Repress U, Class of 2012
This post originally appeared on Tom Dispatch.
Pepper spray. SWAT teams. Twitter trackers. Biometrics. Student security
consultants. Professors of homeland security studies. Welcome to Repress U,
class of 2012.
Since 9/11, the
homeland security state has come to campus just as it has come to America’s towns
and cities, its places of work and its houses of worship, its public space and
its cyberspace. But the age of (in)security had announced its arrival on campus
with considerably less fanfare than elsewhere — until, that is, the “less lethal” weapons were unleashed in the fall of 2011.
Today, from the
City University of New York to the University of California, students increasingly find
themselves on the frontlines, not of a war on terror, but of a war on
“radicalism” and “extremism.” Just about everyone from college administrators
and educators to law enforcement personnel and corporate executives seems to
have enlisted in this war effort. Increasingly, American students are in their
In 2008, I laid out seven steps the Bush administration had taken to create a
homeland security campus. Four years and a president later, Repress U has come
a long way. In the Obama years, it has taken seven more steps to make the
university safe for plutocracy. Here is a step-by-step guide to how they did
Had there been
Davis, no Lt. John Pike, no chemical weapons wielded against
peacefully protesting students, and no cameras to broadcast it all, Americans
might never have known just how far the homeland security campus has come in
its mission to police its students. In the old days, you might have called in
the National Guard.
Nowadays, all you need is an FBI-trained, federally funded, and “less lethally”
armed campus police department.
pepper-spraying of students at UC Davis was only the most public manifestation
of a long-running campus trend in which, for officers of the peace, the
pacification of student protest has become part of the job description. The
weapons of choice have sometimes been blunt instruments, such as the extendable
batons used to bludgeon the student body at Berkeley,
Baruch, and the University of
Puerto Rico. At other times, tactical officers have turned to “less-lethal”
munitions, like the CS gas, beanbag rounds, and pepper pellets fired into crowds
at Occupy protests across the University of California system this past
everything we see of the homeland security campus, there is a good deal more that
we miss. Behind the riot suits, the baton strikes, and the pepper-spray cannons
stands a sprawling infrastructure made possible by multimillion-dollar federal
grants, “memoranda of understanding” and “mutual aid” agreements among law enforcement agencies, counter-terrorism
training, an FBI-sponsored “Academic Alliance,” and 103 Joint Terrorism
Task Forces (which provide “one-stop shopping” for counterterrorism operations
to more than 50 federal and 600 state and local agencies).
“We have to go
where terrorism takes us, so we often have to go onto campuses,” FBI Special
Agent Jennifer Gant told Campus Safety Magazine in an interview last
year. To that end, campus administrators and campus police chiefs are now known
to coordinate their operations with Department of Homeland Security (DHS) “special advisors,” FBI “campus liaison agents,” an FBI-led National Security
Advisory Board, and a Federal Law Enforcement Training Center, which instructs
local law enforcement in everything from “physical techniques” to “behavioral
science.” More than half of campus police forces already have “intelligence-sharing
agreements” with these and other government agencies in place.
a SWAT team
campus police forces have decisively escalated their tactics, expanded their
arsenals, and trained ever more of their officers in SWAT-style paramilitary
policing. Many agencies acquire their arms directly from the Department of
Defense through a surplus weapons sales program known as “1033,” which offers, among other things, “used grenade launchers (for the deployment of less lethal
weapons)… for a significantly reduced cost.”
the most recent federal data available, nine out of 10 campus agencies with
sworn police officers now deploy armed patrols authorized to use deadly force. Nine
in 10 also authorize the use of chemical munitions, while one in five make
regular use of Tasers. Last August, an 18-year old student athlete died after
being tased at the University
campus police squads have been educated in the art of war through regular
special weapons training sessions by “tactical officers’ associations” which
run a kind of SWAT university. In October, UC Berkeley played host to an “Urban
Shield” SWAT training exercise involving local and campus agencies, the
California National Guard, and special police forces from Israel, Jordan,
And since 2010, West Texas A&M has played host to paramilitary training programs for police from Mexico.
In October, the
University of North
Carolina at Charlotte
got its very own SWAT team, equipped with MP-15 rifles, M&P
40 sidearms, and Remington shotguns. “We have integrated SWAT officers into the
squads that serve our campus day and night,” boasted UNC Charlotte Chief of
Police Jeff Baker. The following month, in Chapel Hill, North Carolina,
a SWAT team staged an armed raid on an occupied building, pointing
assault rifles at the heads of activists, among them UNC students.
The long arm of
Repress U stretches far beyond the bounds of any one campus or college town. As
reported by the Associated Press this winter, the New York City Police
Department (NYPD) and its hitherto secret “Demographics Unit” sent undercover operatives to spy on
members of the Muslim Students Association at more than 20 universities in four states across the
Northeast beginning in 2006.
None of the organizations or persons of interest were ever accused of any
wrongdoing, but that didn’t stop NYPD detectives from tracking Muslim students
through a “Cyber Intelligence Unit,” issuing weekly “MSA Reports” on local chapters of the Muslim Students
Association, attending campus meetings and seminars, noting how many times
students prayed, or even serving as chaperones for what they described as “militant paintball trips.” The targeted institutions ran
the gamut from community colleges to Columbia
the AP’s investigation, the intelligence units in question worked
closely not only with agencies in other cities, but with an agent on the
payroll of the CIA. Police Commissioner Ray Kelly, facing mounting calls to
resign, has issued a spirited defense of the campus surveillance program, as has
Mayor Michael Bloomberg. “If terrorists aren’t limited by borders and
boundaries, we can’t be either,” Kelly said in a speech at Fordham Law
The NYPD was
hardly the only agency conducting covert surveillance of Muslim students on
campus. The FBI has been engaging in such tactics for years. In 2007, UC Irvine
student Yasser Ahmed was assaulted by FBI agents, who followed him as he was on his
way to a campus “free speech zone.” In 2010, Yasir Afifi, a student at Mission College
in Santa Clara, California, found a secret GPS tracking device affixed to his car. A half-dozen agents
later knocked on his door to ask for it back.
the undocumented out
students are followed closely by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)
through its Student and
Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS). As of 2011, the agency was
keeping tabs on 1.2 million students and their dependents. Most recently, as
part of a transition to the paperless SEVIS II — which aims to “unify
records” — ICE has been linking student files to biometric and employer
data collected by DHS and other agencies.
information stays forever,” notes Louis Farrell, director of the ICE program.
“And every activity that’s ever been associated with that person will come up.
That’s something that has been asked for by the national security community…
[and] the academic community.”
Then there are
the more than 360,000 undocumented students and high-school graduates who would
qualify for permanent resident status and college admission, were the DREAM Act ever passed. It would grant conditional permanent
residency to undocumented students who were brought to the U.S. as
children. When such students started “coming out” as part of an “undocumented
and unafraid” campaign, many received DHS notices to appear for removal
proceedings. Take 24-year old Uriel Alberto, of Lees-McRae College, who recently went on
hunger strike in North Carolina’s Wake County jail; he now faces deportation
(and separation from his U.S.-born son) for taking part in a protest at the
Since 2010, the
homeland security campus has been enlisted by the state of Arizona to enforce
everything from bans on ethnic studies programs to laws like S.B. 1070, which makes it a crime to appear in public
without proof of legal residency and is considered a mandate for police to
detain anyone suspected of being undocumented. Many undocumented students have
turned down offers of admission to the University of Arizona since the passage of the law, while
others have stopped attending class for fear of being detained and deported.
an eye on student spaces and social media
and undocumented students are particular targets of surveillance, they are not
alone. Electronic surveillance has expanded beyond traditional closed-circuit
TV cameras to next-generation technologies like IQeye HD megapixel
cameras, so-called edge devices (cameras that can do their own analytics), and
Perceptrak’s video analytics software, which “analyzes video from
security cameras 24×7 for events of interest,” and which recently made its
debut at Johns Hopkins University and Mount Holyoke College.
At the same
time, students’ social media accounts have become a favorite destination for
everyone from campus police officers to analysts at the Department of Homeland
In 2010, the DHS National
established a Media Monitoring Capability (MMC). According to an internal
agency document, MMC is tasked with “leveraging news stories, media reports and
postings on social media sites… for operationally relevant data, information,
analysis, and imagery.” The definition of operationally relevant data includes
“media reports that reflect adversely on DHS and response activities,”
“partisan or agenda-driven sites,” and a final category ambiguously labeled
With the Occupy
movement coming to campus, even university police departments have gotten in on
the action. According to a how-to guide called “Essential Ingredients to Working with Campus Protests” by
UC Santa Barbara police chief Dustin Olson, the first step to take is to
“monitor social media sites continuously,” both for intelligence about the
“leadership and agenda” and “for any messages that speak to violent or criminal
Coopt the classroom and the laboratory
At a time when
entire departments and disciplines are facing the chopping block at America’s
universities, the Department of Homeland Security has proven to be the
best-funded department of all. Homeland security studies has become a
major growth sector in higher education and now has more than 340
certificate- and degree-granting programs. Many colleges have joined the Homeland Security and Defense
Education Consortium, a spinoff of the U.S. Northern Command (the
Department of Defense’s “homeland defense” division), which offers a model
curriculum to its members.
discipline has been directed and funded to the tune of $4 billion over the last five years by DHS. The goal,
according to Dr. Tara O’Toole, DHS Undersecretary of Science & Technology,
is to “leverag[e] the investment and expertise of academia… to meet the needs
of the department.” Additional funding is being made available from the
Pentagon through its blue-skies research arm, the Defense Advanced Research Projects
Agency, and the “intelligence community” through its analogous Intelligence
Advanced Research Projects Activity.
At the core of
the homeland security-university partnership are DHS’s 12 centers
of excellence. (A number that has doubled since
I first reported on the initiative in 2008.) The DHS Office
of University Programs advertises the centers of excellence as an “extended
consortium of hundreds of universities” which work together “to develop
customer-driven research solutions” and “to provide essential training to the next
generation of homeland security experts.”
But what kind
of research is being carried out at these centers of excellence, with the
support of tens of millions of taxpayer dollars each year? Among the 41 “knowledge products” currently in use by DHS or being
evaluated in pilot studies, we find an “extremist crime database,” a
“Minorities at Risk for Organizational Behavior” dataset, analytics for aerial
surveillance systems along the border, and social media monitoring
technologies. Other research focuses include biometrics, “suspicious behavior
detection,” and “violent radicalization.”
Privatize, subsidize, and capitalize
Repress U has
not only proven a boon to hundreds of cash-starved universities, but also to
big corporations as higher education morphs into hired education.
While a majority of the $184 billion in homeland security funding in 2011 came
from government agencies like DHS and the Pentagon, private sector funding is
expected to make up an increasing share of the total in the coming years,
according to the Homeland Security Research Corporation, a consulting firm
serving the homeland security industry.
Each DHS Center
of Excellence has been founded on private-public partnerships, corporate
co-sponsorships, and the leadership of “industry advisory boards” which give big business a direct
stake and say in its operations. Corporate giants allied with DHS Centers of
Martin at the Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to
Terrorism (START), based at the University
of Maryland at College Park.
and AT&T at the Rutgers University-based Command, Control,
and Interoperability Center for Advanced Data Analysis (CICADA).
Con Edison at the Center for Risk and Economic Analysis of Terrorism Events (CREATE),
based at the University
of Southern California.
Boeing, and Bank of America at the Purdue University-based Center for Visual Analytics for Command, Control, and
Interoperability Environments (VACCINE).
Cargill, Kraft, and McDonald’s at the National Center for Food Protection and Defense (NCFPD),
based at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities.
universities have struck multimillion-dollar deals with multinational private
security firms like Securitas, deploying unsworn, underpaid, often
untrained “protection officers” on campus as “extra eyes and ears.” The University of Wisconsin-Madison,
in one report, boasts that police and private partners have been
students have gotten into the business of security. The private intelligence
firm STRATFOR, for example, recently partnered with the University of Texas
to use its students to “essentially parallel the work of… outside consultants”
but on campus, offering information on activist groups like the Yes Men.
Step by step,
at school after school, the homeland security campus has executed a silent coup
in the decade since September 11th. The university, thus usurped, has
increasingly become an instrument not of higher learning, but of intelligence
gathering and paramilitary training, of profit-taking on behalf of America’s increasingly embattled “1%.”
Yet the next
generation may be otherwise occupied. Since September 2011, a new student movement has
swept across the country, making itself felt most recently on March 1st with a national day of action to defend the right
to education. This Occupy-inspired wave of on-campus activism is making visible
what was once invisible, calling into question what was once beyond question,
and counteracting the logic of Repress U with the logic of nonviolence and
education for democracy.
For many, the
rise of the homeland security campus has provoked some basic questions about
the aims and principles of a higher education: Whom does the university serve?
Whom does it protect? Who is to speak? Who is to be silenced? To whom does the
of Repress U are uninterested in such inquiry. Instead, they cock their
weapons. They lock the gates. And they prepare to take the next step.
Alexander Gould-Wartofsky is a writer from New York City
and a MacCracken Fellow in Sociology at New York University.
His writing has received Harvard’s James Gordon Bennett Prize and the New York Times James B.
Reston Award, and has appeared in the Nation, the Harvard Crimson,
The Huffington Post, and Monthly Review, along with TomDispatch. He is
currently writing a book about Occupy
Wall Street. His website is
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