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Targeting Muslims: Does Anyone Care?

September 26, 2011

Where’s the outrage? Where’s the concern? Where’s the lawsuit?

For the past month, the Associated Press [with an assist from NYPD Confidential] has spotlighted a secret NYPD spying operation that targets hundreds of Muslim mosques, schools, businesses, student groups, non-governmental organizations and individuals.

It seems no exaggeration to say that the NYPD has infiltrated every level of Muslim life in NYC.

Last week, the AP described how the NYPD has spied on the city’s Moroccan communities.

The police watched Moroccan restaurants, gyms, barbershops, meat markets and taxi companies — and compiled a list of every known Moroccan taxi driver, the AP reported.

Dubbed the “The Moroccan Initiative,” this police operation placed both Moroccan immigrants and Moroccan-Americans “under surveillance and scrutinized where they ate, prayed and worked, not because of charges of wrongdoing but because of their ethnicity,” the AP said.

The Intelligence Division’s Demographics Unit assembled all this information so that if police received a tip about a Moroccan terrorist, officers would know details of the community, the AP said.

Authorities need evidence or mere suspicion of criminality before they can legally spy on people or groups, much less unleash a unit of the NYPD on an entire community. Such widespread NYPD spying on a particular ethnic group without such evidence or suspicion is probably against the law.

So what has been the response to this ethnic profiling and possible law-breaking?

Let’s start with the city’s newspapers. Unless we missed some two-paragraph item on page 85 somewhere, no paper has written a story about this sweeping police action.

Both the News and the Post have published editorials, however, supporting the police.

“New Yorkers understand that counter-terror folks need to be aggressive about pre-empting attacks to protect them,” said the Post. “Survival Comes First.”

Said the Daily News after the AP’s Moroccan Initiative story: “The Associated Press has added, unintentionally, to its flattering profile of the NYPD’s anti-terror squad with a report on how a first-rate intelligence unit does business.”

The New York Times is as yet silent, as though pondering whether or how to report an obviously important story.

Judging from readers’ on-line responses, New Yorkers largely agree with the tabloids’ pro-police editorials, believing that anything the NYPD does to prevent another terrorist attack is justified.

Even an unnamed Moroccan New Yorker whom the AP interviewed implied that the NYPD tactics seemed relatively benign. “In Morocco, the police just come and take you away,” he said.

Police Commissioner Ray Kelly, who enjoys sky-high popularity with New Yorkers, has maintained that the department’s pervasive spying on Muslims has thwarted other terrorist attacks.

Maybe that’s true. Maybe that isn’t.

A major reason for this ignorance is the lack of outside scrutiny and supervision of the NYPD, which might allow the public, including the city’s public officials, to assess the spy operation’s effectiveness — and its legality.

While the courts are supposed to monitor the police spying under the so-called “Handschu agreement,” its guidelines are difficult to understand.

The rulings of Federal Judge Charles Haight, who supervises the Handschu agreement, have been so convoluted that no one can understand them either.

And don’t expect any enlightenment from Mayor Michael Bloomberg. His only comment on the subject has been to compare terrorism to measles.

Is Bloomberg aware of the NYPD’s pervasive spying on Muslims? Or has he made a political decision to remain ignorant so that he will not be held accountable?

City Councilman Peter Vallone, who heads the Council’s Public Safety Committee, says Kelly briefs him privately on the department’s anti-terrorism activities. In a telephone interview last week, he said that he was “aware in general” of the NYPD’s Moroccan Initiative and said that the police “were doing what needs to be done.”

But it’s hard to accept the department’s claims that such spying has thwarted other terrorist attacks when Kelly’s spokesman, Deputy Commissioner Paul Browne, has been caught in at least two lies about it.

 
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First, Browne denied the existence of the Demographics Unit. [An Intelligence Division document that specifically lists this unit was posted in last week’s NYPD Confidential.]

Browne also said that officers only follow criminal leads when investigating terrorism, a claim belied by the NYPD’s own documents, which detail the sweeping nature of its spying despite no indication of criminality.

Neither Browne nor anyone else in the department’s Public Information office responded to this reporter’s email, asking Browne whether he had deliberately lied or had been mislead.

It’s also hard to accept the NYPD’s justifications for the spying, given the troubling questions about the only anti-terrorism case the NYPD initiated and developed entirely on its own.

That highly publicized case led to the conviction of Pakistani-American Shahawar Matin Siraj, a man of apparently limited intelligence who was convicted of plotting to blow up the Herald Square subway station on the eve of the Republican National Convention in 2004.

Siraj, who worked in a Bay Ridge bookstore, was recorded over several months by a well-paid police informant, Osama Eldawoody.

Testimony at the trial revealed the NYPD paid Eldawoody $100,000 to egg Siraj on. Whether Siraj, who is currently serving a 30-year prison sentence for the crime, had the wit to carry out such a plot by himself remains an open question.


ACADEMIC SILENCE. Meanwhile, NYPD spies have been busy throughout the City University system.

NYPD Confidential has previously reported that the police infiltrated Muslim Student Associations at Brooklyn, Baruch, City, Hunter, Queens and LaGuardia colleges.

The NYPD sent undercover officers to spy on student groups at Baruch and Brooklyn College and used operatives called “secondary” undercovers at City College, Hunter, Queens and LaGuardia, according to Intelligence Division documents.

Police documents called two Brooklyn College students “Persons of Interest,” one of whom “expressed desire to be a suicide bomber in Pakistan.”

The NYPD documents also cited a Brooklyn College lecturer, described as a “2nd generation American of Pakistani lineage; Computer Science Degree from Baruch University; strong following among young Muslims in NYC. … Following 7/7 London attacks, subject stated “we Muslims do not condemn terrorism…”

In describing Baruch College’s Muslim Student Association, the NYPD said that “students are politically active and are radicalizing.”

At Hunter, the police also claimed to find “radicalization of students.”

What has been to the response to the campus spying of City University officials? While the Brooklyn College Faculty Council has condemned it, there has been silence higher up the educational and political chain.

Asked whether Kelly had briefed him on the City University spying, Vallone said, “I was not aware of the activity — I don’t want to call it spying — at the City University.”

Your Humble Servant posed the following questions to City University Chancellor Matthew Goldstein: Does Goldstein condone/support the police spying at the city universities? Did he know about it? Did the police inform him? If not, does he feel he should have been informed? Does he feel he should be informed in the future?

His response, through City University Director of Communications Michael Arena, stated: “The University believes that its academic communities have every right to express their concerns. In this matter, since the colleges were not consulted and have indicated no knowledge on the subject, it would be inappropriate to make speculative comments.”

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Copyright © 2011 Leonard Levitt