The Federal Bureau of Investigation has displayed elephantine tact in its most recent "conversation" with a Harvard student. Aggrey Awori, President of the East African Students,' Organization in the Americas, was questioned at length by an FBI agent several weeks ago. The apparent reasons for the interrogation were Awori's letter to the CRIMSON criticizing United States policy in the Congo, an invitation extended by Awori to several Russian U.N. diplomats to speak before African students in Cambridge, and a speech he made to the Students for a Democratic Society.
During the interview, the agent asked Awori for the name of the person who had "really" written the CRIMSON letter and then stated that he would prefer that Awori not become involved with "leftist" organization--the May 2nd Movement was one group mentioned--since the government wanted him to be "on our side."
Not only did the conversation insult Awori, but it could all too easily be construed as intimidation, aimed at restricting political activism. At a time when political dialogue has been dampened by the Administration's snappish replies to responsible critics, it is especially disturbing that the FBI now seems to consider criticism of the government and association with "leftist" (not communist) groups as undesirable and subversive action worthy of investigation.
Perhaps the abuses in the Awori's interview were caused by ineptness, not be a conscious policy of intimidation. But obtuseness in such delicate matters may still have restrictive effects. After being confronted by a barrage of questions from the FBI, foreign students, afraid of losing their visas, might retreat into political silence. Similarly, American students may curb their activism to avoid contact with the Bureau. Although they are legally under no obligation to answer questions unless subpoenaed, they are confronted by a distasteful dilemma: refusal to answer an agent's queries or an interview itself will "go on their record," hurting their chances for a government job in the future.
Clearly, indiscriminate and impolite interrogations about political activity have harmful, inhibiting consequences. To avoid the insulting excesses of the Awori case, the FBI should exercise much greater restraint and demonstrate far greater sensitivity in the future. If the Bureau really wants students like Awori "on our side," it would do well to show that this is indeed an open society rather than smoothing the way for them in this country by trying to limit their political acquaintances.