Undercover New York City police officers conducted covert surveillance in the last 16 months of people protesting the Iraq war, bicycle riders taking part in mass rallies, and even mourners at a street vigil for a cyclist killed in an accident, videotapes obtained by the New York Times show. Some of the undercover officers or their associates are seen having influence on events. At a demonstration last year during the Republican National Convention, the sham arrest of a man secretly working with the police led to a bruising confrontation between officers in riot gear and bystanders. Police spokesman Paul Browne said that disguised officers were not investigating political activities but were keeping order and protecting free speech.
The pictures of the undercover officers were culled from an unofficial archive of civilian and police videotapes by Eileen Clancy, a forensic video analyst who is critical of the tactics. In 1985, New York agreed to limits on investigation of political organizations. “A number of courts decided there should be some mechanism set up to make sure the police didn’t overstep the boundary,” said Jeremy Travis, former deputy police commissioner for legal affairs and now president of John Jay College of Criminal Justice. “It was complicated finding that boundary.” The authority to determine the boundary was handed back to the police department after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.