The surveillance state doesn’t operate in a vacuum.

In fact, the NSA and other federal spy agencies depend on support from a wide array of both public and private entities in order to engage in world-wide snooping.

American colleges and universities count among the institutions supporting dragnet spying. Through more the 170 schools, the NSA recruits and trains future spies and gains valuable research.

Simply put, colleges and universities support and enable the violation of your privacy rights.

Currently, 171 colleges and universities in 43 states hold designations as Centers for Academic Excellence. These NSA and Department of Homeland Security partner schools must apply and meet specific criteria to gain the designation. The program breaks schools down into several categories, including National Centers of Academic Excellence in Information Assurance Education, Information Assurance Research, and in Information Assurance 2-Year Education.

The NSA-DHS program began in 2004 in response to the 2003 National Strategy to Secure Cyberspace. The Center for Academic Excellence designation lasts for five years. After that, the school must successfully reapply.

Information assurance schools feature NSA approved curriculum that serves to train future spies.

Students attending these designated CAE-IAE schools become eligible to apply for related scholarships and grants through the Department of Defense Information Assurance Scholarship Program and the Federal Cyber Service Scholarship for Service Program.

The research designation makes a school eligible for federal money to conduct research that will ultimately make it easier to violate your privacy.

Nationally designated CAE-IAEs and CAE-Rs also receive formal recognition from the U.S. government which provide various opportunities for recognition and publicity for their ongoing IA educational and research role in securing our nation’s information systems infrastructures.

Some might call it hyperbole to assert that the NSA uses Centers for Academic Excellence to recruit spies. But the fact that it approves the curriculum would indicate that it tailors the program to suit its needs. A press release announcing Brigham Young University’s designation seems to support the recruiting assertion.

BYU graduates who want to work in government and military positions will also have a head start on the competition, thanks to this designation.

The award allows BYU and BYU Information Technology students to apply for special grants and scholarships from the Department of Defense and National Science Foundation only available to Center for Academic Excellence schools.

Thomas A. Augustine, Patrick Vincent, Donald M. Needham studied the United States Naval Academy’s application to become a Center for Academic Excellence. (Read the paper HERE).

The trio outlined the rigorous nature of the application process. The NSA and DHS not only look at criteria within the computer science program, but also in math, political science and other departments. The designation actually represents a very integrated approach that thrusts tentacles into many of the school’s programs.

Augustine, Vincent, and Needham found it often takes some persuading to get faculty to go along with the program.

In exploring the benefits of the CAE /IAE designation, we encountered many of the issues discussed by Bishop and Taylor. First was skepticism of mapping our coursework to training standards instead of well vetted academic standards, created by consensus of academics. The academic community tends to govern through consortium, while the Government tends to certify through existing standards and regulations. While the NSA/DHS Center of Academic Excellence designation is purely voluntary, many of the institutions interviewed had to reassure faculty that this designation would not dictate a long-term change in curriculum, but in fact simply focused on certifying that the existing curriculum met or exceeded written standards.

So why go to all the trouble? Because the designation comes with a nice payoff.

Note that such designation benefits the National information assurance training pool, opens opportunities for National Science Foundation and Department of Defense grant opportunities, stimulates academic research opportunities and provides positive publicity for the institution.

In other words, the NSA offers financial incentives for schools to cooperate with the spy-state, specifically in terms of research grant money. And schools will fight to keep milking that cash-cow, even when confronted with the reality that their actions aid and abet violations of their own privacy rights.

When the Fourth Amendment Protection Act was introduced in Arizona last year, Arizona State University vocally opposed the bill because it would have forced the school to end its relationship with the NSA. Financial incentive trumped civil liberties in the minds of ASU administrators.

States do not have to cooperate with federal spying, and state legislators can stop state schools from cooperating with unwarranted and illegal data collection. The Fourth Amendment Protection Act prohibits the state from providing material support or resources “to enable or facilitate, a federal agency in the collection or use of a person’s electronic data or metadata, without that person’s informed consent, or without a warrant, based upon probable cause, that particularly describes the person, place, or thing to be searched or seized, or without acting in accordance with a legally-recognized exception to the warrant requirements.” This includes prohibiting schools from applying for Center for Academic Excellence designation and ending current NSA/university partnerships.

American colleges and universities should not support federal actions that violate the most basic principles the country was founded upon. Schools should not serve as training grounds and research facilities to enable more violations of civil liberties. Research money should not trump constitutional principle and basic privacy rights.

Take action today to end these partnerships. Ask your state legislators to introduce the Fourth Amendment Protection Act. For more information, visit

Mike Maharrey

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