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Agents' visit chills UMass Dartmouth
A senior at UMass Dartmouth was visited by federal agents after he requested a copy of Mao Tse-Tung's tome on Communism called "The Little Red Book."

The student, who was completing a research paper on Communism for Professor Pontbriand's class on fascism and totalitarianism, filled out a form for the request [...] He was later visited at his parents' home in New Bedford by two agents of the Department of Homeland Security.

The professors said the student was told by the agents that the book is on a "watch list," and that his background, which included significant time abroad, triggered them to investigate the student further.

"I tell my students to go to the direct source, and so he asked for the official Peking version of the book," Professor Pontbriand said. "Apparently, the Department of Homeland Security is monitoring inter-library loans, because that's what triggered the visit, as I understand it."

Although there are abridged versions available, the student asked for a version translated directly from the original book.

The Homeland Security agents [...] brought the book with them, but did not leave it with the student.

Remember when this was a plot element in Se7en and you thought, "oh, that's bullshit?"

Update: Ok, so turns out it was bullshit.

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46 Responses:

  1. cavorite says:

    To be fair, they have to do this. If people start reading that book again, they will learn too much about where the bush administration is getting it's current plan of action from

  2. moroveus says:

    Jesus Christ, they didn't even have the common courtesy to leave the book with the student? What assholes.

  3. sfritz says:

    They stole a library book? What dicks.

  4. dwaleberry says:

    Gawd, how dumb does it get?

  5. transgress says:

    Not that I agree with it, but have you been to the professors website? With all the pictures of him with Afghanni warlords carrying an ak-47?

    Given the context, it makes a little more sense. You have a questionable professor, with a student who has spent a long time abroad, requesting not just the red book, but a authentic version of it. At that point, you have to think there is possibly a situation for a subversive.

    So like I said, while I don't necessarily agree with it, when you look at the whole situation it makes a little more sense.

    • skreidle says:

      So, we're not allowed to think subversive thoughts, despite the fact that our president has seen fit to flout the law and illegally spy on US citizens, despite existing laws that would allow him to do so?

      • transgress says:

        Yes! Exactly! Perhaps I maybe should have further qualified with 'militant subversive' or 'actual threat to national security' or similar. Seriously, put yourself in the situation where you have to gather intelligence and try to catch an attack before it happens.

        Chances are quite good you're keeping some tabs on the professor, because while going to afghanistan, kzakastan, and serbia during armed conflicts is not illegal, it most certainly is abnormal-- This holds especially true when you are seen in pictures with mujadeen fighters holding weapons; Then you have a xenophile with significant foreign interests (possibly even a foreign national), probably leaning towards one of the eastern or middle eastern countries (I mean hell, the cold war is over yet russia is still considered a sensitive country), and then you have the idealogue red flag to couple with it- as he wanted not just the litte red book, but an authentic copy. Still nothing illegal, but all added up, perhaps enough of a reason to visit a person and get a feel for them.

        Even more, I'd be willing to bet large sections of the conversation were about the professor himself. You tell me with a straight face that if that was your position, and this picture came to your attention you wouldnt want to at least check it out? I mean, they didn't arrest the guy, he is no in trouble, they just came out to confirm the fact. Seriously, to only consider one part of the picture is to participate in the same blind partisianism that we accuse others of, try to be reasonable and realize that most of the people working for the government are honest hard working people just trying to make the country a better place, not sporting swazi's and demanding you burn your idealogical different books.

        So yes, you're dead on! Thats exactly what I was saying, we're not allowed to think subervise thoughts, Thanks for ignoring my point and latching onto one phrase. I seriously wonder which side of the debate is more full of shit sometimes.

        • mouseworks says:

          When I was involved in left stuff, I used to have periods of some flavor of electronic noise on my phone from a Sunday to a Sunday. "Yeah," my radical left lawyer friend said, "they can do that for that period without the hassles of a longer wire tap." I made some calls in the last year to a friend who's involved in environmental control politics in St. Louis, and sort of wondered if I wasn't hearing the same noise again. Well, it certainly is possible, my president assures me.

          (Mao threw some wicked verbal curves and understanding how he did that could be useful in dealing with other people who do the same thing).

          What the real problem always is with closed administrative states isn't just that they're going to go off the rails institutionally; it's that individuals can go off the rails and be protected (see Catholic Church) by the institution. If being a FBI agent allows all sorts of fun, then people who like that sort of fun get jobs in that institution.

          • transgress says:

            I can empathize with that, I myself have had a fairly long history of involvment with more leftist oriented politics and even more so, animal rights groups. I eventually left concluding that the effort was in vein, that most of the people involved were just doing it to have a pedastal to stand on, and most importantly that most of them were just as damned bad as the people they were protesting.

            With that said, when you start to commit certain actions, you might expect to be watched, some of its bullshit, some of its probably a good idea.

            Overall I agree with you, I just wanted to emphasize my point that I don't think this was a case of the government overstepping its bounds. The situation is odd, albeit not illegal, but definately worth checking out.

            • What's the goal in checking them out? What are you going to do once you've checked them out?

              • transgress says:

                I dunno, possible a threat assement? What did you expect me to say here, mandatory registration of dna for a possible terrorist base?

                • I didn't expect much, just anything reasonable. My point is that you're defending the actions of the DHS, but it's unclear what their purpose is.

                  I find that it might be possible to justify this locally, but ultimately these actions only result in violations of rights (the Fourth Amendment in general and placement onto no-fly lists, etc., in particular) and never prevent crimes.

                  • harvie says:

                    I'm from London, so I'm referring to the London bombers here: these guys were all reported as being 'just ordinary guys who we used to hang out with and play cricket with' who suddenly turned into radical fundamentalists, started hanging around with 'firebrand imams' and suchlike - and then they blew themselves up.

                    The point I'm trying to make is that people _can_ just go from being ordinary guys to suicide bombers - and one (so far) of the indicative traits is an interest in terrorist groups, viewing al-quaeda websites, obtaining fundamentalist literature and suchlike. In this case there was a direct correlation: all of the London bombers engaged in this sort of activity, regularly attended private services and stocked up on radical videotaped sermons and fundamentalist texts. Of course, like kids downloading the Anarchist's Cookbook, 95% of them are just doing it 'because it's cool' but if you have _nothing else_ to go on, I can understand why you might want to 'just check things out' and, as the above poster said, conduct a threat assessment - which seems like a reasonable thing to do.

                    The problem is when agencies can't make up their minds, and fuck about with no-fly lists and 'suspected' lists and trying to get people fired from their jobs instead of just coming to a rapid conclusion and moving on to the next target.

                    I really am no fan of Bush and the 'new war on terrorism' but it really _is_ a new kind of scenario - Russian spies tended to value their lives and you could afford to go easy and let them leak tampered data in order to build up a solid body of evidence. If you suspect your suspect's going to explode himself on a train on the way to work one day, you have to be a bit more direct.

                    Or, to put it a different way:

                    You work for the DHS. Your job is to prevent American-born radical fundamentalist suicide bombers from delivering their payload. You are aware that these guys can just 'appear' out of nowhere in much the same way as a normally sane individual can shoot his wife and family to death one day and then turn the gun on himself.

                    What methods do you employ? Seriously, make some suggestions - or thoroughly discredit the scenario. When thoroughly discrediting the scenario, be aware that there are 4 very dead guys here and another 4 that are only alive because their bombs failed to function that might have a bone to pick if you say 'that sort of thing never happens.'

                  • I think that's a good reply. I still have a few issues with your thoughts, but I'll stop here.

                  • kaneda_khan says:

                    DHS would need a police state to do their job effectively, especially if they're focusing on motivations rather than capabilities. Nothing they could successfully defend would be worth defending. This country was established by revolutionaries (thankfully their tactics did not include terrorism), and we have an eternal responsibility to their memory to refuse to create a system which would have identified and stopped them.

                  • johnsu01 says:

                    Look, the point here is that the Little Red Book has nothing to do with anything, and the fact that DHS interpreted it as relevant is evidence that they have massively expanded the definition of what contsitutes a threat, to the point of including any activity that opposes the status quo government. If they are allowed to do this, then what is the point of freedom of speech and freedom of association?

                    If the student's professor was running around with known criminals, then, fine, start looking at the professor's associates on the basis of that evidence. But the Little Red Book is about communism, and the threat that we supposedly face has absolutely nothing to do with communism. In fact, the people who now want to kill us also spent a lot of time killing communists.

                    Some people in this thread are saying that they are only tracking the book, while some are saying they are tracking the people. Either way, DHS was out of line.

                    This is not the Anarchist's Cookbook. It does not tell you how to make bombs. It tells you one way of being a kind of communist. That's it. bin Laden would be in full agreement with visiting the home of this student and not letting him have the book. That should give everyone defending DHS here pause.

                  • >>Either way, DHS was out of line.
                    These guys have some euristics that may possibly lead them to the actual terrorists. They don't have anything except for that euristics. There's no reliable method to tell if the guy is actually preparing for suicide bombing or just interesting about these.

                    So, all euristics fail sometimes: you can 1) miss some terrorists, or you can 2) positevely identify some innocents as possible terrorists and perform some further investigation on them. Of course, governement tries to minimize first kind of errors at the expence of second kind - coz every missed terrorist can actually kill people, while falsedly supervised innocent suffers no more than bad feeling from being watched (leave along nationwide bad feeling from being watched for now). And it's perfectly logical and right tendency, as far as it doesn't miss the point.

                    So, as far as I understand, government ueristics' malfunction should not be the point. Shit happens, so what? They've seen an interest to the proislamic organisations in the professor, they've seen an interest to the possibly dangerous book in one of the student (incompetence sucks, but incompetence isn't malice), so they decided to talk to the student personally. Misfire. That happens occasionally.

                    The only problem worth discussing that I see is the future development of this tendency, which is self-sustaining by its nature: there are people, that are paid for doing something, so they do it, and request some more funding, to hire more people to do the thing more effectively, and there are no kind of natural limits for doing what are they doing, it's like in that joke
                    -- Why are you scattering all that salt off your window?
                    -- To keep off elefants
                    -- But there's no elefants!
                    -- You see, it works!

                    In that fashion you can spend infinite amount of salt, poisoning everything around.

                    Coming back to the nationwide bad feeling from being watched: it's kinda fault of your govrnment that it doesn't explain why it's doing what it's doing. Or it does?

        • taiganaut says:

          They came out to fly the flag. If they were serious about investigating him, they wouldn't have made themselves known.

    • king_mob says:

      Oh aye. Anyone associating with Afghani warlords is pretty clearly not to be trusted.

      • transgress says:

        Once again, thanks for disregarding my point, and contorting it as you see fit. It's not a matter of "he's obviously a terrorist!" but rather, "gee, most people don't do that", believe it or not, as an investigator your job is to investigate anomalies.

        The entire picture put together forms an anomaly. Additionally, they didn't arrest him and throw him in gitmo. Why not throw a picture of Rumsfield shaking hands with Saddam next time to *Really* drive your point home.

    • wfaulk says:

      The two problems I see with your argument are that it implies that the government keeping tabs on your library books is okay and that being "subversive", yet not illegal, is grounds for, well, anything. I know, you say that "he's in no trouble", but Federal agents showing up at your door is a pretty solid scare tactic, wouldn't you say?

      My problem with the whole situation is that all of these things are earmarks of a police state. The US is not now a police state, but it sure is picking up a lot of the earmarks pretty readily.

      • harvie says:

        I don't think in this case the Government keeps tabs on _your_ library books - it references by the book, not by the individual.

        An interesting point to ponder: is it a violation of your privacy if a machine collates all the data and only flags up likely suspects (who meet certain criteria) to an agent?

        I mean, the data was collected _anyway_ and no _individual_ looked at it until you happened to fit into a pattern of suspicious behaviour...

        (This is basically what I think happened here, they've got some correlation machine that checks the various sources like purchases of fertilizer, frequent overseas travel to unfriendly destinations, etc, and if you fit in enough boxes you get flagged.)

        • sherbooke says:

          What you're saying, of course, is that everyone is now a suspect. This is intolerable in any civil society based on innocent until proven guilty. Everyone is a potential bomber? Uh, no they're not. You're alienating the very people you want to help you fight the bombers.

          With everyone now a suspect, that's a heck of lot of data to sift though, and the use of wiretaps will exacerbate the issue[1]. Indeed, the "little elves" problem[2] looms large: the more data you have, the bigger better faster computers you need. I don't believe there will ever be enough computers in the world to satisfy the paranoid fantasies of every Speicial Branch officer or DHS agent. We now have the problem of an unquantifiable number of false positives that this mass harvesting of data will throw up. This will reflect - sometimes badly - on the system that created it. Again, you're alienating the very communities whose help you want. It's a cost that might be fatally damaging.

          Neither do I believe that bombers arise from nowhere. They seem to have arisen from nowhere because the current powers that be have invested heavily in technology rather than human intelligence. The current authorities are blind unless they have you on a database. In the "good old days", informers and double agents would be hired and targeted at the evil organisation du jour. In other words people. See the 1ww where the Home Office infiltrated and rounded-up a number of trades unionists who were deemed detrimental to the national interest, particular those operating in the munitions industry (See the "Regeneration" trilogy for a fictionalised account of this). Recently, during the 70s and 80s, numerous militant organisations were infiltrated by Speicial Branch and MI5. This is is what should be happening. People are the key, not database searches.

          [1] BTW the current US administration seems to have gone to war on their own people? This attitude seems to have reflected onto Blair, particularly after the Tube bombings where the standard Home Office "evil overlord" checklist seems to have been wheeled out with particular disregard for anyones thoughts.

          [2] In the Cold War, from the late 60s onwards, MI6 managed to smuggle out stacks of paperwork from behind the Iron Curtain. They were still trying to collate this info when the Iron Curtain fell. OTOH, a recent BBC documentary revealed that some excellent intel came from collecting the "toilet paper" of the Soviet army. The Soviets never issued toilet paper to their troops. As a consequence, Soviet soldiers used anything that came to hand: maps, reports, documents etc. Never say that the life of an intelligence officer is easy :-j

          • sherbooke says:

            I paraphrased the "little elves" problem badly. See here
            IMO, keyword searching is only a partial answer and easily defeated. False positives are the greater danger.

    • You have to ask yourself, what triggered the investigation? The "visit" by the feds is not as alarming as the fact asking to read a book is cause for being put on a list. One could argue that the professor himself was under investigation, but then I'd point out that being a student of a dissident professor is enough to be put on a list.

      No matter how you cut it: welcome to the police state.

      And no, this isn't about protecting us homeland folks. Taking away my rights to be free from unreasonable search and seizure and not be subject to a priori enforcement is what I should be protected from.

    • belgand says:

      So what's wrong with an authentic version of the book? Should we be taught to just settle for comprimised crap? I mean, yes, that is the American way, but still.

      I must say that I found it odd due to the Communist connection. I mean, isn't fear of communism a bit quaint these days?

    • master_meio says:

      Not that I agree with it, but have you been to the professors website? With all the pictures of him with Afghanni warlords carrying an ak-47?

      No, actually, that sounds really interesting. Please, tell us more.

      Given the context, it

      K, thanks. You can shut the fuck up now.

  6. tfofurn says:

    Hmm . . . the Homeland Security agents are blocking the study of history. I think that's usually followed by the words "doomed" and "repeat".

  7. wyndebreaker says:

    Doing a paper on fascism and totalitarianism?

    I think Homeland Security just provided him with a wealth of material to add to his final report.

  8. qeeeperz says:

    I love how all of you guys go off against the Jesus Flag Worshipers, but do nothing about it. On one hand, as a sane individuals, the religious zealots scare the hell out of me, on the other hand, if the hippies have control of the government, we'd all be subsistence farmers. I'm torn between my love of earth money and my ideals, what should I do? I think I'll just go lay down out in the grass, smoke a fatty, and continue my thrice yearly bathing schedule.

  9. telecart says:

    Who knew communism was a sensitive issue..?

  10. nester says:

    I just like that the song title fits the article so well.

    As a side note, if a federal agent visits, do you offer him iced tea? a beer? is there a section in modern etiquette books covering this? Or is it "Federal Agents - See also: Uninvited guests" ?

  11. lohphat says:

    ...just to see if they show up.

    In fact, I recommend taking to read while on jury duty.