Libya and Liberals: Confessions of a Minion of the Military-Industrial Complex

If I were the Secret Service, I'd be investigating me about now. There is a 2006 photo of me sitting next to Senator Ted Kennedy, Congresswoman Jo Ann Davis, and Congressman Silvestre Reyes. Two of these three are now dead.

We were at an event sponsored by Raytheon, maker of cruise missiles, 192 of which have stormed down on Libya recently at a cost of $290 million. And because American academics like myself want Raytheon's cash, few if any will criticize this war.

The April sky was blue, puffy white clouds hovering above the dome of the Capitol behind us. Raytheon Vice President Bill Lynn (now Deputy Secretary of Defense) introduced Kennedy, who praised Raytheon's spending $2 million to improve math education, since "84 percent of middle school students would rather eat their vegetables or clean their room instead of doing math". The politicians attended Raytheon's bash because they love numbers: Raytheon gave Congressman Reyes $10,500.

People used to invite me to speak at events opposing the military-industrial complex, like a demonstration in 2001 that British former cabinet minister Tony Benn discusses in his memoirs, mentioning my name. My fall began when, in the late Nineties, a colleague organized a conference at America's National Security Agency. Mathematician Lee Lorch, a victim of America's blacklist, refused to attend, but I felt I would be insulting my colleague if I declined the invitation.

Years later, I found myself facing the same forces that Lorch had fought fifty years before. All other doors closed, I made a compromise: I became a Science Fellow at Stanford University's Center for International Security and Cooperation. I would do counterterrorism research, just not for the Pentagon.

But the apple was sweet: I soon found myself doing deals with Lockheed Martin on border security and holding meetings with admirals and one Air Force general, including a four-person meeting with a future Director of National Intelligence, and coffee for two with a former Deputy Director of the C.I.A. (A nice guy, incidentally.) I accepted support from the U.S. Army War College; I accepted invitations from the Joint Special Operations University; program managers from the Office of Naval Research and the Department of Homeland Security contacted me about my work.

Don't judge: even peerless, pacific Einstein became shatterer of worlds.

I tried to escape, but no one gave me money to study why bees are disappearing, possibly threatening our food supply, or to help stop the spread of lethal, infectious diseases. I still wrote essays criticizing people like Iraq War co-conspirator Colin Powell, but, soon after I did so, a self-described former covert operative, who worked for an organization that had invited me to speak, pointedly praised Powell in conversation with me. I never did get any more support from his group.

He was, I felt, sending me a message, one most American academics understand, whether they work for the military or not: Saying Scipio Africanus Obama should start his second term in The Hague means losing your support, professional suicide.

This is why there will not be another Noam Chomsky: Few left-wing American academics who have the ability to make themselves heard―such as professors at elite universities―do so. In 1996 I attended a rally in Berkeley, but the only speakers who were professors were Sixties revolutionary icon Angela Davis and myself. The American Academy tends to deny tenure to leftists who wear their politics on their sleeve, as many humanists must; and if a scientist slips through, he risks the money without which he generally cannot work, should he dare to speak.

Nor can he count on liberals' support. The liberal Nation magazine prefers someone like Juan Cole, who is frothing at the mouth for more missiles. The liberal Center for American Progress prefers Lawrence Korb, who writes, "Obama has done [the Libyan war] just right." Did I mention Korb was a vice president of Raytheon?

And me? I now work on ways insurgents can use math to defeat "coalition" forces. If the Secret Service wants to stop my research, they could smash me one fine morning, or―my preference―buy me out: an application of the "bottom-line philosophy," to quote Lorch, that has bankrupted the human race.

I'll take euros.

Photo: The late Senator Edward Kennedy, the late Congresswoman Jo Ann Davis, Congressman Silvestre Reyes, and Raytheon Vice President Bill Lynn listen to Dr. Jonathan Farley.

A version of this essay originally appeared in The Guardian newspaper (Great Britain).