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What is the LEIU?

Download a pdf version of the LEIU Fact Sheet to hand out

LEIU Welcoming Committee:

Upcoming LEIU Training Conference

June 2-6, 2003 at Red Lion Hotel on 5th Ave, 
Downtown Seattle

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Tom Ridge, director of the new Homeland Security Department, is the invited keynote speaker.  Title of keynote address: 

The criminal intelligence process and its effectiveness among all levels of law enforcement, the military and the private sector since September 11

Topics include:

  • International Terrorism 
  • Bioterrorism
  • LEIU Database/RISSNET
  • Criminal Protest Groups
  • Domestic Terrorism Left and Right
  • Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs
Sponsors of the conference include, but are not limited to: Accurint, Microsoft, Starbucks, Pemco, ChoicePoint, 7-Eleven, Isomedia, Boeing, and Albertson’s.

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Law Enforcement Intelligence Unit 

What is the LEIU?

The LEIU is a loosely-associated group of law enforcement and intelligence officers, whose private network of affiliations allows information to be shared between agencies.  It was created in 1956 by the California Department of Justice.  It first included representatives of 26 law enforcement agencies from seven western states but now includes more than 250 police forces from the United States, Canada, Australia, South Africa, Mexico and Great Britain. 

The original format of LEIU information was hundreds of 5 x 8" index cards distributed to member police agencies.  Each card listed, among other data, the individual's name, alias, occupation, family members, vehicles, associates, arrests, modus operandi, and physical traits. The subject of a card may be a person suspected of a specific crime; a person suspected of aiding, directly or indirectly, those involved in organized crime; or a person who is "associated" with a principal suspect. "Associates" might be individuals entirely innocent of crime, including family members, business associates, or attorneys of the principal suspects (3). This data has since been computerized, using federal funds (4).

What is the purpose of the LEIU?

 "The [official] main purpose of this organization, which is a voluntary confederation of police agencies, is to exchange information on organized crime and certain criminals." (1)  The unofficial purpose was to establish a national criminal intelligence network independent of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, whose agents frequently refused to share information with local law enforcement officers (2).

Why should I be concerned?

  • The information is frequently wrong
The federal General Accounting Office found that only a small percent of the information recorded on the LEIU cards could be completely documented.  Auditors expressed concern that "the grantee has not yet effected either its promised verification of index information or its promised elimination of outdated and inaccurate data." (4).
  • They don’t just monitor organized crime
Topics at the 1962 training meeting in San Francisco included "police intelligence units' role in securing information concerning protest groups, demonstrations, and mob violence," (FBI summary).  Representatives from Immigration and Naturalization Service, the U.S. department of Labor, the Pacific Gas and Electric Company, and several military investigative units were present (2).

A 1974 suit filed against the Chicago Police Department by the Alliance to End Repression revealed that LEIU files were kept "on a University of Washington profession; a teacher of the Republican of New Africa, a southern black separate movement; a member of the Black Panther party; a member of the Communist Party and members of the American Indian Movement." (5)

A 1979 investigation of LEIU by the Detroit Board of Police Commissioners found that many LEIU subject cards contained information on persons "not apparently related to criminal activities." (2)  "Among the subjects catalogued in LEIU files have been minority, labor and community organizers, many with no criminal records." (6) 

In 1991, investigative author Frank Donner's book, Protectors of Privilege: Red Squads and Police Repression in Urban America, documented political repression practiced by urban police.  Donner described the LEIU as a private organization which served as a conduit for information and technology and may also have helped local departments evade restrictions on their intelligence gathering (7)

A May 10, 1993 San Francisco Chronicle article revealed how local police secretly use the LEIU to preserve intelligence files that are supposed to be destroyed. (8)

Isn’t that illegal?

Yes.  There are local, state, and federal laws that restrict the circumstances under which police and other law enforcement officials can gather and disseminate intelligence on political activists, organizers, and protesters.  However, the LEIU is viewed as a private organization, even though it is composed of law enforcement agencies that use tax dollars to pay LEIU dues and fees.  Therefore, the LEIU is not subject to governmental oversight or the Freedom of Information Act.

In 1982, the ACLU Foundation of Northern California sued the California Department of Justice.  Under the California Public Records Act, modeled after the Freedom of Information Act, the ACLU sued to gain access to the DOJ’s LEIU index cards.  The trial court found in favor of the ACLU.  But the California Supreme Court found that the burden of separating exempt from non-exempt information before handing the cards over to the ACLU was too great, and ruled in favor of the State (3).

Is the Seattle Police Department involved with the LEIU?

Yes. The Seattle Municipal Code Chapter 14.12 sets out regulations to "permit the collection and recording of information for law enforcement purposes, so long as these police activities do not unreasonably: (a) infringe upon individual rights, liberties, and freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution of the United States or of the State -- including, among others, the freedom of speech, press, association, and assembly; liberty of conscience; the exercise of religion; and the right to petition government for redress of grievances; or (b) violate an individual's right to privacy. This ordinance is not intended to protect criminal activity." (SMC 14.12.010 Statement of purpose).  (9)

Subsection 14.12.020 states that, "No person shall become the subject of the collection of information on account of a lawful exercise of a constitutional right or civil liberty; no information shall be collected upon a person who is active in politics or community affairs, unless under the same or similar circumstances the information would be collected upon another person who did not participate actively in politics or community affairs." SMC 14.12.020 Policies, Subsection A.

The ordinance also provides for "in-place audit of Department files and records at  unscheduled intervals not to exceed one hundred eighty (180) days since the last audit" (SMC 14.12.330  Audit Procedures and Standards).

Unfortunately, the Auditor does not have access to "Files maintained exclusively for confidential criminal information regarding organized criminal activity received by the Department through membership in the Law Enforcement Intelligence Unit (LEIU)" (Section 14.12.320 Limitations on the Auditor).  These files are audited by the chief of the Seattle Police Department and are maintained separately from other SPD department files (subsection C3). 

The Chief submits a report to the City, which includes "a description of each type of document audited without disclosing its contents, the number of each type of document audited, the number of documents received from LEIU,…and the number of documents received from designated LEIU…representatives. The Chief's report shall also include a current set of bylaws for LEIU…. The Mayor shall certify the report as the final audit to the City Council, the City Attorney, and the City Clerk for filing as a public record" (subsection D). The most recent report, for the audit completed July 25, 2002, states that the SPD has 10,977 LEIU subject entries, those dealing with the identification of criminal subjects and criminally oriented associates (Clerk File No. 305363).

The Seattle City Council is aware of the interaction between the Seattle Police Department and LEIU because they must approve the filing of the SPD Chief’s report each year (Clerk File No. 305363, 304973, etc.).  This has been happening in some form at least since 1983 (10).

American Civil Liberties Union v. LEIU
Summary of the ACLU suit against the California DOJ in an attempt to obtain the LEIU files.


(1) "Intelligence Systems – L.E.I.U. - An Early System" Police Chief, 1971, pp. 30

(2) http://sf.indymedia.org/news/2003/03/1585374.php

(3) American Civil Liberties Union Foundation v. Deukmejian, 32 Cal.3d 440 [S.F. No. 24207. Supreme Court of California. September 27, 1982.]

(4) "Interstate Organized Crime Index", published by the US Comptroller General, 1979 (see Abstract number 58026 in the National Criminal Justice Reference Service database http://abstractsdb.ncjrs.org/content/AbstractsDB_Search.asp

(5) Bill Richards, "U.S.-Funded Police Unit Spied on Activists, Documents Show" The Washington Post, September 22, 1978 p.A24.

(6) David Kaplan, California's Center for Investigative Reporting, 1985

(7) Monthly Review, November 1991

(8) Bill Wallace, "Experts Say Police Files Are Kept by Private Groups Nationwide." The San Francisco Chronicle, May 10 
1993, pg.A6.  Also, 20 Years of Censored News (1997) by Carl Jensen and Project Censored (LEIU nominated for Censored in 1978)

(9) City Ordinances and Seattle Municipal Code can be searched at http://clerk.ci.seattle.wa.us/~public/clrkhome.htm

(10) The Comptroller Files/Clerk Files can be searched at http://clerk.ci.seattle.wa.us/~public/cfcf1.htm

Compiled by Not In Our Name, Seattle Chapter
Last updated April 27, 2003


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