Majoring in espionage

david wilson for the boston globe

By Kate Tuttle Globe Correspondent 

Daniel Golden’s first book, “The Price of Admission,” looked at how elite universities perpetuate systems of social and economic inequality, even as they claim to champion meritocracy. As a veteran reporter covering higher education and a Pulitzer Prize winner, Golden — who is now a senior editor at ProPublica — has also looked into the world of for-profit colleges in a series for Bloomberg News.

Although his new book, “Spy Schools: How the CIA, FBI, and Foreign Intelligence Secretly Exploit America’s Universities,” also takes place amid the world of higher education, Golden said, “it was kind of a departure for me. Back in the day I was on the Globe Spotlight team, and we did the occasional organized crime story, but it’s been quite awhile,” he added. “This was sort of new territory, the national security and espionage aspect.”


It began with a strange story he stumbled upon while looking into a series of China-funded academic organizations called Confucius Institutes. A professor in Florida had been suspended from his job and told the local newspaper that the FBI had approached him about becoming a spy. While university officials acted as if the disgraced academic was talking nonsense, Golden said, “It became quite obvious that what the professor was saying was true.”

Researching the book, which looks at American and international spy agencies and their incursions into academia, led Golden into a court battle with the FBI — and some startling revelations about how issues of globalization versus nationalism play out on today’s college campuses. “You’ve got these universities that are open, international places,” Golden said. “And then you’ve got these government agencies seeking their own nation’s particular interests, taking advantage of them. In that sense, it’s kind of a case study of these big forces we see at play all over the place.”

Golden will read at 7 p.m. Thursday at the Harvard Coop, 1400 Mass. Ave., Cambridge.

Kate Tuttle, president of the National Book Critics Circle, can be reached at