The Associated Press this morning reveals how undercover NYPD officers attended meetings of liberal political organizations and kept intelligence files on activists who planned protests around the country, according to interviews and documents that show how police have used counterterrorism tactics to monitor even lawful activities.
That the NYPD used such tactics made headlines in 2007 after a New York Times report revealed that they had infiltrated protest groups leading up to and during the 2004 Republican National Convention, but the new document (pdf) reveals that the practice continued at least through 2008.
Today's report follows revelations earlier this year that the NYPD had an ongoing monitoring program that spied on Muslims throughout the city and beyond, including college students throughout the northeast. Civil liberties groups demanded investigations and a halt to such tactics.
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The NPYD intelligent document (redacted):
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Associated Press: Documents show NYPD infiltrated liberal groups
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The document provides the latest example of how, in the name of fighting terrorism, law enforcement agencies around the country have scrutinized groups that legally oppose government policies. The FBI, for instance, has collected information on anti-war demonstrators. The Maryland state police infiltrated meetings of anti-death penalty groups. Missouri counterterrorism analysts suggested that support for Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, might indicate support for violent militias — an assertion for which state officials later apologized. And Texas officials urged authorities to monitor lobbying efforts by pro Muslim-groups.
Police have good reason to want to know what to expect when protesters take to the streets. Many big cities, such as Seattle in 1999, Cincinnati in 2001 and Toledo in 2005, have seen protests turned into violent, destructive riots. Intelligence from undercover officers gives police an idea of what to expect and lets them plan accordingly.
"There was no political surveillance," Cohen testified in the ongoing lawsuit over NYPD's handling of protesters at the Republican convention. "This was a program designed to determine in advance the likelihood of unlawful activity or acts of violence."
The result of those efforts, however, was that people and organizations can be cataloged in police files for discussing political topics or advocating even legal protests, not violence or criminal activity.
By contrast, at the height of the Occupy Wall Street protests and in related protests in other cities, officials at the U.S. Homeland Security Department repeatedly urged authorities not to produce intelligence reports based simply on protest activities.
"Occupy Wall Street-type protesters mostly are engaged in constitutionally protected activity," department officials wrote in documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act by the website Gawker. "We maintain our longstanding position that DHS should not report on activities when the basis for reporting is political speech."
At the NYPD, the monitoring was carried out by the Intelligence Division, a squad that operates with nearly no outside oversight and is so secretive that police said even its organizational chart is too sensitive to publish. The division has been the subject of a series of Associated Press articles that illustrated how the NYPD monitored Muslim neighborhoods, catalogued people who prayed at mosques and eavesdropped on sermons.