The National Security Agency, the government agency in charge of invading your privacy, acted as if its privacy was invaded when news reporters attempted to video record one of its buildings from a public road on the University of Maryland campus this week.
The building is officially known as the Center for the Advanced Study of Language (CASL), which on the surface, would make it a very uninteresting building to video record – except it is where NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden is believed to have worked in 2005, eight years before he fled the country to Hong Kong where he gave an explosive interview to the Guardian about how the government is collecting our personal information.
On Wednesday, reporters from Campus Reform stood outside a guard shack of the building that is surrounded by a fence and trees and were told by University of Maryland police they were not allowed to point their cameras in the direction of the building.
The cops informed the reporters they were following orders from the NSA, which didn’t want its building photographed.
According to Campus Reform:
“Don’t film this direction,” an unidentified officer wearing a bulletproof vest who was accompanied by another unidentified officer in a suit, told Timpf.
“You cannot film the area,” Officer “Walker” of the University of Maryland Police Department said several minutes later. “[Y]ou have nothing more to do here except leave.”
Sergeant Davis told Campus Reform later in the day that he was not aware of any laws or ordinances the reporters may have violated by photographing the building, adding his team was simply following the directions of “NSA security.”
On Thursday, two other Campus Reform reporters returned and stood up for their right to record, which led to them getting detained and forced to hand over their identification- once again under orders from the NSA – before they were allowed to remain and record.
The reporters were later informed they were required to hand over their identifications under Maryland Education Article 26-102 (c), which states the following:
Administrative personnel, authorized employees of any public institution of elementary, secondary, or higher education, and persons designated in subsection (b) of this section may demand identification and evidence of qualification from any person who desires to use or enter the premises of the institution.
The videos from this week’s incidents are below but they are not the best quality, which makes it hard to hear much of the audio.
Oliver Darcy, senior reporter at Campus Reform, a coalition of professional and student journalists that cover college news throughout the country, said they started looking into the building after Snowden told the Guardian in his interview that he had worked at one of the “agency’s covert facilities at the University of Maryland.”
While it appears that the CASL building is shrouded in mystery, it is mentioned on the University of Maryland website, which acknowledges that it may be more difficult to find than anticipated.
CASL is located at 7005 52nd Avenue, College Park, MD 20742. This address is incorrectly indicated on most mapping applications, so please use caution when attempting to locate this facility via GPS or Google Maps.
The center also has a Wikipedia page that describes it as follows:
The University of Maryland Center for Advanced Study of Language (CASL) is the national laboratory for advanced research and development onlanguage and national security. Founded in 2003 under Department of Defense funding as a University Affiliated Research Center (UARC), CASL represents a unique partnership between the university and the United States Government. CASL’s mission is to serve the nation by improving the language performance of the U.S. Government workforce. CASL is now the largest language research center in the United States.
Even the NSA mentions it on their website:
In 2003, NSA/CSS was designated Executive Agent for the University Affiliated Research Center (UARC) at the University of Maryland Center for Advanced Study of Language. CASL was created as the first and only Department of Defense (DoD) UARC dedicated to research in human skills—language, cognition, and culture. This unique status came about because DoD and the Intelligence Community (IC) recognized the need for a sustained focus on language readiness.
In 2008, CASL was integrated into the NSA/CSS Research Directorate. This integration is expected to provide CASL with multidisciplinary knowledge, helping CASL address all dimensions of the language analyst’s tasks.
CASL’s mission is to provide empirical data from solid research to support management decisions involving language analysts. For example, how can we identify people who can learn languages more easily? How can we increase a language analyst’s ability to problem solve? How can we use technology to assist language analysts in finding unfamiliar words? These questions, and more, are addressed in CASL’s research as presented in this issue of TNW.
Mother Jones, which has never been afraid to uncover government scandal, also states there is nothing scandalous about this partnership:
As fascinating as this might be, there’s nothing scandalous or particularly unusual about the NSA’s partnering with the University of Maryland. The NSA has, as do other American intelligence agencies, including the CIA, a long history of collaborating with universities across the country. “Because of the nature of what the agency does, and their necessity to be on the cutting edge of computer science, it [is] required for them to have pretty close ties to academics and computer research centers,” says John Prados, a senior research fellow at theNational Security Archive at George Washington University.
So the fact that the building is operated by the NSA is not exactly a secret and maybe not even a scandal, depending on whom you believe, even if Google may intentionally mislead you of its exact location.
But the fact that they treat it as a secret makes one wonders what’s really going on inside there.