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In 1964–1965, the Special Operations Research Office (SORO), part of American University, began a project that was to launch a polarizing debate between academic social scientists and those working with or for the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD). The project was designed to foster understanding of the social dynamics underlying communist insurgencies, at the time considered a major threat to Western policy makers as one component of the Cold War conflict. Focused on Latin America, Project Camelot was to begin with a study of Chile, but a political scandal broke that involved academics in the United States and Chile, the U.S. ambassador, and Chilean officials.

During 1965, the scandal stormed through Washington, forcing the project’s cancellation. The conflict highlighted tensions between the DOD and the ...

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