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The scholar and the spies

In late 1981 there were reported Defense Intelligence Agency efforts to establish a formal link with one or more universities that were prominent in studying African issues, politics, and people. Nothing actually came of those efforts, and DIA turned instead to issuing various Africa-related contract solicitations for which academics might compete. Such studies would, in the agency's words, be based on ''open sources of information and interpretation of events with the intention of complementing and supplementing Defense analytical capabilities and broadening Defense understanding and perspectives.'' No field work in Africa itself was contemplated.

I was principal researcher for a DIA contract, awarded to the University of Illinois, on ''Factors Affecting the Role and Employment of Peacekeeping Forces in Africa South of the Sahara.'' The present article comments on that contract experience.

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The most persistent difficulty stemmed from the fact that within DIA little consensus apparently existed about what ''peacekeeping forces'' should denote. According to the usual criteria - intercession that was multilateral, neutral, nonenforcing, and so on - there were only a few instances of peacekeeping in the independent African record: the United Nations operation in the Congo, a couple of attempts by the Organization of African Unity in Chad, and perhaps the International Observer Team during the Nigerian/Biafran War. Our initial idea, therefore, was to augment the sample by comparing and contrasting these few African cases with instances of UN peacekeeping in the eastern Mediterranean.

Just before the submission deadline, however, DIA issued Amendment 0001, which among other things now specified a definition for ''peacekeeping force'': namely, ''a force from one or more countries invited into another country for internal stability purposes.'' This certainly increased the sample, since restriction to internationalized, neutral intervention no longer applied. To the contrary, there were several dozen instances of troops being invited into an African country ''for internal stability purposes'' by one side or another, or both. Still ''peacekeeping'' did seem to be extended well beyond its usual referents.

To make sure we were reading things right, I called the DIA contact person in Arlington, Va. Would an Israeli invasion of Lebanon be peacekeeping, I asked. (Surely, some faction would have invited them in.) And how about Russian troops in Afghanistan? I'll let you know tomorrow, he said. When he called back, the answers were yes and yes. So, we swallowed hard and revised the study plan so that it employed the DIA definition and focused exclusively on Africa as a target region.

Unfortunately, concepts held by those who write project descriptions for DIA are not necessarily the same as those held by DIA monitors of contract performance. Why do you construe ''peacekeeping'' so strangely, the latter kept asking. Because that is what the amended solicitation stipulated, I would answer. But it is your study plan. Yes, but that plan tried to comport with the terms of the solicitation. So, a little Alphonse and Gaston routine would be staged from time to time.

Words, though, are only words. Even if ''peacekeeping'' is an inappropriate label, a concerted analytic and comparative study of some 50 cases of structurally relevant military intercessions in African states since 1960 (for that is what the criteria basically located) was certainly worth doing. The final report, we believe, was of publishable quality, and while anything to be published would be submitted as a courtesy to DIA for comment, the agency has from the start explicitly relinquished any right to censorship or embargo.

All other problems were minor and procedural, and mainly reflected our inexperience with contract conditions. The research team, specially organized apart from the University's African Studies Program, had just six months to complete its work. Since a draft final report was due a month earlier, and days were also consumed in start-up at one end and manuscript preparation at the other, the real research time available was less than four months. For academics accustomed to ruminating over their data for years and receiving lengthy extensions on grant deadlines, this was like being asked to finish the day after tomorrow. Moreover, during the six months of the project, three letter progress reports had to be submitted and two in-person trips to DIA headquarters carried out.

The results were something of a revelation to us. Even under these hurry-up conditions, a scholarly and comprehensive study was completed. Once the contract was let, DIA never tried to hinder or steer the report. Its comments on the draft were almost entirely limited to detailed matters of fact, which we were free to accept or reject. (We incorporated many of them.) Such contract work for DIA - open resources and no restrictions on publication - does not strike me as fraught with any greater moral connotations than a study for the State Department or a grant from the National Science Foundation. DIA sponsorship may by itself put some academics off, but, in our case at least, the contract we worked on violated no scholarly canons of which I am aware.

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