CIA Moves Against U Of Hawaii Professor on China Report
By Jim Wolf
HONOLULU (Reuters) - The Central Intelligence Agency pushed the University of Hawaii to dump the head of a CIA-funded study that found scant chance of a quick ethnic break-up in China, according to CIA documents and interviews with university personnel. In an incident with local, national and international implications, the CIA pressed the university to oust a noted geography professor as head of a $245,000 study on potential ethnic flashpoints in Asia, a major focus of U.S. intelligence gathering. The university bowed to CIA pressure to replace the professor, Gary Fuller, without holding a hearing or advising him of its action. The school restored him to the job only after Fuller, a veteran CIA consultant, threatened to sue over alleged violation of his contractual right to noninterference with scholarly research. By blackballing Fuller without giving a reason, the spy agency has stirred concerns on campus that it might be trying to slant a major academic study to match its views on China. A U.S. intelligence official familiar with the CIA's analysis dismissed these concerns as ``utterly ridiculous.'' ``While there are ethnic tensions in China it is simply not the CIA's view that such tensions will lead to an ethnic breakup of China,'' said the official, who declined to be identified.

The episode has raised questions about alleged high-level university kowtowing to a government agency that funds some of its projects. The study Fuller headed found little chance of an ethnic breakup in China along the lines that split the former Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union. At issue is the fate of Fuller, a geographer specializing in population studies. A consultant to the CIA for 13 years and one-time scholar-in-residence at CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia, Fuller was tapped last year to head the study on potential Asian ethic ``fracture zones.'' The CIA's Office of Transnational Issues, which contracted for the study, was interested in gauging whether China might ''pop its cork'' any time soon, Fuller said in interviews with Reuters this week. Citing former colleagues at Langley, he said CIA in-house analysts, stung by lapses in predicting the Soviet and Yugoslav collapses, apparently had begun leaning toward a view that ethnic nationalism could split China with the right spark. ``The CIA wanted our report to back what appears to be their new company line on a possible breakup of China,'' he said. ''And when my colleagues and I weren't willing to say what they wanted to hear, that's when the trouble exploded.'' Although the CIA declined official comment on the study and its reasons for blackballing Fuller, it has praised his work in the past. ``He has been instrumental in our efforts to identify problems of the next century before they assume crisis proportions,'' Richard Stakem, then-director of the CIA's Office of Resources, Trade and Technology, wrote in a Sept. 18, 1990, reference on Fuller's behalf. ``For this reason, his works are read with great interest not only by intelligence officers, but also by officials throughout the government,'' he added in a letter to Brian Murton, then chairman of the University of Hawaii Geography Department which was considering Fuller's full professorship. CIA spokeswoman Anya Guilsher said the agency routinely dealt with academics and the private sector ``to challenge conventional wisdom and engage in healthy debate.'' Such outside review of CIA strategic analysis has been mandated ``to sharpen our thinking, to position us better to deal with collection gaps and to improve our products for policymakers,'' she said.
Fuller's final report, dated Aug. 15, 1998, cited Xinjiang province, or the ``Western Muslim fracture zone,'' as China's chief potential ethnic trouble spot over the next three years. The area is home to Sunni Muslim Uygurs and Kazaks as well as to two groups mainly concentrated outside China -- the Uzbeks and Tajiks. ``While it is not inconceivable that a portion of China might break off some day, we are convinced this will not occur within the three-year time horizon of this study,'' said the report prepared by Fuller and four other top geographers from around the country. ``A more general breakup seems ever more remote,'' the study concluded. Fuller's team briefed CIA managers early this year on preliminary China findings that may have fallen short of what the CIA wanted to hear. Shortly afterward, the CIA told the University of Hawaii that it wanted Fuller scrapped as project manager and would not answer any questions about its reasons. ``This letter confirms the government's request for the removal of Dr. Gary Fuller from the above-referenced contract,'' a CIA contracts officer, Michael Bergeron, said in a March 3 letter to the university's Office of Research Services, which tracks outside contracts and grants.
Richard Dubanoski, the dean of the school of social sciences who dealt with the CIA, bowed to the request, taking over as the contract ``liaison'' himself in what he said was the hope of a finding a solution to satisfy the CIA and Fuller. Dubanoski, in an interview, said he later determined that the CIA had treated Fuller ``unfairly.'' He cited an April 2 letter from Cyril Sartor, the CIA branch chief responsible for the contract, saying the change at the top reflected badly on no one's work ``save Gary's.'' Fuller said the CIA's refusal to say why it wanted him out showed that it had no valid reason. ``If there had been something legitimate, why wouldn't they spell it out?'' he asked. Meantime, Fuller filed two grievances with the university and hired a lawyer to handle any litigation arising from his ouster as ``principal investigator'' of the Ethnic Fracture Zone project. ``The university buckled immediately to the CIA without a hearing or notice to Fuller that he'd been removed,'' Fuller's lawyer, Anthony Locricchio, said in an interview. ``Now, the CIA and the university appear to be continuing to conspire against him to try to undermine his credibility.''
Last Friday, a panel of the University of Hawaii's faculty union urged the union's board to take Fuller's second grievance to arbitration. That grievance claims the university retaliated against Fuller by depriving him of his election as Geography Department chairman by his colleagues. As part of a settlement of his first grievance, the university wrote to the CIA Aug. 10, five days before the final report was due, to say Fuller had been restored to his ``full status'' as chief investigator. ^REUTERS@