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Local Police Now Run Over 100 Spy Units Feds Bankroll Controversial Buildup of National Intelligence Network
Mon May 01 2006 09:40:56 ET

Spurred by a half-billion dollars in federal funding since 9/11, local and state police have formed over 100 intelligence units nationwide, according to an investigation by U.S. News & World Report in its May 8, 2006 issue. The intel units now reach into nearly every state, but with patchy oversight, a half-dozen of them already have run into trouble for questionable intelligence gathering, the magazine reports.

Millions more in federal funding have gone into building up regional law enforcement databases to unprecedented levels, adding to concern that guidelines on local intelligence gathering are weak and out of date.

As controversy lingers over revelations of domestic spying by the federal government, little attention has focused on the role of state and local authorities, who once ran dozens of now-discredited ?Red Squads.? Abuses by police intelligence units in the 1960s and ?70s sparked over 30 lawsuits that resulted in most of them being disbanded or sharply curtailed. Civil liberties watchdogs warn that current efforts may end up repeating mistakes of the past.

The U.S. News investigation included over a hundred interviews with police intelligence officers, homeland security officials, and privacy experts. Among the magazine?s findings:

Since 9/11, the U.S. Departments of Justice and Homeland Security have poured over $500 million into building up local and state police intelligence operations, according to grant data obtained from Homeland Security officials.

To qualify for federal homeland security grants, states were told to assemble lists of ?potential threat elements? ? individuals or groups suspected of possible terrorist activity. In response, state authorities have come up with thousands of loosely defined targets, ranging from genuine terrorists to biker gangs and environmentalists. Texas alone identified over 2,000 ?potential? terrorists.

Guidelines on privacy and civil liberties have lagged far behind the flow of federal money. After four years of pouring homeland security funds into police departments, federal officials finally released guidelines for local intelligence operations last year, but the standards are voluntary and being implemented slowly.

U.S. News has identified nearly a dozen cases in which city and county police, in the name of homeland security, have surveilled or harassed animal rights and anti-war protesters, union activists ? even library patrons surfing the web.

The resurgence of police intelligence is being accompanied by a revolution in law enforcement computing. Rap sheets, intelligence reports and public records are rapidly being pooled into huge, networked databases. Much of this is a boon to crime fighting, but privacy experts warn that the emerging systems are wide open to abuse.


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