"[New York City] now has a sturdy legion of undercover officers who have taken up residence in many surprising regions of civic life. Much of this began in early 2003, when a federal judge lifted many restraints on spying by the Police Department. The city had been failed by the federal intelligence services, and thousands died on Sept. 11. Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly and Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg created an independent intelligence capacity.
"So before and during the Iraq War, the organization of antiwar rallies was regarded as a fit matter for police surveillance; so were the monthly Critical Mass bicycle rallies, as well as groups protesting at the Republican National Convention in 2004, and a range of Islamic facilities, from mosques to college student clubs. Undercover New York police officers showed up at activists’ meetings all over the country, carrying guitars and knapsacks […].
"The unrestrained surveillance in New York public life is the physical embodiment of what has been taking place online over the last decade under operations of the National Security Agency revealed by Edward J. Snowden. To borrow the title of a 1918 novel about nosy Irish villagers, we have become The Valley of the Squinting Windows […].
"One of the large, undiscussed questions of such surveillance is how civic dialogue can be influenced or distorted by police agents — perhaps as provocateurs, or possibly with no motive beyond maintaining cover. During the Republican convention, after a group making a film was arrested, a redheaded man standing on the street pounded on the back window of a police van, urging that the people inside be let go. A day later, the same man was videotaped being briefly put under a fake arrest, leading to tumult in the street from others who objected to his incarceration. They were unaware that the man was an undercover police officer who was walked down the street by uniformed officers, hands behind his back but uncuffed, and sent on his way: catch and release."