In Response to: The P Source

The excellent December article by Elyse Graham ’07, “The P Source,” further distinguishes lore from history regarding Ivy League domination of the OSS and CIA. As Elyse makes abundantly clear, Princeton was definitely “present at the creation” of both agencies — and in a most formative role. To summarize Elyse's contributions:  First, clarifying the tradecraft driven rationale for recruitment of humanities professors as “the best and brightest” advisers comprising an iconic group, the Princeton Consultants; and second, relying on two Princeton deans as recruiters culling seniors as candidates mainly for the clandestine service.  Based on my coincidental research into similar issues, which relies on career information unavailable to Elyse, I believe she is headed toward an even stronger case for Princeton as a go-to venue for CIA recruitment of both faculty advisers and new case officers. 

A major example: History professor Joseph Strayer was a charter member of a key advisory group known as the Princeton Consultants.  As CIA Director Allen Dulles 1914 once noted, the real value of Strayer’s prominence as a medievalist was — just like the intelligence process — the ability to base reliable conclusions on very few facts.  In a declassified article in the CIA’s internal journal, Strayer advised peer academics to insist on standards of precision and almost a scorching objectivity, urging fellow professors to challenge hidebound assumptions (a characteristic rarity within the CIA) and simply tell the truth.  Contributing on in a vastly different subject, Princeton psychology chair Hadley Cantril (who with George Gallup pioneered the art of voter polling) joined fellow faculty consultants, specializing on electoral preferences in the hope of  saving Italian and Greek democracies so essential to the Western alliance.  

Elyse identifies the "playing fields" of Ivy League schools as elitist training grounds for future recruits.  At Princeton, it has long been known that Deans Lippincott and Brown culled through student records for candidates.  The roster of Princeton alumni CIA case officers I compiled suggests a preference for members of the more selective eating clubs — Ivy and Cottage, followed by Cap and Gown.  At least back in the day, Princeton’s Bicker process allocated eating billets according to a hierarchy that F. Scott Fitzgerald 1917 might have summarized best for recruiters — e.g. depicting Cottage as “an impressive melange of brilliant adventurers...”  Imagine that image in the mind of a Berlin CIA Chief of Station looking over a Princeton senior’s application!  

An admittedly small sample suggest that as clandestine officers wholly dependent on State Department cover, seniors expected to glide effortlessly through just about any social milieu were those likely to receive a dean’s nod.  Plus, the Princeton education, distinguished by the Honor Code and mandatory senior thesis, at least suggested that clandestine cables and country reports would be — as Strayer hoped — precise in their clarity and erudite in their sweep of current and historical facts.

Clearly, Elyse Graham has extended our understanding of why certain primarily humanities scholars from Princeton, Harvard, and Yale — as well as selected students —were favored for their expected contribution to intelligence tradecraft.  What is clear from the directions she documented is that Princetonians can be proud of an institutional contribution to that early national security history — however deservedly checkered that history has become in later years. 

Clifford Karchmer ’68
Silver Spring, Md.