NEW YORK (AP) — Members of the New York City Council said Thursday they needed more oversight over the New York Police Department after being left in the dark about programs that subjected entire Muslim neighborhoods to surveillance and scrutiny.
A group of council members urged the city's governing body to ask tougher questions of the police. The council controls the police budget but, since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, has done little to oversee the department as it became one of the nation's most aggressive domestic intelligence agencies.
An Associated Press investigation has revealed that the department's intelligence unit has scrutinized Muslim neighborhoods, often not because of any accusation of wrongdoing but because of residents' ethnicity. The department has sent plainclothes officers to eavesdrop in those communities, helping police build databases of where Muslims shop, eat, work and pray.
"There's got to be a balance between law enforcement and oversight," said Brad Lander, a councilman from Brooklyn.
None of the council members who spoke at the City Hall news conference is in a leadership position or serves on the committee that oversees the NYPD.
Peter Vallone, the chairman of the Public Safety Committee, has said Police Commissioner Ray Kelly privately informed him about some of the NYPD's tactics, but Vallone said they are too sensitive to be discussed at council meetings.
The department investigated hundreds of mosques and Muslim student groups, often relying on undercover officers and informants. Even Muslim leaders who worked with the police and stood shoulder to shoulder with Mayor Michael Bloomberg against terrorism were put under surveillance.
"Was I under surveillance?" asked Robert Jackson, the only Muslim member of the council.
The department maintained a list of 28 countries that, along with "American Black Muslim," it labeled "ancestries of interest." Documents obtained by the AP show a secret team known as the Demographics Unit was instructed to canvass neighborhoods looking for businesses catering to one ethnic group, Moroccans. The documents indicated plans to build databases for other ethnic groups.
Many of these programs were as part of an unprecedented relationship with the CIA. A senior agency officer was the architect of these programs while on the CIA's payroll. The CIA trained an NYPD detective in espionage tactics at its spy school.
Recently, the CIA sent one of its most senior clandestine officers to work out of NYPD headquarters.
The CIA's inspector general is investigating whether that relationship was improper.
"It's my own personal view that that's not a good optic, to have CIA involved in any city-level police department," James Clapper, the U.S. director of national intelligence, told Congress recently.