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FBI Investigates Open Records Request 860

GrooveMoose writes "A university student at the University of Texas makes an open records request for information on the underground tunnel system at the school. A few months later the FBI and Secret Service come knocking on his door to see if he's a terrorist. He's still under investigation by the federal government regarding a completely open request."
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FBI Investigates Open Records Request

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  • by LostCluster ( 625375 ) * on Thursday May 06, 2004 @08:45PM (#9079221)
    Clearly, some paper-pusher at the university office freaked that somebody was using The Freedom of Information Act to force them to release information about their underground tunnels... most likely because the feds told universities to call them if anybody makes requests for information about campus infrastructure.

    And, let's face it... even though it's perfectly legal to file a Freedom of Information Act request, doing so for topics like this totally out of the blue is certainly suspicious activity.

    One thing to point out is that the agents called and said they wanted to speak with the student, but it doesn't appear they ever arrested him. That means he could have told them that he wasn't interested in meeting with them, or he could have walked out of the room at any time. He also could have at any time brought in a lawyer.

    The moral of the story is that if you ask for some creepy information, and it's not exactly clear why you asked for it, then the FBI and Secret Service are going to have some questions to ask you, and they'll open a file on it. They won't deprive you of any of your freedoms over that alone... being confronted by men with badges who are looking for you may be a scary thing, but he could have just as well told them to leave him alone and they would have had to. He agreed to meet with them, so that's that.
    • by Metallic Matty ( 579124 ) on Thursday May 06, 2004 @08:48PM (#9079243)
      And, let's face it... even though it's perfectly legal to file a Freedom of Information Act request, doing so for topics like this totally out of the blue is certainly suspicious activity.

      So basically what your saying is, regardless of what you may actually plan on doing with that information, you should automatically be considered suspicious and investigated? Its like assuming that someone is guilty of being a terrorist until proven otherwise. That's bullshit.

      God forbid someone actually USE the freedom of information act!
      • by Geoffreyerffoeg ( 729040 ) on Thursday May 06, 2004 @08:54PM (#9079290)
        Nobody ever said the student was guilty of anything.

        No, you are innocent until proven guilty. There's only one way to prove stuff; investigation. God forbid we declare everyone permanently innocent and unfair to even think they might be guilty. The Catholic Church got it with the Devil's Advocate; he attempts to find any negative information about a beatified person on track to sainthood. That's not BS, that's common sense: humans will be human.
        • by fenix down ( 206580 ) on Thursday May 06, 2004 @09:18PM (#9079468)
          innocent until proven guilty

          And a suspect until proven innocent.
          • by nexex ( 256614 ) on Thursday May 06, 2004 @09:31PM (#9079567) Homepage
            > a suspect

            i believe the chic term is 'person of interest' -- that releases them from liability while investigating him

        • by ekuns ( 695444 ) * on Thursday May 06, 2004 @09:51PM (#9079680) Journal

          No, you are innocent until proven guilty

          With the Patriot Act, this isn't so much true any longer. It depends on whether the FBI was investigating under normal laws or under Patriot Act laws. Consider that the Patriot Act allows our government to hold people without charging them, without admitting they are holding them, and without warrant. This is why people worry about kinds of things like this story.

          All that said, it's reasonable for the FBI to investigate certain kinds of FOIA requests, and this one seems reasonable to at least quickly investigate. If someone bought a couple tons of the kinds of fertilizer that can be used to make weapons, the FBI should at least quickly look into that as well.

          This doensn't mean the student did anything wrong, nor that the FOIA request should be ignored.

          (And I'm not saying you said any of that! I'm just using your post as a jumping off point.)

          • by nonameisgood ( 633434 ) on Thursday May 06, 2004 @10:05PM (#9079751)
            The feds should never have been visibly involved in something so trivial unless there was an indication of something else.

            It seems that without another cause, this would constitute coersion in order to deny access to information which is otherwise not secret. Even if they "approve" the request, there is a chilling effect on other requests. Probably the intent.
          • by delong ( 125205 ) on Friday May 07, 2004 @01:04AM (#9080891)
            That is false.

            First of all, there is no such distinction between "normal laws" and "Patriot Act laws". The Patriot Act IS the law, modifies existing laws, or expands existing jurisdiction.

            Second of all, the Patriot Act demonstrably does not give the FBI the power to detain people without charge, without admitting they are holding them, and without warrant. That is pure, ignorant FUD. What the Patriot Act does do, is expand the Immigration and Naturalization Act to allow the FBI to detain a suspected terrorist ALIEN PERSON until they can be deported, or criminal charges brought against them. The term of that detention is LIMITED, and must be DISCLOSED to Congress.

            The relevant text is below, from the Patriot Act [].

            `(1) CUSTODY- The Attorney General shall take into custody any alien who is certified under paragraph (3).
            `(2) RELEASE- Except as provided in paragraphs
            (5) and (6), the Attorney General shall maintain custody of such an alien until the alien is removed from the United States. Except as provided in paragraph (6), such custody shall be maintained irrespective of any relief from removal for which the alien may be eligible, or any relief from removal granted the alien, until the Attorney General determines that the alien is no longer an alien who may be certified under paragraph (3). If the alien is finally determined not to be removable, detention pursuant to this subsection shall terminate.
            `(3) CERTIFICATION- The Attorney General may certify an alien under this paragraph if the Attorney General has reasonable grounds to believe that the alien--
            `(A) is described in section 212(a)(3)(A)(i), 212(a)(3)(A)(iii), 212(a)(3)(B), 237(a)(4)(A)(i), 237(a)(4)(A)(iii), or 237(a)(4)(B); or
            `(B) is engaged in any other activity that endangers the national security of the United States.
            `(4) NONDELEGATION- The Attorney General may delegate the authority provided under paragraph
            (3) only to the Deputy Attorney General. The Deputy Attorney General may not delegate such authority.
            `(5) COMMENCEMENT OF PROCEEDINGS- The Attorney General shall place an alien detained under paragraph (1) in removal proceedings, or shall charge the alien with a criminal offense, not later than 7 days after the commencement of such detention. If the requirement of the preceding sentence is not satisfied, the Attorney General shall release the alien.
            `(6) LIMITATION ON INDEFINITE DETENTION- An alien detained solely under paragraph (1) who has not been removed under section 241(a)(1)(A), and whose removal is unlikely in the reasonably foreseeable future, may be detained for additional periods of up to six months only if the release of the alien will threaten the national security of the United States or the safety of the community or any person.
            `(7) REVIEW OF CERTIFICATION- The Attorney General shall review the certification made under paragraph (3) every 6 months. If the Attorney General determines, in the Attorney General's discretion, that the certification should be revoked, the alien may be released on such conditions as the Attorney General deems appropriate, unless such release is otherwise prohibited by law. The alien may request each 6 months in writing that the Attorney General reconsider the certification and may submit documents or other evidence in support of that request.
            `(1) IN GENERAL- Judicial review of any action or decision relating to this section (including judicial review of the merits of a determination made under subsection (a)(3) or (a)(6)) is available exclusively in habeas corpus proceedings consistent with this subsection. Except as provided in the preceding sentence, no court shall have jurisdiction to review, by habeas corpus petition or otherwise, any such action or decision.
            `(2) APPLICATION-
            `(A) IN GENERAL- Notwithstanding any other provision of law, inc

      • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday May 06, 2004 @08:55PM (#9079303)
        They didn't arrest anyone or deny anyone their freedom or civil rights. They're investigating possible suspicious activity on a campus that has thousands of people on it.

        Are you suggesting the proper thing to do is to wait until something bad happens? Or to investigate completely in secret so as not to hurt the feelings of the principal person involved?
        • by squiggleslash ( 241428 ) on Thursday May 06, 2004 @09:38PM (#9079607) Homepage Journal
          I'm squiggleslash and I approve this message.

          I think a certain degree of discretion is absolutely necessary. Not only does it hurt the reputation of someone to be "under investigation by the FBI" but it's especially unfair to the person under investigation when no crime has even been committed.

        • by DA-MAN ( 17442 ) on Thursday May 06, 2004 @09:39PM (#9079614) Homepage
          Are you suggesting the proper thing to do is to wait until something bad happens? Or to investigate completely in secret so as not to hurt the feelings of the principal person involved?

          Agreed! The constitution does not guarantee you the right to not have your feelings hurt.

          He agreed to meet with them, he has not been arrested or lost any of his rights.

          If you want information that could be used in an extremely bad way, be prepared to be harrassed about getting that information. If he is in fact a terrorist and blew up a bunch of people, I am sure many of the same people who are all up in arms about the investigation would be pissed at the FBI . I mean shit, he made the request for the information IN THE OPEN!

          With these asshat's, you're fucked if you do and fucked if you don't...
        • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday May 06, 2004 @09:48PM (#9079665)
          Now if he is denied the right to board an airplane from this point forward and put on one of the terrorist watch lists the government wishes to share with private industry and hence potential employers, then yes, I would see a VERY SERIOUS issue here.
        • by SuprChickN ( 671884 ) on Friday May 07, 2004 @01:32AM (#9081041)
          Yes, we wait for bad things to happen. This is the basis of our legal system. People are not to be punished for what they think, feel, say, or for any reason that is not a direct transgression of the law. Public principles dictate that we are punished for actions, and actions alone, when they are contrary to widespread public opinion regarding what people should and should not do (the law). This is the only way to maintain a principled system and guarantee freedom. As a principled system, actions are not measured against what they could lead to. This is freedom. Have we forgotten? Yes, certain actions can have devastating results but this is the cost of being free. A principled system of law cannot prescribe the harassment of individuals for accessing information. When you have the government watching you for activity that is in and of itself unharmful and legal, how can you say you live in a free country?
      • by metlin ( 258108 ) * on Thursday May 06, 2004 @08:55PM (#9079305) Journal
        Well, it's most likely that they have certain types of information that act as trigger points - you seek those and someone might just take notice.

        The point is that they perhaps figure that it is better to be prudent and be careful, rather than let be swept under the Freedom of Information act.

        He was just interrogated - if his freedom were taken away, or if he was warned or if something along those lines had happened, I can understand your reaction.

        However, he was interrogated because the law enforcement is being careful (and maybe justifiably so), or maybe they are acting on the basis of some kind of information that we do not know about (who knows, they may have received threats or information of such a possibility) and over-reacted because of that.

        The truth is, we will never know. I'm not saying that what they did was right, but it was not wrong either. Its just being cautious, and I do not see anything wrong in law enforcement being careful.
        • Yes, we may never know the reason FBI and Secret Service chose to investigate this Open Records request. Yes, perhaps they are investigating another case regarding a perceived threat to the campus and this was considered to be linked to that case. I'm fine with that.
          But then: why did they both refuse FOI's on what they have already gathered about Mr. Miller? Shouldn't he be entitled to that?
          • But then: why did they both refuse FOI's on what they have already gathered about Mr. Miller? Shouldn't he be entitled to that?

            Nope, because they can deny access to case records on open cases, and this case remains open because the Feds still don't know to their satisfaction what's going on here.

            They don't have enough information to charge anybody. They don't have enough information to get search warrants... hell, they don't even have enough infromation to be sure did happen or even that a crime's even g
      • by Chess_the_cat ( 653159 ) on Thursday May 06, 2004 @09:00PM (#9079345) Homepage
        The government just can't win. I'm not saying this student is a bomber or was planning to shoot up the school but just for argument's sake let's say he was. He gets information on the tunnels and places a bomb in them. The bombs go off and the school blows up. Then the FBI discovers that the student requested information on the tunnels but no one flagged it as unusual. What happens next? All the newspapers are filled with stories about how the FBI are incompetent. I mean look at the inquiry going on now regarding 9/11. Remember Columbine? The sheriff's department there were villified for "not seeing the warning signs." So what kind of solution do you propose? Personally, I don't have a problem with the FBI simply talking to this guy just to clear the situation up before anything happens.
        • So what kind of solution do you propose?

          I suggest that we, as a country, conduct ourselves in such a manner that not everyone wants to see us dead. While that won't stop the truly crazy people, it is not crazy people who are causing the feds to see monsters under their beds.
      • by Chuck Chunder ( 21021 ) on Thursday May 06, 2004 @09:07PM (#9079396) Homepage Journal
        People should only be investigated after they are proven guilty?

        That's gonna work real well!
        • by Geekbot ( 641878 ) on Thursday May 06, 2004 @11:39PM (#9080366)
          No, the problem is that people should be investigated when suspected of committing a crime. People should not be investigated for suspicion of being somebody who might commit a crime. Because, if you allow for that, what is an acceptable critera for suspecting that someone might commit a crime? His looks, his friends, mailing lists he is on, organizations he donates money too, the length of his hair, his clothes, the library books he checks out, etc. I would say this most closely ties into ongoing debates about the governments new "rights" to search through your library records without your consent, without a warrant, etc. Our government should not be policing student research, even if it isn't obviously academic. If it's a problem of kids playing some stupid D&D or paintball or whatever in the basement then leave that up to campus security, not federal investigators.
    • by Zork the Almighty ( 599344 ) on Thursday May 06, 2004 @08:49PM (#9079246) Journal
      Request all the knowledge you want, but just be aware that they are watching you.

      America, land of the secure (formerly the land of the free).
      • by petabyte ( 238821 ) on Thursday May 06, 2004 @09:07PM (#9079392)
        Actually, the best quote of that I saw (I believe I saw it as someone's sig here) was:

        Welcome to America, Land of the Free*

        *Some restrictions apply, void where prohibited.
    • by Catamaran ( 106796 ) on Thursday May 06, 2004 @09:02PM (#9079357)
      The question you have to ask yourself is what is the potential for abuse. Suppose that J. Edgar Hoover wants to give you a hard time. You recently checked a book out of the library on midevil catapults (or fertilizer, tide tables, or whatever). He sends agents out to talk to your friends, business associates, employer, etc. to ask about "suspicious activities" and the next thing you know you are friendless and unemployed.
    • by eliza_effect ( 715148 ) on Thursday May 06, 2004 @10:19PM (#9079846)
      The issue here, to me, isn't that the student was investigated, but that the FBI can use the (perpetually) "open" investigation to deny FOIA requests.

      Investigating a "suspicious" request is one thing, and in that the FBI did nothing, however to then deny the request, after having investigated and found no foul-play or cause for alarm, is the dangerous part.
  • by DAldredge ( 2353 ) <SlashdotEmail@GMail.Com> on Thursday May 06, 2004 @08:45PM (#9079222) Journal
    The US goverment can not secure our borders, yet they are going after people that file FOIA requests.

    Someone please explain to me how in the hell that make sense.
    • by metlin ( 258108 ) * on Thursday May 06, 2004 @08:59PM (#9079329) Journal
      Maybe because real threats are likely to come from within rather from outside?

      Its almost impossible to enforce complete border regulation, and making it strict only flies in the face of the US policy of being open to immigrants.

      Most of the real threats come from people who have entered US through legal means, or are already inside the US. And the reason they questioned this guy is not because he sought some information, its the kind of information that he sought - they merely thought that kind of information could be used for other purposes, and were careful.
  • Sounds fair to me (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday May 06, 2004 @08:47PM (#9079236)
    Consider what people would say if a terrorist requested the information for a tunnel system under a school, and the FBI didn't investigate it? It's not like they were tracking this guy's every move. He requested someone rather unusual, and they checked it out as they should.
    • by next1 ( 742094 ) on Thursday May 06, 2004 @08:59PM (#9079338) Journal
      i agree, it's the nature of the request.

      the article specifically says that the tunnel network was made secret as a result of 9/11 (along with the surveilance system), so obviously if someone asks for that information it is going to be investigated.

      seems fair enough.
      • by LostCluster ( 625375 ) * on Thursday May 06, 2004 @09:24PM (#9079501)
        When I was the co-webmaster of my high school website in 1999, we had a complete copy of the student handbook online.

        The day after the Columbine tragedy. I was asked by some teachers to pull a map of the school hallways and classrooms off of the web. I told them I'd do that if administration asked me to, but I wasn't going to do that on my own. See, the perpetrators of the Columbine tragedy already knew their way around the building, they were both students. If it was our school, they would have been handed the maps as part of the book on day one. The teachers took that explanation, and never did elevate the issue to the administration.

        However, our administration did hire a new secretary to sit just inside of the main enterance to check student IDs and issue guest passes for all vistors. I nicknamed that woman the "Columbine Canary" because as long as she was alive, we could be assured a Columbine-style attack was not in progress. She would have been powerless to stop students with guns... only friendly people would bother to register for a guest pass, insane shooters wouldn't.
    • by Bodhidharma ( 22913 ) <jimliedeka AT gmail DOT com> on Thursday May 06, 2004 @09:30PM (#9079550)
      I wonder how it would have been handled if his last name sounded Arabic?

  • by brolewis ( 712511 ) on Thursday May 06, 2004 @08:48PM (#9079242)
    This story may be related to Austin's Anti-Terrorism Force, but they have a saying at UT that may be apropos: You can't spell stupid without UTPD
  • So WTF? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ka55ad ( 571279 ) <> on Thursday May 06, 2004 @08:49PM (#9079245) Homepage
    So now everytime someone requests info through the FOIA they will be questioned by the FBI or CIA? Is the government trying to discourage this?

    Its kinda usless to have a right if you are harassed every time you use it.
    • by raehl ( 609729 ) <raehl311@yahoo.GAUSScom minus math_god> on Thursday May 06, 2004 @09:05PM (#9079382) Homepage
      This is one time someone requested information about apparently sensitive information.

      It's an abnormal request - a student doesn't have an obvious need for information about the tunnels at his school. If you went and bought 10x the amount of ammonia-based fertilizer that anyone would need, they'd investigate that too. Not because owning a lot of fertilizer is illegal, but because purchasing that amount of fertilizer is a decent sign that you may be about to do something illegal.

      I'd much rather have the FBI taking the time to ask some intelligent questions when confronted with suspicious activity than letting universities be blown up.
      • by beavis88 ( 25983 ) on Thursday May 06, 2004 @09:29PM (#9079545)
        I'm sure they threw some intelligent questions in there somewhere, but the article certainly didn't reflect that. Asking things like why he wears his hair long is just, well, unfuckingbelievably slimy, for lack of a better term.

        Of course I don't believe that was the entire line of questioning, but I think people in positions of such power need to be very careful about how they conduct their business. My bet is that as law enforcement professionalism increases, the general population's image of cops at the donut shop decreses, and this, I think, can only be a good thing.
      • by dwillden ( 521345 ) on Thursday May 06, 2004 @10:08PM (#9079766) Homepage
        It's an abnormal request - a student doesn't have an obvious need for information about the tunnels at his school.
        And College students never make studies of various aspects of their campus's? He never really explains why he was curious about it, but in an academic setting that is really secondary. Now every Student and Professor for that matter is going to have to think twice about every study or project they want to do. Last year my School was playing around with long distance wifi New Wi-Fi Distance Record Set In Utah [], Gee just think of the possibilities for the terrorists with that one. They could use it to set off bombs at long distance or hack systems or something even worse. Yeah, I realize it's a rather rediculus stretch but that's the point of having acedemic freedom.

        Okay maybe the request was slightly suspicous, but really any response other than asking him to explain his purpose for the request (i.e. "Why did you need this info? Due to the post 9/11 security situation we have to ask." Then deny the request.

        I'd much rather have the FBI taking the time to ask some intelligent questions when confronted with suspicious activity than letting universities be blown up.
        Fine but at least according to the article (I know, a /.er who actually RTFA), their questions went far beyond intelligent questions. And that is where the problem occured. They didn't treat the questionee as the American Citizen and college student that he is, they treated him as a subversive activist.

        Just my $0.02

  • What's UT Watch? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Rick Zeman ( 15628 ) on Thursday May 06, 2004 @08:50PM (#9079254)
    I guess the supposition was that everyone should know what it is, especially when it was mentioned along with the ACLU. I don't, though, but I guess it has something to do with the UT camera system they mentioned?
    • Re:What's UT Watch? (Score:4, Informative)

      by monophaze ( 208297 ) on Thursday May 06, 2004 @09:24PM (#9079498)
      From UT Watch []
      UT Watch is a student-based watchdog group for the University of Texas at Austin.
      We promote campus democracy, affordable education, and genuine access to higher education for all Texans.
      We resist corporate control of education, authoritarian decision-making, and misuse of public money.
  • Terrorists attack... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by tbjw ( 760188 ) on Thursday May 06, 2004 @08:50PM (#9079259)
    ...University? Anyone else less than convinced by this scenario? Sounds like Americans are so crazy, they'd suspect anyone. Hey I have a bomb... ... and a big hello to my new FBI fans and admirers,
    xx ben.
  • I know this guy... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Michael Spencer Jr. ( 39538 ) * <(spam) (at) (> on Thursday May 06, 2004 @08:52PM (#9079274) Homepage
    I know the guy (Mark A Miller) being described in this article. I use IRC mostly as a contact list, and have a channel for users of my unremarkable non-profit server. Mark has been a regular in my small (under 20 people) channel for months. I know this is the same guy as the Mark Miller in this article because the user in my channel talked incessantly about these freedom of information act requests, months ago.

    [04/13 00:16] <@Mirell[Mobile]> Ah.
    [04/13 00:17] <@Mirell[Mobile]> District Attorney Office. Forgot to go by that.
    [04/13 00:17] <@dyfrgi> Why do you want/need to?
    [04/13 00:17] <@Mirell[Mobile]> To file a writ of mandumus against UT Austin.
    [04/13 00:18] <@Mirell[Mobile]> They are ignoring one of my open records request.
    [04/13 00:18] <@Mirell[Mobile]> To find out how much they pay for their Internet service.
    [04/13 00:18] <@mspencer> "one of"?
    [04/13 00:18] <@Mirell[Mobile]> Okay, several of.
    [04/13 00:18] <@Mirell[Mobile]> They initiall complied.
    [04/13 00:19] <@Mirell[Mobile]> Now they're ignoring me hoping I'll go away.
    [04/13 00:19] <@mspencer> I'm surprised you've filed even one open records request, let alone several.
    [04/13 00:19] <@mspencer> What are you using the data for?
    [04/13 00:19] <@Mirell[Mobile]> Er?
    [04/13 00:19] <@Mirell[Mobile]> Why are you suprised?
    [04/13 00:20] <@mspencer> I mean, as long as you're being adult about it, and making sure your need for the data is worth the time they need to put into filling those requests.
    [04/13 00:20] <@dyfrgi> Writ of Mandumus?
    [04/13 00:20] <@Mirell[Mobile]> mspencer,
    [04/13 00:20] <@mspencer> So what are you using the data for?
    [04/13 00:20] <@Mirell[Mobile]> To satiate my curiousity.
    [04/13 00:21] <@Mirell[Mobile]> I'm not sure if that's how you spell it, dyfrgi.
    [04/13 00:21] <@mspencer> Do you think those requests are having any kind of negative effect on the University or its staff?
    [04/13 00:21] <@dyfrgi> I'm just wondering what it is.
    [04/13 00:22] <@Mirell[Mobile]> Let's see...I requested initially any contracts or invoices detailing the cost the University entails in gaining Internet connectivity.
    [04/13 00:22] <@dyfrgi> Mm. I assume you want to file a petition for a writ of madamus.
    [04/13 00:22] <@Mirell[Mobile]> Then I filed another one for something they withheld on an invoice.
    [04/13 00:22] <@Mirell[Mobile]> Then another one for another thing they left out..
    [04/13 00:22] <@Mirell[Mobile]> Then one about the UT Classroom Web Cams they deny knowledge of
    [04/13 00:23] <@Mirell[Mobile]> Then one about the UT Information Security Council briefs, since we had the Social Security Number scare.
    [04/13 00:24] <@Mirell[Mobile]> And I'm not at all sure what you are trying to say by "Negative Affect" when they have a position who's sole purpose is to manage Open Records Requests.
    [04/13 00:25] <@dyfrgi> I think he is implying that you should not ask, because it costs money for them to tell you.
    [04/13 00:25] <@mspencer> I was deliberately vague: any effect, emotional or financial or otherwise, that is more significant than the benefit you get from satisfying your curiosity.
    [04/13 00:26] <@Mirell[Mobile]> No.
    [04/13 00:26] <@mspencer> hopefully there isn't one, but if there is, I'd like to think you considered that.
    [04/13 00:26] <@bl0d> i dunno, i'd really be curious about the Webcam one...that's just fucked up...
    [04/13 00:26] <@mspencer> Ah, OK then.
    [04/13 00:26] <@Mirell[Mobile]> etail&storyid=620962
    [04/13 00:27] <@Mirell[Mobile]> They pull crap like this as well.
    [04/13 00:27] <@Mirell[Mobile]> And this: etail&storyid=657367
    [04/13 00:27] <@Mirell[
    • If you'd like to contact the person referenced in this article, and don't mind using IRC to do it
      Why should I bother, he's obviously up to something evil []
    • by fishbert42 ( 588754 ) on Thursday May 06, 2004 @09:53PM (#9079694)
      If you'd like to contact the person referenced in this article, and don't mind using IRC to do it, he goes by nickname "mirell" on the IRC server (You may have to use port 6661 to connect and/or use the alternate hostname He's frequently hanging out in my channel, #mspencer, on that server.

      Yeah, let's all slashdot the person directly! That's so much better than some inanimate server.
      As if being under investigation by Big Brother wasn't bad enough... I'd be pretty pissed at you if I were this fellow.
    • by B.D.Mills ( 18626 ) on Thursday May 06, 2004 @10:34PM (#9079960)
      Honourable though his intentions may be, he also demonstrates a lack of knowledge on how corporate politics works. He gave true reasons for his actions.

      In the chat log, he gives a reason for an investigation thus: "To satiate my curiousity." This is the wrong thing to say. If you are up to anything that is remotely dubious, never give the exact *real* reason you are doing anything. Instead, make up another reason that is plausible and legitimate and always give that reason instead. Never divulge the real reason to anyone you don't trust. If you cannot think up a plausible reason then you may need to rethink your actions.

      In the example given, he should have said that he was gathering information in the public interest. (This reason is even true and therefore irrefutable: he's a member of the public and he's interested, therefore it must be in the public interest.) Another thing one could say is anything using corporate doublespeak. The eyes of thine listener shall glazeth over: and thou shalt be as slippery as an eel in thy escape from unwelcome scrutiny.

      Concealing real reasons is commonplace. The leaders of the MPAA and RIAA do this. Politicians do this. Corporate CEO's do this. And we know what fine, upstanding citizens these people are. *cough*. So if it's okay for them to do it, why can't the masses?
  • Tinfoil hat time (Score:5, Insightful)

    by tool462 ( 677306 ) on Thursday May 06, 2004 @08:54PM (#9079287)
    FOIA = government honey pot?

    Think about it.

    You know I'm right.
  • Legitimate reasons (Score:5, Interesting)

    by daniel_mcl ( 77919 ) on Thursday May 06, 2004 @08:54PM (#9079288) Homepage
    I'm an undergrad at Caltech and here at least it's really popular to illegally enter the underground tunnel system for various reasons. There are all sorts of reasons for it -- you can get to classes when it's raining, you can get into buildings that would normally be locked at odd hours to turn in homework, etc. Also, some of our parties and other events have components in the tunnels and there's a bit of a cultural legacy associated with them as well -- people who attend the school are often given midnight tours highlighting various murals and the like. I've heard that this is popular at Carnegie Mellon as well.
    • A close friend (cough) has been in the tunnels at my old university, it's actually pretty interesting and they used to be open. It is very dangerous as poorly shielded high voltage lines run through them, though, amoung other hazards.

      Why? Why not. Tunnels were one of / the main motivators behind the now imfamous MIT Guide to Lockpicking, and it's not that far of a stretch to see why someone would be interested in getting a map. Maybe the kid just wanted to read them, but come on, if you REALLY wanted to kn
    • by fbform ( 723771 ) on Thursday May 06, 2004 @09:31PM (#9079562)
      Caltech...underground tunnel system

      Purdue has similar rules. Most tunnels (except the ones marked Accessible Tunnels)are banned because of safety reasons - apparently several have live bus bars running down the ceiling which is apparently quite low. And some really old (~80 years) steam tunnels have asbestos insulation with signs next to them saying "Danger! Asbestos!" or something similar.

      But the bigger mystery at Purdue is how to get to the campus particle [] accelerator [] beneath the Engineering Mall. Everybody knows it's accessible from the MSEE building, but nobody knows exactly which entrance to take, unless they go with someone who already knows where it is situated (like a faculty member).

      There is also a nuclear reactor [] in the basement of the EE building's annexe, of which there used to be occasional tours. I don't know if they still have those tours.

  • by LostCluster ( 625375 ) * on Thursday May 06, 2004 @08:54PM (#9079289)
    This case is never going to close. It's going straight to the cold case bin where it's going to sit forever.

    The agents were called in to investigate if this kid was a threat based on one suspicious, yet not illegal, thing that he actually did. The key question was of course why he made a request for such sensitive info about tunnels he would never be allowed to access anyway. Well, the only way to answer that question is to ask the kid...

    So they requested a meeting. They got the meeting. They asked him about every reason they could brainstorm about why he made the request, and didn't walk out knowing much more than they knew walking in. The question's now more-or-less impossible to answer.

    And that's the end of the story. Unless he does something else to reactivate his file, this will always be an unsolved case. They'll likely never bother to do anything more, but should he ever come up again in their sights the Feds will at least have the records from this case to remind them of what he did in the past.
  • by el_munkie ( 145510 ) on Thursday May 06, 2004 @08:58PM (#9079323)
    I attend UT, and the explanation I got during orientation was that UT was, at least during the cold war, the custodian of the backup computer for various defense systems. In the event that the primary computer in who-knows-where was destroyed, the computer at our school was supposed to take over.
  • by filtur ( 724994 ) on Thursday May 06, 2004 @09:05PM (#9079370) Homepage
    So are these underground tunnels how college coed shower cams that I keep seeing advertised get installed? Or maybe the government didn't want people to find out about their dorm room cam racket :)
  • Long Term Effects (Score:5, Interesting)

    by neoThoth ( 125081 ) on Thursday May 06, 2004 @09:06PM (#9079387) Homepage
    Scene: Interview
    Interviewer "So have you ever been convicted of a felony"
    Mark "No"
    Interviewer "Have you ever been investigated for terrorist activites?"
    Mark "well.. there was this one time in college..."
    Interviewer "OK thanks we'll call you" (calls security)

    I've seen comments saying "he could have denied the meeting or walked away". I'm sure that wouldn't inflame the agents curiosity even more. The question about the ACLU was really out of line. Personally I think he should join the ACLU before making any other requests and then pull the card out if any other agents stop by.
    the sentiment that I have to agree with is American citizens making FOIA requests should NOT trigger investigations.
    • Re:Long Term Effects (Score:4, Interesting)

      by daniel_mcl ( 77919 ) on Thursday May 06, 2004 @10:41PM (#9080007) Homepage
      I am not a lawyer, but in civics class they always taught that you were innocent until proven guilty -- thus employers do not have the right to ask questions of the form, "Have you ever been investigated for / accused of / etc," or at least to make hiring decisions on the answers to such questions. Basically any hiring decisions that are demonstratably made based on considerations other than your ability to do the job are gonna be against some discriminatory hiring law.
  • by nfsilkey ( 652484 ) on Thursday May 06, 2004 @09:11PM (#9079418) Homepage
    I go to I can vouch for the administrative craziness that all too often plagues this school. :)

    This is the same place where the suits did everything they could to keep the FOIA and other legal mechanisms from revealing information about the post-9/11 surveillance system. UT even went after our state attorney general over this. [] A friend of mine said it best: "Never sue someone when they have a law school." ;)

    The whole reference to UTWatch [] in the article creeped me out. UTWatch is a student-run organization which follows up on what the regents and other suits do. Like Ralph Nader in the 70s, its a mere watchdog organization checking if proposed policies will adversely affect the student body at large. Recently they have been very vocal speaking out concerning tuitition deregulation and the involvement of UT managing the Los Alamos laboratories. Not simply fact checkers, UTWatch does get [] involved [] when it smells something fishy.

    I applaud what Mark Miller did. There is all sorts of cool things under the ground here at UT. Under ENS and RLM you can find a retired tokamak! More than just he are interested in whats buried. Simply put, what UT did (assuming it did something to spur this) simply lacked honor []. ;)
  • by actiondan ( 445169 ) on Thursday May 06, 2004 @09:16PM (#9079458)
    I enjoyed this part:

    "The Joint Terrorism Task Force probably would look into something like that. [Miller] could be a terrorist. He could be planning a plot."

    Planning a plot? That's only the tip of the iceberg! What if he is plotting a scheme or scheming a plan?

    I see no problem with such a request being investigated. It does sound like they asked the guy some pretty stupid questions though (do they really think that long hair is significant when it comes to identifying terrorists? or membership of the ACLU?) OTOH, those questions may well have been filler to pad out the real questions they wanted to ask.

    If they find no evidence during their investigation, they really should grant his further information requests though. Once they are satisfied that he's not a terrorist, they'll have no reason not to let him see all the files relating to his case, surely?

  • by joelparker ( 586428 ) <> on Thursday May 06, 2004 @09:24PM (#9079499) Homepage design new levels for Quake.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday May 06, 2004 @09:32PM (#9079571)
  • by The_Steel_General ( 196801 ) on Thursday May 06, 2004 @09:35PM (#9079595)
    ...This guy files a FOI request about the underground tunnels...

    Sure. I understand why he might be curious. It does seem like a way to draw attention to oneself. And I don't see why the university wouldn't just deny the request with a perfectly reasonable comment about security.

    ...Six weeks later, the FBI and Secret Service show up to ask him about the request...

    Okay: Someone is asking for information on infrastructure that could be exploited in a terrorist attack. I do wonder why they didn't just call the police/sheriff, but perhaps they naturally pass potential terrorist threats to the FBI.

    ...The FBI asks if the fellow is part of activist organizations...

    I don't much like this. Are they saying that UT Watch might be planning terrorist attacks? If they are, then does it make sense to let the organization know that they know? (If this guy had been with UT Watch, pow, they know they're being tracked; if not, why wouldn't he mention the questioning to others?) Or are they just idly trying to find out if there might be a connections? Or are they completely clueless because they are a national law enforcement unit trying to follow up on a local group?

    ...Nobody knows how the information got from the University to the FBI...

    This is odd, too: The obvious answer is "We hand suspicious requests for infrastructure information to the police for further investigation, and they're free to share that with other law enforcement agencies." I'd HOPE that's what they'd do, in fact, and would feel more comfortable if that was their answer. But "I dunno"?

    Overall, I'd call it disconcerting, but not really that big a deal. Am I in the minority here?


  • by QuantumMajo ( 744804 ) on Thursday May 06, 2004 @09:35PM (#9079596)
    I used to be a resident of the UT system and heard all about the tunnels - even got to pass through one between ENS and RLM on a tour once. Would have loved to have gotten a big map of the tunnels to overlay the standard UT map just to see how quickly I COULD get from RLM to anywhere else but never thought to file a FOIA request ... Duh!

    But .. not surprised the SS got involved ... Y'all know one of the Bush twins attends UT right ... The SS has been all over UT since summer of 2000. They're discrete but not exactly in hiding.
  • If I were king... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by rice_burners_suck ( 243660 ) on Thursday May 06, 2004 @09:51PM (#9079679)
    If I were the king of my own country, I would set things up as follows:

    First of all, my government's power would not be the product of my people, but rather would be the product of myself. Freedom would be a priveledge extended by the state, not by the Almighty Creator. In fact, if any religious propaganda, such as a plaque of the Ten Commandments, be found anywhere, said propaganda would immediately be removed.

    Second, everybody would be my slave. Nobody would be allowed to do anything without government approval in the form of licenses (from driver licenses to business permits to rental unit occupation permits), because otherwise they would be considered terrorists and would have all of their property seized for my use.

    Third, a tax system would be put into effect to steal half of everybody's income, from a numeric standpoint. I would pass legislation to make it extremely difficult to purchase and own property, and renters would be affected by high prices because their landlords would similarly have to make ends meet. Thus, with this tax system and property ownership legislation, both parents would have to work very hard to feed their children, and would be so concerned with making ends meet that they would ignore the above, because there are more pressing matters (food) to worry about. (The same tax system would further benefit me by providing detailed information, down to the finest detail, of everybody's business, because they would need to detail the source of every penny of income, and back it up with evidence. Failure to do this would constitute a felony, and would be selectively enforced to strike fear into peoples' hearts.) To steal the other half of everybody's money, the money itself would not be backed by anything of value. Thus it would be easy to continuously print money, thereby constantly increasing the total amount in circulation. This way, my government would steal the peoples' money, without reducing the amount they have from a numeric standpoint, by stealing the value of their money.

    Fourth, the educational system would basically turn out people who can barely read, so they won't be smart enough to figure out what I'm doing to them.

    Fifth, there would be propaganda all over the place telling people how free they are, etc.

    That's how I'd run a government, if I were the king of my own country.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday May 06, 2004 @10:00PM (#9079731)

    If an Agent Knocks - Federal Investigators and Your Rights

    People opposing U.S. policies in Central America, giving sanctuary to refugees from Guatemala and El Salvador, struggling for Black liberation, and against nuclear weapons, are today more than ever likely to receive visits from FBI agents or other federal investigators. Increasingly, agents are also visiting the families, friends, and employers of these activists.

    This pamphlet is designed to answer the most frequent questions asked by people and groups experiencing government scrutiny, and to help them develop practical responses.

    What is political intelligence?

    Political intelligence is information collected by the government about individuals and groups. Files secured under the Freedom of Information Act disclose that government officials have long been interested in all forms of data. Information gathered by government agents ranges from the most personal data about sexual liaisons and preferences to estimates of the strength of groups opposing U.S. policies. Over the years, groups and individuals have developed various ways of limiting the collection of information and preventing such intelligence gathering from harming their work.

    Do I have to talk to the FBI?

    No. The FBI does not have the authority to make anyone answer questions (other than name and address see errata), to permit a search without a warrant, or to otherwise cooperate with an investigation. Agents are usually lawyers, and they are always trained as investigators; they have learned the power of persuasion, the ability to make a person feel scared, guilty, or impolite for refusing their requests for information. So remember, they have no legal authority to force people to do anything -- unless they have obtained an arrest or search warrant. Even when agents do have warrants, you still don't have to answer their questions.

    Under what laws do the agents operate?

    In 1976, FBI guidelines regulating the investigation of political activities were issued by Attorney General Edward H. Levi. Criticized by liberals and conservatives alike, the guidelines were issued in the wake of a Congressional committee's report of highly questionable activities by the FBI, monitoring the activities of domestic political groups seeking to effect change. The report exposed the FBI's counter-intelligence program (COINTELPRO) under which the agency infiltrated groups, compiled dossiers on, and directly interfered with individuals engaged in activities protected by the First Amendment rights to freedom of expression and association.

    The FBI COINTELPRO program was initiated in 1956. Its purpose, as described later by FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, was "to expose, disrupt, misdirect, discredit, or otherwise neutralize activities" of those individuals and organizations whose ideas or goals he opposed. Tactics included: falsely labelling individuals as informants; infiltrating groups with persons instructed to disrupt the group; sending anonymous or forged letters designed to promote strife between groups; initiating politically motivated IRS investigations; carrying out burglaries of offices and unlawful wiretaps; and disseminating to other government agencies and to the media unlawfully obtained derogatory information on individuals and groups.

    In 1983, Attorney General William French Smith issued superseding guidelines that authorized "domestic security/ terrorism" investigations against political organizations whenever the FBI had a reasonable belief that these groups might violate a law. The new guidelines permitted the same intrusive techniques the FBI used against organized crime.

    The Smith guidelines were justified by the Attorney General's observation that "our citizens are no less threatened by groups which engage in criminal violence for political... purposes that by those which operate lawlessly for financial gain." He concluded: "we must ensure that criminal intelligence resources that have been brought to bear

  • by Ungrounded Lightning ( 62228 ) on Thursday May 06, 2004 @10:15PM (#9079814) Journal
    This reminds me of a kid I knew when he was in high school, back in the Vietnam War era (when the internal security systems of the various levels of government in the US had gotten 'WAY out of control).

    His use of a university's computer while a high school student (something he got started on as a guinea pig in a University program doing research on learning and teaching) had attracted the attention of the FBI.

    A couple years later he decided to use the shiny-new FOIA to see what records the FBI and the state and local cops had on him. And while he was at it, he sent FOIA requests to several other agencies.

    The first one he sent to the CIA was a classic self-referential hack: He requested their internal document describing their procedure for responding to FOIA requests. B-) (Obviously useful for generating the next round of requests, too.)

    Needless to say the agencies involved didn't respond as required by the law. So with the aid of a Libertarian lawyer he started suing them. He won, and they eventually were ordered to give him what he asked for. Then they flaked on that, too, and he got a contempt citation and more court orders. Eventually he got much of his info (with big chunks blacked out). Then he sued them for his lawyer's fees and won that, too.

    After a few iterations of this he was sitting on quite a number of interesting documents. So he started a newspaper to give them wider circulation and created a business of generating FOIA requests and publishing the results. This became quite popular with the CIA watcher, privacy advocate, private detective, and tinfoil-hat sets. Advertising revenue flowed in from such folk as buging and debugging equipment manufacturers.

    At one point he got the petty cash records from a New York area CIA office. Items he found in it charged to one project (air compressor, flit guns, briefcase, auto exhaust system, washing a car) led to blowing the lid off a project to obtain information on how a biowarfare plague might spread in an urban environment by exposing the citizens of New York City to a "mostly harmless" bug that caused severe enough respiratory system symptoms that it could be tracked by hospital admissions. (Spread techniques included spraying subways with the bug from the gimmicked briefcase and spraying commuter traffic via the car's exhaust system.)

    He also got hold of and published one year's version of the IRS procedures manual. And put out a pamphlet on how to use the FOIA. (Eventually he was enjoined from distributing either of these.)

    Eventually the FOIA was modified to give the security agencies some loopholes against such requests.

    Bob Dylan had something to say about this: "You have to pay to keep from going through these things twice." Also Thomas Jefferson: "The tree of Liberty must be watered, from time to time ..."

    He's still out there doing stuff like this, by the way. Last time he looked he had a web site dedicated to exposing personal information trading in the information age.

    The above-mentioned kid was part of the Boomer's round. I guess now it's Generation X's (or maybe Y's) turn to pay some dues. (Sigh.)
  • Intent (Score:4, Interesting)

    by crem_d_genes ( 726860 ) * on Thursday May 06, 2004 @10:41PM (#9080001)
    From what has been posted so far, it looks like the information was already available, and the request was pretty aimless in intent - to not investigate could have potential security problems. But like one poster [] said - students at some universities frequently use tunnels for all manner of reasons - weren't cables strung on campus by individuals this way before the present state of affairs? The problem is those days are gone, and many places simply will never allow that degree of freedom - for access to places - or information - anymore.

    My brother is an ex-pat - works all over the world - and a few years before 9/11, on a visit home he said *people in this country have no idea how loose our security is viewed worldwide. Something big will happen and the attitudes in the country will change forever*. That was about the time of the Oklahoma City bombings, when - if you were watching the first reports and speculations - everyone believed it *had* to an international organization. Palestine got the first blame - then nobody really woke up to the idea that people in our country could be every bit as extremist as is *others* are portayed in a xenophobic cultural lens.

    I am generally very suspicious of all these government investigations - they make me uneasy in too many ways because the Patriot Act has been too loosely applied in ways that have already been well reported - and in fact have become good sport - as they should be in an open and free society.

    Had the request had some intent - like the student was an architecture major - technically - not that he had to be to make the request, I think this would have just faded away very quickly.

    I wonder though if a large group of individuals - say if a group as large as that as subscribe to /. could actually agree on something to file massive FOI requests for a single item - what type of response that would bring. I'm sure it would be a total cog in the system. The point is that when an individual who is fanatically devoted to some cause - they may have lived for years building a *clean* life just to act on that one moment - and in fact plans on not living through the time of carrying it out - if they can slip something though - they may have just what they need.
  • not the first time (Score:4, Interesting)

    by igotmybfg ( 525391 ) on Thursday May 06, 2004 @11:23PM (#9080269) Homepage
    UT pulls this kind of shit all the time. An open records request for information regarding the on campus security cameras was submitted by the Daily Texan; UT denied it. The Texan appealed to AG Abbott, who ruled in their favor; the University appealed and it continues to fester in the legal system.
  • by leereyno ( 32197 ) on Friday May 07, 2004 @01:34AM (#9081054) Homepage Journal
    This sounds like the kind of crap that went on back in the 60's and 70's that eventually led to the creation of the FOIA in the first place.

    As much as I dislike Kerry and the modern Democratic party, if this is the kind of crap we can expect from the Republicans, I can't see how I can vote for them in good conscience. Expect me to vote for a 3rd party candidate in November. What is the world coming to when a brain-dead jesus-freak holy roller and a neo-bolshevik nimrod communist are our choices for who is going to lead this country?

    What I found especially disturbing is the fact that they thought his hair was somehow significant. The level of ignorance that displays is really sickening. This isn't the summer of love, lots of guys have long hair and it's no more a political statement than the color of someone's shoes. I used to have hair down to my ass, and I'm a southern boy and a card carrying member of the NRA, hardly an "activist" who is going to blow up something. Well...nothing bigger than a coke bottle anyway.

    In a way I almost wish I'd been the one they were picking on just so I'd have the opportunity to tell them to kiss my ass.

    Am I the only one who feels we have more to fear from the abusive power of unchecked law enforcement than we ever will from terrorism?

    I'd much prefer to limit my concern to those criminals who DON'T have the power of the state backing them up. It's stuff like this that makes me write checks to the NRA and pray it's enough to make a difference. There are times when I'm tempted to send money to the ACLU as well. Its the leftist propaganda that seems to be their driving philosophy that stops me, but if Ashcroft's goons aren't told to sit down and shut up I might just not care anymore and send them money anyway!


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