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Wednesday, November 24, 2004



WASHINGTON, DC -- As a result of a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request submitted by the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) to the federally-funded National Science Foundation (NSF), EPIC has uncovered details of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the CIA and the NSF on the joint funding in the areas of mathematics and physical sciences that, among other things, is researching ways to monitor on-line chat rooms for terrorist activities. The joint program is called "Approaches to Combat Terrorism: Opportunities for Basic Research."

EPIC's FOIA resulted in press reports about a $157,673 grant being awarded by NSF to Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, NY. The grant is for a project called "Surveillance, Analysis and Modeling of Chatroom Communities."

According to the MOU, signed by the CIA on April 14, 2003 and by the NSF on April 16, 2003, the cooperative agreement between the NSF and the Intelligence Community was agreed upon after a joint Intelligence Community/NSF workshop held in November 2002. According to the MOU, the initiative concentrates on Energy Sources, Sensors and Detectors, Image Reconstruction and Analysis, Optical Spectography, and Mathematical Techniques. The MOU states: the initiative sponsors are committed to continuing the initiative beyond Fiscal Year (FY) 2004. According to the MOU, NSF funded $2.50 million in FY2003 and another $2.5 million in FY 2004. The CIA's total amount is not stated but NSF's contribution is listed at 70 percent. The MOU states that it was to remain in effect through FY 2004.

A Sept. 17, 2004 memo from the CIA to Dr. Leland M. Jameson, the Program Director for Computational and Applied Mathematics at the NSF, states, "We gratified [sic] that the scientific community wants to help the nation and contribute to the nation's security in a time of peril." It continues, "As far as what we do with the technology -- we have thorough oversight by the US Congress and we strictly follow all applicable laws." The CIA email was in response to a Sept. 17, 2004 article about the chat room monitoring program in "Red Herring" and a request for an interview of Jameson by a reporter in New Jersey. Jameson informs the CIA official that, "I will have to give another interview. I was told the worst thing is for a reporter to write that 'the NSF refused to comment.'"

On October 16, 2004, the Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility (CPSR), in a letter signed by former recipients of CPSR's Norbert Wiener Award, expressed their "concern about the significant redirection in science funding toward the development of systems of mass surveillance. It is our view that this research priority could pose a fundamental risk to political freedom, privacy, and Constitutional liberty."

The newly-released NSF documents are available at:

EPIC's Freedom of Information Act Request (pdf)
NSF's Memorandum of Understanding (pdf)
Research Proposal to the NSF (pdf)
NSF Award Abstract (pdf)
Approaches to Combat Terrorism: Program Solicitation (pdf)
Press Coverage (pdf)