Society

Alabama School District Claims NSA Told Them to Spy on Students, NSA Denies

| by Michael Allen

School officials in Huntsville, Ala., claim that the NSA advised them to start monitoring their students' online activities on social media sites 18 months ago.

Al Lankford, a Huntsville schools security official, says that he got a call in May 2013 from someone at the NSA who warned him about a student who allegedly tweeted threats against an assistant principal and two teachers.

The Huntsville schools district also claims it got a warning from an online monitoring company called GeoCop, which denied it works with schools.

Vanee Vines, a public affairs specialist with the NSA, stated that the spy agency has no record of calling the Huntsville school district and told AL.com, "Moreover, NSA does not make recommendations regarding school safety programs."

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However, Huntsville schools Superintendent Casey Wardynski maintains the NSA did contact the school district, but couldn't explain the contradicting stories.

“Very often we find unfortunately that young people have evil intentions which they express in public places like Reddit and Facebook and Twitter,” Wardynski told WHNT. “They provide video of what they’ve already done, they provide pictures of themselves with weapons.”

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"We found a very good size knife and the student was expelled," claimed Wardynski.

"There was a foreign connection," added Wardynski, who claims the student in Huntsville was communicating online with someone in Yemen.

Huntsville City Schools started using a program called Students Against Fear (SAFe) to spy on students via Facebook and other social media sites 18 months ago, but Huntsville school board members told AL.com they were not aware of the SAFe program last week.

An entirely different story comes from a former Huntsville student named Auseel Yousefi, who says his joking tweets caused the mass paranoia.

"It meant absolutely nothing to me at the time," Yousefi told AL.com. He says that the school ended up searching his car and found a jeweled dagger that a friend got at a Renaissance fair.

As a result, Yousefi was expelled for one semester.

Yousefi was born and raised in Alabama, but his parents are from Yemen, which would explain Wardynski's scary Yemen connection.

On the last day of his junior year at Lee High School in Huntsville, Yousefi decided to tweet some "last day of school jokes."

As a joke, Yousefi said he tweeted, "I'm going to chop (his biology teacher) in the throat." The teacher used the same joke to get her class to be quiet.

Yousefi then tweeted about a female administrator's "balls of steel" and tweeted a third time about getting a kiss from an attractive young teacher.

Yousefi, who normally tweeted about pacifism, also posted on Twitter: "I'm going to get in a fight today."

"I feel as though a lot of my situation had to do with racial profiling and the greatest closure would be in the form of simply raising awareness," Yousefi told AL.com in an email.

"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," added Yousefi. "People said way worse things than me and never got in trouble."

Sources: AL.com, WHNT