This fall, the FBI will begin looking to college campuses in the effort to protect national security with a new program announced last week.
On September 15, FBI Director Robert Mueller announced the creation of the National Security Higher Education Advisory Board, a group of 16 presidents and chancellors from major American universities that will foster communications between the FBI and the nation’s institutions of higher education.
The Board will place a special focus on helping the government to understand the cultural side of higher education. FBI Spokesman Bill Carter said such “open dialogue” will help the government to identify international potential security risks within the college community.
“Much of the intellectual property that exists in the United States is produced on college campuses,” Carter said. “There are countries that would try to take advantage illegally of trying to get the rights to this property.”
Of particular concern to the FBI is protecting the information produced by millions of dollars of grant-driven research conducted at such universities. This often includes work in the fields of energy, defense and other critical areas.
Pennsylvania State University alone has nearly 600 million dollars worth of industry sponsored research on their campus, a large portion of which goes towards defense and security related objectives.
“The risk of countries attempting to steal this information is certainly there,” Carter said. “Obviously, both the universities and the FBI want to protect against that kind of activity.”
Additionally, the new program could be springboard for students looking to enter fields in national security. Officials said the Board may be used to create courses that prepare students for a career with the federal government.
In a press release announcing the formation of the Board, Mueller said one goal was to “foster exchanges between academia and the FBI in order to develop curricula which will aid in attracting the best and brightest students to careers in the law enforcement and intelligence communities.”
Though the Board seeks to encourage more national security-related research on college campuses, those involved said it will not significantly change the universities’ operations. Pennsylvania State University spokesman Tysen Kendig said that the impact on the campus environment will be negligible.
“I don’t think it will have any real impact on campuses in any way,” Kendig said. “You may see more of an appearance of national security and defense project research taking place on campus as a result, but I don’t think that it will really impact students.”
Cooperation between the FBI and universities is not a new phenomenon. The Board was suggested by Pennsylvania State University President Graham Spanier, who had worked with the FBI before on higher education security matters. Spanier will serve as the Board’s chairman.
The creation of the Board is expected to be finalized this fall and will meet at least three times year in Washington.