The Minerva Initiative: Are Student Activists Being Targeted by U.S. Universities?

How many Rutgers students have heard of the Minerva Initiative? If University administrators and the Department of Defense had their choice, none of them would. The Minerva Initiative is a joint research project between the DOD and US universities which receive funding to study social movements to identify trigger events which may lead to civil unrest. [1]. Rutgers University is a project participant. [2].

The program was implemented in 2008 to formulate a strategy for identifying social movements and undermining their efforts to organize. Minerva was initiated over concerns that the economic crisis triggered by the mortgage collapse had the potential to lead to mass civil unrest such as occurred with the Arab Spring movement and the riots in France. The DOD asked University researchers to examine social media trends to identify “tipping points” which could ignite mass civil protests and to develop strategies for immobilizing potential threats.

It has been reported by the Guardian [3] and the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund [4] that these strategies were utilized by the FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force in response to the Occupy Wall Street Movement in 2011. The FBI identified leaders of the OWS movement in the months prior to the group occupying Zucotti Park by tracking the activity of group organizers on social media sites. The JTTF then formulated a joint national response among local police departments and corporate security personnel aimed at suppressing the protests. Furthermore, the ACLU has reported that this type of data mining has been regularly used by the F.B.I. and cooperating law enforcement agencies to target journalists, whistle-blowers and activists for engaging in First Amendment speech. [5].

The practical effect of the Minerva Initiative has been that paranoid University administrators, fueled with fear propaganda supplied by the DOD and law enforcement agencies, are currently monitoring student’s electronic activity on their networks to identify “potential threats.” This has led to a number of socially concious students who are too politically outspoken being labeled as agitators. These students are then monitored, targeted and harassed by University police and administrators seeking to neutralize the threat and deter student protests.

This, coupled with the Snowden revelations over the NSA mass domestic surveillance programs, raises legitimate concerns over the potential for abuse within the US intelligence community’s domestic surveillance network. The NSA has admitted that their mass surveillance and data collection programs have not led to the prevention a single act of domestic terrorism in the US. [6]. However, the program has created a culture of paranoia and retaliation against political dissidents deemed to pose a threat. This has created a noticeable chilling effect on individuals discussing controversial subject material or questioning the underlying motivations behind public policy decisions.

More information about the Minerva Initiative can be found at:

The FBI documents obtained by the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund in their 2012 Freedom of Information Act request can be found at:

More information about the crackdown on journalists, whistleblowers and activists can be found at:

Lawrence Christopher Skufca (2015)


[1]   Stable URL: [accessed 6/15/2015].

[2]   Stable URL: [accessed 6/15/2015].

[4]   Stable URL: [accessed 6/15/2015].

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s