|HCS Security Chief Al Langford (L) HCS Superintendent Casey Wardynski R)|
Imagine this scenario: Cue in music from Get Smart
Al Langford , Huntsville's longtime security officer, sitting at his desk doing long time security and the phone rings:
AL Picks up the phone and says: Hello, this is Al Langford, longtime security officer for Huntsville City Schools.
Mr. AL Langford, this is agent 00something from the NSA in Washington D.C. Look at your caller ID for verification. (snicker)
AL: Hey, how are things at NASA?
Agent 00something: Not N-A-S=A.....N-S-A as in the National Security Agency.
Al sits up straighter in his seat and says Oh! Yes Sir! How... what can I do for you?
Agent 00something: *Ahem*, well we've been *ahem* monitoring the Facebook accounts in your area and I'm calling to warn you of the potential of a violent threat against a teacher by a student with a *ahem* foreign connection. Your mission, if you decide to accept, is to notify your Superiors and commence rounding up the potential threats ASAP.
Al stands up, salutes and says: Yes Sir, I will get on this right away! Good bye Um ... Your excellencies or sirs, or brothers, people ... um ... !
Langford hangs up the phone, sprints down the hall of the Merts Center, notifies his superiors of the phone call and Viola'!..... Operation #SpyGate is born!
The schools started tapping into students’ Facebook and social media postings to check for photos of guns and gang signs, threats of violence and anything else that could give clues of looming acts of violence, the Daily Mail reported. They conducted the surveillance as part of a program called Students Against Fear, or SAFe,Mr. Wardynski insists the NSA got involved because there was a “foreign connection” — that a student in Huntsville who was found to have made threats had previously engaged in an online chat with an individual in Yemen.Um...about that student in Huntsville who was found to have made potential threats...
Auseel Yousefi says he did it. He sent the tweets that school officials say led to a warning from the NSA which led Huntsville to begin monitoring student Facebook pages.So Operation #SpyGate was created because of some tweeting gone bad by a student whose parents are from (not to be confused with IN) Yemen?
But he says it was all a joke, a bad one -- a stand-up routine that would cost him the first semester of his senior year at Lee High School.
On the day he got in trouble, Yousefi says, he was taken into a room full of administrators and shown emailed photos of a series of jokes on his Twitter feed. He says the administrators alternately referred to reports of threats forwarded by "the NSA" or an "NSA affiliate."
"It meant absolutely nothing to me at the time," he said of the National Security Agency, the U.S. government's global spy network. Instead, Yousefi was focused on defending the humor in those tweets. Then school security searched his car. They found a jeweled dagger from a Renaissance fair in the glove box. Yousefi would be expelled for one semester.
Superintendent Casey Wardynski has said the NSA contacted the system because of the foreign connection. Yousefi, now a student at Birmingham-Southern, said he was born and raised in Alabama, but his parents were from Yemen.
It was his last day of junior year at Lee High School. Yousefi said he woke up early and decided: "How funny would it be if I tweeted last day of school jokes?"Remember that time Huntsville High Students posted pictures of their Senior Prank and their reaction on the Web?
He announced a list of what he would do that day. He sent four or five tweets.
"In retrospect, it was a very dumb thing to do."
The first was the most problematic. Yousefi said he wrote" "I'm going to chop (his biology teacher) in the throat." To his mind, it was harmless. It was an inside joke, he said, as the female teacher had used similar language to get the class to be quiet. The students thought it was funny.
Yousefi was her student aide. He called her "adorable."
The second was the one he regrets most. But it contained nothing that could be misconstrued as a violent threat. He tweeted something about a female administrator's "balls of steel." He said that tweet made him feel the most awkward when confronted later.
Third, he tweeted he would sweet talk an attractive young teacher and get a kiss. "Total joke. She's 24. It's never going to happen," he said.
Next, he tweeted: "I'm going to get in a fight today." This joke, he said, was funny if you knew him. Later he would try use his own tweets espousing pacifism to explain the irony. It didn't work.
"This is 6 in the morning in my bed. I didn't think about it afterwards."
And what punishment was handed down for these students you ask?The Huntsville High School students have had their punishment handed down. As we dig deeper into this story, WAFF 48 News wanted to tell you about some of the things we found on the web about the prank.
Many of the messages on message boards, including the one on WAFF.com , seem to be in support of what these teens did.
We found comment after comment in support of these Huntsville High teens. And we found pictures of the man in the halls of Huntsville High.
Photos were posted on the www.facebook.com by 19-year-old Huntsville High student, Charles Bendall.
It shows a man in a hallway partially dressed. The title reads: Huntsville Hobo Fans with a description that says: "This is for all who thought our senior prank was hilarious, and that think it's bull**** that they are making such a big deal over it."
Other pictures show a homeless man, with Charles Bendall and Travis Bridges.
According to school officials, the students were apprehended soon after the event. They have been prohibited from Senior Activities and may, yes may, face community service hours.
WHAT?! They dehumanized a homeless man. They shred his dignity. They took advantage of his situation. They put him in harm as an intruder in the school that could be dealt with by force by the police. Why are there no criminal charges? Surely, the D.A. could charge them with abuse or criminal negligence or criminal mischief. Was it because the students are trying to be naive in the fact that it was a "harmless" prank? I don't know, but if there was ever a need for a "trading places" experiment- it's with these young adults.Big difference from the punishment some students faced for allegedly posting pictures of themselves on social media with sub machine guns and fists full of $100.00 bills.
Wardynski said the city used the SAFe program to break up a gang called the Wolfpack, with six or seven members -- all related to each other through family -- in various schools. The students were expelled and placed in alternative school and boot camp programs.So let me see if I have this right (pun intended), post the potential of an imminent threat on Facebook you get expulsion. Post a picture of a naked homeless man, you get banned from Senior activities, community service, and you get to go on with your life. Oh, OK.
Wardynski said Huntsville schools have seen sporadic gang recruitment and what he called "wannabe" gangs. "We don't want them to get into the major league," he said.
Acting on tips from students or teachers or others, schools security staff scour numerous social media sites, including Facebook, twitter, instagram, pinterest, and more. They look for evidence of imminent threats to the schools or of gang activity. Wardysnki said the program has led to about a dozen expulsions each year so far and that security is actively monitoring social media at all times.
Don't get me wrong, I am glad this little "youthful indiscretion" didn't ruin the Huntsville High School students lives, or destroy their future. I think the punishment they received was appropriate, compassionate, and fair. Hopefully they learned a valuable life lesson and went on to become productive citizens. The victims of #SpyGate, not so much.
But consider those kids who weren't so "lucky" and because they posted pictures of themselves as wannabe toughs with guns ended up at the Pinnacle Boot Camp (aka the teepees aka therapeutic wilderness camp aka private prison) with no contact with the outside world, no lawyer, and no release date, or at Pinnacle's Huntsville campus where one of the guards was indicted (and I presume is still awaiting trial) for torturing students.
The motto of Huntsville City Schools used to be Education is the Hope of the Republic, with the dismantling of the Fletcher Seldon Center and other radical changes, this motto is no longer true for black/brown/poor/special education students because this superintendent, enabled by this school board, is systematically destroying any hope for the future of our republic, choosing to fuel the cradle to prison pipeline instead.
Operation #SpyGate recap:
HCS school superintendent Casey Wardynski decided it was within his power to set up a super secret surveillance program of some students' social media accounts , based on an alleged call from an unidentified caller who said they were from the NSA, placed to longtime Huntsville City Schools security officer Al Langford.