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Searching for "James Bond" at the Andersen Archives

For several years now, I have been on the trail of the "James Bond" of global crime research, a man who excelled at undercover interviews with underworld figures engaged in the international traffic in women. This man was the primary field researcher on the first worldwide survey on the traffic in women, commissioned in 1923 by the League of Nations, although his name appears nowhere in the official reports. In the boxes of material at the Social Welfare History Archives at the Elmer Andersen Library, I have come closer to learning his true identity than ever before. But I am getting ahead of the story--I should explain why I am looking for this man.

We tend to believe that we are the first generation to experience global anxieties. Climate change, outbreaks of disease, banking crises, terrorism and other transnational crimes are thought to be recent threats, brought about by technological advances, political and economic developments. But these anxieties are not new, and we can gain important perspective on current problems by looking back into history. International concern about global crime threats, including terrorist attack, human trafficking, drug trafficking, and organized crime emerged in the late nineteenth century and continued throughout the twentieth century. International organizations, both non-governmental and inter-governmental, have pursued these concerns for more than a hundred years.

In the 1920s, the League of Nations pioneered research into global crime. Drawing on the financial support of John D Rockefeller, Jr, the League carried out the first worldwide study of a global crime: human trafficking. From 1924 to 1926, the League's researchers made field studies in 112 cities in 28 countries; they conducted some 6500 interviews in 14 languages, including 5000 undercover interviews with prostitutes, procurers, and brothel-keepers. This research was pathbreaking for its day and remains an impressive achievement. Most social science research today into terrorism, drug trafficking and human trafficking, neglects to gather evidence from persons actually involved, or derives from fieldwork in one or two cities. What we "know" about global crime tends to be based on interviews with experts--police authorities, advocacy groups, and welfare workers. If we could engage in research today as good as what took place in the 1920s, we would be making a huge step forward.

For a number of a years, I have been engaged in historical criminology, a field of research that sits somewhere between social history and social science. I am particularly interested in the emergence of crime as an international issue and have been looking into the League's crime prevention agenda. The 1920s study of human trafficking is of particular interest because of its importance to shaping the conceptual language used in the study of global crime. The League institutionalized the modern ideas of "human trafficking" and "terrorist attack" through a series of international policy documents. Before the First World War, these activities were known as the "white slave trade" and "anarchist outrage". While the League no longer exists (replaced in a sense by the United Nations), it is nearly impossible to think about the global threat of illicit drugs or cross-border trade in women without relying on the idea of "trafficking".

In more ways than one, the significance of the League's 1920s study of human trafficking hinges on the researchers. To conduct the study, the League Council appointed a Special Body of Experts, an international committee chaired by William Snow. Snow was director of the American Social Hygiene Association, an organization financed by Rockefeller to prevent venereal disease and promote public morality. To carry out the fieldwork, Snow appointed Bascom Johnson, the ASHA's director of legal services, and together they relied on a team of investigators drawn from their organization. But that is about as much as can be determined from official publications, because the names of these investigators do not appear in (either part 1 or part 2 of) the Report of the Special Body of Experts into the Traffic in Women. Were all the investigators Americans? What languages did they speak? Were there men and women? What training did they have? Did they have backgrounds in law, policing, or social work? Finding the answers to these questions has required some archival research.

Sometime after 1927, when the Special Body of Experts completed their study, they deposited their field reports, transcripts of meetings, correspondence, and other documents with the League Secretariat in Geneva. These materials now comprise part of the League of Nations Archives, and from a few days in Geneva I learned that Snow and Johnson deployed at least eight different people as field researchers. At the Rockefeller Archives in New York, which contains the materials for the Bureau of Social Hygiene, the agency that funded the League's study, I found out a bit more about who worked for the ASHA and what various people did. But the primary field researcher, a man named Paul Kinsie, remained rather mysterious. Kinsie specialized in undercover fieldwork, and while working for the League's study, carried out interviews in the underworld of cities across Latin America, Europe, North America, and the Mediterranean. Kinsie had perfected his technique, of using cover stories and false identities, for years. He was exceptionally good at ethnographic research and produced detailed portraits of places and people involved in the illicit sex trade. He was also good at shielding his identity--his name seldom appears even on the field reports he submitted to Johnson. The James Bond of global crime research is often referred to in correspondence as 'PK'.

The Social Welfare History Archives at the Elmer L. Andersen Library of the University of Minnesota contain the materials of the American Social Hygiene Association. The collection includes an international section, which proved quite useful. From correspondence between Johnson and Snow, I learned that Johnson was so committed to using Kinsie in the League's study of human trafficking in the Far East (commissioned in 1929, about a year after the first study), that he set up a secret expense account for the purpose. In the wake of the first study, the use of undercover researchers had been severely criticized, and the League's Advisory Committee on the Traffic in Women made a point of prohibiting this technique. Although Kinsie did not work on this study, Johnson made arrangements to deploy him, and to keep this secret from League officials as necessary.

Even more important than the documents in the international section are those in other sections. The ASHA did not invent the technique of "on the spot" investigation while working for the League of Nations. Rather, they adapted a technique for the study of an international problem from a research model used for years in American cities. To understand the research for the League, I was able to look at early surveys in American cities, such as St Louis and Detroit. I also found several documents in which Kinsie discussed his technique. I found two pages Kinsie prepared for a guide to the ASHA's survey model in which he explained where he looked, who he talked to, and what he hoped to find when he went into the underworld. (And, by the way, because Kinsie did not attach his name to this--its author was identified by a separate note made by Johnson--I doubt I would have found it using an electronic search.) I also came across a talk Kinsie gave in Stockholm in the 1950s in which he explained his undercover technique. Then there is the article in a 1919 issue of the Social Hygiene Bulletin by "Fred Fischer"--an alias, the author explains--about the importance of undercover research. My guess is this was written by Kinsie's mentor, George Kneeland, who produced one of the first published studies for Rockefeller's Bureau of Social Hygiene.

Who was Paul Kinsie? I found a brief biography of him in a box of materials ostensibly unrelated to ASHA activities in the interwar period. A few years before his death, Kinsie co-authored a book on prostitution with a sociologist (who claimed most of the royalties) and the biography was part of a file containing the contract and other documents prepared by the publisher. The statement led me to another study on which Kinsie contributed, but was never named, as the primary investigator, a book on prostitution published in 1921. As the publisher's blurb states, Kinsie participated in every important study of prostitution in the world in the first half of the twentieth century. Along with Snow and Johnson, Kinsie established the compass points for contemporary social science inquiries into human trafficking.

There is still much more to be uncovered about what he did, what the ASHA did, and what the League did, and for anyone interested in the development of human trafficking as an international concern, the Andersen library is an essential stop. The James Bond of global crime research has been seen in the building.

Paul Knepper is Reader in Criminology, in the Department of Sociological Studies, and an associate of the Centre for Criminological Research, at the University of Sheffield. He is the author of The Invention of International Crime: A Global Issue in the Making, 1881-1914 (London: Palgrave, 2009) and International Crime in the Twentieth Century: The League of Nations Era, 1919-1939 (London: Palgrave, 2011).

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