Thursday, September 1, 2011

More on the NYPD CIA unit

NYPD, CIA formed unit to monitor Muslims, documents say

People pass below a New York Police Department camera near a mosque in Brooklyn's Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood last month. A police unit monitored people from 28 countries and American Black Muslims. / BEBETO MATTHEWS/Associated Press

NEW YORK -- From an office on the Brooklyn waterfront in the months after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, New York Police Department officials and a veteran CIA officer built an intelligence-gathering program with an ambitious goal: to map the region's ethnic communities and dispatch undercover officers to keep tabs on where Muslims shopped, ate and prayed.

The program was known as the Demographics Unit and, though the NYPD denies its existence, the squad maintained a long list of "ancestries of interest" -- including "American Black Muslim" -- and received daily reports on life in Muslim neighborhoods, according to new documents the Associated Press obtained.

The documents offer a rare glimpse into an intelligence program shaped and steered by a CIA officer. It was an unusual partnership that blurred the line between domestic and foreign spying. The CIA is prohibited from gathering intelligence inside the U.S.

The Demographics Unit, a team of 16 officers speaking at least five languages, is the only squad of its kind known to be operating in the country.

Using census information and government databases, the NYPD mapped ethnic neighborhoods in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut. Undercover officers known as rakers then visited businesses and chatted up store owners to determine their ethnicity and gauge their sentiment, the documents show. They played cricket and eavesdropped in caf├ęs and clubs.

The rakers were looking for indicators of terrorism and criminal activity, the documents show, but they also watched sites such as religious schools and community centers.

The focus was on 28 nationalities that, along with American Black Muslim, were considered ancestries of interest. Nearly all were Muslim countries.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg said last week that the NYPD does not take religion into account in its policing. On Wednesday, Bloomberg's office referred questions to the police department.

How much monitoring?
How law enforcement agencies can stay ahead of Islamic terrorists without using racial profiling techniques has been debated since 9/11. The documents describe how the nation's largest police force came down on that issue.

NYPD spokesman Paul Browne said the department only follows leads and does not simply trawl communities.

"We do not employ undercovers or confidential informants unless there is information indicating the possibility of unlawful activity," Browne wrote in an e-mail to the AP.

That issue has legal significance. The NYPD says it follows the same guidelines as the FBI, which cannot use undercover agents to monitor communities without receiving an allegation or indication of criminal activity.

At least one lawyer inside the police department raised concerns about the Demographics Unit, current and former officials told the AP. Because of those concerns, the officials said, the information gathered from the unit is kept on a computer at the Brooklyn Army Terminal, not in the department's normal intelligence database.

Lives were spared
The NYPD Intelligence Division has been essential to the city's best counterterrorism successes, including the thwarted plot to bomb the subway system in 2004. Undercover officers also helped lead to the guilty plea of two men who were arrested on their way to receive terrorism training in Somalia.

Rep. Yvette Clarke, a Democrat who represents much of Brooklyn and sits on the House Homeland Security Committee, said the NYPD can protect the city without singling out specific ethnic and religious groups.

She joined Muslim organizations in calling for a Justice Department investigation of the NYPD Intelligence Division.

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