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posted by LaminatorX on Friday September 12 2014, @12:18PM   Printer-friendly
from the guilt-by-friend-of-a-friend dept.

Jeffrey Mervis reports at Science AAAS that in 1979 Valerie Barr handed out leaflets, stood behind tables at rallies, and baked cookies to support two left-wing groups, the Women’s Committee Against Genocide and the New Movement in Solidarity with Puerto Rican Independence. In August 2013 she took a leave from her position as tenured professor of computer science at Union College to join the National Science Foundation (NSF) as a program director in its Division of Undergraduate Education. And that’s when her 3-decade-old foray into political activism came back to haunt her. Federal investigators say that Barr lied during a routine background check about her affiliations with a domestic terrorist group that had ties to the two organizations to which she had belonged in the early 1980s. On 27 August, NSF said that her “dishonest conduct” compelled them to cancel her temporary assignment immediately, at the end of the first of what was expected to be a 2-year stint. Federal investigators say those groups were affiliated with a third, the May 19 Communist Organization (M19CO), that carried out a string of violent acts, including the killing of two police officers and a security guard during a failed 1981 robbery of a Brink’s truck near Nyack, New York.

Barr’s first background interview was held in November 2013, 3 months after she began working at NSF. During that session, Barr answered “no” when asked if she had ever been a member of an organization “dedicated to the use of violence” to overthrow the U.S. government or to prevent others from exercising their constitutional rights. In a second interview after again being asked if she had been a member of any organization that espoused violence, Barr was grilled for 4.5 hours about her knowledge of all three organizations and several individuals with ties to them, including the persons who tried to rob the Brink’s truck. Four people were found guilty of murder in that attack and sentenced to lengthy prison terms, including Kathy Boudin, who was released in 2003 and is now an adjunct assistant professor of social work at Columbia University. “I found out about the Brink’s robbery by hearing it on the news, and just like everybody else I was shocked,” she recalls.

Barr says she is thankful that Union College has welcomed her back with open arms and says she will soon resume her teaching and research activities. In addition, she regards her year at NSF as “a very rewarding experience in many ways.” Even so, she has written to her representatives in Congress and to NSF Director France Córdova asking them to examine what she labels an “Orwellian process” for vetting rotators like herself. “We volunteer to do this,” she wrote Córdova on 29 August. Until a better process is put in place, Barr says, “NSF runs the risk that many highly qualified scientists will not even consider serving as IPAs. That will be a tremendous loss.”

 
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  • (Score: 3, Insightful) by Ethanol-fueled on Friday September 12 2014, @02:01PM

    by Ethanol-fueled (2792) on Friday September 12 2014, @02:01PM (#92395) Homepage

    America is capitalism for the people, socialism for corporations. And I strongly support her lying in this case because those intrusive questions were entirely inappropriate and had nothing to do with her ability to perform those duties.

    We haven't seen anything so creepy with regard to science since NASA's draconian Suitability Matrix, [blogspot.com] which states that homosexuality is abnormal and a cause for concern. If you were a homosexual working for JPL and were quizzed about your so-called "sexual deviancy," would you lie to keep your job? You bet your ass I would.

    If I asked you an obnoxious question like, "do you have a small dick?" Then I should not be surprised to hear a lie for an answer at best, if not a snide reply like, "Your momma doesn't think so." Or even a punch in the face. Same thing with other creepy and inappropriate questions.

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  • (Score: 1) by arashi no garou on Friday September 12 2014, @02:13PM

    by arashi no garou (2796) on Friday September 12 2014, @02:13PM (#92398)

    While I agree with you that she should never have been asked those kinds of questions, I do understand why they did it. The NSF has deep ties with the US government, who surely pressure them about who they hire or allow to volunteer. I still think it's wrong, but I wonder if she would have been hired in the first place if she had been truthful. I'm thinking she would have; those sound like peaceful, mild-mannered groups. But who knows, it's a very paranoid world these days.

    • (Score: 2) by bob_super on Friday September 12 2014, @04:11PM

      by bob_super (1357) on Friday September 12 2014, @04:11PM (#92457)

      > The NSF has deep ties with the US government, who surely pressure them about who they hire or allow to volunteer.

      "Congress shall make no law (...) abridging the freedom of speech, (...) or the right of the people peaceably to assemble,(...)"
      Pressure from the government to filter people with questionable First Amendment backgrounds is by definition unconstitutional.
      As the first post points out, that doesn't prevent millions from having to answer the unconstitutional Commie question, because who's gonna stand up to defend free association with $Villain.

      • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Friday September 12 2014, @04:34PM

        by Anonymous Coward on Friday September 12 2014, @04:34PM (#92476)

        "Congress shall make no law (...) abridging the freedom of speech, (...) or the right of the people peaceably to assemble,(...)"

        A group advocating the violent overthrow of the government is decidedly not a peaceable assembly.

        This is all beside the point, however, because Dr. Barr was not a member of May 19, did not advocate violent revolution, and did not lie on her civil service questionnaire. Some members of Women Against Genocide were also members of May 19, but Dr. Barr was not.

        Likewise, some members of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals are also members of the Animal Liberation Front. This does not mean that the SPCA is a terrorist organization. Or maybe it is. Maybe all those shelters are just a convenient front for passing information and money between active terrorists and millions of Americans who support them. Or maybe closer to home: if members of Anonymous support the EFF, then the EFF may be considered a terrorist organization. You don't support terrorists, do you?

        • (Score: 1, Funny) by Anonymous Coward on Friday September 12 2014, @04:55PM

          by Anonymous Coward on Friday September 12 2014, @04:55PM (#92493)

          You don't support terrorists, do you?

          Are you accusing them of not paying their taxes?

      • (Score: 2) by monster on Friday September 12 2014, @04:35PM

        by monster (1260) on Friday September 12 2014, @04:35PM (#92477) Journal

        Sadly, it's not unconstitutional until the Supreme Court says so.

        • (Score: 2) by bob_super on Friday September 12 2014, @07:33PM

          by bob_super (1357) on Friday September 12 2014, @07:33PM (#92560)

          Don't get me started on the need to have more than one last-resort federal organ to review both all questionable criminal cases and all crummy laws and ordinances in a country of 300+ million people, 50 states (and a few colonies), and 3144 counties (including county-equivalents).

          Even more than that, what bothers me if that there is no safeguard (vetos have an override) for a law to be struck when it's clearly unconstitutional. If enough lawmakers agree on something silly, you need to find a victim with standing before getting into a multi-year battle to finally get the law struck down. There's a need for a constitutional check before a law comes into effect (Europe has seen many cases where a minority of lawmakers can petition a special court to review a specific grief against a law)

          • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Saturday September 13 2014, @02:35AM

            by Anonymous Coward on Saturday September 13 2014, @02:35AM (#92649)

            one last-resort federal organ to review [everything under the sun]

            ...and, on top of that, they only work from October through June.

            -- gewg_

    • (Score: 2) by MrGuy on Friday September 12 2014, @05:00PM

      by MrGuy (1007) on Friday September 12 2014, @05:00PM (#92495)

      I wonder if she would have been hired in the first place if she had been truthful. I'm thinking she would have; those sound like peaceful, mild-mannered groups.

      I really think this is the point you have yet to grasp on this thread.

      She was NOT ASKED to name all the groups she'd belonged to. She was asked SPECIFICALLY whether she was affiliated with groups that specifically ADVOCATED violence. And was asked ONLY about those groups.

      If she'd have been asked to name EVERY group she'd been a member of, and she'd decided to omit some of them, then the point you keep wanting to make (she should have disclosed them) would make sense. But that wasn't the question.

      The question essentially asked her for three things:
      * Think about every group you've ever been a part of
      * Evaluate each group on the criteria we asked for ("do they advocate violence?")
      * Name the ones that DO advocate violence.

      It's not like she named The Society to Rescue Puppies and deliberately omitted The Society for an Independent Puerto Rico. She wasn't ASKED to disclose groups UNLESS they advocated violence.

      She thought the same thing you do (that they're peaceful groups), which is why she didn't disclose them. Because she wasn't asked to.

      • (Score: 1) by arashi no garou on Friday September 12 2014, @05:59PM

        by arashi no garou (2796) on Friday September 12 2014, @05:59PM (#92524)

        The reason for my confusion is that I've read conflicting articles on this matter. Two days before it broke on SN it was on HN with a different source article, and it's on G+ as well. Lots of different versions of what happened. Not excusing my apparent ignorance, just pointing that out.