FBI on campus

UTPD and FBI: The Austin Joint Terrorism Task Force

The UT Police Department has been morphing from a campus security force into a national security patrol through its acquisition of assault rifles and shotguns and forming the Austin Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF) with the FBI in early February 2003. Since 9/11 various cities and universities across the country, including UT-Dallas and UT-Arlington, have been cooperating with the FBI. Many fear that, given the low crime rates on campus, the task force does little more than keep tabs on student activists and the vast amount of international students on campus.

The Memorandum of Agreement that created the Austin JTTF includes:

  • Assigning one UTPD officer full-time to the task force

  • Granting that UTPD officer, Chief Van Slyke, and UTPD supervisors security clearances

  • Making all non-FBI personnel "Special Deputy US Marshals"

  • Forbidding members from speaking to the media

The FBI office in Austin is a satellite of the San Antonio Field Office that stretches across 60 counties in Central and Southern Texas. The San Antonio JTTF membership includes the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), Defense Intelligence Agency, U.S. Airforce Office of Special Investigation, U.S. Attorneys Office, U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, U.S. Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, U.S. Internal Revenue Service, U.S. Secret Service, the San Antonio Police Department, and Texas Department of Public Safety. The Austin JTTF consists of at least the UTPD and the FBI, but collaboration with the San Antonio JTTF is unclear. It is now possible for the CIA and FBI to spy on UT students, with "security" and anti-terrorist rhetoric as all justification.  

Focus on international students

Since 9/11, Muslim and Arab males have felt the brunt of the American backlash. They are all potential terrorists, despite the fact no one in Killeen, TX felt a backlash from the 1995 Oklahoma City bombings. This goes to show that the activities of a few do not apply indiscriminately to the entire population, meaning all men from the Middle East are not "potential terrorists". However, the NSEERS program pertains to only citizens of 24 predominantly Muslim countries, ages 16 years and older. In one instance at UT-Arlington, INS agents working with the Arlington JTTF arrested 30-yeard old Tahir Ibrihim Aletewi in early February 2003 and accused him of planning a terrorist attack. The Jordanian student had only said that possible U.S. military action in Iraq had revived thoughts of being a martyr.1 He committed no acts of terrorism, but their JTTF deemed him a threat. His roommates also said they believed he was forced to sign an incriminating statement.2 International students have reason to worry since they are not citizens of this country and are not assured many basic civil liberties. Since the USA Patriot Act has passed, many have felt the reemergence of overt racism and xenophobia in the US, starting at universities.

The FBI is suspect

The FBI's presence on college campuses raises the concern that they may be spying on activists, harking back to the days of COINTELPRO. During the 1950s and 60s, the FBI routinely disrupted student movements by spying on, infiltrating, and generally harassing activist organizations. Since 9/11, international students have been added to FBI's watch list, provoking fears from both current students and faculty members who saw COINTELPRO in action. At the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, an FBI agent and campus police acted on tips that an Iraqi-born professor held "anti-American" views and was therefore interviewed to prove that he wasn't a terrorist and loyal to this country. At a town hall meeting that the faculty organized, they argued that the only solid evidence the FBI had was the fact that the man was born in an Arab country. Sociology professor Dan Clawson argued "If [the FBI receives] a report about someone's views, it is inappropriate to investigate, and if the university cooperates in that investigation, that's totally inappropriate."3

In Denver, the ACLU of Colorado discovered that their JTTF collected the names and license plate numbers of peaceful protestors at a lumber industry convention and monitored political websites, film screenings, and rallies. Their JTTF has been around since 1998, but it has stepped up its work since 9/11 by intercepting e-mails announcing demonstrations for Palestine and animal rights. UT's involvement with the JTTF may or may not be this extensive, but to be honest we don't know. Peace Fresno, a California activist group, discovered that one of their members was an undercover detective using a fake name and working for the local JTTF after he died in a motorcycle crash.

Democracy and Security

The FBI goes to great lengths to enforce "anti-terrorism," which includes disrupting student movements and infiltrating student groups. This happened during the Vietnam War via COINTELPRO, and it's happening again. UT Watch believes that unaccountable federal agents should not decide what is right and what is wrong. After laws like the USA Patriot Act are passed, unelected federal agents act as judge and jury, and enforcing laws like section 218 of the USA Patriot Act (see below) prove that they sometimes overstep their boundaries. Former FBI Director Louis Freeh is quoted above that the FBI needs more oversight, and we agree. It was the FBI who was engaged in COINTELPRO, and the current heightened "national security" appears to simply be an experience revisited.

This new type of "Orwellian" security is very undemocratic. "Patriots" aren't people who obey strict federal laws. A democracy is one where the populace decides the laws, not told what they are; governmental officials are public servants, not dictating what you can and can't do. Federal officials are unelected, yet they are given a carte blanche with laws like the USA Patriot Act. Not all federal agents stretch the laws to the limit, but the point remains: we need a government accountable to the people and not a police state.

The USA Patriot Act and You

The "Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism" (U.S.A. P.A.T.R.I.O.T.) Act was signed on October 26, 2001. The country was instantly sent back to the days of "McCarthyism" and the "Red Scare" that immediately followed World War II when citizens of this country sacrificed their civil liberties for protection against a foreign, undefined "threat".

The USA Patriot Act is enforced nationwide, but colleges involved with JTTFs allow for the FBI and possibly the CIA to be actively involved on campuses, getting them one step closer to students. The provisions found in the lengthy act dramatically changed the governing laws to fit the mood of country after what some call the worst attack ever on American soil. Some of the provisions that affect students the most include the following:

  • Section 213 delays notices that warrants have been executed, which allows for "sneak-and-peek" searches. The government may now "search for and seize any property or material that constitutes evidence of a criminal offense" and is given a "reasonable period" of time until you are notified.
  • Section 214 allows "tap-and-trace" searches that can give the government the power to "address" the information about the origin and destination of communications, as opposed to only the content.
  • Section 215 expands the government's ability to look at books, records, papers, documents, and other items ("any tangible things") on an individual's activity being held by a third parties, such as libraries. The government now has the ability to enter a library to see who was reading what book, magazine, etc. Agents must provide a search warrant before obtaining any records, but librarians must immediately allow them to begin searching the records without consulting the library's legal counsel. "National security" disallows the government from reporting how many libraries it has visited, but surveys show that many librarians have been interrogated by the FBI.
  • Section 218 expands a narrow exception to the Fourth Amendment that had been created for the collection of foreign intelligence information. It allows for greater surveillance by modifying the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 by changing the phrase "the purpose" to "a significant purpose," meaning the purpose of an investigation no longer has to be specified. As a result, a record amount of wiretaps have been installed, and an FBI memo shows(pdf) that agents have made "mistakes" implementing the changes.
  • Section 414 expedited the implementation of a national entry and exit program, later formally called the National Security Entry-Exit Registration System (NSEERS). This is a program that patrols "airports, seaports, and land border ports of entry" and makes the immigrant/international student undergo the registration each time they re-enter the country.
  • Section 416 sped up the "full functionality" dates for the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) and Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS), created overlap with the entry-exit program, and allocated $36.8 million to the Department of Justice to establish SEVIS, an extensive tracking database. Both SEVP and SEVIS were established to specifically monitor international students, who numbered 4,804 at UT in the fall semester of 2002.
  • Section 507 amended the 1974 Family Education Rights and Privacy Act. There are now 16 exceptions to the law, and the government is now allowed to "permit educational institutions to disclose educational records to federal law enforcement officials without student consent or knowledge." At least 2 UT-Austin students had their records released without their prior knowledge nor consent following 9/11.

-read the rest of the USA Patriot Act text