NYPD’S Terror Machine
April 30, 2007
Here is some of what little we know about the NYPD’s fight against terrorism.
Detectives from the Intelligence Division are based in more than half a dozen countries around the world. What we don’t know is what, if any, information they have discovered.
Seventeen hundred protestors were arrested at what the department saw as a potential terrorist target — the 2004 Republican National Convention. Virtually none were charged with felonies. Virtually all the charges were dismissed.
In 2003, Intelligence Division detectives conducted an out-of-state undercover operation to test if scuba shop operators on the Jersey shore were susceptible to terrorist bribes. When Jersey authorities discovered this, they ordered the NYPD detectives to leave the state.
Intelligence Division detectives infiltrated a group known as the Black Tea Society in Boston. Unknown to them, the Mass State Police had also infiltrated the group. They followed the NYPD detectives, stopped them on the Mass Pike for speeding, and nearly arrested them.
Recently, the Times reported that the department’s spying on non-violent protest groups before the RNC was so widespread it spanned the country and half the globe. The department maintained it only spied upon groups which planned violence at the convention. It is not known what evidence the department had to support its surveillance.
.A terrorist suspect the department helped convict was Pakiatani immigrant, Shawhawar Matin Siraj, whom the NYPD’s own $100,000 informant egged on to plan to bomb the Herald Square subway station on 34th Street. As a former deputy commissioner put it, “What did we accomplish here? A potential murderer is where he belongs, but how much are we [the NYPD] culpable for?”
In fairness, as Police Commissioner Ray Kelly has said, we cannot know how many terrorist plans the department has thwarted. On the few occasions Kelly has publicly touted specific terrorism accomplishments, he has run into trouble. In 2004, he praised the actions of NYPD detective, George Corey, for the arrest in London of Abu Hamsa. The head of the FBI’s New York office, Pat D’Amuro, responded by saying that the department’s public identification — including a photo -- of Corey had led to “security concerns” for him and his family.
The information Police Department officials released made it easy, with today's information technology, to find exactly where Corey lives and what his unlisted phone number is. The night of his outing, teams of reporters and photographers turned up at his door, upsetting his wife, who contacted police headquarters. Corey, who had been sent to London to testify at Abu Hamsa’s trial, was whisked home.
Last week the city, in lockstep with Kelly’s terrorism agenda, was in federal court, arguing that the department should have an expanded role in political surveillance
The department can spy on citizens even if they haven’t engaged in unlawful activity, the corporation counsel’s terrorism expert, Gail Donoghue said. There need be only “the potential” or the “possibility” of unlawful activity to justify an investigation.
People’s actions don’t have to be unlawful to warrant a department investigation of them because terrorist preparation can be lawful, she maintained. How terrorists prepare for an attack is often not unlawful, such as delivering materials that could be used in bombs.
Donoghue appeared before District Judge Charles S. Haight, who since 1985 has monitored what is known as the Handschu agreement regarding the NYPD and protected political activity.
Until 9/11, the Handschu agreement said the police could not investigate a political group unless it believes a crime has been or is about to be committed.
After 9/11, Kelly urged Haight to modify Handschu, giving the police department wider powers to investigate political groups. In 2002, Haight granted the department such powers. Since then, the department has been able to do virtually anything so long as it maintained there was a law enforcement purpose.
In February 2003, however, after thousands of demonstrators were arrested for protesting the impending Iraq war, detectives questioned 274 arrestees in their cells about who their friends were; where they attended school; what organizations they belonged to; what other demonstrations they had participated in; what they thought about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; what they thought about 9/11; and where they had been on September 11, 2001. Detectives wrote their answers on what they called a Demonstration Debriefing Form that was put into a police database.
Kelly — a graduate of St. John’s Law School — said he had ordered the Demonstration Debriefing Form discontinued and the database abandoned but he maintained that the detectives’ actions were legal and the questioning was a “debriefing” — part of the “arrest process.”
Haight had some choice words for Kelly over that. A pilot who returns from a mission is debriefed, Haight said. A defector is debriefed by agents. “These persons arrested were in police custody,” he said.
Haight then termed his earlier modification “improvident.” He subsequently announced he was modifying his modification, threatening officers with contempt if they violated a citizen’s rights.
Meanwhile, Kelly was expanding his terrorism intelligence-gathering, stationing detectives from the Intelligence Division overseas. At some point, his concerns about terrorism melded into concerns about disorder. He and Deputy Commissioner for Intelligence David Cohen viewed large “iconic” locations or demonstrations with national significance, such as the Republican National Convention in 2004, as targets of both. That is the reason the department investigated groups it felt might be linked to terrorism or that it said planned unlawful protests at the RNC. The public has never been told how or on what basis the department determined these groups.
In her court appearance last week, Donoghue argued that in modifying his Handschu modification, Haight had substituted himself for the Deputy Police Commissioner of Intelligence in interpreting what the Handschu guidelines mean and how they should be enforced.
Judging from Haight’s questions to her, he does not agree. Time will tell whether the department will provide the public with more information so that the public will not be view it as a terror unto itself.
“Specifically,” Collins wrote, “you have failed to establish or provide:
That you are a full-time employee of a news gathering organization covering spot or breaking news events on a regular basis, such as robbery scenes, fires, homicides, train wrecks, bombings, plain crashes where there are established police or fire lines.
That you have a demonstrable need to cover spot or breaking news events on a regular and routine basis, such as robbery scenes, fires homicides, train wrecks, bombings, plane crashes where there are established police or fire lines as a news person.
At least three  letters from previous media employees or one  letter from one  media employer indicating there were three  articles or photographs published within the twelve  months immediately preceding the application.”
Chris Dunn of the Civil Liberties Union, who represented me, had requested:
l. All documents relating to the department’s handling of my press passes requests for the last ten years. renewal.
2. Name and rank of everyone participating in the decision to deny my most recent application.
3. All police documents concerning me, including files maintained by DCPI, the Police Commissioner’s office or any other NYPD unit
4. Materials involving people with valid press passes, including documents submitted in applying and identifying the reasons the department issued a press pass to each person.
The department refused to provide any of them.
Copyright © 2007 Leonard Levitt