[Ppnews] Pomona College professor harassed by the FBI

Political Prisoner News PPnews at freedomarchives.org
Fri Mar 24 16:02:25 EST 2006


An Unwanted Visit
A Pomona College professor believes he is 
harassed by the FBI’s terror unit because of his coursework on Venezuela


Miguel Tinker-Salas was meeting with a student 
during his regular office hours last week, when 
he saw two middle-aged men walk up to the line of 
students outside his office and start talking to them.

“I knew they weren’t students and they didn’t 
look like professors either,” says Tinker-Salas, 
a Pomona College professor. The two men turned 
out to be from the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task 
Force (JTTF), a collaboration of the FBI and 
local law enforcement. One of the men was an FBI 
agent, and the other was from the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.

The agents claimed to be looking for background 
information on the local Venezuelan community. 
Tinker-Salas is a native of Venezuela, but is an 
American citizen. They asked Tinker-Salas 
questions about the size and makeup of the L.A. 
Venezuelan community, and about whether the 
country has a local consulate here – questions 
that Tinker-Salas believed were readily answered 
and available as public information.

“I kept asking them what they really wanted,” 
says Tinker-Salas. The agents kept an open folder 
on the table with his picture and personal 
information downloaded from the Pomona College 
web site. Although the information on the table 
detailed Tinker-Salas’s educational and 
professional history, the agents asked him 
several questions about where he had taught and 
received his degrees. The agents also asked about 
his citizenship status several times.

Although the agents told Tinker-Salas he was not 
the subject of an investigation, he says he felt 
the agents were trying to intimidate him. He was 
also disturbed by the direction of the agents’ 
questions about the local immigrant community. 
“It is troubling that the immigrant community 
would be labeled as a security concern by the FBI,” says Tinker-Salas.

The administration at Pomona College, a prominent 
liberal-arts school located 30 miles east of Los 
Angeles, was quick to respond to the FBI’s visit. 
“I am extremely concerned about the chilling 
effect this kind of intrusive government interest 
could have on free scholarly and political 
discourse,” said Pomona College President David 
Oxtoby, in a written statement last week.

Oxtoby said the college was consulting with its 
lawyers about how to send a statement of “strong 
official protest” to the authorities. The college 
president also said he was concerned with the 
“negative message” that the FBI’s visit “sends to 
students who are considering the pursuit of 
important areas of international study.”

While waiting to meet with Tinker-Salas, the 
agents asked several students questions about his 
class, and whether they thought he was a good 
teacher, according to John Macias, a student from 
Claremont Graduate University, who was outside 
Tinker-Salas’s office. One of the agents even 
examined what cartoons Tinker-Salas had posted on his office door.

Tinker-Salas is an expert on Latin America-U.S. 
relations and has, at times, been a critic of the 
Bush administration foreign policy in both the 
print and broadcast media. Some of his colleagues 
at Pomona see his criticism of the U.S. as the 
motivation behind the FBI’s visit.

“This is clearly an attempt to tell a Bush 
critic: ‘We’re watching you,’” says political 
science professor John Seery, who published an 
outraged response to the FBI’s actions on The 
Huffington Post website. Seery said many of his 
other colleagues at the college were equally upset by the FBI’s visits.

The American Association of University Professors 
(AAUP) denounces the FBI for instilling 
“pressures to inhibit free utterance on 
controversial public issues.” Jonathan Knight, an 
AAUP spokesman, references the days of 
McCarthyism in the 1950s when referring to the 
FBI visit. “This kind of questioning is the first 
we’ve come across in a very long time,” says Knight.

Although there have been no similar visits to 
other university professors by the JTTF, critics 
of government intrusion on free speech have 
linked the Bush administration to other 
violations of academic freedom. The American 
Civil Liberties Union is currently suing the 
government on the behalf of several professors 
hired by American universities who have been 
forced to give up positions when denied visas by 
provisions of the Patriot Act.

Last year, Tariq Ramadan, a Swiss professor, had 
his visa revoked after being hired for an 
International Relations position at Notre Dame. 
Ramadan was a frequent lecturer at American 
universities before landing the position.

Section 411 of the Patriot Act allows the U.S. to 
deny visas to any who “endorse or espouse 
terrorist activity,” a policy that the ACLU 
claims the U.S. uses to deport its critics.

“It is obviously about the views these professors 
hold,” says ACLU staff attorney Ahilan Arulanantham.

The FBI was “fishing for information” from 
Tinker-Salas based on his Venezuelan heritage, 
Arulanantham added, without any clear information 
about what it was looking for. He called it a 
common FBI tactic. “Predominantly we’ve seen it 
used in the Muslim community,” said Arulanantham, 
who noted this was the first time he had heard of 
a Venezuelan being interviewed on the basis of his nationality.

Relations between Venezuela and the United States 
are at an all-time low, with Venezuelan president 
Hugo Chavez regularly accusing the Bush 
administration of spying on the country. Several 
months ago, Chavez expelled a member of U.S. 
diplomatic staff after accusing him of spying on 
the country, and has also kicked out U.S 
missionaries that he labeled “imperialist spies.” 
Venezuela also has accused the U.S. of being 
involved in a two-day coup in 2002 which briefly removed Chavez from power.

The Venezuelan embassy in Washington, D.C. called 
the FBI’s visit to Tinker-Salas a “violation of 
the freedoms of expression,” and also labeled it 
as “a desperate attempt to link Venezuela to terrorism.”

The FBI also released a statement last week 
saying it did not intend to put Tinker-Salas or 
Pomona College in “an uncomfortable situation.” 
The statement said the FBI is “mindful of the 
need to respect the circumstances that might 
surround the timing and location of an 
informational interview,” and suggested that an 
interview subject like Tinker-Salas is free to 
“indicate a preference” about when and where to 
meet with the FBI. The FBI declined to comment on 
whether there was an active investigation on the 
local Venezuelan community or not.

But some at Pomona College doubted that the FBI 
had not deliberately planned the unannounced 
visit to intimidate Tinker-Salas. “It’s 
unbelievable that they would try to spin them 
showing up here as just being an accident,” says John Seery.


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