP program to address the broader question of security and engagement with security as a whole. 

Right before that though, the Executive Board of the CIA was feeling pressured to respond in some way to the constant media attention to this controversy of the Human Terrain issue.  And so they came to us and asked us for help in formulating what the concerns would be.  Our concerns, working with them, were two-fold.  We had a series of half-a-dozen or more issues, typically based on ethical considerations of the code of ethics, concerns that we would want to bring forward about why human-terrain-like programs were problematic. But we were also concerned that we at that time did not have a whole lot of information about the program.  And so we didn’t want to condemn something without any real working understanding of what we were talking about.  Our dissatisfaction with the AAA deciding to respond to the perception that it needed to do something was that it didn’t actually pick up the phone and try to talk to these folks directly and get it from the horse’s mouth.  Instead, it took us, if you will, at our word.  You know, we provided them with some basic ethical concerns.  And those had to do with things like, “Do no harm,” “free and informed consent,” also transparency of research results, proprietary control over data, and public and peer review.  All of those things are clearly, deeply compromised by this particular program.  We gave them language, and then they came out with a statement that wasn’t quite the statement that we would have written, but used the language in those ways that I just briefly sketched out, to say that it did not support the program and that it, in fact, sees it as a bad idea.

DAVIS:  And were there consequences for the anthropologists who were in it, as far as the AAA is concerned? 

ALBRO:  Well, no, the AAA is not like the American Medical Association.  We’re not a censuring body.  We have an educational mandate, which might be similar to the APA.  I don’t know. 

DAVIS:  But there’s no oversight function?

ALBRO:  When you say “oversight,” what do you mean?

DAVIS:  Could they get kicked out of the AAA?

ALBRO:  Well, sure.  You can kick people out of the AAA. Bt that wouldn’t really address what they were doing or anything in particular.  They can still credibly practice as professionals. 

SOLDZ:  My understanding is that the APA is the only professional association, just about, that still does that.

ALBRO:  Right.  I think all other professional social science scientific associations have that educational approach, the aspirational —  Here’s how we identify our professional conduct. Here’s our code of ethics.  Here’s what we should be doing.  And then you pay your dues or you don’t.  

ARRIGO:  Is the security sector a major employer of anthropologists or not?  If they disappeared, would that hurt the financial health of your profession?

ALBRO:  The security sector does not drive the financial calculus of the profession.  In part, I might say, the economists, the psychologists — We’re on shaky ground anyway.

SOLDZ:  It could be a growth area for anthropologists.

ALBRO:  It is.  It is.  There are a number of emerging fronts that are pretty clear.  One is directly working for the military, because the military is currently undergoing a transformation where one of its priorities is the infusion of cultural and area competence.  So anthropologists represent that from the military point of view.  The military would be very interested in anthropologists participating in any way.  But mostly it’s training.  They want anthropologists to come and train analysts, or train people who are then going to go out into the field, or deploying troops around questions of culture training, and other things like that. 

But then there are also other areas in addition to counterinsurgency in the military.  There’s the broad security space that would include homeland security, bio-terror threats, you know, these kinds of things. There are also new kinds of funding schemes.  I don’t know if you’re familiar with the Minerva Initiative, which an initiative that was proposed [crashing and splashing noises] — Excuse the noise.  I’m out here in the rain.  I had to run from another meeting.  I think that was a trash truck. – There’s something called the Minerva Initiative that Secretary of Defense Robert Gates put into practice last year, essentially making available research funds for “basic research” for social sciences, in a way unprecedented.  The initial number was actually fairly modest, 50 mil[lion dollars] or something like that. But for anthropologists that’s major money. 

ARRIGO:  You had security-sector anthropologists working on your committee, right?  So what was the effect on them of the AAA’s refusal to endorse the Human Terrain program?

ALBRO:  It had no effect, because they don’t work for the program.  So one of the things that our group has been trying to do is to look at what we mean specifically by practicing anthropology in conjunction with security.  Our report in 2007 neither condemned nor endorsed that kind of work.  But it did say that we don’t know anything really about it.  And that, actually, is the first problem to be solved:  what specifically are people doing? That’s much of what we’ve been doing.  A lot of these other folks don’t really have anything to do with that program.  So there’s no particular way in which what they do is made more complicated. 

I’m thinking of one colleague of mine, in particular, who works with the Marine Corps, and she actually trains analysts who do intelligence work for the Marines.  Insofar as she does her work, she sees the Human Terrain program as a hindrance, as a detriment, as a problem, because it’s a bad way to go. It’s complicated relationships between the discipline and the military, and there are better ways to do this.  There’s an internal military critique about these issues as well.  This is not a positive program with most people.

SOLDZ:  Can I ask a question the task force.  First, did you have security people who were on the Pentagon payroll, as opposed to receiving grants from?

ALBRO:  Yes.  As I say, one of our members works for the Marine Corps.  Now another one works for the Department of Energy.

SOLDZ:  How did they work with — How was it having these people from the Network of Concerned Anthropologists?

ALBRO:  We have two members of our commission who are members of the Network:  David Price and then Jean Jackson, who wasn’t part of the first iteration but has been with us since 2008.  The relationships have been constructive.  Our goal has been to facilitate a healthy public and transparent disciplinary conversation about this security issue.  So that means making sure that people who are knowledgeable about what’s involved can speak to it from different vantage points from within and from without.

ARRIGO:  What kind of resources did your committee have?

ALBRO:  Not a whole lot.  We have been enterprising, I would say, in engineering situations that allow us to meet. 

ARRIGO:  How did McNamara and Marcus do 18 interviews.

ALBRO:  That was mostly McNamara. Then [Kerry] Fosher and myself did at least as many, probably more.

ARRIGO:  I mean, were they recorded and you had them transcribed, or —

ALBRO:  No.  There was some telephone interviewing.  I think Laura McNamara did some telephone interviewing because she’s out at Sandia National Labs.  She’s in Albuquerque, so she’s in the middle of nowhere.  I’m in DC.  People come here on a fairly regular basis.  So as people come through, I’ll grab them.  We’ll have a beer or a coffee or do whatever.  There’s some advantages to location, location, location.  And a lot of the organizations, like Langley [VA, CIA Headquarters], [the Marine Corps Base] Quantico [VA], are places that are five minutes from where I live, so I can go there.  That makes a big difference. 

ARRIGO:  But expenses weren’t covered for any of these things?

ALBRO:  AAA has provided support for several meetings, but that took some significant doing.  What we tend to do is we create an opportunity for our group to go somewhere, and then the AAA will provide matching funds for that event, or not.  So we’ve met a couple of times at Watson Institute at Brown University.  Partly that’s because the Watson is a public policy or think tank type of place that’s interested in these issues of social science and security in the military.  Also, there are anthropologists who are faculty in the Institute who are very proactive in this discussion, in different ways. They were interested in having us as a commission come — They had us do a few things, public panels, things of that nature.  They we got a couple of days of face-to-face working meetings out of the deal.

ARRIGO:  What would you think if you’d been told you had three days to get this out?

ALBRO:  Three days to get out a report?

ARRIGO:  From start to finish, yes.

ALBRO:  Oh, yes, that obviously wouldn’t work.  We had a year to produce the first report.  Then our mandate the second time around was very different.  We haven’t been saddled with, “Give us this report.”  We actually had to come up with goals and projects, in keeping with the broader issue of facilitating this debate. 

SOLDZ:  The debate started in 2005, and the report was issued in 2007.  That’s two years.

ALBRO:  No, we were as a commission impaneled started in 2006.  I think it was retroactive.  [Laughter and overlapping talk with Stephen Soldz.]  We had about a year to do that report.  We had two opportunities to meet face-to-face in the course of that year, one at the Watson in the Spring —

SOLDZ:  How long?

ALBRO:  Well, we were there for three, three-and-a-half days, two days of which were just us, working by ourselves.  And then the AAA sprung for another meeting in July.  We meet then at the AAA for a couple of days, and they actually sponsored that one.

Then in the second time around we’ve met three times already, and then we’re going to meet three times in the fall.  We’ve managed to figure out a way to get the U.S. Institute of Peace to host us for a day.  One of our members, a newer member to our commission — She works at the Center for Biosecurity; she’s a biological anthropologist.  And they’re in Baltimore.  They hosted us for a day.  Then we had another, kind of Watson redux in March.  The AAA put up matching funds for that.  But it was clear that that would be all that we would be seeing after that.

SOLDZ:  Can you tell me how you think that the people from the Network felt about the [overlapping talk with Robert Albro] with the people from military intelligence?

ALBRO:  We occupy different roles in this discussion.  The Network is a group that is self-convened.  It’s an activist group of people who are very vocal about a position of holding the line, come hell or high water, with respect to the military.  The Human Terrain System has been obvious fodder for their work, as it should be.  We had a couple of members in our group.  One of the keys to our success has been the ability of those folks — and I’m thinking of David Price in particular – to serve multiple roles.  David has excellently managed to be a vocal and active member of the Network of Concerned Anthropologists and, at the same time, a constructive, productive participant in our commission dialogue.  And these are different paths, to an extent, because we’re doing not altogether the same thing. 

The Network is not something that was formally convened by the Association.  What has happened is that Association, particularly the current President of the AAA, Setha Low, has, I think, been very careful — and this was probably an astute thing for her to be doing — to include that constituency in her short list of the groups with whom she consults when one of these kinds of issues comes up.  She tends to go to us, to the Network, to a variety of other folks, mostly because we’re people who spend a lot of time sifting through the details of this kind of stuff and can speak to it in more specific terms.

ARRIGO:  I think that we should take last questions now.  I know that Ray was in the middle of work today, and I’m expecting that he was suddenly called away —

BENNETT:  No, I’m still here. 

ARRIGO:  Well, let’s start with you, Ray.

BENNETT:  Okay.  Bear with me to take just a second to set up.  Within the context of the Vietnam War, we had the Phoenix Program and Project Camelot, after which the use of anthropologists in the setting diminished.  In that same time frame, as you stated, in 1971, I think, was when you set up an ethics code.  [Unintelligible] in that same time frame you set up a pretty robust ethics code.  And now, in the new millennium, with an increased focus and increased interest on the part of the Department of Defense and other intelligence organs, with that increased interest, what I would expect to see is an attempt to undermine that ethics code.  Have you seen any evidence of trying to tamper with the code itself?

ALBRO:  No.  When you say “tamper with the code,” do you mean an insurgent effort to change the language in some way?

BENNETT:  Yes, to water it down to allow for a broader scope.

ALBRO:  I might be careful how I put this, because I don’t think there’s been an insurgent effort to change the language. By that you mean elements from within the security sector with the interested goal of transforming disciplinary guidelines to make it more amenable to work with the security sector?  I do think, however, that the discipline of anthropology is going through not just another iteration of this discussion of what do we mean by academic and applied and what is anthropology, outside of the academy.  Because this is what we’re really talking about:  what is anthropology outside of the academy?  This discussion is not just one more go-around but it’s, I think, going to be a more definitive go-around.  It does focus on thinking about changing notions of disciplinary practice, as driven by people not working in traditional academic settings but by people who are outside those settings.  And that includes people working in security settings.  That means that the language of the code is really the language that we’re having this argument with.  That includes things like:  what do we mean “clandestine”?  Should that word be in our code?  And if it’s in our code, what does it mean?  Does it mean anything in anyway that people do should be totally public, or does it mean that you can’t do secret research?  There’s a difference there. 

BENNETT:  Yes, sure.

ALBRO:  That’s the kind of debate I think we’ve been having. 

I should preface this by saying that there’s another group.  There’s the Ad Hoc Commission, the Network of Concerned Anthropologists, the Committee on Ethics — the standing committee — but then there’s also an Ethics Task Force  that was convened at the last meeting, last year in the Fall.  And the Task Force’s job, a three-year project, mind you, is to deliver up to the leadership of the Association a framework for going forward with yet another revision of the code.  How that is code is re-envisioned is really going to be an interesting thing to see unfold.  But pressure from the military-industrial complex or something like that, no. 

Interestingly, the anthropologists we might identify as security anthropologists — and, being clear that they do different things — have a really low profile.  They keep their heads down in the discipline.  And I think the reason is because anthropology, insofar as we’re talking about the social sciences, tends to be maybe the farthest left of center, just in terms of people’s personal politics.  It’s not a popular occupation with the majority of people who are doing whatever it is that they do.

SOLDZ:  One major difference is, in psychology, at least the psychologists in the military involved in interrogations have to be licensed.  So they the ethics code has teeth officially at the state level and at the licensing board level and at the APA member level.  So that matters to the military probably much more than your ethics code would matter.

ALBRO:  That’s an excellent point.  We don’t have a licensing equivalent.  The military doesn’t have to, if it’s going to employ real, so-called professional anthropologists, make sure it goes through some process over which the Association itself has final control. 

What that means is: “who” an anthropologist is is kind of an open question.  Does someone with an M.A. in anthropology, does that mean they’re an anthropologist?  And that’s one of the things that we’re talking about.  What role should the Association have in defining disciplinary boundaries and in gate-keeping and boundary maintenance?

ARRIGO:  Last questions for Martha and me.

DAVIS:  Thank you so much, Rob.  You can’t see us, but our faces are green [with envy over] the degree to which you have access, the degree to which you talk to each other.  The whole process is so vastly different.  And the things that we’re up against are so formidable here.  To hear you describe and to read this report—

I want to come back to that question that you’ve been talking just now about.  If I were an anthropologist and —  What I’m really impressed with is how far you’ve gotten already in parsing out and describing the different jobs that are possible, which fit and which do not with your very clear four principles.  I understand that you don’t have peace [??] and you don’t have licensing or something where  somebody could be punished in some way.  Believe you me, we know that  the ethics code itself gets changed. But if an anthropologist were working within, let’s say, the marine group there, and they were asked to do something that really violated these four fundamental principles, they would risk their job, right, if they said, “This violates my ethics code as an anthropologist”?  Would that be respected?

ALBRO:  This is a good question.  And I think there are two things that are raised immediately.  What it raises, really, is how early we are in this current era.  I’m imagining this era as 20, 30, and 40 years, the post-9/11 security era, whatever we mean by that.  For example, the military and all these other agencies, if there’s a good-faith effort on their behalf, they’re trying to figure out, say, “What do anthropologists require of us so that they can work with us?”  At the same time, we’re continuing to have a discussion about what anthropology is that should or shouldn’t be a part of that work.

Now, my colleagues who work in these other environments, say, in the army or in the marines.  One is the model of the dual-career professional.  So that’s something that at this point I don’t think the social sciences in general have done enough to explore.  You know, priests, doctors —

DAVIS:  But are your colleagues actually officers in some cases?

ALBRO:  No, they’re civilians.  They’re civilians who work full-time for the armed services.

DAVIS:  They not subject to the punishments of the chain of command.

ALBRO:  Oh, no.  They are.  They’re subject to their employers’ legal, ethical employment frame of reference.

This idea of the dual-career professional, where you have a doctor who says, “I can’t do this; doctors are allowed to do this” — it’s something that the military has respected over the years.  They know that this is something that is true of anthropologists this way, that way, or the other way.  That has been an area that we’ve been exploring.

The other area is: if you decide to do this – and of course this isn’t something that everyone is interested in doing, or even most people — it’s all how you enter.  It’s the negotiations that you have to have at the beginning with your prospective employer, with regard to what your professional credentials are, what they require of you, what you’re going to be able to do, and what you intend to continue to be doing, as the new command social scientist of whatever-the-heck. That actually has been key.  A lot of the people that I know well have been very ambivalent about doing any of these things at all in any way.  There was a lot of negotiation up front about what would be involved.  This includes things like, “Well, so we have a discipline, this is the ethics code, and here are things that I can’t do.”  That set of negotiations in your space of employment at the outset seems also to be a key thing. 

DAVIS:  What’s remarkable about what you just said is even the notion that there would be anything like a real negotiation.  We have the sense that it’s the 8000-pound gorilla and the person and that there really is no negotiation.

ALBRO:  Then you’re making the critique of the powerful institution.  That’s something that we also talk a lot about.  What, reasonably speaking, can be said and done in the context of working in and for powerful institutions, whose ultimate job, if you have military, is to kill and break things?  I think the reason that anthropology might have a little bit of room to maneuver here now is because it’s suddenly become a desired expertise in these circles.  And there’s no already-laid-out modus operandi, because there hasn’t been this relationship since the Vietnam era in a full-blow way.  So these organizations are willing to listen to people and to try to accommodate them, at least for now.

DAVIS:  At least for now, until they can get people who’ll not feel obliged to observe your ethics code.

ALBRO:  Undoubtedly those people already exist.  But then their relationship to the profession as a whole is nonexistent. So, they do whatever they do but then they’re not credible anthropologists.

ARRIGO:  I’m going to come in with the last question now.  Some of us, the Psychologists for Social Responsibility and other groups, are asking for an independent investigation, hopefully with subpoena power, of the American Psychological Association.  But some of us, who’ve looked into this further, are much more concerned about the system that we have than who did what.  I just wondered what it would be like if we asked for an anthropological study of the APA system.

ALBRO:  Well, anthropologists do this kind of thing all the time.  One of the ways that anthropologists are routinely employed by these kinds of organizations is to do organizational studies.  They’re brought by the CIA to study the organization of the CIA:  Why are we a dysfunctional organization, what are we doing that’s making it impossible to achieve our objectives, or whatever? 

ARRIGO:  How could you get a study?  Could you just give me a rough idea of what time period would be involved, how much it would cost, and how to get anthropologists who wouldn’t be in the hands of the APA leadership?

ALBRO:  This is a traditional field in anthropology, organizational research.  There are lots of folks that do this kind of stuff.  They either do it as an additional activity, within their academic sphere, or they’re consultants and they work by themselves.  There are a lot of ethnographically driven, consulting agencies, some of which do things like corporate anthropology, essentially do organizational studies of this kind.  That would be a normal consultancy.  That can be expensive because they make their living off it.  These can be as brief as two-week windows of opportunity, or longer.  They usually involve site visits, staff interviews, and —

ARRIGO:  We had the problem of conflicts of interest on every side.  What would be the process of getting somebody without that concern?

ALBRO:  Why don’t I put you in touch with some folks?  Just e-mail me, and we can do it that way.

ARRIGO:  Okay.  That would be good.

I think that we have passed out of time now.  I just want to say that this conversation is confidential among us at this point, until you look at a transcript and decide what you want.  But I just wanted to feel you out.  Ray will be the final one to look at the transcript and do whatever you want.  We hope we can post it with your name, but, if not, we won’t.

SOLDZ:  My final question!

ALBRO:  I have a little time.

SOLDZ:  I actually have two, one of which will probably be very brief.  One of them:  do you know any parallels or such, or who might be involved in sociology?  Because we know nothing about that.  And the other question is, one of the major issues involving Human Terrain Systems, but that implicitly involves us, you’ve got generic ethical concerns that involve anthropology and then you’ve got a second set of concerns about the nature of the particular efforts that these are going to help, namely, counterinsurgency wars, which are, at best, controversial.  I’m wondering how, in your process, you thought about those issues, because we had obviously the same sets of dual issues, say, interrogations in Iraq that are part of that counterinsurgency effort.  Those are separate issues.  I wondered how they played out among you guys.

ALBRO:  Okay.  I can address that.  It still continues to play out, I might say.

On the sociology issue, I wish I were more informed about this.  But what I can tell you is: the discussion has been much more muted and piecemeal.  I don’t see a discipline-wide debate happening there in a sustained way, to be concise.

SOLDZ: And are they being used in ways anthropologists are?

ALBRO:  People trained in sociology are not sought after in the same sort of way.  For whatever reason, this category of anthropology has somehow filtered into people’s transom. What is the template for what we are looking for?  So sociologists don’t do that in this sort of simplistic way of thinking about the issue.  They haven’t been brought in systematically at a disciplinary level.  But sociologists are often ending up in the same kinds of roles, as analysts and so forth.  And with this Human Terrain thing, in fact, there were really very few Ph.D.-level anthropologists that have had any involvement in the program.  Mostly it’s filled out by, say, people with an M.A. in religious studies or a wide variety of eclectic backgrounds, or sometimes with no academic training whatsoever. 

DAVIS:  But they’re called anthropologists?

ALBRO:  What happens is that “anthropology” becomes a sort of cover term to describe a whole host of people, many of whom are completely untrained or poorly trained  or only very provisionally trained, in areas that are kindred to anthropology or not.  That’s another interesting thing about this. There are some anthropologists that have been part of this.  One of the reasons it’s been so paramount in this discussion is at least one anthropologist has been involved in organizing and putting the program together – conceiving the program.  So that’s one of the reasons why this has become somewhat notorious.  But there really aren’t very many anthropologists actually doing it.  Instead, there is a whole host of other folks. 

That’s one of our concerns.  You’re going to have these programs. You’re going to run with them.  Then you’re going to get a bunch of people who really don’t know what they’re doing.  And that’s really going to further confound what is already a deeply compromising situation. 

DAVIS:  That’s what Ray has complained about with interrogations, that there are people who are not really interrogators doing interrogations.

ALBRO:  That’s right.  And that actually goes back to the powerful institutions question.  It essentially says, “Look, if this is what’s going to be happening repeatedly, eventually it stands to reason to believe that military organizations aren’t serious in a good-faith kind of a way in wanting the best and the brightest from within some profession or other; they just want warm bodies who will get hazard pay to do whatever.  That is a concern.  There’s absolutely no question that happens in this context.

Now, on the other question, that’s a big question.  I wish we could have that discussion over a beer.

SOLDZ:  I’d love to —

ALBRO:  Here’s what I’ll tell you, that the AAA has tried to be as delicate about this as it can.  Remember I mentioned that the AAA, when it delivered it’s statement on HTS [Human Terrain Teams] in 2007, it condemned the program.  Our group wasn’t in substantive disagreement with the idea that the program was flawed.  But, as I emphasized, we were concerned that at this point we weren’t well enough informed about it to condemn it outright.  It looked bad. And it’s clear, subsequently, that it is bad.  But, at the time we just felt the process should involve doing your homework and making sure you know what you’re talking about before you issue a blanket statement.  They didn’t do that.  We felt that that was an error.  But the other thing that they did was that they took our specific copy, if you will, of how these programs have these particular characteristics, and where we had raised the following set of issues of an ethical sort, which we saw as ultimately something they wouldn’t be able to get around — and indeed they haven’t.  But then that language that we gave them was also put in language that was phrased in the larger context of an iniquitous war, an indefensible war in Iraq, and so forth.  We had a spirited discussion in our group about that.  Ultimately, many of us didn’t agree with that.

ARRIGO:  Elsewhere in you document you’re trying to distinguish between the particular war and the particular activity, right?

ALBRO:  That’s right.  In the report, among other things, we distinguish between — We say, we don’t want to get involved in Just War debates.  Talking about “good wars” and “bad wars” is a bad idea.  But we also say that if you’re considering working with the military, in whatever capacity, we’re either going to say, that can’t happen because the military is the arm of the state that’s used as a bludgeon, to carry out policy that’s flawed or not.  If that’s going to be our position, then there’s really nothing for us to talk about.  It’s done.  Instead, the politics, as it plays in the background of the discussion, has always been an open-ended and unresolved issue.  For many of the most vocal voices in the discussion, that is where the action’s at, in the context of post-colonial, U.S. imperial efforts globally, since the end of the Cold War.  Nothing else makes sense as a way to talk about this. 

Another part of that discussion is whether it’s credible to even consider working from the inside out, saying, look, look, the Human Terrain System may be something we can all agree was not only a bridge too far but a tremendous mistake, a deeply flawed way of approaching these questions.  But what if, in an environment where the military is increasingly tasked with activities other than war, it would be good if the military did it’s humanitarian relief work better and that you worked in that capacity with military stability operations or nation building?  Now we might not agree that nation building is a good idea, but I’m sure the military agrees that they’d rather not be doing it also.  So should you work with them in some way, in the spirit of a long-term reformist agenda where what you’re seeing is an institution that’s not static and where there’s a possibility for positive change from within?  I think that most within the discipline of anthropology would say:  “Well, that’s just preposterous.  The military is the military.  History speaks for itself.”  There’s nothing really for us to talk about here. 

I find myself coming down as an agnostic on this issue.  You’ve got to be very optimistic to think that you can change powerful institutions in your lifetime.  At the same time, what are you doing, if you’re going to say, “Forget it; that’s impossible”?  What is the purpose of the production of your own academic knowledge?  What’s it for?  I think these are difficult questions.   And so far the AAA has tried to keep, as much as it can, the broader political context out, although that’s not been totally successful.  Some on the Executive Board have been pretty clear that, “No, it really does have to be viewed that way.  The War in Iraq was not just a bad strategic decision for our self-interest, it was internationally and legally indefensible.”  So, I also agree with that.

ARRIGO:  Is this political controversy written anywhere that we can get hold of it?  Because it’s very germane to us.

ALBRO:  In the way that I’m describing it?  What you can find are different articulations of statements that frame the problem, in political terms or not.  If you go to the Network of Concerned Anthropologists, you’ll find that we will want to approach the question as meaningful from that point of view.

SOLDZ:  What’s striking is that, if anything — I’ll call them anti-imperial forces — are perhaps dominant in anthropology, whereas in APA I doubt such a person has ever been on the Board, at least, if so, I’m sure they’ve never uttered their opinions on the Board.  What we have is a pretty liberal profession dominated by military forces, who have always had a number of positions on the Board, who probably don’t represent the membership.

ALBRO:  In a funny sort of way I think you could draw an analogy with, say, the intelligence community writ large.  From what I’ve been able to gather, and in terms of what intelligence agents tell themselves, they’re generally a pretty liberal lot.

SOLDZ:  In the analytical sector of the CIA.

ALBRO:  Right.  But they work from a sector that is viewed from a larger compass as deeply implicated in U.S. post-Cold War machinations of one sort of another. Insofar as there’s something credibly called public anthropology, and insofar as public anthropology regards participation in policy-related discussions as toxic — And for a long time that has been the case in anthropology.  The discipline, in its self-identity, has not generally thought of itself as wanting to have a robust presence on the policy front.  We might be talking about immigration policy, health policy, whatever, in many ways stemming from the same sources and reasons as we’ve already gone over, from an earlier generation.  If there is anything to the idea that it’s important to consider whether anthropology should have a connection to policy, then it becomes hard at the same time to apply a politic in ways unproblematic.  It’s kind of a Catch 22, and I don’t have a good answer for you there. 

There are several anthropology blogs that have acquired a real status in the disciplinary discursive public sphere.  People really participate in or lurk.  One is called “Savage Minds.”  Another is called “Open Anthropology.”  In both of those blogs, you’ll find very concerted, and very detailed and sophisticated discussion of the question of anthropology and security in the broad context of politics.  It’s a really rich discussion.  So our particular group, the Ad Hoc Commission group, has had to negotiate that tricky wicket. 

One of the conditions for our ability to talk with one another has been that we won’t, in an inflexible way, insist upon a political line of one sort or another.  What that’s meant is that we’ve been able to maintain a fairly multi-voiced conversation among ourselves.  We would like, ideally, to model that for the profession as a whole.  But that’s a tall order.

ARRIGO:  And how about the transparency of your actual committee workings?

ALBRO:  You mean how we look to the issue of transparency?  We try to do that a number of ways. There’s the trade newspaper or whatever, the monthly Anthropology News.  We routinely publish updates in the Anthropology News that are updates of our ongoing work.  The AAA also has a monthly, newly consolidated, official blog, and we have a monthly blog entry which we put out, where we say here’s an issue we’ve been thinking about, working on. We’re describing it, and we’re also describing what our conversation has been, and now we’re putting it out for the membership and anyone else who’s interested to respond to, but also to engage in that broader conversation with us. 

SOLDZ:  When the original task force was meeting, I asked David Price about discussions, and he said there was strict confidentiality and he couldn’t say anything without violating —

ALBRO:  You know, David’s whole issue is secrecy.  He’s been very concerned with secret research, and the question of secrecy is always front and center in his mind.  Transparency — like the speed and pace of our work — don’t necessarily have some perfect lockstep relationship.  A perfect example would be — I can’t speak for David and I don’t know what he told you —

SOLDZ:  He didn’t communicate anything about your proceedings or your discussion to me.

ALBRO:  I’m not sure what he meant.  But I will tell you that right now we’re working on a report about the Human Terrain System.  We’re doing it because it’s been such a prominent part of the discussion for so long.  In fact, we feel it’s beginning to detract in certain ways.  So we’re going to produce this report.  We solicited a formal request for information from the program managers of HTS, and we’re working on the report.  Our report is, in its short form, already in existence.  But we haven’t put it out there yet because we’re not done with it.  Until we’re done with it, we’re not really going to talk much about it.  What we’ve done instead is, we’ve put out and we’ve talked about, not only in the blog and in the AN [Anthropology Newsletter] installment, but also in conferences and other meetings and the rest of it, and also because we’re often asked to account to the Executive Board itself we have to sit in on those teleconferences and answer questions and offer whatever we have to say.  We’re going to do all of those things. But until the report is done, it doesn’t make sense for us, in a piecemeal way, to show our hand.  What we want to do is just finish this report.  It’s going to go out there.  It’s going to be available.  People can respond to it. But at this point we’re still working on it.  We don’t want to talk about it.  Does that make sense?

BENNETT:  Sorry, Ray Bennett here.  I’m going to have to punch out at this point. 

Rob, thank you very much.  It’s very enlightening.  And I am in the DC area, so I might take you up on that offer for a beer. 

ALBRO:  Yes, let’s have a beer sometime.

[Farewells to Ray.]

ARRIGO:  I think it should be about closing time for all of us.

[Farewells and enthusiastic thanks to Robert.]

ALBRO:  Thanks for the opportunity.  It’s been an interesting conversation.