Free speech zones. Taser guns. Hidden cameras. Data mining. A new security curriculum. Private security contractors… Welcome to the new homeland security campus
From Harvard to UCLA, the ivory tower is fast becoming the latest watchtower in Fortress America. The terror warriors, having turned their attention to "violent radicalization and homegrown terrorism" — as it was recently dubbed in a House of Representatives bill of the same name — have set out to reconquer that traditional hotbed of radicalization, the university.
Building a homeland-security campus and bringing the university to heel is a seven-step mission:
1. Target dissidents: As the warfare state has triggered dissent, the campus has increasingly become a target gallery — with student protesters in the crosshairs. The government’s number one target? Peace and justice organizations.
From 2003 to 2007, an unknown number of them made it into the Pentagon’s "Threat and Local Observation Notice" system (TALON), a secretive domestic spying program ostensibly designed to track direct "potential terrorist threats" to the Department of Defense itself. Last year, via Freedom of Information Act requests, the ACLU uncovered at least 186 specific TALON reports on "anti-military protests" in the U.S. — some listed as "credible threats" — from student groups at the University of California-Santa Cruz, State University of New York, Georgia State University, and New Mexico State University, among other campuses.
At more than a dozen universities and colleges, police officers now double as full-time FBI agents and, according to the Campus Law Enforcement Journal, serve on many of the nation’s 100 Joint Terrorism Task Forces. These dual-purpose officer-agents have knocked on student activists’ doors from North Carolina State to the University of Colorado and, in one case, interrogated an Iraqi-born professor at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst about his antiwar views.
FBI agents, or their campus stand-ins, don’t have to do all the work themselves. Administrators often do it for them, setting up "free speech zones," which actually constrain speech, and punishing those who step outside them. Last year, protests were typically forced into "free assembly areas" at the University of Central Florida and Clemson University; while students at Hampton and Pace Universities faced expulsion for handing out antiwar flyers, aka "unauthorized materials."
2. Lock and load: Many campus police departments are morphing into heavily armed garrisons, equipped with a wide array of weaponry from Taser stun guns and pepper guns to shotguns and semiautomatic rifles. Lock-and-load policies that began in the 1990s under the rubric of "the war on crime" only escalated with the President’s Global War on Terror. Each school shooting — most recently the massacre at Virginia Tech — just adds fuel to the armament flames.
Two-thirds of universities now arm their police, according to the Justice Department. Many of the guns being purchased were previously in the province of military units and SWAT teams. For instance, AR-15 rifles (similar to M-16s) are now in the arsenal of the University of Texas campus police. Last April, City University of New York bought dozens of semiautomatic handguns. Now, states like Nevada are even considering plans to allow university staff to pack heat in a "special reserve officer corps."
Most of the force used on campus these days, though, comes in "less lethal" form, such as the rubber bullets and pepper pellets increasingly used to contain student demonstrations. Then there is the ubiquitous Taser, the electroshock weapon recently ruled a "form of torture" by the UN. A Taser was used by UCLA police in November 2006 to deliver shock after shock to an Iranian-American student for failing to produce his ID at the Powell Library. Last September, a University of Florida student was Tased after asking pointed questions of Senator John Kerry at a public forum, his plea of "Don’t Tase me, bro" becoming the stuff of pop folklore.
3. Keep an eye (or hundreds of them) focused on campus: Surveillance has become a boom industry nationally — one that now reaches deep into the heart of the American campus. In fact, universities have witnessed explosive growth in the electronic surveillance of students, faculty, and campus workers. On ever more campuses, closed-circuit security cameras can track people’s every move, often from hidden or undisclosed locations, sometimes even into classrooms.
The International Association of Campus Law Enforcement Administrators reports that surveillance cameras have now found their way onto at least half of all colleges, their numbers on any given campus doubling, tripling, and in a few cases, rising tenfold since September 11, 2001. Such cameras have proliferated by the hundreds on private campuses, in particular. The University of Pennsylvania, for instance, has more than 400 watching over it, while Harvard and Brown have about 200 each.
Elsewhere, it can be tricky just to find out where the cameras are and what they’re meant to be viewing. The University of Texas, for example, battled student journalists over disclosure and ultimately kept its cameras hidden. Sometimes, though, a camera’s purpose seems obvious. Take the case of Hussein Hussein, a professor in the Department of Animal Biotechnology at the University of Nevada, Reno. In January 2005, the widely respected professor found a hidden camera redirected to monitor his office.
4. Mine student records: Student records have, in recent years, been opened up to all manner of data mining for purposes of investigation, recruitment, or just all-purpose tracking. From 2001 to 2006, in an operation code-named "Project Strike Back," the Department of Education teamed up with the FBI to scour the records of the 14 million students who applied for federal financial aid each year. The objective? "To identify potential people of interest," explained an FBI spokesperson cryptically, especially those linked to "potential terrorist activity."
Strike Back was quietly discontinued in June 2006, days after students at Northwestern University blew its cover. But just one month later, the Education Department’s Commission on the Future of Higher Education, in a much-criticized preliminary report, recommended the creation of a federal "unit record" database that would track the activities and studies of college students nationwide. The Department’s Institute of Education Sciences has developed a prototype for such a national database.
It’s not a secret that the Pentagon, for its part, hopes to turn campuses into recruitment centers for its overstretched, overstressed forces. In fact, the Department of Defense (DoD) has built its own database for just this purpose. Known as Joint Advertising Market Research and Studies, this program now tracks 30 million young people, ages 16 to 25. According to a Pentagon spokesperson, the DoD has partnered with private marketing and data mining firms, which, in turn, sell the government reams of information on students and other potential recruits.
5. Track foreign-born students, keep the undocumented out: Under the auspices of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has been keeping close tabs on foreign students and their dependents through the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS). As of October 2007, ICE reported that it was actively following 713,000 internationals on campuses, while keeping more than 4.7 million names in its database.
The database aims to amass and record information on foreign students throughout their stay inside the United States. SEVIS requires thick files on the students from the sponsoring schools, constantly updated with all academic, biographical, and employment records — all of which will be shared with other government agencies. If students fall out of "status" at school — or if the database thinks they have — the Compliance Enforcement Unit of ICE goes into action.
ICE has also done its part to keep the homeland security campus purified of those not born in the homeland. The American Immigration Law Foundation estimates that only one in 20 undocumented immigrants who graduate high school goes on to enroll in a college. Many don’t go because they cannot afford the tuition, but also because they have good reason to be afraid: ICE has deported a number of those who did make it to college, some before they could graduate.
6. Take over the curriculum, the classroom, and the laboratory: Needless to say, not every student is considered a homeland security threat. Quite the opposite. Many students and faculty members are seen as potential assets. To exploit these assets, the Department of Homeland Security has launched its own curriculum under its Office of University Programs (OUP), intended, it says, to "foster a homeland security culture within the academic community."
The record so far is impressive: DHS has doled out 439 federal fellowships and scholarships since 2003, providing full tuition to students who fit "within the homeland security research enterprise." Two hundred twenty-seven schools now offer degree or certificate programs in "homeland security," a curriculum that encompasses over 1,800 courses. Along with OUP, some of the key players in creating the homeland security classroom are the U.S. Northern Command (Northcom) and the Aerospace Defense Command, co-founders of the Homeland Security and Defense Education Consortium.
OUP has also partnered with researchers and laboratories to "align scientific results with homeland security priorities." In Fiscal Year 2008 alone, $4.9 billion in federal funding will go to homeland security-related research. Grants correspond with 16 research topics selected by DHS, based on presidential directives, legislation, and a smattering of scientific advice.
But wait, there’s more: DHS has founded and funded six of its very own "Centers of Excellence," research facilities that span dozens of universities from coast to coast. The latest is a Center of Excellence for the Study of Violent Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism, the funding for which cleared the House in October. The Center is mandated to assist a National Commission in combating those "adopting or promoting an extremist belief system… to advance political, religious or social change."
7. Privatize, privatize, privatize: Of course, homeland security is not just a department, nor is it simply a new network of surveillance and data mining — it’s big business. (According to USA Today, global homeland-security-style spending had already reached $59 billion a year in 2006, a six-fold increase over 2000.)
Not surprisingly, then, universities have, in recent years, established unprecedented private-sector partnerships with the corporations that have the most to gain from their research. The Department of Homeland Security’s on-campus National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (START), for instance, features Lockheed Martin on its advisory board. The Center for Food Protection and Defense relies on an industry working group that includes Wal-Mart and McDonald’s offering "guidance and direction," according to its chair.
While vast sums of money are flowing in from these corporate sponsors, huge payments are also flowing out into "strategic supplier contracts" with private contractors, as universities permanently outsource security operations to big corporations like Securitas and AlliedBarton. Little of this money actually goes to those guarding the properties, who are often among the most underpaid workers at universities. Instead, it fills the corporate coffers of those with little accountability for conditions on campus.
Meanwhile, some universities have developed intimate relationships with private-security outfits like the notorious Blackwater. Last May, for example, the University of Illinois and its police training institute cut a deal with the firm to share their facilities and training programs with Blackwater operatives. Local journalists later revealed that the director of the campus program at the time was on the Blackwater payroll. In the age of hired education, such collaboration is apparently par for the course.
Following these seven steps over the past six years, the homeland security state and its constituents have come a long way in their drive to remake the American campus in the image of a compound on lockdown. Somewhere, inside the growing homeland security state that is our country, the next seven steps in the process are undoubtedly already being planned out.
Still, the rise of Repress U is not inevitable. The new homeland security campus has proven itself unable to shut out public scrutiny or stamp out resistance to its latest Orwellian advances. Sometimes, such opposition even yields a free-speech zone dismantled, or the Pentagon’s TALON de-clawed, or a Project Strike Back struck down. A rising tide of student protest, led by groups like the new Students for a Democratic Society, has won free-speech victories and reined in repression from Pace and Hampton, where the University dropped its threats of expulsion, to UCLA, where Tasers will no longer be wielded against passive resisters.
Yet, if the tightening grip of the homeland security complex isn’t loosened, the latest towers of higher education will be built not of ivory, but of Kevlar for the over-armored, over-armed campuses of America.
Michael Gould-Wartofsky is a writer from New York City and a recent graduate of the new homeland security campus. He has written for the Nation Online, Z Magazine, Common Dreams, and the Harvard Crimson, where he was a columnist and editor, and his work has also appeared in Poets Against the War (Nation Books). He was a recipient of the New York Times James B. Reston Award for young journalists and Harvard’s James Gordon Bennett Prize for his writing on collective memory.
[This article is appearing in the latest issue of the Nation Magazine.first and on Tomdispatch.com, a weblog of the Nation Institute, which offers a steady flow of alternate sources, news, and opinion from Tom Engelhardt, long time editor in publishing, co-founder of the American Empire Project and author of The End of Victory Culture (University of Massachusetts Press), which has just been thoroughly updated in a newly issued edition that deals with victory culture's crash-and-burn sequel in Iraq.]