Ali’s blog

Mostly quant stuff with occasional digressions

Repress U

Posted by alifinmath on January 23, 2008

From The Nation:

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 prevention”–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 attracted increasing scrutiny–with student protesters in the cross hairs. The government’s number-one target? Peace and justice organizations.

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 “war on terror.” Each school shooting–most recently the massacre at Virginia Tech–adds fuel to the armament flames.

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 campuses. In fact, universities have witnessed explosive growth since 2001 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.

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 Education Department 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.”

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 the database.

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, DHS 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.”

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 sixfold 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. DHS’s on-campus National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terror (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.

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 its 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.

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.

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