NYPD Confidential - An Inside Look at the New York Police Department
Home Page
All Columns
Contact Leonard Levitt
Search this site
Printable versionSend to a friendEmail Leonard Levitt

The Spoils of Spying

January 8, 2012

Now that the Associate Press investigation of the NYPD’s widespread spying on the city’s Muslims has apparently run its course, what’s been the result?

The city’s Muslim communities have reacted with anger and distrust. Several Muslim leaders boycotted Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s annual interfaith breakfast and about 500 Muslims demonstrated outside Police Plaza, protesting the spying, the first Muslim demonstration of its kind.

But much of the city’s establishment — from Mayor Bloomberg to Congressman Peter King, from former U.S. Attorney Michael Mukasey to the editorial boards of the New York Post and the Daily News — have derided the AP series as “smearing” the NYPD, as King put it.

Instead, the AP should be praised by all New Yorkers for casting a much-needed spotlight on what appears to be a police department running amok and operating with no outside safeguards or oversight when it comes to supposedly protecting us from the city’s Muslims.

A secret 2006 Intelligence Division document, marked “law enforcement sensitive” and provided to this reporter after the AP’s first article last August, contains details about the scope and mindset of the NYPD’s spymasters that haven’t been disclosed before.

Replete with law enforcement jargon, the document refutes Police spokesman Paul Browne’s denial of the very existence of the NYPD’s “Demographics Unit” that spied on Muslims — exactly as the AP had claimed.

The document also appears to refute claims by Police Commissioner Ray Kelly that in its spying, the NYPD “only follows leads.”

Instead, the document instructs officers to collect an array of information that appears unrelated to criminal activity.

Equally important, the document suggests a disconnect between the aims of the spying program and what it has delivered.

In trying to save us from the next 9/11, the spying appears to have corralled misguided losers who lack the brains or willpower to plot terrorist acts without the heavy hand of well-financed NYPD informants.

Under the heading, “Our Program,” the document says that the NYPD “has developed a comprehensive intelligence collection capability. Intelligence drives our operations and is kept separate from our criminal investigations.”

Under the heading, “Our Philosophy,” the document states, “To understand radicalization as it develops, the police must have an in-depth knowledge of the community. NYPD plays ‘zone defense,’ not ‘man to man.’”

And under the heading, “Maximizing Interviews,” it advises, “Emphasis is on intelligence collection, not criminal investigation.”

These passages suggest that the NYPD is compiling information about people that doesn’t necessarily relate to criminal activity. How does this square with Kelly’s assertion that police officers are only following leads? What kinds of leads is he talking about?

The same concerns arise from another phrase from “Our Program” that states: “Local law enforcement is best suited to identifying extremism at the street level.”

Does this not suggest that the NYPD is turning beat cops into spies?

Under the heading, “Maximizing Interviews,” the document stated: “An Interview Team with appropriate language and cultural knowledge maximizes intelligence collection. The team operates Citywide, following up on leads, etc.”

Under the heading, “Field Collectors,” is the following sentence, which appears to be an example of the NYPD casting a wide net, monitoring the daily life of Muslims rather than focusing on specific suspects: “Assets operate as ‘listening posts’ observing activity in the field.”

Listening posts? Isn’t that another word for spies?

Under the heading, “Hercules Program,” the document says: “Tactical units armed with heavy weapons, supported by Canine, Highway and Intel Units, appear to be randomly deployed but are directed by precise intelligence to strategic locations.”

Although the department says it is following “precise intelligence to strategic locations,” how can anyone be sure?

Under the heading “Field Intelligence Officers,” the document says a goal is to “identify intelligence and criminal trends, which may enable terrorism, at the local level.”

Leonard Levitt's new book, NYPD Confidential: Power and Corruption in the Country's Greatest Police Force, will be out in stores July 21. Preorder it today by clicking on the book at right.

Under the heading “Case Teams,” it says that “When Intelligence has reached the threshold of an investigation it is handed to the Case Teams. This is to keep intelligence collection independent from the distraction of investigations.”

Does this not suggest a massive collection of dossiers?

Finally, in black and white, under the heading, “The Demographics Unit,” are listed the procedures for a unit that police brass told the public didn’t exist.

Under the sub-heading, “Community Knowledge as a Foundation,” the document said that the Demographics Unit “identified and mapped ethnic residential concentrations within the Tri-State area,” and “identified and mapped ethnic Areas of Concern.”

At least to this reporter, that sounds like a census of all New Yorkers who happen to be Muslim, not just those who may be dangerous.

The document added that the Demographic Unit “monitors current events and investigations and pulses the identified Areas of concern as appropriate.”

It also offers this advice: “Understanding the fabric of your community is the starting point for identifying extremism. … Officers develop a familiarity with local restaurants, coffee shops, houses of worship, etc,” and concludes: “Regular interaction with the community allows one to gauge sentiment.”

In the department’s best-publicized cases that have emerged from this spying, the suspects all seem to be people with mental problems, susceptible to being talked into plotting terrorism by well-paid informants.

In 2004, the NYPD charged a Pakistani immigrant, Shahawar Matin Siraj, with plotting to blow up the Herald Square subway stop on the eve of the Republican National Convention, held that year at Madison Square Garden. The department did not inform the FBI of their investigation until 48 hours before the indictment when police needed a federal warrant.

Siraj was convicted in federal court in Brooklyn and sentenced to 30 years in prison. At his trial he appeared to this reporter to be slow-witted.

A co-defendant, James Elshafay, described himself at the trial as schizophrenic and said he spent time in a psychiatric ward. Shortly after his release, he said he plotted with Siraj. Immediately after his arrest, he agreed to testify against Siraj.

Evidence at the trial also revealed that the NYPD had paid an informant $100,000 to egg Siraj on with the plot.

Last March, the NYPD arrested two Queens men, an Algerian native, Ahmed Ferhani, and the Moroccan-born Mohamed Mamdouh, charging they were “lone wolf” terrorists who planned to blow up a synagogue in Manhattan and kill Jews.

Their lawyers, Elizabeth Fink and Lamis Deek, maintained that the NYPD was aware that both their clients had histories of mental problems.

The Joint Terrorist Task Force — which is staffed by FBI agents and NYPD detectives under the leadership of the FBI — refused to take the case. FBI sources said the Bureau distrusted the NYPD’s undercover detective who investigated the two men.

The two were indicted in state, not federal court, but grand jurors refused to indict them on the top terrorism charge — that they had plotted to blow up the synagogue with people inside. Instead, the grand jury indicted them on a lesser charge — that they planned to blow it up when it was empty.

Last November, the NYPD arrested another so-called lone-wolf terrorist, Jose Pimentel, and charged him with making a bomb directed at police and army targets in retaliation for the killing of the American-born, radical Muslim cleric Anwar Al-Awlaki.

Again, the JTTF refused to take the case, questioning the actions of the police informant, who smoked marijuana with Pimentel and helped Pimentel build the bomb in the informant’s apartment.

Kelly announced the arrest at a City Hall news conference with Bloomberg and Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance, who has yet to indict Pimentel.

Could the reason be that grand jurors are hesitating over the terrorism charges against him?

(To be continued.)

« Back to top

Copyright © 2012 Leonard Levitt