U.S. News & World Report has identified nearly a dozen cases in which city and county police, in the name of homeland security, have surveilled or harassed animal-rights and antiwar protesters, union activists, and even library patrons surfing the Web. Unlike Washington’s warrantless domestic surveillance program, little attention has been focused on the role of state and local authorities in the war on terrorism. U.S.News found that federal officials have funneled hundreds of millions of dollars into once discredited state and local police intelligence operations. Millions more have gone into building up regional law enforcement databases to unprecedented levels.
Officials stressed that the enhanced intelligence work is vital to the nation’s security, but even its biggest boosters worry about a lack of training and standards. “This is going to be the challenge,” says Los Angeles Police Chief William Bratton, “to ensure that while getting bin Laden we don’t transgress over the law. We’ve been burned so badly in the past–we can’t do that again.” Since Sept. 11, 2001, the U.S. Departments of Justice and Homeland Security have poured over a half-billion dollars into building up local and state police intelligence operations. The funding has helped create more than 100 police intelligence units reaching into nearly every state. Guidelines for protecting privacy and civil liberties have lagged far behind the federal money. After four years of doling out homeland security grants to police departments, federal officials released guidelines for the conduct of local intelligence operations only last year; the standards are voluntary and are being implemented slowly.