The Harvard University Police Department (HUPD) denied allegations that the University maintains an undercover political intelligence unit in the wake of two arrests that attracted the scrutiny of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).
“Despite what the ACLU asserts, we do not maintain an undercover unit,” HUPD spokesman Steven G. Catalano wrote in a statement yesterday. But a police report does show evidence of undercover intelligence gathering at a political demonstration.
“I had been photographing the demonstrators for intelligence gathering,” Detective Thomas F. Karns Jr. wrote in a March 3 report of his activities at a human rights protest in the Square. He described himself as “conducting plain clothes surveillance on a demonstration.”
Massachusetts residents Lisa M. Nieves and Patrick J. Keaney were arrested by Karns after the protest.
ACLU attorney John Reinstein, who is representing Keaney, said that the ACLU has filed a Freedom of Information Act request to see if Harvard is sharing the intelligence it gathers with the federal government, specifically with the joint terrorism task forces overseen by the FBI.
The task forces are local units of law enforcement and intelligence officials based in cities around the country, including Boston. According to Reinstein, several universities work with these special groups, including the University of Massachusetts, the University of Texas, the University of Georgia and the University of Arkansas.
The Brown Daily Herald has reported that the Yale University police are part of a terrorism task force in Connecticut.
Both Catalano and the FBI declined to say whether Harvard has appointed someone to a Boston joint terrorism task force.
Special agent Gail A. Marcinkiewicz said, however, that the FBI does not film protests.
“The right to protest is protected under the First Amendment,” she said. “What we are interested in are the people who are thwarting or interfering with people who are protesting.”
University spokesman Joe Wrinn said Harvard police officers do film certain events on campus in a statement to the Boston Globe yesterday.
"We film when there is potential for violence, property damage,
vandalism, HUPD arrest, or other circumstances require it," he said.
Reinstein said that Nieves noticed a bystander in plainclothes taking photos of the protest and decided to go photograph him.
According to the police report, Karns said that he identified himself as a police officer after an altercation in which Nieves tried to photograph the detective. Karns was wearing a hooded sweatshirt to obscure his face.
He followed Nieves into the Holyoke Center, private Harvard property, where he identified himself as a Harvard police officer and asked for her identification. She refused to provide it. According the report, Nieves began to shout, attracting a crowd, and Karns placed her under arrest for disturbing the peace.
—Staff writer Jamison A. Hill can be reached at email@example.com.