Spying Behind the Shield

NYPD 'Deep Throat' Alerted Black Cops to Surveillance

There are certain events in the genesis of 100 Blacks' lawsuit that do smack of manipulation. Just prior to 1998, Adams says he began to receive notes and phone calls at work from a mystery man who identified himself as a "friend on the dark side." (In cop parlance, "dark side" refers to the Internal Affairs Bureau.) It was through these communiqués that Adams learned a secret camera had been planted in his office and that some of his private phone conversations were being taped.

Then the "friend" began paging Adams late at night and keying in strange phone numbers. When Adams called them, they invariably turned out to be the home numbers of some of the NYPD's highest-ranking brass. "I don't know whether this person was trying to show me who was conducting the investigation into 100 Blacks, or showing me how well-connected he was, since these numbers were highly classified," Adams says.

Then one night Adams got a beep from an unknown pager number. Suspecting it was his friend again, he took the number to IAB and asked them to track down the owner. IAB dragged its feet, and when he formally demanded an answer, he says IAB officers hedged. "They were being very vague," Adams recalls, "just telling me not to worry about it and let it go. Finally, reluctantly, they admitted the pager number was that of the IAB pool pager—someone from their own department was feeding that information to me."

Adams chooses to see his friend as a guardian angel, but Wahid has a different take. He thinks the NYPD's surveillance was a preventative power play to scare off the activist community and keep Adams and Leader—both charismatic, effective, and articulate—in check. "Whoever ordered this investigation wanted 100 Blacks to know who's ultimately in control."

And Okoli is leery enough about possible tampering to have filed in federal court, wanting to avoid "state judges who are elected and therefore vulnerable to the opinions of their constituencies." The case does have long-term legal ramifications for civil liberties, particularly post-9-11. Donna Lieberman, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, which is assisting in the lawsuit, cites it as a perfect example of why the country needs to stave off Attorney General John Ashcroft's anti-civil-liberties onslaught. "If the NYPD is conducting this type of surveillance now—against some of their own, I might add—while it's still illegal, how far overboard will government agencies go when it's deemed acceptable behavior?"

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