NEW YORK - A 2004 pre-election operation aimed at disrupting potential terrorist plots focused on more than 2,000 immigrants from mostly Muslim countries, but most were found to have done nothing wrong, according to newly disclosed government data. Some of them, however, were deported for overstaying their visas, The New York Times said in a front-page report. There was no word of a similar operation before next week's presidential election. Human rights activists questioned the propriety of the programme, saying it amounted to profiling. The US Department of Homeland Security conducted the programme and emphasised that its investigations were "without regard to race, ethnicity or religion." However, records showed that 79 percent of the suspects were from Muslim-majority countries, the Times said. The documents show that more than 2,500 foreigners in the United States were sought as "priority leads" in the fall of 2004 because of suspicions that they could present threats to national security in the months before the presidential election and the inauguration. Some of those foreigners were detained and ultimately deported because they had overstayed their visas, but many were in this country legally, and the vast majority were not charged. A sampling of 300 cases turned over by federal officials showed that none of those interrogated were charged with national security offences. Fewer than one in five were charged, most of them with immigration violations.  A spokesman for Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Richard Rocha, who was contacted by the newspaper, was quoted as saying, "Due to ongoing litigation, ICE is not at liberty to provide any comment." Officials said they were not aware of any similar programs now under way.  "This was profiling," said Michael Wishnie, a professor at Yale Law School who helped lead the research effort. He added that the findings raised questions about both the effectiveness and the propriety of the programme. "The resources devoted to this were enormous," he said, "but the results clearly were not." The issue of ethnic profiling in counter terrorism programmes has taken on added significance because of new Justice Department guidelines that go into effect Dec 1 and give investigators even broader authority to open terrorism investigations without evidence of wrongdoing, The Times said. The American Civil Liberties Union and other rights groups argue that the new guidelines will allow federal investigators to make targets of Muslims, Middle Easterners and others without evidence of links to terrorist groups. After the attacks of Sept 11, 2001, the administration began a series of efforts that strained relations with Muslims and Arab-Americans in particular. The detention of more than 700 illegal immigrants as terrorism suspects - often for months at a time without lawyers - generated a blistering report from the Justice Department on the "unduly harsh" treatment of the prisoners, the is patch pointed out. Follow-up efforts in 2002 and 2003 led to the questioning of thousands of Muslims and Middle Easterners as well as measures requiring that immigrants from some countries register their presence with federal authorities. Kareem Shora, national executive director of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, said he considered the findings a "slap in the face" because they contradicted the claims of American officials. "It is very disappointing to see that despite all the reassurances that they were not profiling people, this comes out," Shora said. With nearly 80 percent of the targets in the 2004 operation coming from Muslim nations, he asked, "how can you tell us you're not focusing on people from these countries?"