PROVIDENCE, R.I. -- It would probably strike a Brown University student as odd if a member of the Department of Public Safety spent his days miles from College Hill following up on terrorism tips in Warwick, R.I., or Newport, R.I. But at Yale University, under an arrangement created soon after Sept. 11, 2001, a campus police officer is permanently assigned to the FBI and might very well chase down terrorism leads throughout Connecticut -- whether on or off Yale's campus.
The officer at Yale is a member of the FBI's Joint Terrorism Task Force based in New Haven, Conn. -- one of 100 JTTFs in cities nationwide. According to the FBI's Web site, the JTTFs are "small cells of highly trained, locally based, passionately committed investigators, analysts, linguists, SWAT experts and other specialists from dozens of U.S. law enforcement and intelligence agencies."
JTTFs "chase down leads, gather evidence, make arrests, ... collect and share intelligence and respond to threats and incidents at a moment's notice," the site reads.
The JTTFs have drawn criticism from the American Civil Liberties Union, which has accused the FBI of spying on political and other organizations.
As with other state and local representatives on the New Haven JTTF, the Yale officer is deputized as a "special federal marshal" and reports to the JTTF work area each day, according to Lisa Bull, a spokeswoman for the FBI in Connecticut. The officer remains a paid employee of the Yale Police Department, but the FBI may pay the officer overtime or cover other expenses.
Though calls to administrators at Yale were not returned, Tom Conroy, deputy director of Yale's public affairs office, wrote in an e-mail to The Herald that Yale has ongoing relationships with many law enforcement agencies.
"Working with the task force is one more relationship that informs our police department in ways that can enhance its performance," he wrote.
Conroy also pointed to the statement Yale's general counsel made to the Yale Daily News. "This participation does not authorize Yale Police to divulge information to the FBI that is otherwise protected by University policies, nor to authorize spying on campus activists," the statement said.
Jared Maslin, a Yale junior and an organizer for the Yale Peace Coalition, told The Herald that he found the arrangement disturbing. "There isn't much we can do about it because it's this sort of a clandestine thing," he said. "Who exactly do we put pressure on to get answers on this?"
An official in the Office of the Secretary at Yale told the Daily News that the purpose of the partnership with the JTTF was to keep the campus safe.
"We have a number of high-hazard labs and we have some high-profile facilities," said Martha Highsmith, deputy university secretary. "We had [President Bush's] daughter here and we looked carefully into this."
According to Bull, the participation of various agencies in the JTTF "facilitates the exchange of intelligence and information that is pertinent to our authorized, ongoing investigations." However, the Yale officer does not necessarily work on cases involving Yale, just as the JTTF representative from the Internal Revenue Service does not necessarily work on tax cases, Bull said.
"The cases worked by that group are counterterrorism investigations throughout Connecticut," she said.
According to Bull, the Yale Police Department has had an officer assigned to the JTTF since fall 2001. The arrangement was first reported in a commentary in The Nation last month.
The national picture
There are no statistics available on how many colleges and universities currently have a campus police officer assigned to a JTTF, but before Sept. 11, 2001, there were very few -- "maybe one or two," according to Ed Cogswell, a spokesman at the FBI in Washington, D.C.