Friday, May 9, 2008

Grad students declared "security threats" by govt

You have got to be kidding me.

This article, Government Declares Some Grad Students Are ‘Security Threats’, appeared in today's issue of The Tech (MIT's student newspaper). A number of international students working with the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute are being denied easy access to the ports they sail from because the government considers them, for no reason at all, "security threats".

To get in and out of the ports, you need this RFID card, the "Transportation Worker Identification Credential". Without the TWIC, it's very difficult (though not impossible) to get in and out. Difficult-but-not-impossible is a totally unreasonable restriction to impose on these researchers. It's hard enough not having key-card access to the building that contains the lab you're interning in -- *raises hand* -- and even though it's reasonable to expect a bit more difficulty when you're doing fieldwork, it's not Antarctica these students are requesting easy access to, it's a port. And, I might add, these students are only asking for the same access that their labmates and PIs already enjoy.

As the Dept. of Homeland Security wrote to one student (others received similar letters), “I have personally reviewed the Initial Determination of Threat Assessment, your reply, accompanying information, and all other information and materials available to the TSA. Based upon this review, I have determined that you pose a security threat and you do not meet the eligibility requirements to hold a Transportation Worker Identification Credential (TWIC).” This is what we say to students who come here to carry out government-funded research? We give them grant money and then call them "security threats"?

Two of the students being denied access are from Britain and Germany. Britain and Germany. I thought we were supposed to be all buddy-buddy with these countries? If this is what students from friggin' Britain and Germany have to deal with, how much worst must it be for students from, say, Syria?

My friend Raffi, who's from Canada, mentioned how the Office of International Students is always warning them about how "if you do this you'll get deported. If you do that you'll get deported." Apparently the definition of "security threat" bears this out: you're a security threat if you threaten national or transportation security, if you pose a threat of terrorism, if you have "lacking mental capacity"... or if you simply have the wrong kind of visa.

I'm ashamed to live in a country that funds scientists and then treats them this way.

[Crossposted to LiveJournal]


  1. Wonderful blog - I "discovered" you via PZ's links fest thread. May I cite this post in one of my own? I hadn't paid enough attention to this aspect of politicized science/research suppression, and I haven't come across it in the general progressive blogosphere.


  2. Good to know it paid off! *grin*

    Sure, go ahead and cite. I was rather surprised there wasn't more uproar about this, to be honest.