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They've Got Learning Locked Down
Reprinted with permission of The Day -Published on 1/10/2008
By Jennifer Grogan
New London — The U.S. Coast Guard Academy now has a secure classroom for cadets to view classified materials and discuss national security topics with guest speakers.
For security reasons, academy officials could not say what makes the secure classroom secure.
But they did say that the school is the first military service academy, and possibly the first undergraduate institution, to have a classroom of this kind in the United States. It was dedicated in November, but it will be used for the first time this semester.
"I do think we're leading the way in this area," said Rear Adm. J. Scott Burhoe, academy superintendent. "It allows us as an institution to be even that much more relevant because we're connected with the things that are actually happening in the operational Coast Guard."
Second-class, or junior, cadets are eligible to receive secret clearances but the school had no way for them to use classified materials in their classroom studies in the past.
The classroom in Smith Hall, an academic building on the campus, looks like a normal computer lab but it uses a limited-access computer network that can transmit classified information, known as a SIPRNet, or Secret Internet Protocol Router Network, according to available online sources.
"Think of it as a regular Internet, but a closed network," said Lt. Cmdr. Michael Bennett, director and assistant professor of strategic intelligence studies at the academy. "The purpose is to allow students access to the kinds of technology they'll see when they get into the fleet, and to allow for the kind of discussions we need to have about the 21st- century threat environment."
Bennett started at the academy prior to the 2005-2006 school year, and began to set up the intelligence studies program and the classroom. It took about $250,000 to change the Smith Hall classroom to a SIPRNet classroom, paid for by Coast Guard Headquarters.
"This allows our students unique access to information that they wouldn't be able to get at a civilian institution," Bennett said.
Second-class and first-class, or senior, cadets will be able to look at current intelligence and threat reporting and conduct research on those topics, primarily for the intelligence, terrorism and national security policy courses. Guest speakers will be able to talk more openly in the classroom, Bennett said.
"We've had senior officials from the government, we've had George Tenet come in for instance, and he could talk in a more secure environment and that gives him the ability to be more open with the students about the kinds of things he's experienced," he said, referring to the former CIA director.
Before, speakers would have to "tone down" their presentations, said Kathleen Lord, a first-class cadet from Rockville, Md.
"The Coast Guard is taking intelligence seriously, to the point where cadets have access to it instead of just officers," she said. "They are willing to trust the future of intelligence work to us, and that says a lot about us as future officers."
Bennett said that the "21st-century homeland security officer" must understand the current threat environment.
"Intelligence is a career path in the Coast Guard now, where historically it was not, and so we're here to create a cadre of officers who have the skill sets to pursue a career path in intelligence later on if they choose to do so," he said.
The classroom was dedicated to James Sloan, Coast Guard assistant commandant for intelligence and criminal investigations, Burhoe, and Kurt Colella, dean of academics at the academy. All three were instrumental in developing the intelligence program at the school and the classroom.
Coast Guard Academy superintendent Rear Adm. J. Scott Burhoe, Coast Guard intelligence director James Sloan and Donald Kerr, Principal Deputy Director of National Intelligence dedicate the plaque outside the SIPRNET classroom on Nov. 16, when the room was unveiled.