Project Camelot and Chile

Originally found at

From The Rise and Fall of Project Camelot: Studies in the Relationship Between Social Science and Practical Politics, Irving Louis Horowitz, ed. (Cambridge MA: The M.I.T. Press, 1967), pp. 47-49 (document) and 232-36 (Jorge Montes):

Document Number 1

The following description of Project Camelot was released on December 4, 1964, through the Office of the Director of the Special Operations Research Office (SORO) of the American University in Washington, D.C. It was sent to scholars who were presumed interested in the study of internal war potentials and who might be willing to assemble at a four-week conference at the Airlie House in Virginia in August 1965. This release, dated December 4, 1964, is a summary version of a larger set of documents made available in August 1964 and in December 1964 [I.L.H.].

Project CAMELOT is a study whose objective is to determine the feasibility of developing a general social systems model which would make it possible to predict and influence politically significant aspects of social change in the developing nations of the world. Somewhat more specifically, its objectives are:

First, to devise procedures for assessing the potential for internal war within national societies;

Second, to identify with increased degrees of confidence those actions which a government might take to relieve conditions which are assessed as giving rise to a potential for internal war; and

Finally, to assess the feasibility of prescribing the characteristics of a system for obtaining and using the essential information needed for doing the above two things.

The project is conceived as a three to four-year effort to be funded at around one and one-half million dollars annually. It is supported by the Army and the Department of Defense, and will be conducted with the cooperation of other agencies of the government. A large amount of primary data collection in the field is planned as well as the extensive utilization of already available data on social, economic and political functions. At this writing, it seems probable that the geographic orientation of the research will be toward Latin American countries. Present plans call for a field office in that region.

By way of background: Project CAMELOT is an outgrowth of the interplay of many factors and forces. Among these is the assignment in recent years of much additional emphasis to the U.S. Army’s role in the over-all U.S. policy of encouraging steady growth and change in the less developed countries in the world. The many programs of the U.S. Government directed toward this objective are often grouped under the sometimes misleading label of counterinsurgency (some pronounceable term standing for insurgency prophylaxis would be better). This places great importance on positive actions designed to reduce the sources of disaffection which often give rise to more conspicuous and violent activities disruptive in nature. The U.S. Army has an important mission in the positive and constructive aspects of nation building as well as a responsibility to assist friendly governments in dealing with active insurgency problems.

Another major factor is the recognition at the highest levels of the defense establishment of the fact that relatively little is known, with a high degree of surety, about the social processes which must be understood in order to deal effectively with problems of insurgency. Within the Army there is especially ready acceptance of the need to improve the general understanding of the processes of social change if the Army is to discharge its responsibilities in the over-all counterinsurgency program of the U.S. Government. Of considerable relevance here is a series of recent reports dealing with the problems of national security and the potential contributions that social science might make to solving these problems. One such report was published by a committee of the Smithsonian Institution’s research group under the title, “Social Science Research and National Security,” edited by Ithiel de Sola Pool. Another is a volume of the proceedings of a symposium, “The U.S. Army’s Limited-War Mission and Social Science Research.” These proceedings were published in 1962 by the Special Operations Research Office of the American University.

Project CAMELOT will be a multidisciplinary effort. It will be conducted both within the SORO organization and in close collaboration with universities and other research institutions within the United States and overseas. The first several months of work will be devoted to the refinement of the research design and to the identification of problems of research methodology as well as of substance. This will contribute to the important articulation of all component studies of the project toward the stated objectives. Early participants in the project will thus have an unusual opportunity to contribute to the shaping of the research program and also to take part in a seminar planned for the summer of 1965. The seminar, to be attended by leading behavioral scientists of the country, will be concerned with reviewing plans for the immediate future and further analyzing the long-run goals and plans for the project.

A Communist Commentary on Camelot

by Jorge Montes Chilean Chamber of Deputies, 1965

A number of newspapers, and particularly El Siglo, have been referring to a so-called “Project Camelot.” What is this project? In order to define it, we shall textually quote from an official document. [See Document No.1 above, from which excerpts were cited.]

These quotes from the project reveal the determination on the part of U.S. foreign policy to intervene in any country of the world where popular movements might threaten its interests. To this end, they use a covert form of espionage, which they try to present in terms of scientific research, thus violating the most elementary norms of sovereignty.

Indeed, our own country, Uruguay, Colombia, and Venezuela in Latin America, Senegal and Nigeria in Africa, and India, Vietnam, and Laos in Asia are the countries in which organized espionage, under the appearance of sociological investigation and under the rubric of “Project Camelot,” is being carried out.

It has already been pointed out that both the Director of the Project, Rex Hopper, and Hugo C. Nuttini, its agent, have been in Chile. The latter, born in Chile and naturalized a North American, and an ex-student at the Naval School, tried to bring about the engagement of 20 to 25 Chilean scholars in order to carry out the studies implied in the project. He offered salaries of two thousand dollars a month plus all the necessary equipment to different university agencies. We are in a position to affirm that, at the General Secretaryship of the University of Chile, where Nuttini went, the true character of the project was unmasked. Nuttini had presented it with an especially prepared wording in order to make it appear to be an innocent scientific research undertaking. But his hope to recruit Chilean scholars for this work of espionage against Chile was rejected. Such response was due in part to the fact that the official document for the project, such as it is, had been previously known. This document had reached Chileans owing to a European sociologist. He had been offered a position in the direction of the project which he refused with dignity, making its contents known to his colleagues throughout the world.

This official document, worded for the highest level, is now in the hands of His Excellency the President of the Republic, who received it through the Minister of the Exchequer, Sergio Molina. The latter received it in his role as Dean of the Faculty of Economics of the University of Chile. Thus, the Government of Chile has full knowledge of the anti-national content as well as the serious attack against our sovereignty implied in this North American project.

The gravity of this situation is made even more manifest if we consider the fact that different kinds of espionage researches fulfilling diverse partial objectives have been carried out for years. We are in a position to point out that the North American Walter Guzardi carried out in Chile a study of the middle classes that was oriented toward influencing them politically to the advantage of the United States. Further, Andrew G. Frank made a study of the Communist Party and the FRAP. And right now, others are carried out, among which there is one aimed at analyzing the structure of the Christian Democratic Party, and which is also sponsored by North Americans. Bearing a direct relationship to this unmasked espionage being carried forth by the United States, with the tolerance of its authorities, is the proposed goal of creating an Inter-American Defense Force. This issue will be debated in the next Conference of Chancellors, to be held in Rio de Janeiro on August 24th of the present year [1965].

The extreme pressure exerted by the United States upon Latin American Chancelleries in order to achieve this Inter-American Defense Force is a well-known fact. Imperialism tries to conceal its interventionist policy by means of this shadow-army, which, as Project Camelot proves, is carried forth in every way. It is not impeded by any considerations whatsoever. Indeed, the confidential document 520.1 (22) of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Brazil shows the concomitance of the Castelo Branco Government with that of the United States. It also shows the brutality with which North Americans are trying to bring about the creation of this armed force:

In compliance with the latest suggestions of the Government of the United States, Brazilian authorities will prepare a broad documentation of subversive activities in Brazil which occurred before April 1964. There are also proofs of extremist infiltration in high government echelons in various countries of the Hemisphere. The Brazilian Government hopes that the presentation of these facts might have a positive influence upon the representatives of the Latin American countries in the Rio de Janeiro Conference. [Article 7]

For another part, Itamarati is preparing the probing of Latin American countries and hopes that the idea of the Alliance shall be accepted with sympathy by the majority of the countries within the Organization of American States. In the specific cases of Chile and Mexico, the Brazilian Government shall follow the agreed line which, as the results show, corresponds with reality. In the case of Uruguay, Brazil has no possibilities of achieving the agreed upon objectives. It would view with pleasure the assistance of the United States Government in setting forth Brazil’s aims before the Government of Uruguay. Brazil believes that through the exploitation of economic factors, it might obtain from Uruguay a favorable position with respect to said Alliance. [Article 8]

This text constitutes one more piece of evidence of the cynical and insolent intervention of the United States and its servants in the internal affairs of Latin American countries. Within this framework, in Chile and in other countries, the application of Project Camelot is being carried out. Let us recall President Johnson’s statement at Baylor University where he contended that there are no longer internal wars but only international wars. In this way, he underlined his decision to perform military intervention in any nation of the world.

We Communists have appreciated the Chilean government’s worthy attitude before the aggression to Santo Domingo, and its refusal to accept the creation of an Inter-American Defense Force. That is why we are surprised by the fact that this government (of Chile) should not have taken a stand concerning the serious threat to Chile’s sovereignty that Project Camelot and other such studies imply. In order to avoid saying it in our own words, we shall quote Eduardo Hamuy, Director of the Center of Social and Economic Studies of the Faculty of Economics of the University of Chile. To him this is simply a plan of “systematized espionage” and a method for providing information of state secrets to an eventual enemy.

Because of the situation described, we request that these observations be transcribed in the name of the Honorable Chamber and should there be no quorum, in the name of our committee, to the Minister of Foreign Affairs, and that he be invited to the session of the corresponding committee next Friday in order that he should report concerning this situation.

At the same time, we believe that the Committee on Foreign Affairs, in addition to considering the situation, and within the possibilities allowed by regulations, should inquire into all facts related to these claims in order that the Chilean Parliament and Chilean public opinion be widely informed on an issue that compromises our national sovereignty. Further, we believe that the majority of the Honorable Chamber will have no objections to convene a special session during the first days of the coming week for the purpose of bringing wider information on this serious claim and that the different sectors of Parliament should state their opinion concerning this problem. It is necessary that we adopt a well-defined attitude in defense of our national sovereignty.

Excerpt from “Under the Cloak and Behind the Dagger,” in North American Congress on Latin America, Latin America & Empire Report, July – August 1974, pp. 6-8:

… The function and composition of the Embassy network changes depending on the political situation in the country. Agents are scattered throughout the different sections of the diplomatic structure depending upon what corresponding areas within the local society need either to be penetrated or aided in some way by the United States. Thus, agents could be placed in the political, economic, labor, AID, and cultural affairs, sections. The spreading-out of Agency personnel throughout the embassy not only provides a better cover, but also facilitates the multi-leveled penetration of all sectors of that society.

Agency personnel assigned to Chile shifted radically in 1970, for the Agency’s needs had shifted. Previous to the election of Allende, the emphasis was on information gathering and penetration. Once Allende was elected, however, the emphasis would switch to covert operations based on an analysis made possible by many years of penetration and information gathering.

Camelot Goes Underground

When the true nature of Project Camelot was revealed, it was forced to curtail public operations. In reality, though, it went underground only to surface with a variety of new covers: as government agencies, individual academics, private corporations and, of course, individual agents. The work encompassed in the original project would still be carried out, but the form of operation would change. Camelot researchers were still at the stage of identifying their “would-be-attackers” and much work remained to be done. Thus while Ambassador Dungan apologized to the Chileans for Camelot, the CIA began to restructure its embassy network to accommodate the hidden Camelot.

  1. Peace Corps: The Urban Front

The Peace Corps is a perfect structure for the CIA. It provides a point of contact with the working class which is so necessary for information gathering. And, because of the Peace Corps structure, the CIA does not have to control it in order to use it successfully. The Peace Corps entered Latin America as the “person-to-person” of the Alliance for Progress. Working out of the U.S. Embassy in Santiago, the first head of the Peace Corps in Chile was Nathaniel Davis, promoted to Ambassador by the time of the September 1973 coup. Under the skillful guidance of Davis, many of the youthful volunteers headed straight for the poblaciones which housed the poorest sectors of the Chilean working class and unemployed. Fresh out of Swarthmore, Bennington and Berkeley, the volunteers invaded the poblaciones, lived with the people and came to know them — politically and socially. They worked with them, observed their customs, their way of life, their traditions. And then they drew up work reports describing their experiences.

It was not necessary to have many agents in the Peace Corps — just in the right places and with access to all the information which was generated. Unknowingly, thousands of U.S. youths, most thinking that they were helping the Chileans, were instead gathering data for the now undercover Project Camelot.

Those agents in the Peace Corps who were conscious of their role had several tasks. As they mingled with the people, they were identifying future leftist leaders as well as those right-wingers who in the future would work for U.S. interests. They were assessing consciousness, evaluating reactions to reforms. And they were selecting and training future agents. It was at this point that Michael Townley, Peace Corpsman in the sixties, was recruited to enter the Agency. Townley returned to Chile in 1970 as one of the agency’s closest contacts with Patria y Libertad.

Finally, the Peace Corps was used as a front to get paramilitary equipment into the country. Ellis Carrasco, who succeeded Davis as head of the Peace Corps, was himself accused of gun-running. Later, the U.S. Army donated and installed radio receivers in all Peace Corps regional offices to facilitate communications. These same receivers were used during the coup to facilitate coordination of the Junta’s bloody activities.

  1. The International Development Foundation: The Rural Front

Working parallel to the Peace Corps was the International Development Foundation, a New York based private foundation. IDF went into Chile in the mid-1960s under the leadership of George Truitt. Truitt, then president of the IDF, also worked for two other CIA front groups: the Free Europe Committee and Radio Free Europe. When IDF entered Chile, Frei’s meager agrarian reform was just beginning to show its effects in the Chile. It was also at this time that the foco theory was gaining importance as the main tactic of guerrilla movements in Latin America. IDF headed for the countryside.

Its main objective was infiltration and manipulation of the peasant movement. Its tactics consisted of selecting peasant leaders, training them in U.S. labor ideology, and, in this way, trying to control the growing consciousness of the peasants. To this end IDF was the principal promoter of the Confederation Nacional Campesina which was heavily financed by U.S. AID. The Confederation tried to keep peasants from uniting into one large union — it pushed the idea of cooperatives, instead — and adamantly argued against any land take-overs.

A team of research experts accompanied the organizers in order to study the conditions and political views of the campesinos. Rushing from village to village with piles of questionnaires tucked under their arms, the researchers provided basic information necessary to the intelligence apparatus. The ultimate usefulness of IDF to the intelligence network in Chile was summed up by Edward Cohen, the Chilean representative of IDF. “Our representatives,” he said, “can infiltrate the leadership of all organizations, even political parties. If we act intelligently, not only will we be able to neutralize Marxist actions, but also we will be able to control the most important organizations in the country.”

IDF was, however, forced to leave Chile when its cover was blown following a series of revelations about the CIA in 1967. No longer able to hide behind its mask, IDF disappeared from the scene. But the “leaders” it had trained would be used during the UP government to organize against the agrarian reform and land take-overs carried out by the radicalized peasantry.

  1. Other Points of Contact

The International Development Foundation and the Peace Corps were but two of the many fronts used by the CIA to gather information in Chile. During the sixties nearly one thousand students and professors travelled to Chile. Some consciously worked for the Agency, but even those who had no ties to the Agency would find their doctoral theses and research work integrated into the CIA’s computer files at a later date. The American Institute for Free Labor Development (AIFLD) and the International Trade Secretariats (ITS) provided information on the Chilean working class. Many U.S. journalists “maintained regular contact with the CIA officials in routine performance of their journalistic duties.” The Agency gathered information from students who passed through exchange programs, military and police officials trained in the United States and many, many more.

Back in the United States, part of the Project Camelot work had been contracted out to a company involved in the original project formulation. Abt Associates, a private think tank well-known for doing the Defense Department’s work, began to research what became known as the “Politica Game.” Politica is a study of possible government reactions to changing political conditions in a country modeled after Chile. In the final analysis, though, it is a computer-planned coup d’état.

The CIA’s Embassy structure played a crucial role during the 60s in overseeing the gathering and analysis of information collected by the extensive network of the CIA. By 1970, however, the situation had changed and called for different skills. But since there are approximately 1,500 alleged CIA agents on the State Department’s payroll, [CIA official] William Broe did not have too much trouble in selecting a skillful crew with more of a penchant for “operations.” …

Excerpts from Ellen Herman, “Project Camelot and the Career of Cold War Psychology.” In Universities and Empire: Money and Politics in the Social Sciences During the Cold War, Christopher Simpson, ed. (New York: The New Press, 1998), pp. 97-133. Excerpts are from p. 113 and pp. 118-19.

. . .

Still, remarkably little about behavioral science funding or design changed after Camelot was canceled. A similar project was uncovered in Brazil less than two weeks after the Chilean scandal broke, and others were soon launched in Colombia (Project Simpatico) and Peru (Operation Task). Each was sponsored by SORO and funded by the DoD, exactly as Camelot had been.49 Project Agile, a study of Vietnamese National Liberation Front (NLF) members’ motivation, the attitudes of villages, and communications patterns among South Vietnamese troops, was carried out in the years after Camelot’s demise, as were studies of the “Potential for Internal Conflict in Latin America.”50 Whatever objections existed to such activities were clearly ineffective and did not interfere with the completion of the research. A confidential DoD memo written five weeks after Camelot’s cancellation simply stated that counterinsurgency research involving foreign areas was “highly sensitive” and “must be treated in such a way that offense to foreign governments and propaganda advantage to the communist apparatus are avoided.”51 Four years later, the DoD admitted that not a single one of its social or behavioral science projects, or for that matter anything at all involving foreign area work, had been terminated in the years after Camelot’s exposure.52

. . .

Ironically, Camelot’s spirit was destined to have its most lethal reincarnation in Chile, the country where it had been exposed, but which had never been one of its intended targets of research. In 1973, almost a decade after Camelot was canceled, its mark could be seen in the secret, CIA-sponsored coup against the socialist-leaning government of Salvador Allende.

The connection came through Abt Associates, a research organization located in Cambridge, Massachusetts, whose president, Clark Abt, had been one of Camelot’s consultants. In 1965, the DoD’s Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA) contracted with Abt to design a computer simulation game to be used for monitoring internal war in Latin America. Except for the addition of sophisticated computer technology, Camelot’s goal remained intact. Dubbed “Politica,” the game was first loaded with data about hundreds of social psychological variables in a given country: degree of group cohesiveness, levels of self-esteem, attitudes toward authority, and so on. Then it would “highlight those variables decisive for the description, indication, prediction, and control of internal revolutionary conflict.”71

In the case of Chile, according to Daniel Del Solar, one of Politica’s inventors, the game’s results eventually gave the green light to policy makers who favored murdering the elected president, Salvador Allende, and toppling Chile’s leftist government.72 Politica had predicted that Chile would remain “stable” even after a military takeover and the president’s death. The character of this stability was in time demonstrated by the post-coup regime in the form of mass arrests, thousands of political murders and disappearances, and a series of economic “adjustments” targeting the poorer two-thirds of Chile’s population. Politica proved to be as useful to the planners of military and covert action as had been the RAND study of Viet Cong motivation and morale, and more accurate.

. . .

  1.   Horowitz, The Rise and Fall of Project Camelot, p. 20; Subcommittee on Government Research of the Senate Committee on Government Operations, “Hearings on Federal Support of International Social Science and Behavioral Research,” p. 20; Jean Hardisty Dose, “A Social and Political Explanation of Social Science Trends: The Case of Political Development Research” (Ph.D. diss., Northwestern University, 1976), p. 197. For a senior SORO researcher’s defense of Project Task as “a most uncynical and unsinister project” and complaint that the debate surrounding Camelot’s demise had been dishonest and shrill, see Milton Jacobs, “L’Affaire Camelot,” letter to the editor, American Anthropologist 69 (June – August 1967), pp. 364-66.
  2.   On Project Agile, see Gene M. Lyons, The Uneasy Partnership: Social Science and the Federal Government in the Twentieth Century (New York: Russell Sage Foundation, 1969), p. 197; Peter Watson, War on the Mind: The Military Uses and Abuses of Psychology (New York: Penguin, 1980), p. 319. On post-Camelot research aimed at preventing revolution in Latin America, see Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, “Hearings on Defense Department Sponsored Foreign Affairs Research,” May 1968, pts. 1-2, 90th Cong., 2nd sess., pp. 64-65.
  3.   Memo from Director of Defense Research and Engineering to Assistant Secretaries for Research and Development of the Army, Navy, Air Force, and the Director, Advanced Research Projects Agency, August 18, 1965, NRC Committee on Government Programs in Behavioral Sciences, Central Policy Files, National Academy of Sciences, Washington, DC. I am indebted to Mark Solovey for sharing this document with me.
  4.   Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, “Hearings on Defense Department Sponsored Foreign Affairs Research,” testimony of John S. Foster Jr., director of defense research and engineering, p. 93.

. . .

  1.   M. Gordon et al., “COCON — counterinsurgency (POLITICA): The Development of a Simulation Model of Internal Conflict under Revolutionary Conflict Conditions,” quoted in Carol Cina, “Social Science for Whom? A Structural History of Social Psychology” (Ph.D. diss., State University of New York, Stony Brook, 1981), p. 326.
  2.   Cina, “Social Science for Whom?, p. 331.


Ellen Herman is an assistant professor of history at the University of Oregon and has also taught at Harvard University and the University of Massachusetts.

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