Police take on spy role in Spain's anti-terror push
Local police officers are being employed by intelligence agency to gather information to track terrorist groups and criminal gangs.17 June 2008
MADRID - Local police officers in Spain's towns and cities are more usually seen handing out parking tickets and directing traffic than cracking international terrorist groups and criminal gangs.
But increasingly, uniformed police officers are being used by intelligence agents to gather information about the activities of local residents, police chiefs say, acknowledging that even they do not know how many of their men are involved or what sort of information is being shared.
The National Intelligence Centre (CNI), Spain's equivalent of the CIA, appears to have started the practice of using local police officers as informants following the Madrid train bombings by Islamist extremists on 11 March 2004.
They apparently found that beat officers, who know the ins and outs of a neighbourhood and share in neighbourhood gossip, are well placed to keep tabs on any activities or residents deemed suspicious.
Their work so far appears to have cantered on monitoring the activities of Muslim and Chinese residents, although the exact nature of what CNI agents and their local police recruits are doing remains a mystery - even to the heads of local police departments.
"Everything is unofficial and half the time I don't know which of my men are being used. I cooperate of course because it's the CNI, but I don't ask questions," admits one senior local police official.
The system, albeit entirely "off the record," appears to work both ways, according to some officers.
While the CNI obtains information it can use in its investigations, the local police in turn have acknowledged receiving tip-offs.
"They've supplied us with information about crimes or irregularities that were being committed. Information like saying there would be a big shipment arriving tomorrow or that there are illegal immigrants living in a building," says one officer. "As they can't do anything in those cases, we do."
The CNI, in turn, is thought to be receiving information that can assist in its inquiries into international Islamist terrorist groups or about organized criminal gangs, such as Chinese mafias smuggling drugs into Spain and operating extortion and kidnapping rackets.
While the CNI has turned to Spain's humble local cops for help, the Civil Guard and the National Police have yet to do so. "Both the Civil Guard and the National Police have often scoffed at the information in our databases and they've refused to let us access theirs, but they should know we can be of use in many investigations," says one local officer.
[El Pais / Luis Gomez / Expatica]