WASHINGTON (AP) — A New Jersey congressman has called on the Justice Department to appoint a special counsel to investigate New York Police Department intelligence-gathering programs that mapped and monitored Muslim neighborhoods in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut.
An Associated Press investigation recently revealed the existence of a secret NYPD team that used plainclothes officers to eavesdrop inside Muslim businesses and maintained a list of 28 countries that, along with "American Black Muslim," it considered "ancestries of interest."
Democratic Rep. Rush Holt, in a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder this week, said those activities could violate the Constitution and federal civil rights laws.
"I believe that these serious and significant allegations warrant an immediate investigation," Holt wrote.
The Justice Department had no immediate comment on the request.
The NYPD has said its officers only follows leads and do not trawl entire neighborhoods.
A veteran CIA officer was the architect of the NYPD's intelligence programs and helped guide their efforts while on the agency's payroll. The CIA's inspector general is investigating whether that arrangement violated any laws and Holt asked the Justice Department to investigate as well.
Holt, who previously served on the House Intelligence Committee, said he never remembers being told about the CIA partnership or the programs the NYPD was running.
In New York, Mayor Michael Bloomberg was asked Thursday about the CIA's investigation and whether he thought the partnership violated any laws.
"How would I know?" Bloomberg replied. "They're doing an investigation. That's what — if I knew, I'd be happy to tell them. But my guess is no."
Bloomberg's role in the intelligence programs is unclear. He has never answered questions about them and it's unknown whether he personally reviewed or approved them.
In response to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the NYPD developed one of the nation's most aggressive domestic intelligence agencies, one that operates far outside its borders. Documents obtained by the AP show the department scrutinized more than 250 mosques and student associations, infiltrating dozens.
Documents show the department compiled lists of mosques and Muslim businesses it saw as potential security risks for reasons that included endorsing conservative religious views or having devout customers.
Under Holder, the Justice Department has stepped up enforcement of civil rights violations by police departments. But there's not been a case involving allegations of civil rights violations during a national security investigation.
Holt asked for a special prosecutor because he wanted both the civil rights issues and the NYPD-CIA collaboration to be investigated, his office said.
President Barack Obama's homeland security adviser, John Brennan, who was the deputy executive director the CIA when the NYPD intelligence programs began, said he was intimately familiar with the CIA-NYPD partnership. He said that agency knew what the rules were and did not cross any lines.
Associated Press writer Samantha Gross in New York contributed to this report.