[News] Albuquerque Police Engaged in Secret Intelligence Gathering Operation, Leaked Documents Show

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Mon Sep 7 13:24:15 EDT 2020


https://www.counterpunch.org/2020/09/07/albuquerque-police-engaged-in-secret-intelligence-gathering-operation-leaked-documents-show/
Albuquerque
Police Engaged in Secret Intelligence Gathering Operation, Leaked Documents
Show
by David Correia – Keegan James Sarmiento Kloer
<https://www.counterpunch.org/author/kgnjmdvdc94931/> - September 7, 2020
------------------------------

Albuquerque Police Logo. Image Source: CABQ.gov – Public Domain

Leaked documents reveal that the Albuquerque Police Department (APD) has
engaged in a large-scale data and intelligence gathering operation since
2006 carried out entirely by private citizens and corporate partners. This
privatization of data-gathering means APD has avoided community oversight
and judicial review in the acquisition of this information, some of which
would have required a warrant to collect. In addition, documents show this
operation has been used on at least two occasions for explicitly partisan
political purposes.

The documents were part of a June 19, 2020—Juneteenth—leak of police data
by a group called Distributed Denial of Secrets (DDOS). Referred to as
“BlueLeaks,” the leak included 269 gigabytes of information from more than
250 police departments that DDOS said it had received from the hacking
group Anonymous. According to DDOS, Anonymous hacked into the servers of a
private web hosting and software company called Netsential, a vendor of
web-based software for hundreds of clients, including many local and
regional police departments. Netsential confirmed its servers were
compromised. And the National Fusion Center Association, the group that
represents the state-run federal data centers at the center of the leak,
confirmed the documents are real.

The Albuquerque Police Department hired Netsential years ago, with money
from the Target corporation, to build a secure website called CONNECT. The
City of Albuquerque calls the “Community Oriented Notification Network
Enforcement Communication Technology or CONNECT… an interactive tool which
links law enforcement to community partners to communicate about crime and
public safety issues occurring in Albuquerque.” The DDOS release included
APD documents related to CONNECT, which included reports, emails,
membership rosters, and more.

Netsential built CONNECT so that APD could merge data gathering among its
various anti-crime programs, which include retail, property and anti-gang
units. One of these anti-crime programs, the Albuquerque Retail Assets
Protection Association (ARAPA), is a previously little known
“public-private partnership” between the Albuquerque police department and
big box retailers such as Walmart and Target that began in 2006. APD
officials have said little publicly about the program, but when APD
officials have spoken on record, they have described it as relatively small
in scale—a few hundred retailers— and focused on retail and property crime.
But according to the recently leaked documents, ARAPA and its successor
CONNECT are much larger than APD has claimed, and the focus of the data and
information gathering operation includes much more than retail and property
crime.

Private security forces, along with APD employees, have recruited retailers
to join ARAPA since its inception. Once approved to the program, APD gives
those members access to a secure website where they can upload videos,
images, descriptions, or other information related to possible retail or
property crime. But APD and its corporate partners place no limits on the
information or data that retailers can upload, other than reminding members
by email that “all subjects are innocent until proven guilty,” and also
that “as a participant in this program it is your responsibility to protect
the confidentiality of any material distributed.”

Uploaded information is immediately available to all ARAPA members,
including a team of five APD investigators assigned to investigate ARAPA
tips, according to APD. ARAPA and CONNECT information has been stored on
APD servers, managed by Netsential, in a searchable database. Police
officials have claimed that only a small team of APD investigators assigned
to ARAPA access the information, along with a handful of other local law
enforcement agencies. APD says this list is limited to the local sheriff,
US postal inspectors, and the District Attorney.

The BlueLeaks documents paint a different picture. ARAPA, according to
BlueLeaks documents, has grown from its modest beginnings in 2006 into a
significant private-sector intelligence and data-gathering operation
conducted on behalf of police. Big Box retailers upload photos, video,
descriptions, license plate numbers, and more to a database owned by APD.
Leaked files reveal a membership roster that includes thousands of
Albuquerque residents, business organizations, neighborhood association
block captains, apartment managers, hotel clerks, bank tellers, pawnshop
owners, and more who have been, or currently are, engaged in information
gathering for APD. And internal emails show that the operation was not
solely about the investigation of alleged retail or property crimes but
focused also on general data and intelligence gathering. APD encouraged
ARAPA members to upload any information they had to CONNECT, including
information on any activity that members deemed “suspicious.”

Albuquerque police have said little publicly about the program, but in 2010
APD officials told the Police Executive Research Forum, a police industry
consulting firm, that ARAPA and CONNECT included a few hundred retailers
and a handful of police from a small group of local police agencies.
Officials told the Albuquerque Journal in a 2013 story that only a small
team of APD investigators used the data. But the BlueLeaks documents show
CONNECT has included 2,666 users across more than a dozen different data
gathering operations. Nearly a third of all the names on the list are
local, state, or federal law enforcement officers. Most with access to the
information are or have been affiliated with APD, or the local sheriff’s
office, but the list includes hundreds of officers from departments,
including federal agencies, with no clear role in retail crime enforcement
in Albuquerque.

The documents demonstrate that APD has not only privatized information and
intelligence gathering but has also shifted the authority to determine
policing priorities to the private sector. Since its inception, a vast
majority of ARAPA or CONNECT representatives with the authority to approve
business and law enforcement access requests have been private sector or
non-police employees of APD. One of the founders of ARAPA, Karen Fischer,
worked at APD as its Strategic Support Division Manager until her
retirement in 2012. Another was a Target employee named Craig Davis, who
now works in private security. Between the two of them, they recruited and
approved hundreds of retailers, hotel clerks, apartment managers, and bank
tellers, among others, to gather information for APD. In addition, they and
other corporate agents vetted requests by law enforcement officers for
access to the data, approving requests from agents who do not work on
retail and property crime enforcement. These included a special agent for
the US Forest Service, an intelligence coordinator and also an agent from
the Drug Enforcement Agency’s New Mexico High Intensity Drug Trafficking
Area, multiple special agents from the Department of Homeland Security’s
(DHS) Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), an intelligence research
specialist from DHS Homeland Securities Investigations, a DHS Customs and
Border Patrol agent, and a DHS agent in Intelligence and Analysis. They
gave access to police officers from departments in eight states, police
officers from the Albuquerque Public Schools and the University of New
Mexico, a Bureau of Indian Affairs special agent, and a detective and two
investigators with the 377 Security Forces Squadron from Kirtland Air Force
Base.

Among those who Fischer or Davis recruited to collect data, most worked in
the local retail or hospitality industry, but they also recruited or
approved members with access to information unrelated to retail or property
crime. And many of those members had access to information that would have
required a warrant for APD to collect it. In 2008, APD approved membership
to a woman named Anita Alatorre, the office manager at Metamorphosis of NM,
a substance abuse treatment clinic in Albuquerque. In an internal message
regarding Alatorre’s membership, Fischer wrote that she *“*Sent note to M.
Conrad on 4-11-08 regarding approval. IS drug treatment program appropriat?
[sic] Approved via e-mail by m. Conrad on 4-14-08.” M. Conrad is likely a
reference to then Southeast Area Commander Murray Conrad, who is referenced
elsewhere in the documents as Com. Conrad.

The documents also show that ARAPA has been used for political purposes.
Fischer vetted, and Conrad approved, Erin Muffoletto, a business and
political lobbyist from Muffoletto Consulting, LLC. No concerns appear to
have been raised by either Fischer or Conrad about giving the owner of a
“Business and Government Relations lobbying and consulting business,” as
ARAPA characterized her, access to a law enforcement database. In addition,
the documents include a February 2011 email from ARAPA to its
private-sector members encouraging them to lobby the state legislature on
behalf of a bill favored by the Albuquerque Police Department.

“Greetings ARAPA Partners! As many of you know, SB 223 is currently heading
through the Judiciary Committee and will be heard this coming Monday, Feb
28th at 2:00pm at the Roundhouse in Santa Fe. We have received information
that there will be a large presence of Trial Lawyer’s [sic] present to
denounce this bill. IT IS IMPARATIVE [sic] that we have a Strong Showing
from the Retail Loss Prevention / Retail Store Leadership present for the
hearing in support of the bill. I’m asking that as many members of ARAPA
that can show up, please be there. Let me stress that you do not have to
Speak, just be there to raise your hand in support of this bill. I hope we
can count on each of you to be present. The two bills going through are
critical in our next steps to stem the tide of Organized Retail Crime in
our City and the State of New Mexico! If you have any questions, please
contact Ken Cox, Craig Davis or Karen Fischer.”

Fischer still worked at APD at the time she sent the email. And it’s not
the only time an APD employee used ARAPA for political purposes. In a March
20111 email, Fischer forwarded a message to ARAPA members from Jimmie
Glenn, then the President of the NM Retail Association, in which he
referred to then Democratic Majority Leader Michael Sanchez as “our
toughest obstacle.”

Fischer and others did not just control who gathered the data, they vetted
and approved which law enforcement officers had access to the data and this
pattern continues. In January of this year, Steven Roberts, an ARAPA member
and a security division executive with Smith’s grocery stores, approved
data access to a Homeland Security Specialist with the New Mexico
Department of Homeland Security. Fischer, Davis, and Roberts, and other
private industry representatives, have approved access to UNM and CNM
students, two UNM professors, a past president of UNM’s Student and Family
Housing Residents Association, religious leaders from Trinity United
Methodist and Monte Vista Christian Churches, and the manager of systems
support at the Albuquerque airport terminal RADAR. Private-sector ARAPA
leaders encouraged neighborhood associations to join, suggesting that block
captains persuade homeowners to link residential doorbell and security
cameras to APD via CONNECT.

There is nothing particularly unique about public-private information
gathering partnerships.  Nearly every police agency, local or federal,
relies on information collected from corporate or private security firms.
Some police rely on information purchased from data aggregating companies
such as ChoicePoint, which maintains enormous databases of information that
it tailors for clients, including law enforcement. The Department of
Homeland Security has developed a network of “fusion centers”—including one
in Santa Fe—that serve as a public sector version of this data aggregation.
But the BlueLeaks documents show the extent to which APD pursued its own,
largely secret, and fully privatized, information gathering operation,
merging multiple different data gathering operations.

The privatization of data and information gathering, and the private sector
control of intelligence collected for police, raises troubling implications
for a department already under intense scrutiny. In 2014, the Department of
Justice concluded that APD had demonstrated a long-standing “pattern and
practice of unconstitutional policing.” Since 2015, and following the
federal investigation, APD has operated under a federal court-ordered
settlement agreement that has imposed significant reforms on APD. Among the
deficiencies identified by the Department of Justice in its 2014 report
were “inadequate accountability standards.” In addition, the DOJ noted a
pattern of “insufficient oversight” within APD and “external oversight”
that DOJ concluded was “broken and has allowed the department to remain
unaccountable to the communities it serves.” The BlueLeaks information, and
previous reporting about Albuquerque police by AbolishAPD, shows that these
issues run much deeper than what the DOJ revealed in its investigation.

An intent to avoid community oversight and judicial review may explain
ARAPA’s unusual organizational structure. ARAPA registered with the New
Mexico Secretary of State as a private, non-profit corporation in August
2012. The incorporation papers listed Fischer and Davis as among its
three-person board of directors. Fischer retired from APD on Jan. 1, 2013.
On the day prior to Fischer’s retirement, former APD chief Ray Schultz
signed a $26,400 contract with ARAPA to manage APD’s data gathering
operation. The contract between the City and ARAPA listed the ARAPA address
as a post office box, which would establish it as an entity independent of
APD, but in separate incorporation papers that Fischer and Davis filed with
the state of New Mexico, they listed its address as 400 Roma Ave NW,
Albuquerque, the same address as the Albuquerque police department.

Legal observers and Constitutional scholars point to a number of potential
legal implications raised by public-private partnerships in policing. These
include concerns over privacy and the lack of oversight and judicial review
of policing activities when undertaken by the private sector on behalf of
public police agencies, but also extend to worries that the privatization
of information gathering by police might result in the privatization of
public law enforcement priorities and practices. Do corporate retail
interests, at least in part, determine police priorities in Albuquerque?
The BlueLeaks documents suggest this may be the case.

The Target Corporation gave APD $100,000 for the creation of CONNECT. Its
executives, along with executives from Walmart, have served in leadership
positions at ARAPA and CONNECT from the beginning, and continue to do so.
Executives from the two corporations determine who gets to join ARAPA, who
collects information for APD via CONNECT, and which law enforcement
agencies get access to the information. Though Walmart and Target are just
two of thousands of retailers who have been involved with CONNECT since its
inception, an overwhelming percentage of APD’s retail policing in
Albuquerque takes place at these two retailers. We reviewed all misdemeanor
shoplifting citations issued, and arrests made, by APD during the month of
January 2020. Nearly 60 percent of all shoplifting criminal complaints
filed with the court by APD came from Walmart or Target.

The City of Albuquerque recently announced its intent to petition the
federal court to release APD from portions of its court-approved settlement
agreement. The City’s Mayor, Tim Keller, claims the department has
implemented new accountability measures and have established new and robust
internal and external oversight mechanisms. He recently proposed increasing
the police budget and has long promised to hire hundreds of additional
police officers. But the BlueLeaks documents show that Keller proposes
giving more money and more cops to a police department that has spent years
implementing a data and intelligence gathering operation that it has used
for political purposes, that it has designed to avoid oversight and
accountability, and that it relies on to provide it and federal agents
access to information without judicial review.

*David Correia* and *Keegan James Sarmiento Kloer are members of
AbolishAPD, a research collective working to abolish the Albuquerque Police
Department. They can be reached at **AbolishAPD at protonmail.com*
<AbolishAPD at protonmail.com>
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