By BRIAN STELTER
NBC News, which teamed up with local police officers to trap sex offenders for its successful but scandalous “To Catch a Predator” series, is now using similar tactics to hunt bigger game: war criminals.
But one of the first efforts, an investigation of a Maryland college professor on genocide charges, is already attracting criticism from federal officials months before the program would be broadcast.
For more than a year, NBC has been investigating the possible perpetrators of human rights abuses in several countries, but the case of Leopold Munyakazi, a visiting professor of French at Goucher College in Towson, Md., is the only one that has become public.
In December, an NBC crew and a Rwandan prosecutor confronted Mr. Munyakazi with charges that he had participated in that country’s genocide in 1994.
Reached by telephone on Tuesday evening, Mr. Munyakazi vigorously denied the allegations.
“I have never participated in genocide. I saved a number of people,” said Mr. Munyakazi.
The Department of Homeland Security said it had significant concerns “that a program of this kind could negatively impact law enforcement’s ability to investigate and bring cases against the perpetrators of these horrible crimes.” The Justice Department had no comment about the professor’s case.
Mr. Munyakazi is one of at least four subjects that NBC News producers focused on in apparent cooperation with the Rwandan government. Some human rights advocates are objecting to NBC’s investigation, alleging that the evidence of war crimes is insufficient and the collaboration with a foreign government prosecutor is suspect ethically.
Kenneth Roth, the executive director of Human Rights Watch, said in an interview on Tuesday that he had called the general counsel of NBC Universal to raise concerns about the project.
“I was worried that a journalist was making false accusations, due to some extent to his close collaboration with the Rwandan government,” Mr. Roth said.
NBC News characterized its investigation of “alleged war criminals and terrorists living in the United States and elsewhere” as an independent one.
“Any contact with foreign governments has been consistent with acceptable journalistic practices,” NBC News the news division said in a statement. “Beyond that, it is our policy not to comment on our news gathering.” NBC said the programs are months away from a broadcast date.
Mr. Munyakazi was suspended in December as the university investigated the claims and was arrested last week for overstaying his visa. He will face a deportation hearing in April.
On Dec. 9, an NBC film crew began shooting on the Goucher campus and set up an interview with the college’s president, Sanford J. Ungar, for the next day. At that meeting, Mr. Ungar said he “listened in disbelief” as a Rwandan official shared the details of an indictment calling for Mr. Munyakazi’s arrest.
That same day, the NBC producers showed Kate Pipkin, the director of communications for the college, a short video clip of a person making claims about Mr. Munyakazi’s alleged crimes.
“I think they wanted it to be an ambush, to be frank,” Ms. Pipkin said.
Later that day, the producers approached Mr. Munyakazi in his classroom after students had left. Confronted with cameras and microphones, he rejected the requests for an on-camera interview. “They were hostile toward me,” he said.
The apparent cooperation between NBC and the Rwandan official, Jean Bosco Mutangana, puts the network at odds with many journalism practitioners, including Mr. Ungar, who is a former host of National Public Radio’s “All Things Considered,” who argue that journalists should work independently of any governmental entity.
Mr. Ungar said in an interview that the Rwandan prosecutor’s presence was unusual when the camera crew visited the campus in December. “If the prosecutor has evidence or has concerns he wants to present, why is he doing it in the company of NBC News?” he asked.
He added later, “I don’t think it was the prosecutor’s idea. I don’t think he sat in Kigali and said, ‘Hmm, what would be the best way for me to achieve justice? I think I’ll call NBC and ask them.’ ”
Mr. Munyakazi arrived in the United States in 2004 on a visitor’s visa to attend a conference in Atlanta. Since then, he has been applying for asylum.
With the help of the Scholar Rescue Fund, which supports professors at risk in their home countries, Mr. Munyakazi worked as a visiting scholar at Montclair State University in New Jersey before moving to Goucher last fall. His contract with Goucher expires in June.
While at Montclair State, Mr. Munyakazi disputed the Rwandan government’s position about the 1994 genocide in a speech. A month later, the government prepared an indictment against him. “They are hunting everybody who disagrees with their politics,” he said.
Mr. Ungar said Goucher was unaware of the indictment until NBC News arrived on the campus in December. He then contacted Alison Des Forges, a senior adviser at Human Rights Watch, who said she was skeptical about the evidence against Mr. Munyakazi.
“It seemed to me really highly unusual for a national prosecutor in one country to enter another country without official clearance and to accompany a TV crew in order to basically catch people unaware,” she said.
NBC is likely to bristle at any comparisons between the current investigation and the series of sex predator stings that it conducted in the last few years. But the “To Catch a Predator” series was also predicated on confrontations and the element of surprise.
The episodes attracted big audiences for the “Dateline NBC” newsmagazine as they worked with the police to expose people who had set up visits on the Internet with what they believed to be children. Kelly McBride, the ethics group leader for the Poynter Institute, a nonprofit journalism foundation, said “Predator” ignored traditional journalistic standards about independence.
“It’s a classic case where a news organization teamed up with a special interest that had an agenda,” she said. For “Predator” stings, NBC worked with local law enforcement and a group called Perverted Justice. By collaborating with prosecutors for the war criminal reports, the network may be returning to the same ethical minefield.
“As journalists, we struggle to keep an arm’s length from all sorts of officials, whether they’re cops or prosecutors or diplomats,” Ms. McBride said. “Because it’s really important that our audience view us as independent — not carrying water for someone else.”