Double Secret Probation
The NYPD's RNC spying controversy can't come in from the cold just yet.
Some 600 pages of previously secret police records at the center of a months-long legal tug-of-war between the city and the New York Civil Liberties Union were finally made public last week, but now the Voice has learned that the city is holding back yet another set of secret documents regarding the police department's widespread intelligence-gathering in anticipation of the 2004 Republican National Convention.
In October 2004, lawsuits were filed by the NYCLU and other attorneys representing approximately 1,800 demonstrators and bystanders who claimed that the NYPD had falsely arrested and detained them during the convention. The city had originally produced the 600-page set of documents to bolster its case, but then asked that it be kept secret from the public and press. That set off the legal battle that culminated in Judge James Francis's decision last week to make the documents available to the public.
By the time that decision was rendered, however, NYPD Deputy Commissioner of Intelligence David Cohen had revealed, in a March 28 deposition, the existence of another set of secret reports.
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NYCLU executive legal director Christopher Dunn tells the Voice that the new documents (which he hasn't seen but were described by Cohen during his sealed deposition) reportedly detail "a separate part of the [intelligence-gathering] operation," which, Dunn says, "many people are going to find to be more troubling than what has been disclosed so far."
Kate Ahlers, spokeswoman for the city's Corporation Counsel, did not return a request for comment.
The documents that were released last week provide a voluminous, if somewhat vague, year-long diary of the planning and movements undertaken by protest organizations from around the country leading up to the convention.
Among the more ridiculous uses of NYPD resources described in the records is the case of Aron Kay. Known better as "the Yippie Pieman," Kay is described by one sympathetic civil rights official as an overweight, "unhealthy guy . . . who is still stuck in the '60s." The NYPD, however, considered the Pieman worthy of not one but two police intelligence updates.
"Eccentric activist Aron 'Pieman' Kay is calling for like-minded activists to target President Bush for a 'pie in the face attack' during his appearance at the RNC," reads one report. "Kay maintains an Internet website on which he posts evidence of past 'pieings,' including pictures of politicians such as former Mayor Beame, and Senator Moynihan during and after being 'attacked.' Additionally, Kay claimed that anyone supporting President Bush also 'deserves a pie.' "
Another document marked "secret" warns: "Flashing to be utilized as protest tactic." Women from a group named "Axis of Eve," police covertly learned, planned to strip down to their underwear, on which they planned to write such statements as "Fire Bush," "Expose Bush," and "Down With Bush." An unknown officer also managed to work in this double entendre: "This event is said to include the participation of roughly 100 women in thong type underwear and will be advertised heavily amongst the media for maximum exposure."
No event, however tangentially related to the RNC, appears to have escaped the notice of the NYPD's intelligence officers. An animal-rights group whose members set off pipe bombs in California may protest at the convention, one report warns. A nut caught outside Buckingham Palace wearing body armor, a covert radio, and plastic handcuffs wasn't just a kook but a reminder that cops on duty at the RNC "must remain vigilant to possible infiltration by extremist elements," according to another.
The Internet seems to have been the NYPD's deepest Deep Throat. When Ted Rall wrote on his website in November 2003, "It will be Chicago 1968," and "Things are going to burn, people are going to die," a detective duly noted those quotes, in bold, in another missive. As if making the case for why these random thoughts should be taken seriously, the officer added, "Ted Rall is a Columbia University graduate who earns a living as a cartoonist/radio host and has been published in the Village Voice."
The source of other reports is still a mystery. One, dated December 2003, explains that "on 15 January 2004, Councilman Charles Barron plans on attending a rally at an unknown location to demand a change in venue for the RNC, unless the RNC indicates that it is willing to address issues regarding HIV/AIDS, housing, and welfare."
"How did [the report writer] get that information?" Barron asks the Voice, adding that he doesn't remember hosting such an event. "Did he have somebody following us? Is he tapping the phone, does he have informants, has he infiltrated our organization? I think this is absurd. This is a violation of our basic constitutional civil rights." Barron says he has contacted a lawyer and is pondering legal action.
"When is somebody going to stop Ray Kelly?" says the longtime critic of the police commissioner. "This is further proof that Kelly is out of control and should be made to resign or be fired. Bloomberg needs to call Kelly up and say, 'Hey man, I've had enough. You're out.' "
The document dump did produce information that the NYPD should genuinely have been concerned about. One record warns about the possibility of "improvised projectile weapons," including tiki torches using coffee cans on sticks, Super Soaker toy guns filled with flammable liquids, or chemical irritants and egg shells, drained and also filled with harmful fluids.
But even these more legitimate concerns are described in ways that provide no details about how information was obtained. In fact, the 600 pages of documents look nothing like traditional police reports.
Most of the pages are stamped "secret" at the top and then appear just to be summaries of information. On many pages, adjoining paragraphs don't appear to have anything to do with each other, jumping from one topic to another. There are no names of the officers who gathered the information or the sources providing it. There are no dates or locations detailing how the information was obtained.
Dunn says that because the information appears to be merely summaries, he's asking the city to produce the actual police reports they're based on.
"The city stated there are no underlying materials to them," Dunn says.
The Voice sent copies of the summaries to a former NYPD intelligence officer, who responded, "Of course there are reports out there. What do you think, that we just remembered a lot of shit and just wrote it down?"
Dunn says that the next time he questions Cohen under oath, in round two of his deposition, he plans to ask him that same question.
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