Research as Espionage

There’s no doubt that academic research and military intelligence have a more tangled history than some would imagine, although in many countries in recent years ‘imperial disciplines’ like geography and anthropology have been through a long process of reevaluation and rejection the values that gave them birth. In the USA, however, geography remains intimately connected to the state and more particularly to current US military projects, indeed since 9/11 such ‘patriotic’ research has become more rather than less common.

z magazine has a very interesting article on a growing furore around first of a new US government cartography / geography program called the Bowman Expeditions. This half a million dollar project, México Indígena, has been mapping indigenous lands in Oaxaca, Mexico, where a popular insurgency has been growing in recent years. Local organisations under the umbrella of the Union of Organizations of the Sierra Juárez of Oaxaca (UNOSJO) have rejected the activities of the expedition and claim they were duped by researchers.

A slide from a Powerpoint from the project reveals ideological connections to US military goals, but the links are material too.
A slide from a Powerpoint from the project reveals ideological connections to US military goals, but the links are material too.

And it seems they were right to do so: the grant scheme is associated with the U.S. Army’s Foreign Military Studies Office (FMSO), which seems to be largely associated with so-called ‘open source intelligence’, in other words ‘leveraging’ academic mapping projects for military purposes, in particular the ‘cultural terrain’ for potential future counter-insurgency purposes, learning the lessons of failures in Afghanistan and Iraq. The academics involved, Jerome Dobson and Peter Herlihy from the University of Kansas, just down the road from FMSO, are now furiously backpedaling as previous denials are shown to be evasive and disingenuous…