Electric Keeney Acid Test

President Barnaby Keeney served the University and the CIA simultaneously during his tenure.

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

Enthralled by the hallucinogenic powers of the 1960s’ newest drug, countless Brown students locked their dorm doors, pulled down their shades and experimented with LSD. What they didn’t know was that their University president was doing the same.

Barnaby Keeney, in carrying on a 20-year association with the Central Intelligence Agency extending through his term as president of Brown, helped run mock foundations that channeled money into LSD research, according to an article in New Times magazine.

Keeney came to the University in 1946 as an assistant professor of history, and by 1955 had been chosen to succeed Henry Wriston as the 12th President of the University. His ascent to the top took only 11 years; he held the position for just as long.

But not without one notable leave of absence – Keeney left Brown for the year 1951 to work for the CIA. The full extent of his involvement with the CIA was concealed during his presidency, and has never been fully disclosed.

In 1962, Keeney was named chairman of the Human Ecology Foundation, one of a number of mock foundations established by the CIA over a 20-year period, according to the 1978 New Times article that revealed Keeney’s secret. These foundations channeled “millions of dollars into mind-control research, including LSD testing on human subjects, as part of a project code-named MKULTRA,” according to the New Times, an alternative publication that featured investigative reporting with social justice themes.

Official MKULTRA documents made public in the early 1970s state that the program was the CIA’s response to rumors of communist brainwashing of prisoners during the Korean War. Internal CIA documents revealed that among the benefits of LSD was its ability “to get control of the individual to the point where he will do our bidding against his will.”

At a 1977 Senate hearing, the Select Committee on Intelligence disclosed that MKULTRA, once a consensual drug testing program, “culminated in tests using unwitting, non-volunteer human subjects.”

The Man

Through the presidency known as “the legend” for exceptional increases to the University’s endowment and enrollment, Keeney pursued a professional relationship with the CIA that began with his enlistment in the military in 1941. While serving in the armed forces during World War II, Keeney was recruited for military intelligence training and was named the chief officer of an intelligence interrogation team.

The New Times article, “The Spy who Came From Campus,” written by Andrew Sommer ’78 and Marc Chesire ’78 included a confession from Keeney that he continued his association with the CIA for the duration of his presidency. It also included the revelation by CIA Director-turned Brown professor Lyman Kirkpatrick that Keeney spent his leave of absence from the University helping top ranking intelligence officials design a training program for new recruits.

Although the University claims it did not track Keeney’s CIA connections beyond this isolated incident, the CIA kept close tabs on its Ivy League connection. According to Mortin Halpern, a former Kissinger aide who later criticized the actions of the CIA, Keeney’s involvement with the Agency was generally representative of the symbiotic relationship the organization had established with more than 100 American universities and colleges.

A historian who attended Harvard shortly after Keeney received his degree from the school anonymously told New Times “there was a revolving door between the Ivy League schools, particularly Harvard, and the CIA.”

The article

Keeney flatly denied many of the allegations purported by New Times when news of his Agency affiliations became public, telling The Herald in 1978 that the article was “inaccurate” and declaring the magazine “turned things around, they gave improper balance and they lied.” He said his connections with the CIA concluded approximately three years before the 1966 date cited in the New Times article.

In addition to maintaining that he never advised the CIA on organizing “covert funding operations,” Keeney denied having personal involvement in the recruiting efforts of the CIA, though he did say he believed covert CIA recruitment of faculty and students might be acceptable in certain situations.

Keeney told The Herald he could not have gone public with his CIA involvement while serving as President without jeopardizing the lives of other CIA operatives. He defended his actions in a 1978 Providence Journal article, stating, “I suppose nowadays it is improper to attempt to serve your country … but then I felt I was doing what I should. I am a citizen of this country. I felt I should do whatever I was asked.”

The Ivy League and the CIA

Keeney was not Brown’s only connection to the CIA. In 1967, student protestors formed a sit-in to prevent the CIA from recruiting on campus. Then, in 1984 student protestors attempted to stage an on-campus arrest of CIA recruiters. As a result, the CIA did its recruiting through private contracts in 1985 and 1986. When the CIA planned to hold open recruiting again in December 1987, its attempts were cancelled by word from administrators of demonstrations that would potentially include busloads of outside protestors.

Despite this apparent hostility among students, a Providence Journal article published in 1987 reported that “according to Brown’s Career Services director, three or four Brown seniors each year find their way to the CIA, making the agency one of the biggest single employers of each graduating class.”


Director of Career Development Kimberly DelGizzo said the CIA does not have a formal relationship with her office, but the CIA probably did in the past.

In March 2004, CIA representatives attended a career fair held on campus, but DelGizzo said this was the first time they had actively recruited on campus in years. No students protested the CIA’s return.

The University has also developed standards for the conduct of administrators and faculty. The University’s current Faculty and Administration Handbook requires that any actions by Brown community members should be made in the “best interests of Brown University and avoids the prospect of a conflict of interest.”

Though Keeney’s behavior did not comply with these new standards and was not always aligned with students’ wishes, as he himself said in his convocation speech in 1965, “it is essential that dissent be preserved, for dissent is an essential element of our society and a great source of its strength. … The university … is committed to helping students develop a concern for the problems of society.”

To these ends, Keeney was successful, for not only did he oversee an unprecedented expansion of Brown, but in a time of ubiquitous student activism, Keeney promoted an atmosphere on campus in which dissent could be freely voiced – even if that dissent was aimed at him.