by John Cavanagh
April 29, 1980
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A government which corrupts its colleges and universities by making political fronts of them . . . has betrayed academic freedom and compromised all who teach. When colleges and universities are made conduits of deceit and when faculty members are paid to lie, there is an end to the common good of higher education.
-- Professor Van Alstyne, former president of the American Association of University Professors (Academe, June 1976, p. 54)
Throughout the 1960s, and possibly longer, at least five Princeton professors worked secretly as high-level consultants for the CIA, according to previously undisclosed documents contained in the personal papers of former CIA director Allen W. Dulles '14.
Cyril Black, Klaus Knorr, Joseph Strayer, James Billington, and the late T. Cuyler Young served as members of the "Princeton Consultants," a secret panel of academics who met in Princeton, together with Dulles, four times a year to assist with intelligence assessments for the CIA's Office of National Estimates.
Professor Black, who had told the Daily Princetonian in 1976 that he had never been in the CIA's "employ," confirmed to the Forerunner last week that he had indeed served as a paid consultant for the spy agency. "Nobody ever asked me if I was a consultant," Black explained.
Billington acknowledged to the Daily Princetonian in 1968 that he consulted for the CIA's Office of National Estimates, according to him, "two or three times a year." Strayer had also been publicly identified as a CIA consultant. The CIA activities of the other two professors, however, have until now remained a secret, as has the existence of the Princeton Consultants group.
Black confirmed that then-Princeton President Robert Goheen was aware of the group's existence. But he said that it was "not a university matter at all."
The Dulles papers and letters, which are housed in Princeton's Seeley G. Mudd Library, afford a rare glimpse into the CIA's interactions with Princeton and other universities from the early 1950s until Dulles's death in 1969. Dulles maintained close ties with his alma mater, including seats on Princeton's Board of Trustees and on the Woodrow Wilson School Advisory Council.
Access to the Papers is contingent upon approval by an Allen W. Dulles Committee. In addition, researchers are required to sign a contract stating that any publication using the Papers will be submitted in advance to the Committee for approval. After a one-month delay, permission was obtained for this article.
Before this month's careful research in the Dulles Papers, little was documented of relations between the CIA and the Princeton faculty. Other than history professor Joseph Strayer, whom one writer termed "the agency's most devoted consultant" (James Ridgeway, The Cloned Corporation, 1968, p. 138), only two professors had been identified who served in organizations that received CIA funding: Politics professor Paul Sigmund with the Independent Research Service, and Near Eastern Studies professor Morroe Berger with the Congress for Cultural Freedom.
Previous disclosures about Princeton and the CIA were limited to close ties in three other areas: recruitment (including extensive CIA collaboration with former Dean of Students, William D'O. Lippincott '41 and former Director of Career Services Newell Brown '39); CIA research carried out on the Princeton campus (including the secret MK-ULTRA mind control program); and close institutional ties (several Princeton alumni have served as CIA Director, Deputy Director, or Director of Personnel).
Princeton Consultants: The Structure
Perhaps the most extraordinary of the Papers' contents are letters and memos which expose Strayer as a small tip of a consultant iceberg. Filed under "Princeton Consultants" and cross-referenced under "Central Intelligence Agency: Panel of Consultants (Princeton Consultants)," letters from 1961 to 1969 sketch the outlines of one of the central programs of professors covertly consulting for the CIA.
The only year during which the entire membership of the Consultants is known is 1961, when all of them signed a note of "respect and affection" to Dulles that accompanied a gift.
At that time, the panel consisted of nine senior professors: the late T. Cuyler Young (Near Eastern Studies, Princeton); Klaus Knorr (Strategic Studies, Princeton); Joseph Strayer (Medieval History, Princeton); Cyril Black (Soviet Studies, Princeton); the late William Langer (History, Harvard); Robert Bowie (International Studies, Harvard); Max Millikan (International Studies, M.I.T.); Raymond Sontag (European History, Berkeley); and Calvin Hoover (Soviet Economics, Duke); and four others: Philip E. Mosely (Director of Studies, Council on Foreign Relations); Hamilton Fish Armstrong (editor, ForeIgn Affairs); Caryl P. Haskins (Director, Carnegie Institution); and Harold F. Linder (Assistant Secretary of State and Chairman of the Export-Import Bank).
Two later members of the Princeton Consultants are disclosed in correspondence to Dulles and his wife Clover: Princeton History professor James Billington (January 15, 1965 letter from Dulles to Billington) and M.I.T. China expert Lucian Pye (January 30, 1969 letter from Pye to Clover Dulles)
Both Dulles and Sherman Kent, Chairman of the CIA's Board of National Estimates, also attended the Consultants meetings. The meetings were held in two-day blocks, four times a year. Many of the meeting dates coincided with Princeton trustee meetings, probably for Dulles's convenience. This appears to have created some problems for Dulles, however, whose personal schedule for the third week in October 1962 shows several time conflicts between his normal trustee duties and activities he pencilled in his own handwriting under the heading "CIA Consultants."
The precise year that the Princeton Consultants began operations is unclear from the Dulles Papers. A "Princeton Consultants" file first appears in 1961. However, in thirteen identical letters dated October 21 of that year, Dulles thanks each of the Consultants "for what you have contributed to our work here over the years." This language indicates that the group's existence reaches back well into the 1950s. Black confirmed that his membership in the Consultants dates from around 1957.
A further clue to the Consultants' origins is found in Consultant Calvin Hoover's memoirs (Memoirs of Capitalism, Communism, and Nazism, 1965). He writes (p. 270) that, after December 1950: "I agreed to serve as a member of a board of national estimates, composed largely of professors, generals, and admirals. It was a pleasure to find myself associated once more with Allen Dulles and with other friends of OSS days."
Within the next two and a half years, however, Hoover suffered a heart attack. He recalls (p. 273): "Bedell Smith asked that I continue to serve as a consultant [to the Board] to the extent that my health would permit. I agreed and continued to serve in this capacity during succeeding years."
If Hoover's consultancy began with the Princeton Consultants, then the group's existence stretches back at least to 1953.
The Consultants' termination date is also not revealed in the Papers. At the time of Dulles' last letter concerning the Princeton Consultants schedule (May 15, 1968 letter from Dulles to Frances Douglas), the former CIA head was still attending their meetings and "look[ed] forward to the future ones."
Black told the Forerunner that he had served on the Consultants until the late 1960s and that he believes they kept going for "a few years" after he left. Knorr added that he didn't think the group existed "when Bowen was president" of Princeton. This would place the Consultants' termination before 1972.
In addition to the Papers' frequent references to the CIA's Board of National Estimates, three other bits of evidence lead to the conclusion that a major portion of the Consultants' work went to the Board.
First, when approached by The Daily Princetonian on possible CIA affiliations (November 8, 1968), Consultant "Billington told The Princetonian he consulted for the Office of National Estimates 'two or three times a year' for a 'nominal fee -- $50 a day.' He explained he participated in conferences with other academics which submitted 'broad and scholarly' National Intelligence Estimates to the National Security Council. Billington added he was only one of 'quite a few' Princeton professors who worked for the CIA but refused to make an estimate on how many."
Second, according to the Dulles Papers, Sherman Kent, Chairman of the CIA's Board of National Estimates, came to most, if not all, of the Consultants' meetings until he retired in 1967. He also presided over at least one meeting in 1967, indicating his importance to the group.
Finally, in a letter of November 5, 1965 from the CIA Director W.F. "Red" Raborn to Dulles, Raborn turned down an offer by Dulles to resign from the Princeton Consultants as follows: "I assure you that I have no desire to see you leave this Panel. On the contrary, I am anxious that the Agency generally, and the Board of National Estimates in particular, shall enlarge and extend their contacts with persons capable of advising and assisting in their work."
Thus, the Dulles Papers reveal a direct link between the Princeton Consultants and the Board of National Estimates. Former CIA officer Victor Marchetti in collaboration with John Marks (The CIA and the Cult of Intelligence, 1974) describe the Board of National Estimates in 1973 as a 12- to 14-person board with a staff of forty to fifty specialists. It is doubtful that the Princeton Consultants were the Board; rather, they probably formed an adjunct to the "specialists."
The central function of the Board of National Estimates and its specialists was to prepare, each year, some fifty-odd National Intelligence Estimates (NIEs) -- called "blue books" -- which, according to Marchetti and Marks (p. 314), "were considered the highest form of national intelligence." Estimates covered such topics as assessment of the "enemy's" intentions in different countries and regions, and foreign military capabilities.
Marchetti and Marks described what then became of the finished NIEs, using as a case in point a late 1960s study of the socio-political problems of Latin America (pp. 16-17): "This estimate had been endorsed by the United States Intelligence Board, whose members include the heads of the government's various intelligence agencies, and had then been sent to the White House and to those departments that were represented on the 40 Committee." The 40 Committee was (p. 14) "an interdepartmental panel responsible for overseeing the CIA's high-risk covert-action operations."
The Marchetti and Marks description indicates that the Princeton Consultants' work could have served as an intelligence base for the series of brutal and often illegal covert operations of the 1950s and 1960s (and possibly also the 1970s) against the democratically elected or constitutional governments of Mohammed Mossadegh in Iran (1953); Patrice Lumumba in the Congo (1961); Joao Goulart in Brazil (1964); Juan Balaguer in the Dominican Republic (1965); Cheddi Jagan in Guyana (1962-66); and Salvador Allende in Chile (1973).
Since it is also known that the Consultants operated during a sizable segment (and possibly all) of the Vietnam War, the question arises whether their "estimates" of "enemy intentions" were an input into the CIA's Phoenix Program of torture and assassination, which led to the death, between 1968 and 1972, of some 20,000 Vietnamese citizens.
Both Black and Knorr categorically denied any relationship between the National Intelligence Estimates and the CIA's covert activities. According to Black, this hypothesis is "so far off what happened that it's very hard to comment without spending hours on it." Knorr characterized the allegation as "sheer speculation." He also asked rhetorically: "Are these people [the consultants] responsible" for the uses to which their estimates are put?
Consultant Calvin Hoover's memoirs shed some light on this controversy. He describes the Board of National Estimates as follows (Hoover, p. 270):
It was the responsibility of our board to produce intelligence estimates which could be used as the background by the appropriate agencies of our government for decisions on long-term international policies and on current action required, particularly those within the competency of the National Security Council. National intelligence estimates had to be provided covering a very large number of countries and particular situations, all involving in some fashion the threat of Soviet aggression. For example, how explosive was the political, social, and economic situation in Iran? When Mossadegh came to power, to what extent was he under the domination of the local Communist party and was the Communist party effectively controlled by Moscow? If the oil resources of Iran were nationalized, would they be made available to the Soviet government and could they effectively be utilized? How serious would be the loss of these resources to the West?
Hoover's reference to Mossadegh raises a question about the role of "estimates" in at least one actual CIA operation: the 1953 coup in Iran that put the Shah back onto the throne for the next 25 years.
William Langer, one of the Consultants from Harvard, wrote his sentiments on "estimating" to Dulles in a letter of April 22, 1963:
Yet I suppose the operations end would be of little significance unless there were proper processing of the results. And in any case, so much of basic intelligence hinges on the painstaking work of collation and evaluation. Estimating is simply the final stage of a long and arduous business without which it is quite impossible to arrive at any notion of one's opponent's intentions.
Here, a consultant clearly enunciates one link between "estimating" and actual operations.
The Board of National Estimates was formally disbanded in 1973 when another Princeton graduate, William Colby, was director of the CIA (source: Marchetti and Marks, pp. 67, 315). The Board was replaced by a group of eight senior CIA officers known as National Intelligence Officers (referred to as "the Wise Men" by their colleagues). Organizationally, they are still located near the top of the CIA hierarchy, in the Office of the Director of the CIA. And they still churn out National Intelligence Estimates which require the assistance of consultants.
Beyond the task of "estimating" for the CIA, little is known of the duties of the Consultants. Dulles' November 4, 1965 letter to CIA Director Raborn does refer to the Princeton group as "the Agency's panel of Consultants," which suggests that their purview may have been much broader.
It appears that outside of the CIA and the Consultants themselves, almost no one knew of the Consultants' existence. The Dulles Papers reveal only one instance of Dulles corresponding with an outsider about the Consultants. While still Director of the CIA, Dulles wrote to Robert Goheen, then president of Princeton (February 20, 1961): "I hope to renew the invitation to you which last winter was 'snowed out' to meet with our group of pundits who foregather three or four times a year in Princeton." The date Goheen was invited for coincided with a meeting of the Princeton Consultants. Goheen now serves as the U.S. Ambassador to India.
Princeton Consultants: Loyal Professors
It seems appropriate that the Consultants often met in the Gun Room of Princeton's Nassau Club -- located across the street from Commons -- for their interactions often resembled those of a tightly-knit "old-boys" club. Many members' friendships harked back to pre-World War II days.
Consultant Hoover's memoirs, for example, chronicle a close working relationship with Consultant Langer back in 1941 in one of the precursor organizations to the CIA -- the Committee on Intelligence (COI). Hoover later lived and carried out intelligence work in post-war Germany with Consultant Robert Bowie. He toured Poland in 1958 with Consultant Harold Linder.
Many of the Consultants sat on the same committees of the Council on Foreign Relations. Members lauded each other with praise in the forewords to their books. And, through it all, they maintained secrecy about their CIA consulting work.
Many also shared common Princeton ties. In addition to the five of the fifteen known consultants who taught at Princeton -- and Dulles who was a Princeton alumnus and trustee -- Robert Bowie was a 1931 Princeton graduate and Lucian Pye was a research assistant at Princeton's Center for International Studies (with Knorr and Black) from 1952 to 1956.
Many of the Consultants have actually taken leave from their academic duties to work for the CIA. These include Strayer, Sontag, Hoover, Millikan, Langer and Bowie. In 1977, Bowie became Deputy Director for National Intelligence, which among other tasks, put him in charge of National Intelligence Estimates.
The Consultants' working relationships regarding CIA matters often carried over into their non-Consultant work. The Dulles papers reveal that Billington, currently director of the Washington-based Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, frequently critiqued the manuscripts of Allen Dulles' books. After receiving a generous check for the work, he wrote to Dulles (July 25, 1964) that if there was anything he could do in the future, he would rather do it with the clear assurance that there would be no more remuneration. He said that working with Dulles had been one of his most rewarding experiences and that Dulles was doing him a favor by letting him continue to do so on occasion. (Billington refused permission to quote directly from this letter.)
In another instance, Dulles wrote to Consultant Hamilton Fish Armstrong, then editor of Foreign Affairs, about an anti-CIA book that the magazine was reviewing (September 6, 1962): "Personally I would hope that if Foreign Affairs had to include an item in regard to the book, it would be not quite as enthusiastic as the text you read to me."
Apparently Dulles didn't lose his love of spy tactics after stepping down as Director, as his letter reveals in his instructions to Armstrong: "Kindly keep Colonel Grogan's letter for your own information and then destroy it when you have read it."
Finally, a confidential memo from a private consultant (Michael J. Deutch, November 13, 1963) to the Washington Institute on Foreign Affairs revealed the assistance Dulles gave to his Consultant colleagues who served as Directors of the Council on Foreign Relations (Mosely, Haskins, Pye and Armstrong):
"I wonder whether Allen Dulles knows how much he has contributed to the success of the Council on Foreign Relations in New York when he headed the Agency by having his top aides suggest from time to time subjects for Council Study Groups. Dr. Wolfers, Roger Hilsman, Gen. Lansdale, Cols. Lincoln, Jordan and I would never have been invited to join the Council [on Foreign Relations] were it not because of their participation in these Study Groups."
Billington, Strayer and Hoover seem alone among the Consultants in publicly acknowledging their CIA consulting work, although all three vastly understated the extent of their involvement, and none ever disclosed the existence of the Princeton Consultants.
Cyril Black, for one, has repeatedly issued denials -- quite carefully-worded ones, in retrospect -- whenever the question of CIA ties came up. A May 24, 1976 Daily Princetonian article reported that "Professor of History Cyril E. Black, head of the Center for International Studies, said he had been 'approached, but [he has] never [been] in their [the CIA's] employ.'" Black told the Forerunner on February 22, 1980 that "I stand by that statement."
But two months later, as the story of the Princeton Consultants was unraveling, Black volunteered the information that he had indeed served on the consultant panel. His statement to the Daily Princetonian was intended, he said, to distinguish between employment and consultancy. Black explained that he "was offered employment in the [CIA's] Bureau of National Estimates" in the early 1960s, but turned it down because "it wasn't particularly interesting."
The 1976 Princetonian article also quoted Black as saying that consulting is all right as long as it "doesn't hurt your friend or deceive anybody." Asked whether his carefully-worded denial could be considered deceptive, Black replied that "it's hard to say," adding that "one can certainly argue the case."
The cautious denial by Black and the qualified admission of CIA work by the three others can perhaps be better understood in the light of an August 5, 1968 "secret" memo from Earl Clinton Bolton, then vice-president of the University of California, to CIA academic consultants, on the subject of "Agency-Academic Relations." The memo suggests defenses for professors accused of CIA connections, as well as a "very well considered, affirmative public relations program" for the academic community's CIA work.
Ideas for the latter included: lecture series "to establish the study of intelligence as a legitimate and important field of inquiry for the academic scholar"; "stress in recruiting, articles and speeches that the Agency is really a university without students and not a training school for spies"; and "do all recruiting off-campus and try to time these visits so that the probability of reaction is decreased"; and other tactics.
One present-day irony that emerges from these disclosures about the Consultants is that among the three persons that President Carter chose in 1979 to produce an outside review of the CIA was Consultant Klaus Knorr.
John Cavanagh is director of the Institute for Policy Studies and coauthor of nine books, including Global Dreams: Imperial Corporations and the New World Order (Touchstone, 1995). Special thanks to Jonny Fox, Alan Sokal, and Nancy Van Meter for help with interviews and preparation of this story (1980).