NEW YORK (AP) — From an office on the Brooklyn waterfront in the months after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, New York Police Department officials and a veteran CIA officer built an intelligence-gathering program with an ambitious goal: to map the region's ethnic communities and dispatch teams of undercover officers to keep tabs on where Muslims shopped, ate and pray.
The program was known as the Demographics Unit and, though the NYPD denies its existence, the squad maintained a long list of "ancestries of interest" and received daily reports on life in Muslim neighborhoods, according to documents obtained by The Associated Press.
The documents offer a rare glimpse into an intelligence program shaped and steered by a CIA officer. It was an unusual partnership, one that occasionally blurred the line between domestic and foreign spying. The CIA is prohibited from gathering intelligence inside the U.S.
Undercover police officers, known as rakers, visited Islamic bookstores and cafes, businesses and clubs. Police looked for businesses that attracted certain minorities, such as taxi companies hiring Pakistanis. They were told to monitor current events, keep an eye on community bulletin boards inside houses of worship and look for "hot spots" of trouble.
The Demographics Unit, a team of 16 officers speaking at least five languages, is the only squad of its kind known to be operating in the country.
Using census information and government databases, the NYPD mapped ethnic neighborhoods in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut. Rakers then visited local businesses, chatting up store owners to determine their ethnicity and gauge their sentiment, the documents show. They played cricket and eavesdropped in the city's ethnic cafes and clubs.
When the CIA would launch drone attacks in Pakistan, the NYPD would dispatch rakers to Pakistani neighborhoods to listen for angry rhetoric and anti-American comments, current and former officials involved in the program said.
The rakers were looking for indicators of terrorism and criminal activity, the documents show, but they also kept their eyes peeled for other common neighborhood sites such as religious schools and community centers.
The focus was on a list of 28 countries that, along with "American Black Muslim," were considered "ancestries of interest." Nearly all were Muslim countries