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Ted Cruz's Lying Eyes

April 4, 2016

It’s hard to find a more dishonest piece of rhetoric than Ted Cruz’s praise of the NYPD’s discredited, if not miscredited, Demographics Unit.

While his rival Donald Trump shoots from the hip and often doesn’t know what he’s talking about, Cruz’s misrepresentations about the Demographics Unit seem calculated for political effect.
Writing in a Daily News Op-Ed last week, the Texas Republican conflated New York City with the Brussels section of Molenbeek. Because of Belgium’s lax law enforcement, terrorist plots were hatched there and terrorists could seek sanctuary in the neighborhood.

Seeking to prevent that in New York City, former Police Commissioner Ray Kelly and David Cohen, a former CIA deputy director whom Kelly appointed Deputy Commissioner for Intelligence, created what Cruz described as “a counter-terrorism unit that tracked demographic trends … to provide investigators with important information about where terrorists might congregate and recruit.”

That was the Demographics Unit, a seven- or eight-officer group that Kelly’s spokesman Paul Browne denied ever existed.

Because Cohen made the unit so secretive, its mission has become a touchstone, representing whatever the beholder believes it to be. Some see the unit as inconsequential for having produced no arrests, Others view it as shorthand for the department’s entire spying operation.

No one in the department disputes the unit’s importance, at least in theory. It was, in perhaps the only accurate sentence in Cruz’s Op-Ed, a unit to map the city and describe the character of its Muslim neighborhoods — its mosques, schools, coffee houses and restaurants [although some of those descriptions of the restaurants devolved into little more than a Muslim Zagat’s guide.] 

One job it was not tasked to do was to generate leads.

Cruz, however, glommed on to one of the department’s greatest no-nothings, Mitchell Silber. A former civilian analyst, Silber claimed the unit was responsible for thwarting the Herald Square subway plot.

Silber, Cruz writes, “explained that the unit identified the Islamic Books and Tapes bookstores in Brooklyn as a venue for radicalization and ‘provided a predicate for an investigation that thwarted a 2004 plot against the Herald Square subway station.’”

Silber is the only NYPD official to claim the unit played such a role. In fact, in 2012, then Assistant Chief of the Intelligence Division Thomas Galati testified in a deposition that the Demographics Unit never produced a single lead that led to a terrorism investigation.

“I never made a lead … that came from a Demographics report, and I’m here since 2006,” Galati testified. “I don’t recall other ones prior to my arrival. Again, that’s always a possibility. I’m not aware of any.”

It may be a possibility but not a likely one, as the Herald Square bombing plot was one of the department’s most ballyhooed, if not more suspect, cases. So anxious were Kelly and Cohen to take credit that they kept the FBI out of the investigation until the department needed a federal warrant.

The arrest was announced on the eve of the 2004 Republican national convention, held at nearby Madison Square Garden. The suspected bomber was a Pakistani immigrant, Shahawar Matin Siraj, of borderline intelligence. Evidence revealed the NYPD had paid $100,000 to a confidential informant, who encouraged him in the plot. A co-defendant who had been in a psychiatric ward joined Siraj shortly after his release. Immediately after his arrest, he agreed to testify against Siraj. A jury rejected Siraj's entrapment defense and convicted him. He is serving a 30-year prison sentence.

As for the Demographics Unit, Kelly cut it back to two or three detectives after negative publicity, mostly from the Associated Press, which won a Pulitzer Prize for its reporting on the department’s spying on Muslims. Current Police Commissioner Bratton discontinued the unit, saying it was serving no useful purpose. Cruz, however, writes that he and Mayor Bill de Blasio abandoned it out of political correctness.

President Obama says journalists are not asking hard questions of politicians, in particular of Donald Trump. Speaking last week at a ceremony honoring longtime NY Times reporter Robin Toner, Obama said, “A job well done is about more than just handing someone a microphone.”

Well, ever since the shooting death of Laquan McDonald by Chicago police, reporters have been handing Obama the microphone.

The President was quick to lament the shooting death of Trayvon Martin in Florida and the fatal police shootings of unarmed black men in other cities across the country. Of McDonald’s 2014 shooting, Obama pronounced himself “deeply disturbed.”

But why has he never addressed the controversy involving his former chief of staff, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who for 13 months refused to release a video of the shooting to allegedly boost his mayoral chances in a tight election?

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