For several years, the New York Police Department has touted an elite undercover unit of Middle Eastern and Asian investigators who use their foreign-language skills online to search out potential terrorist threats against the city.
But now the department is under sharp criticism from a member of the unit, an Egyptian-born analyst who filed a lawsuit yesterday that charges he was subjected to hundreds of blistering anti-Muslim and anti-Arab e-mail messages sent out by a city contractor over the course of three years.
The analyst, who is not named in the court papers, filed the discrimination lawsuit in federal court in Manhattan as “John Doe Anti-Terrorism Officer” because he still works undercover in the Cyber Unit. In an interview yesterday, he said that he complained repeatedly to his supervisors about the messages but that no one took action.
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A 48-year-old captain with the New York City Department of Correction, the analyst has been assigned to work with the Police Department’s Intelligence Division since 1998. He said he helped to form the Cyber Unit in 2002. He and the other members, who number about a dozen, troll message boards and Web sites to engage extremists and collect intelligence about potential threats, the lawsuit says. He fears that his family in Egypt might face retaliation if his name and the nature of his work were revealed, said his lawyer, Ilann M. Maazel.
At the center of the lawsuit are e-mail briefing messages sent out several times a day to members of the Intelligence Division by Bruce Tefft, a former C.I.A. official who has identified himself in the past as the Police Department’s counter-terrorism adviser.
Mr. Tefft worked for Orion, a company that provided the department with counter-terrorism information culled from its massive database, including news articles and other materials known as open-source intelligence.
According to the suit, the briefing messages were preceded by commentary from Mr. Tefft that included virulent anti-Muslim and anti-Arab statements like, “Burning the hate-filled Koran should be viewed as a public service at the least,” and “This is not a war against terrorism … it is against Islam and we are not winning.”
In one message, he asked, “Has the U.S. threatened to vaporize Mecca?” and responded, “Excellent idea, if true.”
“These e-mail briefings ridiculed and disparaged the Muslim religion and Arab people, and stated that Muslim- and Arab-Americans were untrustworthy and could not reliably serve in law enforcement positions or handle sensitive data,” the suit said.
Paul J. Browne, the Police Department’s chief spokesman, said in an e-mail message that the department moved to stop the e-mail messages when it became aware of a complaint about them.