A US Muslim civil liberties group has called for a federal investigation and Senate hearings into a report alleging that the CIA helped the New York Police Department (NYPD) in spying on minority communities.
The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) said it suspects the joint CIA-police intelligence gathering described in an Associated Press (AP) report violates the US Constitution, and the US Privacy Act of 1974, which bans the intelligence agency from spying on Americans.
"The government was using fear tactics to erode our civil liberties, we are organising this very strongly to stop it," Cyrus McGoldrick, a civil rights manager for CAIR, told Al Jazeera on Thursday.
CAIR is preparing a formal request for Senate hearings into the allegations in the report, as well as a Justice Department probe. The Justice Department said on Wednesday night that it would review the request.
The AP report alleges undercover NYPD officers known as "rakers" were sent into minority neighbourhoods to monitor bookstores, bars, cafes and nightclubs, and police used informants known as "mosque crawlers" to monitor sermons.
"The NYPD operates far outside its borders and targets ethnic communities in ways that would run foul of civil liberties rules if practised by the federal government," wrote the AP, which described the collaboration between the CIA and a US police department as "unprecedented".
'We don't apologise'
A spokesman for the NYPD said "we don't apologise" for aggressive techniques developed since the September 11, 2001, attacks. He said "those techniques have helped thwart 13 plots on the city".
Paul Browne, the NYPD deputy commissioner, said in an email to the Reuters news agency, "We commit over a thousand officers to the fight every day to stop terrorists who have demonstrated an undiminished appetite to come back and kill more New Yorkers."
Referring to CAIR's assertion that the NYPD collaboration with the CIA might be illegal, Browne said, "They're wrong."
The AP investigation was based on documents and interviews with more than 40 current and former New York Police Department and federal officials.
The news agency said many were directly involved in planning and carrying out the secret operations for the department.
Though most said the tactics were appropriate and made the city safer, many insisted on anonymity, because they were not authorised to speak with reporters about security matters, it reported.
But Preston Golson, a CIA spokesman, said the AP story had mischaracterised the nature and scope of the CIA's support to the NYPD, which he described as an important counterterrorism partner in a city that has been the target of numerous plots.
"Our co-operation, in co-ordination with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, is exactly what the American people deserve and have come to expect ... The agency's operational focus, however, is overseas and none of the support we have provided to NYPD can be rightly characterised as 'domestic spying' by the CIA. Any suggestion along those lines is simply wrong," Golson said.