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Students seeking aid are targeted in sweep

FBI reviewed financial records

WASHINGTON -- Searching for terrorists, the FBI and the Education Department's investigative arm have secretly reviewed the records of people applying for college financial aid, documents show.

The goal of ``Project Strike Back" was to determine whether terrorism suspects, through identity theft or other means, illegally obtained college aid to finance their operations.

The project was disclosed by the Medill School of Journalism.

The secret effort began right after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States.

The program was shut down this June, nearly five years later, according to documents obtained through Medill's Freedom of Information Act request.

Under the program, the FBI gave names to the Education Department's Office of Inspector General, which ran them through databases of millions of financial aid applications to determine whether student aid had been sought.

Fewer than 1,000 names were checked against the databases, said Cathy Milhoan, spokeswoman for the FBI.

``In the post 9-11 world, it's the job of the FBI to connect the dots and follow our investigation wherever it leads us," Milhoan said.

She added that the data-mining is legal and limited: ``We're not out there arbitrarily pulling citizens' information. We do it in accordance with the law."

Medill's disclosure of the review is the latest revelation in a broad, and controversial, effort by the Bush administration to mine data.

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