Research may be defined in many ways. The revised Frascati Manual (OECD 2015) divides research into three categories of basic, applied and experimental. For work to be considered research by this international benchmarking, work must be: ‘novel, creative, uncertain, systematic, transferable and or reproducible’ (OECD 2015: 28–29). In ethics, researchers will invariably follow the specific guidance of respective professional associations and use these as guiding principles for the duration of the research process. Lesser explored in academic research ethics are those issues raised by engagements of universities with security and intelligence gathering connectedness of research ethics: the British Sociological Association (BSA 2018), with a first published ‘Statement of Ethical Principles’ in 1968; the British Psychological Society (BPS 2018) first published ‘Ethical Principles’ 1978, the British Educational Research Association (BERA 2018), first published its ‘Ethical Guidelines’ in 1992, the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) and the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) (ESRC 2018). Educational researchers most obviously concerned with pedagogical and institutional concerns with education itself, including universities, have, even post-9/11, demonstrated a neglect of security and intelligence concerns even when explicitly dealing with policies and philosophies of research ethics (Bridges et al. 2007). The lead (non-statutory) body guiding university governance – Universities UK (2017) has, naturally, in the heightened case of terrorism and new counter-terrorist legislation which directly impacts universities, has sharpened its guidance counter-terror responsibilities in the light of what in the UK is known as Prevent (UUK 2016). UUK has raised ethical-related issues too prior to this, including guidance on Freedom of speech on campus: rights and responsibilities in UK universities (UUK 2011) and Oversight of security-sensitive research material in UK universities: guidance (UUK 2012). While none of this amounts to a satisfactory overview of the relationship between the conduct of academic research in the light of the current security climate, nevertheless our outline of such should show that the ethical principles at play are not new as such but rather new in application.
Thus while security and intelligence studies has begun to develop explicit attention to ethics in intelligence, security and intelligence, academics recognise ethics has been neglected within the field (Johnson 2012; Omand and Phythian 2018), it is arguable that this has been in part pressured by outcry over the seemingly (in public opinion) unethical behaviour of the security and intelligence agencies. In the UK this was most evident with the publication of the Chilcot Report (Chilcot 2016) and the suggestions – not proven – of apparent political manipulation of intelligence about Iraqi weapons of mass destruction as a means of justification invasion, war and occupation. Security dossiers which justified the invasion or Iraq seem piecemeal exposés compared the scale of remits of a more generalized surveillance such as Snowden’s. Yet still, even in the security and intelligence literature related to the practice of academic research, such as for example, a relatively recent and path-finding volume on research methods in security and intelligence studies has no chapter devoted to ethics.
A tentative modelling of research ethics provides here a conceptual sketch of the ethical dimensions of university and security/ intelligence agency relations. While adding to the complexity of such relations, the tripartite overt, covert and covert-overt modelling gives some sense of the operational milieu of such ethical contexts and in itself refines more often negatively framed responses to this important historic but ever intensifying nexus of security and intelligence agency interactions with the Academy.
A multi-disciplinary interstitial model of the interface of universities and the security and intelligence agencies suggests a marked historical shift from the covert, an increased tendency in an era of accountability to Government and the government of public opinion, to the overt. And yet, the intelligence and security services, being by their nature secretive, even in an era of increased public and political accountability needs must in actual operational tendency blend the covert and the overt, the covert-overt. Hence the latest stage of the relational nexus blends openness and secrecy, transparency and opacity, a blurring which is or can be perceived as offering opportunities to skirt public, democratic accountability. Here, the three-fold model can also be represented in more likely appropriate cyclical and complex ways.
These new security agendas raise old ethical dilemmas for universities on many levels. We provide here a framing of key, critical issues in academic research ethics for universities today under four categories: Academic Standards; Academic Freedom; Academic Engagement; Professional Conduct. For each category it is argued a binary opposition becomes evident of potential ethical challenges, dichotomies, dilemmas, all of which are specific to security-specific academic research ethics.
Academic Standards; Academic Freedom: Academic Engagement: Professional Conduct
We thus identify four research ethics themes potentially arising from university engagement with security and intelligence agencies: professional conduct; academic standards; academic freedom; research conduct, each broad category has within it a scale of ethical principles either in tension or opposition. In order to provide a framework for further discussion and research, we seek here simply to outline in provisional and tentative ways the range of ethical considerations raised by university relations with security and intelligence agencies, providing illustrative exemplars from a range of specific disciplinary contexts.
Academic Standards: Openness and Opacity
However, contested discussions over epistemology may be across any discipline, knowledge, including methods of enquiry, to be seen as credible, is expected to be testable and open to challenge, subject to peer review as well as public account. Indeed revisions and additions to knowledge are made on the basis on the soundness of prior knowledge. If research and publication is framed so as to involve deception, deceit, or falsification, this becomes a matter of not merely academic but public concern.
In our present consideration of university relations with security and intelligence agencies, the very hint of covert action or secrecy seems immediately to draw into question the very possibility of openness. If an academic is working in covert collaboration in secrecy with an espionage agency, this first principle of academic openness is immediately questioned. Whether this is the falsification of results or findings or plagiarised is one matter, but the very notion of secrecy militates de facto against openness.
A now contemporary classic exemplar of such a case we may draw here from the social sciences. In a notorious cause célèbre in the history of anthropology, at the height of the Vietnam War, revealed that some prominent US social scientists were covertly engaged in counterinsurgency activities in Thailand. The case made against the latter being that their activities had potential to impact in harmful ways on those with whom the researchers were collaborating. The Ethics Committee of the American Anthropological Association debated the case in a time when the academic community as a whole was polarized by the Vietnam War. The case led to the formulation of American Anthropological Association’s ethical code for researchers. Eric Wakin’s (2008) now reprinted Anthropology Goes to War: Professional Ethics and Counterinsurgency in Thailand, details the controversy. Anthropologists, with their credible rationales for access to remote and often otherwise difficult to access peoples and places provide considerable potential cover for covert action. The issues over anthropology continued to be reported long after the end of the Vietnam War: ‘The revelation that the quiet American studying at a university near you might be a trainee spy brought cries of consternation from British anthropologists ... (Times Higher, “CIA outrages UK academics by planting spies in classroom”, June 3, 2006). The impact of potential covert actions by academics, or even the hint of its possibility, as we can see from this instance, provoked a wider uncertainty about the openness of an entire discipline; see for example Price’s (2004) Threatening Anthropology: McCarthyism and the F.B.I.’s Surveillance of Activist Anthropologists.
This same first principle could be applied to any area of university work. With heightened involvements of security and intelligence agencies in an era of global terroristic threat, universities a marked locus of special interest for the monitoring of extremism and counter-terrorism, matters have arguably become more but less intensified (Gearon 2018). In these latter cases, the more pressing ethical matters of those of the other, the second and third principles – of academic freedom, and of academic integrity.
Academic Freedom: Autonomy and Autocracy
For the UK as for much of the western world, 9/11 remains a defining landmark in such terrorism and counter-terrorism narrative. Crelinsten (2014), for example, argues that there is, in security terms, ‘September 12 thinking’ and ‘September 10 thinking’. The former ‘privileges a war model of counterterrorism, while the latter approach is assumed by the former to privilege a criminal justice model of counterterrorism’ blurring between internal and external security, international and domestic jurisdictions, and state and non-state actors (Crelinsten 2014: 1; cf. Crelinsten 1978). Such post-9/11 thinking has intensified security and intelligence operations on campuses worldwide (for a review of this terrorism and counter-terrorism literature, see Author 2018).
There are, however, numerous historic and still current cases, which embroil the Academy in less obvious and lesser-known way. The arts, for instance, may seem as distant from espionage as any aspect of university life. The independence of aesthetic vision is here closely related to notions of academic autonomy, indeed with universities being associated with the same intellectual spaces as are perceived for artists in the domain of aesthetic endeavour. Yet, as the aesthetic and intellectual activity have always been integrally political, in specific ways we can illustrate this in the history of the arts has in modern times been closely associated with the maintenance of autocratic, dictatorial and totalitarian regimes. Thus, for example, that all of twentieth century totalitarian movements saw the arts as having a pivotal role in the shaping of political systems indicates the power of modern aesthetics in all aspects of modernity (Adamson 2003). Writing in particular, and the arts more generally, played an important political role in post-Revolutionary Russia (Trotsky’s (1971) Literature and Revolution representing a key delineation of this. In post-Revolutionary Russia, the All-Russian Association of Proletarian Writers and the subsequent Union of Soviet Writers, created by the Central Committee of the Communist Party in 1932, made the arts a critical weapon in the arsenal of the Revolution itself. The 1934 Congress of the Union of Soviet Writers gave to this role an existential, as much as ideological role, when Stalin’s mouthpiece Andrei Zhdanov declared Socialist Realism to be the only acceptable purpose for literature, somewhat brilliantly if chillingly encapsulated in Stalin’s epigram that artists were to be ‘engineers of the human soul’ (Garrard and Garrard 1990).
The Western Academy and the world of the arts had its corresponding if less overtly stated engagements with political agency. Here Linda Risso’s (2014) Propaganda and Intelligence in the Cold War has pioneered our understanding of the NATO Information Service or NATIS, the cultural wing if you like of its military alliances designed to win (largely) Soviet hearts and minds. Other scholars such as Sarah Miller Harris (2016), with her The CIA and the Congress for Cultural Freedom in the Early Cold War, and Frances Stonor Saunders (2013), with her The Cultural Cold War: The CIA and the World of Arts and Letters, shed much the same light on university and arts engagement with espionage agencies. Joel Whitney’s (2018) Finks: How the C.I.A. Tricked the World’s Best Writers and Finn and Couvee (2015) The Zhivago Affair detail further levels of CIA involvement in the world of letters. With modern literary studies in universities being seen as a bastion of autonomous critical thought, such revelations illuminate autonomy tinged by the secret hand of espionage, something expected in international relations (Aldrich et al. 2014; Aldrich and Cormac 2016) but perhaps less expected in the Academy, the world of letters or in the media (Wilkinson 2009). The persistent critique of security engagements with the arts raises especially sensitive ethical questions, notably when the paragons of aesthetic autonomy (artists, musicians, writers) are shown to be less than independent of power State authority the argument can be made for a State moving in autocratic directions or at least centralizing ways. In research ethics, the question of autonomy make their appearance when security and intelligence purposes, or even sources of funding, make possible research across a range of disciplines (Technopolis 2015; Tilley et al. 2014). We do not argue there is a lack of legitimacy here, in either the funding or proximity of academic institutions to security agency agendas, for it is as easy to argue that security and intelligence agency engagements are as legitimate an aspect of the wider polity as any other department of Government. Our argument is that issues of autonomy are worth examining as an aspect of the broader outline of such engagements.
Academic Engagement: Scrutiny and Surveillance
Academics must, by necessity, engage with the world beyond universities. The increased emphasis on ‘impact’ across universities worldwide is designed to show the value of academic research in all disciplines to the cultural, economic, political and social environments beyond the confines of the Academy. And whether academic life depends on public or private funding it is difficult to support the idea that academic life, including engagement within and beyond the academic, are not subject to levels of scrutiny which ensure academic enquiry is worth financing. Objections become concerns when scrutiny shifts into surveillance. In the UK, for example, the latest example of a decades-long history of counter-terrorism legislation, the Counter Terrorist and Security Act 2015 (CTSA 2015) has particularly impacted UK higher education policy and research (Gearon 2018). With the CTSA bringing significant legal responsibilities and obligations to public authorities through, and significantly extending the range and public responsibilities of the Prevent Strategy, countering of extremism has become a not uncontentious part of UK university policy (Durodie 2016; Glees 2015; Russell Group 2015; UUK 2016; also UUK 2011, 2012, 2013, 2016). The reception of the policy by UK Universities has ranged from welcome acceptance to caution and wariness through to hostility and strong ideological opposition (Durodie 2016; Gearon 2015, 2017b; Glees 2015; NUS 2015; 2017). The UK Government moves at counter-terrorism is perceived by some as an intrusion into, and de facto curtailment of, scholarly and research independence through legal, security and intelligence service agency involvement in higher education. Such involvement is far from lacking either historical precedent (Sinclair 1986; Winks 1987a, b) or present day currency (De Graaff and Nyce 2016; IAFIE 2018; Zwerling 2011). If the reception of CTSA duties have been contentious (Busher, Choudhury, Thomas and Harris, 2017), the body representing UK university interests has expressed strong reservations over the potential of such responsibilities to impinge on academic freedom (UUK, 2017). Related concerns are shared by the UK’s National Union of Students over the impacts on its members in the CTSA surveillance powers unfairly to target cultural, racial and religious minorities (NUS 2015, 2017). Monitoring of campus activity, terms by opponents as surveillance, has campuses perceived as loci extremist and radical activity. The education sector made a third of Prevent (or counter-terrorist) referrals in 2015–16, with two and a half thousand individuals named (Home Office, 2017). The Eighth Report of Session (2016–17) of the Home Affairs Committee (2017) itself came to several critical conclusions about the implementation of the CTSA as a means to counter radicalisation in schools as well as universities, largely raised over questions of surveillance and monitoring of student and academic activity. Our third academic principle shows, then, that balance between academic and public accountability of staff and students elides into concern when scrutiny becomes surveillance.
Professional Conduct: Integrity and Illegality
The three prior academic principles culminate in a more general category of professional conduct. With wide differences in the nature of professional codes (entry for example into the professions, such as education, law or medicine) and research ethics codes (invariably disciplinarily specific), the three preceding cases may indeed be incorporated into the notion of academic integrity. The case we may wish to present here is where such issues of integrity – the conduct for example of ethically conducted research – breaches into illegality.
As the intensification of threat has widened, so too have interests in the security and intelligences services, as directed by the governments they serve, widened and deepened their interest in universities. The epistemological range of what the security and intelligence community call ‘intelligence collection disciplines’ (Lowenthal and Clark 2015) and the ‘intelligence collection cycle’ (Pythian 2015) shows an integral relationship between scientific discipline knowledge interests and the knowledge interests of the security and intelligence agencies. What is known as ‘security sensitive research’ generally here relates to the development of knowledge that may have commercial, economic, industrial or directly military uses and is conducted in both civilian and military research contexts (UUK 2012). The access of and to such security sensitive research becomes part of intelligence gathering, then, both as a means of advancing defence and preparing for prospective offence in times of direct attack from hostile sources, whether corporations, individuals or nation states. The protection of campus personnel, staff, students and researchers, becomes here part of protection of the public.
Today, concerns are prevalent among security and intelligence agencies over similar lapses in hostile access to research. There are cases where university academics face dilemmas too in collaboration with law-enforcement in direct confrontation of conflicts between legal demands for access to academic research when confidentiality has been assured to participants. While researchers in ethically sensitive areas (prisons, schools or other publication institutions) may face issues over disclosure of harm or even criminality in their investigations, Palys and Lowman’s (2012) ‘Defending Research Confidentiality “To the Extent the Law Allows:” Lessons From the Boston College Subpoenas’ is a well-known instance. Here, Boston College researchers on Northern Ireland terrorism gave assurances of confidentiality to former convicted terrorists but were ultimately unable to vouchsafe this – UK and US security and intelligence agencies working in collaboration with respective law-enforcement bodies requested and ultimately gained access to the researchers’ findings through court subpoenas.