Project Camelot Described
Project Camelot was initiated in 1963 by planners in the Army Office of Research and Development who were concerned about combating Soviet-inspired "wars of national liberation" in countries such as Cuba, Yemen, and the Belgian Congo. They were prepared to believe what the experts had been saying since 1945: behavioral expertise had a very important, perhaps the most important, contribution to make to Cold War victory over communism. Their goal—nothing less than the prediction and control of the social and psychological preconditions of Third World revolution—reflected the most lavish ambitions of psychological experts. In the words of its architects, "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." In spite of the code name (chosen to "connote the right sorts of things ... the development of a stable society with domestic tranquility and peace and justice for all") and the ill-fated effort to disguise its military sponsorship in Chile (a lie which led to the project's exposure), Camelot was not officially classified.
Camelot's mandate to "predict and influence" the process of Third World development marked it as a product of the World War II world-view. Additionally, it embodied the trend toward counterinsurgency and special operations that was so firmly identified with the Kennedy administration and its pledge to undermine the Soviet Union's support for liberation movements around the world, which Khrushchev had announced as a doctrine of Soviet policy in his famous 1960 speech "For New Victories of the World Communist Movement."
The project was funded through the Special Operations Research Organization (SORO), one of the many campus-based contract research organizations that appeared after 1945 to service the Defense Department's scientific research effort. A nonprofit organization founded in 1956, SORO existed for the purpose of conducting "non-material research in support of the Department of the Army's missions in such fields as counterinsurgency, unconventional warfare, psychological operations, and military assistance." SORO was so loosely affiliated with the American University that some critics retrospectively dismissed its campus setting as clever camouflage. Its director, Theodore Vallance, had been a psychological researcher during World War II, when he was an army lieutenant in charge of a field laboratory that studied B-29 gunsights and gunners at Laredo Army Air Field, in Texas.
By the early 1960s Vallance was predicting a big role for "paramilitary" psychology in the "cultural engineering" of emerging Third World states, a logical outgrowth of the military's "trend away from emphasis on human components for hardware systems toward emphasis on human components of social systems." Vallance was a staunch partisan of a politically neutral military psychology, very much like Charles Bray's "technology of human behavior." He was careful to describe Camelot as "an objective, nonnormative study concerned with what is or might be and not with what ought to be ." In addition to Camelot, SORO's work included providing the army with dozens of country-specific handbooks on psychological operations, case studies of South-
east Asia focusing on the exploitation of psychological vulnerabilities, and a comprehensive data bank called the Counter-Insurgency Information Analysis Center.
Camelot's projected research plan bore all the telltale traces of the World War II-era conception of an ambitious and integrated behavioral science. Psychology, cultural anthropology, and sociology were all slated to make important contributions to the final goal of the project: a model of a social system experiencing internal war accurate enough to be predictive, and therefore useful, to military policy-makers. To reach that goal, Camelot's designers anticipated moving ahead in several phases. Phase one consisted of reviewing the existing data on internal war, a largely theoretical challenge already engaging the talents of many mainstream behavioral scientists. Phase two would produce twenty-one case studies of post-World War II insurgencies and five contemporary field studies with the explicit goal of developing predictive indicators. Phase three would bring the work of the first two phases to bear on a single in-depth analysis of an undetermined country. Phase four would validate the findings of phase three, and the project as a whole, by applying the model to yet another national case.
The project's focus was Latin America, and Rex Hopper, a Brooklyn College sociologist and Latin America expert, was chosen as Camelot's director. Countries in Asia and Africa, however, were also found on Camelot's list of foreign areas in need of study. Vietnam, for example, was a clear target for research and the project exploded into public view at precisely the moment when U.S. involvement in Vietnam escalated: mid-1965. "There is a general consensus that the problem [of Third World revolution] is intimately related to the social structure, culture, and behavioral patterns in the countries involved," army research and development chief Lt. Gen. W. W. Dick informed Congress. "Vietnam illustrates the problem very clearly." It was also a bare two months after marines had landed in the Dominican Republic, intervening to prevent a purported Communist takeover.
Had it come to fruition, Camelot would have been the largest, and certainly the most generously funded, behavioral research project in U.S. history. With a $4-$6 million contract over a period of three years, it was considered a veritable Manhattan Project for the behavioral sciences, at least by many of the intellectuals whose services were in heavy, demand. Prominent behavioral scientists, including sociologists Jessie Bernard, Lewis Coser, and Neil Smelser, were among the project's con-
sultants, and the National Academy of Sciences agreed to provide Camelot with an advisory committee.