Good Grief

This came in just now, via email:

To the Pomona College community:

On Tuesday, March 7, Miguel Tinker Salas, Arango Professor of Latin American History and Chicano Studies, was visited in his Pearsons Hall office by two men from the Los Angeles County Sheriff/FBI Joint Task Force on Terrorism. To avoid rumors, I wanted the Pomona College community to be aware of the facts.

The agents asked Professor Tinker Salas a number of personal questions as well as questions about the Venezuelan government and the Venezuelan community in the U.S. During the meeting, they told him that he was not a subject of investigation. The tone and content of the questioning, however, troubled him deeply. He was also troubled by the fact that the agents reportedly questioned some of the students outside his office while waiting to see him.

Miguel, as all of you know, is a superb Wig Award winning teacher and a fine scholar on Latin American history, politics, and culture who is sometimes asked by the news media to comment on topics related to his research, including Venezuelan politics. The College supports him and his scholarly work without reservation.

I am extremely concerned about the chilling effect this kind of intrusive government interest could have on free scholarly and political discourse. I am also concerned about the negative message it sends to students who are considering the pursuit of important areas of international study, in which they may now feel exposed to unwarranted official scrutiny.

The College is currently consulting with legal advisors about the most effective way to register a strong official protest about this intrusion into our scholarly and educational activities, and we will take appropriate action as soon as their advice is received. We are also asking for their help in assuring that all members of the College community are fully informed about their rights and their options in such situations.

David Oxtoby

Here’s Miguel’s recounting of the event, which is circulating via email:

Estimado/as Colegas,

I write to inform you that yesterday during my office hours (Tuesday 2:30-4:30) I was visited by two agents of the LA County Sherrifs/FBI Joint Task Force on Terrorism (JTFT).

The arrived at about 2:40-2:45 pm sat out side my office while attended to a students, and then asked to see me.

They had with them a copy of my profile from the Pomona Web page, and other materials I could not see.

After identifying themselves, they proceeded to ask about my relation to Venezuela, the government, the community, my scholarship, my politics. They were especially interested in whether or not I had been approached by anyone in the Venezuelan government or embassy to speak up on Venezuelan related matters. In addition, they raised a whole host of other troubling questions, too long to summarize here.

After they departed, the three or four students who were outside my office informed me that these individuals had asked them about my background, my classes, what I taught, my politics and they even wrote down the cartoons that are on my door.

I consider this to be an attempt at intimidation and cast on matters of academic freedom.

I am planning a response, and I am open to your comments.



I’m appalled, to say the least. And, in fact, too infuriated to write anything sensible right now. I’ll hope to be able to process this and comment more fully soon.

[UPDATE, 5.10 pm CST: While I’m not ready to comment at length, I can now at least articulate some of the questions spinning in my head:

— Has Venezuela been added to the list of Most Distrusted Nations? Does Hugo Ch?°vez insulting Dubya really rise to the level of terrorism?

— If Venezuela is in fact the subject of official anti-terrorist scrutiny, how much of that scrutiny really has to do with terrorism? How much has to do with the threat of socialism? How much has to do with oil?

— If somehow this concern about Venezuela is bound up in political economy, does that explain why it suddenly feels like the 1950s in here? To what extent is this “global war on terror” a hotted-up Cold War in disguise?

— If we are back in the Cold War again, is this part of a growing trend of intellectual witch-hunts? I’ve been watching the maneuvers of David Horowitz and his ilk for some time and wondering if that’s where we were headed, but I guess I naively imagined it to be operating a little more covertly than this.

— Miguel, thank goodness, is a full professor with a named chair, who has taught at Pomona for 13 years. What if someone less tenured, less well-known to the college community had been the subject of such a visit?

— Why is the questioning of Miguel’s students the part of this that I’m the most infuriated by?

More to come, no doubt.]

[UPDATE, 11.46 pm CST: According to vemos, who got the word from one of Miguel’s grad students, two bits of bizarro information. First, Miguel gave a talk in DC last weekend on US policy toward Venezuela, which is what apparently triggered the interest. And second, the guys who questioned him may have been only affiliated with the Sheriff’s department, and not the FBI at all…]


  1. *insert max-strength variation on “Oh God, No”*

    This is really bad news. FBI Anti-Terror guys actually pursuing this kind of ideological profiling? This is now what they consider their jobs to be? Harassment and intimidation of scholars and students?

    Obviously, the shockingly blatant disregard for civil liberties and freedom of thought is the foremost outrage (to that issue, KF, I agree about the specifically nauseating interrogation of students — has a whiff of the KGB about it, frankly).

    But what’s running a not-so-distant second is the revelation of how clueless these people must be about where the real security issues are. Can you imagine how happy someone working on a real attack would be to hear that this is how the FBI is allocating their resources?

  2. KF,

    The chilling effect is no longer in the air; the killing frost has hit the ground.

    I signal here a recent posting at jill/txt about a case of information control intimidation related to publication of a research team where some of the members held Iranian passports:

    And people point to Google and China… Google’s USA connection, in particular.

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