Money squeeze has CIA searching colleges for reserve force of analysts

February 26, 1993|By Los Angeles Times

WASHINGTON -- The CIA has quietly begun a new effort to have U.S. university personnel, including college undergraduates, help out during international crises by performing some of the classified intelligence work now carried out by the agency's Washington headquarters staff.

The idea, prompted by the CIA's current budgetary squeeze, is to arrange for students to be trained to help analyze intelligence about particular countries for which the agency is short of staff. Those students would then serve as a kind of reserve force that could be called to Washington in emergencies.

"There are areas we just can't cover in the world," David Cohen, the No. 2 official in the CIA's Intelligence Directorate, said last week. Until recently, "we had maybe a third of a person, maybe from the knees down, working on Somalia." The Intelligence Directorate does not engage in spying, but assembles and interprets information for U.S. policy-makers.

Mr. Cohen said the CIA hopes universities can provide what he called some sort of "surge capacity" to help out intelligence analysts at the headquarters near Washington when the agency suddenly faces a crisis in some previously quiet, obscure nation.

Using students as a reserve pool of specialists on some countries or areas -- an idea that agency officials insist is merely -- an experiment -- would mark a new element in the already complex relationship between the CIA and American university campuses.

In the past, those ties have aroused controversy, such as two years ago, when the Rochester Institute of Technology was found to be doing classified research on campus for the CIA, and in 1967, when it was disclosed that the CIA was giving funds to the National Student Association. CIA officials claimed the NSA funding was aimed at offsetting Communist financing of other international student groups.

Mr. Cohen described the CIA's effort in a speech at the Smithsonian Institution last week delivered as part of a public lecture series on "The CIA and the Cold War." Although more than 200 people attended, CIA officials later said that Mr. Cohen had not believed his remarks would be open to news coverage.

In his lecture, Mr. Cohen said he had talked recently to officials at Florida A&M University in Tallahassee about the possibility of a contract for work with the CIA.

Through a spokesman Tuesday, Florida A&M President Frederick S. Humphries noted that the university had accepted a $1.7 million Defense Department grant in November to teach students African and Asian languages. "They [intelligence officials] are helping us in that way and we are helping them," Mr. Humphries said.

But, he emphasized, "we are definitely not involved in any clandestine activities" for the CIA.

A CIA spokesman, asked about Mr. Cohen's remarks, maintained this week that Florida A&M is the only school in the nation with which agency officials have discussed ideas for crisis work.

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