I congratulate Kristen Crabtree on her decision to have the FBI's charges against her heard in court. The FBI has no case, and it is important that this be shown publicly, in court, and not hidden by private negotiations.
First, the FBI had every reason to believe that publicity and controversy would surround its recruiting efforts on the campus of a public university. If a single photograph in a student newspaper can compromise the effectiveness of an FBI agent (as the agency claims), the FBI should send less-sensitive personnel on these public recruiting missions.
Second, trying to yank a camera away from someone because you don't think they should take a picture is the behavior we expect from Sean Penn or the South African police, not an agent of the FBI. If the agent had legitimate reasons for keeping Ms. Crabtree's pictures from being published, this could have been accomplished through the courts.
The FBI agent incited the incident by trying to use physical force to take Ms. Crabtree's camera away; biting the agent's hand was an understandable act of self-defense.
One conclusion from this incident is that it may be time to reconsider on-campus recruiting by government security agencies. On the one hand, they are employers just like any other. On the other hand, if it had been a recruiter for IBM rather than the FBI: 1) it would be blatantly obvious that an IBM recruiter has no right to grab a student's camera and 2) IBM would not be able to hide behind charges of "assaulting a government agent." Government security agencies are not just another type of employer. They have special laws protecting and controlling them. Allowing them to recruit on-campus creates special problems.
It is important to recognize that this young woman is still a student. She is trying to learn exactly how "the system" works. It is therefore important that this case can be resolved so as to impart the right lesson for her, her classmates and the FBI. UCSD has been supportive of Ms. Crabtree to date, and I encourage administrators, students and the public to continue supporting this young citizen.
RICHARD K. BELEW
Assistant Professor, Computer Science & Engineering
UC San Diego