FBI and Universities Unite to Fight Terror

When I was 17, I worked for the Gap. I remember the loss prevention folks coming in “from corporate” to lecture us about our co-workers that “wanted to steal from the company.” I remember being shocked, and thinking “wow, who’d want to steal?” Over time, it became clear that none of my co-workers (making $3.35 an hour at the time, I might add) were stealing anything. Nonetheless, the barrage of corporate visitors and “loss prevention” folks continued, followed by the emergence of posters and brochures about “untruthful employees.” Loss prevention set up an anonymous “hotline” and inventories became more frequent.

I remember, at the time, thinking that the whole “loss prevention” effort a.) had to cost the company a small fortune (airfare, printing costs, training, salaries, etc.) and it seemed out of sync with the amount of merchandise that could conceivably be stolen from any one store and b.) that it was a waste of time because no one was stealing anything.Well, in short order, probably the span of 6 months or so after the appearance of the first “loss prevention” manager, 5 or 6 of my colleagues came to work with completely new Gap wardrobes (a near impossibility on $3.45 an hour we were making after our recent raise). It occurred to me that after the loss prevention folks had essentially taught these folks how to steal, and moreover, how EASY it was, that most of them started doing it.

In pretty short order, those folks that were stealing were fired and replaced with a new batch of eager beavers making, a whopping $3.35 an hour.The formula was easy, cook up a scare, create a culture of suspicion, and then reap the benefits of being able to clean house and replace workers with half-rate replacements. Good idea. I bet that the number of folks actually stealing before the arrival of the loss prevention folks was about 1 in 1,000. After the arrival, about 1 in 4. Creating a culture of suspicion just gives people bad ideas, and makes the workplace a crappy place to be.

This story was on NPR’s Morning Edition this morning. It’s an all-grown-up version of the Gap story. In a nutshell, FBI Director Muller notes that the “free nature” (could he mean FREEDOM?) at US universities has spawned a pronounced need for FBI surveilance at our nation’s colleges and universities. Apparently, because so much “high level” research is conducted at colleges and universities, they have become targets for “corporate and foreign spies” that “want to do us harm.”

Well, here’s a shocker for you, Bob: Universities are jam-packed for foreign nationals. They’re what make American universities great. And you’re absolutely right, most of them leave the country and take what they learn with them. That’s a good thing, bud, it’s called spreading the wealth. Here’s another idea, Bob: maybe if research is SO high level, it shouldn’t be conducted at universities, but at labs that are secure, and not on university campuses, by people that are PAID (as opposed to PAYING) for their efforts.

Come on. There’s no problem here folks — or at least there isn’t yet. I mean, hey, I wonder what would happen if someone smuggled my lecture notes out of a course? Wow. Someone on the other side of the globe might learn how to better kern type! NO! That would be a tragedy. Worse still, maybe someone might actually learn what it means to be a good designer! NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO! FBI! HELP! Give me a break.

You can listen to the story here.From: NPR logo

by Dina Temple-Raston

The FBI is concerned that the open environment at U.S. universities makes it child’s play for political or corporate spies to steal U.S. research. The relationship between the FBI and universities has traditionally been strained, but the fight against terrorism creates new bedfellows.

One thought on “FBI and Universities Unite to Fight Terror”

  1. Glad I saw this post– did not know of this particular case, which is silly, but I am aware of the nearly constant tension of the right against the left at universities everywhere. I must say this smacks of the McCarthy era– we must defend ourselves from infiltration, etc. Universities are in fact highly political environments, but definitely not potential security liabilities.
    Your experience at the Gap really is meaningful here- this false alarm hysteria is in reality causing problems that would not be there otherwise. Unlike your analogy, though, I doubt that no matter how much the FBI or any other cenrtal government agency, there simply will not be theft of important secrets because there are very likely none to steal, and if there were it is unlikely they would be the kind of secrets which would empower any foreign interest. What is really behind this story, and many like it, is the typing or branding of the university as a hot bed for subversives, largely because there are in fact a handful of free thinkers who do exist in these institutions.

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