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Thursday, January 19, 2006 

Pentagon Spying at 8 Colleges

Antiwar Protests on 8 Campuses Appear on Pentagon List of 'Threats' to National Security

By KELLY FIELD (Chronicle of Higher Education)

The 400-page list, which was obtained by NBC News, includes information on 1,500 "threats" to national security that occurred over a recent 10-month period, and characterizes them as either "credible" or "not credible."

The campus protests, all of which were aimed at military recruiters, occurred at New York University (twice), the State University of New York at Albany (twice), Southern Connecticut State University, City College of the City University of New York, the University of California campuses at Berkeley and at Santa Cruz, an unspecified campus of the University of Wisconsin, and "a New Jersey university." Only one of the events, the protest at Santa Cruz, was cited as a "credible threat."

Snehal A. Shingavi, a Ph.D. candidate in English who participated in the Berkeley protest, said he was surprised to learn that his actions were considered a threat. The demonstration drew only 20 students, he said, and was, by protest standards, quite tame.

“It just shows how far off base the Department of Defense is with respect to what are genuine threats,” said Mr. Shingavi, a member of Berkeley’s Stop the War Coalition. “That student activists protesting war are seen as a threat to national security is patently laughable.”

Kermit L. Hall, president of SUNY-Albany and a constitutional scholar, said he was “disappointed” that the Defense Department had not at least notified the university that a protest on its campus was on the list. The failure to do so, he said, shows “no regard for our independence or autonomy as a higher-education institution.”

A Pentagon spokesman denied reports that the department was spying on college students, but confirmed that the department maintains a database of “unfiltered” threat information, known as Talon.

Run by a Pentagon office called Counterintelligence Field Activity, the database contains “dots” of information provided by law-enforcement, intelligence, and security agencies and from “concerned citizens,” the spokesman said. “The idea is that a trained analyst can look at the threat and see, Is it verifiable? Is it connectable?, so we can connect the dots before the next major attack occurs.”

To at least one former Army intelligence officer, however, the Defense Department’s actions look like history repeating itself. Christopher H. Pyle, a politics professor at Mount Holyoke College who blew the whistle on the Defense Department for monitoring antiwar and civil-rights protests during the 1960s, said students have been asking him what risks they take in protesting.

“I think this could inhibit people in their exercise of their protest rights,” he said.

Several members of Congress have written to Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld to voice their concerns about the database.

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