Police challenge report detailing surveillance tactics
The Associated Press
NEW YORK- Police officials Thursday disputed a newspaper report accusing them of using undercover officers to infiltrate and monitor anti-war groups and other activist organizations.The report in Thursday New York Times said videotapes obtained by the newspaper showed police conducting surveillance on people attending an Iraq war protest, a monthly bicycle ride staged by cycling activists and a vigil for a cyclist who had died in an accident.
The Police Department's top spokesman, Paul Browne, criticized the report as misleading. He said plainclothes police _ not undercover officers _ regularly attend protests to maintain order and stop crimes in progress, not to spy.
The story "confused plainclothes officers used to prevent and respond to acts of violence and other unlawful activity with undercover officers who conduct intelligence investigations under court-approved guidelines," Browne said in a statement.
Eileen Clancy, a forensic video analyst who opposes the secret operations, gave the tapes to the Times, the newspaper said. She claimed there was clear evidence of officers actively participating in rallies and dressing to blend in with the crowd.
In the tapes, some officers can be seen holding protest signs and flowers. At the vigil for the dead cyclist, one officer dressed up in biking gear, sported a button that read "I am a shameless agitator" and videotaped mourners.
The protest groups complained that the officers' presence warps their message and provokes trouble.
"It made you feel like a criminal," said Ryan Kuonen, one of the mourners at the vigil. "It was grotesque."
In 2003, a federal judge broadened the department's authority to investigate political, social and religious groups. Browne insisted police had not abused the new guidelines.
"While undercover officers may be used to infiltrate an organization plotting violence, neither undercover nor plainclothes officers are used to interfere with free speech or other activities protected by the First Amendment," he said.