The flurry of political activity on campus throughout the 1960s makes for an interesting historical marker on South University Avenue. It also made for a lot of controversy back then. Protests and left-wing movements drew national coverage and the attention of the Central Intelligence Agency.
Ann Arbor became a center for Students for a Democratic Society – a liberal student movement advocating participatory democracy and civil disobedience – after its first meeting was held in Ann Arbor in 1960.
In June 1973, a Michigan Daily investigation found that a founder of the Weathermen, a radical SDS splinter group, was an undercover FBI informant in the late 1960s and 1970s.
The informant, who has since changed his name, was found to be in direct communication with confessed FBI informants in 1969 while establishing the Weathermen.
In 1978, the CIA released documents revealing that the agency had used a handful of University professors to recruit promising students since the mid-1960s.
Then-University President Robben Flemming told the Daily nothing surprised him about the recruitment methods mentioned in the letters, adding that the agency’s networking is often informal.
The Daily obtained more than 200 CIA reports, including correspondence between Harold Ford, CIA coordinator for academic relations, and professors in the Center for Chinese Studies and political science, history and economics departments.
About three-fourths of the letters concerned the Center for Chinese Studies.
In one letter, a University Professor wrote he couldn’t find “a woman (preferably) who could read Chinese and handle military analysis, both personnel and strategic,” as the agency had apparently requested.
Anywhere between eight and 42 professors were also believed to have received CIA support in the form of CIA research assistance and small CIA-sponsored seminars.
In response to faculty ties to the CIA, a Washington-based group, the Campaign to Stop Government Spying, lobbied for increased regulations for intelligence agencies on college campuses.
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