Millions of students who applied for federal student loan aid after 9/11 have been subject to an FBI database search, reports the New York Times
Under the program called Project Strikeback, the US Education Department cross-checked names and personal information gleaned from student loan applications with names given by the FBI. Neither agency would say whether any investigations resulted, and the program has been discontinued.
"Using names provided by the bureau, we examined the Department of Education's student financial aid databases to determine if the individuals received or applied for federal student financial assistance" Mary Mitchelson, counsel to the inspector general of the Education Department.
Project Strikeback was instigated in an effort to thwart terrorist activity, and officials stated that the program was not concealed.
"During the 9/11 investigation and continually since, much of the intelligence has indicated terrorists have exploited programs involving student visas and financial aid. In some student loan frauds, identity theft has been a factor," said assistant director of the F.B.I., John Miller. "No records of people other than those already under investigation were called for," he said. "This was not a sweeping program, in that it involved only a few hundred names. This is part of our mission, which is to take the leads we have and investigate them."
The disclosure of Project Strikeback comes on the heels of a Education Department proposal to create a national student database that would follow individual students' progress as a way of holding colleges accountable for students' success.
"This operation Strikeback confirms our worst fears about the uses to which these databases can be put," said David L. Warren, president of the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities, which represents 900 institutions. "The concentration of all this data absolutely invites use by other agencies of data that had been gathered for very specific and narrow purposes, namely the granting of student aid to needy kids."