Tags: Alabama | schools | terror threats

Alabama Schools Monitor Students on Social Media After Threats

By    |   Friday, 26 September 2014 07:18 AM

School officials in Huntsville, Ala. have been monitoring students' social media accounts for 18 months after what the school claims was a phone call from the National Security Agency.

According to a report on AL.com, the NSA had information that a student had been making violent threats online. It then contacted school officials in Huntsville, who began secretly monitoring social media postings.

The NSA, however, denied contacting the school system about any threats.

The program was called SAFe, short for Students Against Fear. School board members contacted by AL.com had no knowledge of the secret program, but documents obtained by the website listed four students who had been caught posing in photos with handguns. Three of them were listed as expelled and one was sent to counseling.

A school security officer told AL.com he spoke with someone from the NSA, who said a high school student had posted a threat to a teacher. Superintendent Casey Wardynski said the student's car was searched and a "very good size knife" was discovered.

In a follow-up piece, AL.com interviewed who it says was the student that first caught the attention of authorities. Auseel Yousefi, who was born in the United States but whose parents are from Yemen, said he posted some jokes to his Twitter account on the morning of his last day as a junior in high school in the spring of 2013.

He claims his ties to Yemen caused the NSA to get involved.

"How funny would it be if I Tweeted last day of school jokes?" Yousefi recalled thinking in the AL.com story.

Yousefi then outlined what he would do that day, a list that began with "I'm going to chop [his biology teacher] in the throat."

That Tweet was the most alarming, but Yousefi said it was an inside joke because the teacher, for whom he was a student aide, said similar things when trying to get the class quiet.

Yousefi said he then Tweeted about a female school official's "balls of steel," followed by saying he was going to talk to a 24-year-old teacher and earn a kiss from her.

Then he Tweeted, according to what he told AL.com, "I'm going to get in a fight today." And that was another joke, he claimed, because he had never been in a fight.

At the time, however, school officials took Yousefi's Tweets as a threat. He was called into the office and confronted by several people from the school, who he says mentioned the NSA. His car was searched and the knife, a jeweled golden dagger from a Renaissance fair, was discovered.

Yousefi was expelled for the first semester of his senior year and did his schoolwork at home. When he returned last winter, he said students and teachers were supportive of him. Now he's enrolled at Birmingham-Southern College and studying cognitive science and economics.

The question, however, is how the school was initially tipped off about Yousefi's Tweets. School officials said it was the NSA who called them, but the spy agency denies ever contacting the school.

Other reports say a technology called GEOCOP was involved. The software program was built by a former NCIS and FBI watch officer and is used by law enforcement and the government to spy in the digital world.

Yousefi told AL.com he remembered hearing that term mentioned.

GEOCOP has been used in schools. One report says a student in Ohio, who posted on Twitter what turned out to be a song lyric that references a school shooting, was outed by authorities within minutes of his Tweet.

In another incident, a student at an Ohio high school Tweeted, "Don’t worry guys ill make sure we don’t have school. Operation blow up the school is in effect." The student was making a reference to burst pipes at two schools in the district that had caused classes to be cancelled. A monitoring company called STG Sentinel called school officials and the student was questioned.

As for Yousefi, he doesn't have any regrets about what happened last year.

"If I could undo this, I don't think I would, purely for the reason that I did more growing in these six months than all of high school," he said.

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School officials in Huntsville, Ala. have been monitoring students' social media accounts for 18 months after what the school claims was a phone call from the National Security Agency.
Alabama, schools, terror threats
Friday, 26 September 2014 07:18 AM
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