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U.S. Labels MIT Students as 'Security Threats' and Denies Clearance at Ports

May 12, 2008

Eight graduate students at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have been denied a security clearance by the Department of Homeland Security, which has labeled two of the students “security threats.”

The Tech, the student newspaper at MIT, reports that the eight students, who are affiliated with the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, were denied the new Transportation Worker Identification Credential, a clearance that allows people to more easily board and leave ships at American ports. When Woods Hole appealed the decision on their behalf, at least two of the students — from Britain and from Germany — were declared a threat, the newspaper reports.

James A. Yoder, dean at Woods Hole, said the lack of a credential could make it more difficult for the students working on its three research ships.

It is unclear, however, why the students, who were required to submit their fingerprints and copies of their passports, were declared threats. According to the legal code governing the program, a person can be deemed a threat if he or she does not have the right kind of visa. Student visas are not explicitly listed as one of the kinds the government may accept for the program, although the rules allow the Department of Homeland Security some leeway, The Tech reports. Other oceanographic institutions have not tried to get credentials for all staff members and students, and so have not encountered the same problem.

Mr. Yoder said Woods Hole would continue to appeal the decision. “We’re a long way from giving up,” he said. —Karin Fischer