Student admits he lied about Mao book
The UMass Dartmouth student who claimed to have been visited by Homeland Security
agents over his request for "The Little Red Book" by Mao Zedong has
admitted to making up the entire story.
The 22-year-old student tearfully admitted he made the story up to his history
professor, Dr. Brian Glyn Williams, and his parents, after being confronted
with the inconsistencies in his account.
Had the student stuck to his original story, it might never have been proved
But on Thursday, when the student told his tale in the office of UMass Dartmouth
professor Dr. Robert Pontbriand to Dr. Williams, Dr. Pontbriand, university
spokesman John Hoey and The Standard-Times, the student added new details.
The agents had returned, the student said, just last night. The two agents,
the student, his parents and the student's uncle all signed confidentiality
agreements, he claimed, to put an end to the matter.
But when Dr. Williams went to the student's home yesterday and relayed that
part of the story to his parents, it was the first time they had heard it. The
story began to unravel, and the student, faced with the truth, broke down and
It was a dramatic turnaround from the day before.
For more than an hour on Thursday, he spoke of two visits from Homeland Security
over his inter-library loan request for the 1965, Peking Press version of "Quotations
from Chairman Mao Tse-Tung," which is the book's official title.
His basic tale remained the same: The book was on a government watch list, and
his loan request had triggered a visit from an agent who was seeking to "tame"
reading of particular books. He said he saw a long list of such books.
In the days after its initial reporting on Dec. 17 in The Standard-Times, the
story had become an international phenomenon on the Internet. Media outlets
from around the world were requesting interviews with the students, and a number
of reporters had been asking UMass Dartmouth students and professors for information.
The story's release came at a perfect storm in the news cycle. Only a day before,
The New York Times had reported that President Bush had allowed the National
Security Agency to conduct wiretaps on international phone calls from the United
States without a warrant. The Patriot Act, created in the aftermath of the Sept.
11, 2001, attacks to allow the government greater authority to monitor for possible
terrorism activities, was up for re-authorization in Congress.
There was an increased sense among some Americans that the U.S. government was
overstepping its bounds and trampling on civil liberties in order to thwart
future attacks of terrorism. The story of a college student being questioned
for requesting a 40-year old book on Communism fed right into that atmosphere.
In Thursday's retelling of the story, the student added several new twists,
ones that the professors and journalist had not heard before. The biggest new
piece of information was an alleged second visit of Homeland Security agents
the previous night, where two agents waited in his living room for two hours
with his parents and brother while he drove back from a retreat in western Massachusetts.
He said he, the agents, his parents and his uncle all signed confidentiality
agreements that the story would never be told.
He revealed the agents' names: one was Nicolai Brushaev or Broshaev, and the
other was simply Agent Roberts. He said they were dressed in black suits with
thin black ties, "just like the guys in Men in Black."
He had dates and times and places, things he had signed and sent back in order
to receive the book. The tale involved his twin brother, who allegedly requested
the book for him at UMass Amherst; his uncle, a former FBI attorney who took
care of all the paperwork; and his parents, who signed those confidentiality
But by now, the story had too many holes. Every time there was a fact to be
had that would verify the story -- providing a copy of the confidentiality agreements
the student and agent signed, for example -- there would be a convenient excuse.
The uncle took all the documents home to Puerto Rico, he said.
What was the address of the Homeland Security building in Boston where he and
his uncle visited the agency and actually received a copy of the book? It was
a brick building, he said, but he couldn't remember where it was, or what was
He said he met a former professor at the mysterious Homeland Security building
who had requested a book on bomb-making, along with two Ph.D. students and a
one pursuing a master's degree who had also been stopped from accessing books.
The student couldn't remember their names, but the former professor had appeared
on the Bill O'Reilly show on Fox News recently, he said.
The former professor's appearance on The O'Reilly Factor did not check out.
Other proof was sought.
Were there any copies of the inter-library loan request? No.
Did the agents leave their cards, or any paperwork at your home? No.
His brother, a student at Amherst, told Dr. Williams that he had never made
the inter-library loan request on behalf of his brother.
While The Standard-Times had tape recorded the entire tale on Thursday, the
reporter could not reach the student for comment after he admitted making up
the story. Phone calls and a note on the door were not returned.
At the request of the two professors and the university, The Standard-Times
has agreed to withhold his name.
During the whole episode, the professors said that while they wanted to protect
the student from the media that were flooding their voice mails and e-mail boxes
seeking comment and information, they also wanted to know: Was the story true?
"I grew skeptical of this story, as did Bob, considering the ramifications,"
Dr. Williams said yesterday. "I spent the last five days avoiding work,
and the international media, and rest, trying to get names and dates and facts.
My investigation eventually took me to his house, where I began to investigate
family matters. I eventually found out the whole thing had been invented, and
I'm happy to report that it's safe to borrow books."
Dr. Williams said he does not regret bringing the story to light, but that now
the issue can be put to rest.
"I wasn't involved in some partisan struggle to embarrass the Bush administration,
I just wanted the truth," he said.
Dr. Pontbriand said the entire episode has been "an incredible experience
and exposure for something a student had said." He said all along, his
only desire had been to "get to the bottom of it and get the truth of the
"When it blew up into an international story, our only desire was to interview
this student and get to the truth. We did not want from the outset to declare
the student a liar, but we wanted to check out his story," he said. "It
was a disastrous thing for him to do. He needs attention, he needs care. I feel
for the kid. We have great concern for this student's health and welfare."
Mr. Hoey, the university spokesman, said the university had been unable to substantiate
any of the facts of the story since it first was reported in The Standard-Times
on Dec. 17.
As to any possible repercussions against the student, Mr. Hoey said, "We
consider this to be an issue to be handled faculty member to student. We wouldn't
discuss publicly any other action. Student discipline is a private matter."
Dr. Williams said the whole affair has had one bright point: The question of
whether it is safe for students to do research has been answered.
"I can now tell my students that it is safe to do research without being
monitored," he said. "With that hanging in the air like before, I
couldn't say that to them."
The student's motivation remains a mystery, but in the interview on Thursday,
he provided a glimpse.
"When I came back, like wow, there's this circus coming on. I saw my cell
phone, and I see like, wow, I have something like 75 messages and like something
like 87 missed calls," he said. "Wow, I was popular. I usually get
one or probably two a week and that's about it, and I usually pick them up."
Contact Aaron Nicodemus at email@example.com
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