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The Education of Judge Haight
November 7, 2016
Whether federal judge Charles Haight recommended significant changes or merely tweaked a recent settlement limiting NYPD spying of Muslims, one thing is clear: Haight doesn’t trust the department.
The department line is that Haight bought the argument by NYPD Inspector General Philip Eure that the agency failed to follow guidelines in closing some cases. But Haight has distrusted the NYPD for more than a decade — ever since former Commissioner Ray Kelly and his spymaster David Cohen misled him into easing longtime strictures on the department.
In February 2003, a year and a half after 9/11, Haight accepted Cohen’s argument that a “criminal predicate” was no longer necessary to monitor or infiltrate Muslim organizations. In his 39-page decision, Haight agreed with Cohen that the guidelines hampered the department’s surveillance of mosques that Cohen said were frequented by terrorists. [See NYPD Confidential, Feb.12, 2003.]
Within six months, Haight realized he had made a terrible mistake and restored the strictures he had lifted. The reason: That same February, police interrogated 274 arrested anti-Iraq war protesters about their friends, the colleges they attended, what organizations they belonged to, whether they had traveled to the Middle East, what political party they belonged to and why they had protested. Their responses were entered into what the department called a “demonstration debriefing form.”
When Kelly and Cohen denied knowledge — and covered it up by forcing the retirement of the Intelligence Division’s top chief, John Cutter — Haight saw through it and called their claims “a two-level display of operational ignorance on the part of the NYPD’s highest officials.” He evoked the famed “Casablanca” movie scene in which Claude Rains says he is “shocked” that gambling goes on at Rick’s Café, as a croupier hands him his winnings. [See NYPD Confidential, May 29, 2003.]
By then, it was too late. Kelly said Haight’s ruling would “not change any modification [of the guidelines] made by the judge.” Kelly added: “For me, the important thing is that modification … continues to stand.”
With Mayor Michael Bloomberg turning a blind eye, Kelly and Cohen turned the NYPD’s Intelligence Division into a mini-CIA.
When a small plane piloted by Yankee baseball player Cory Lidle accidentally crashed on the Upper East Side in 2006, the department instructed its undercovers and informants in at least five mosques and Islamic Centers to gauge reaction to the crash, in search of a terrorism link. At the Masjid At-Taqwa Mosque in Brooklyn, a confidential police informant reported that a congregant seemed upset by the news of the crash. The police then moved to get a record of his phone calls. “Phone dumps will be conducted of subject’s phone for that day and time period,” stated an Intelligence Division document. [See NYPD Confidential, Mar 5, 2012.]
In 2008, the NYPD launched its “Somali Project,” spying on the small Somali community in upstate Buffalo despite the department’s liaison in Western New York, Erie County Undersheriff Richard Donovan’s saying he was unaware of crime trends attributed to Somalis in the Buffalo area.
An Intelligence Division captain, lieutenant and sergeant spent over a year, conducting “vehicle surveillance” of five Somali locations that appeared to be mosques. “New license plate information [NJ registration] as obtained of a new vehicle observed at a subject location and photos taken,” their report said. [See NYPD Confidential, Feb. 27, 2012.]
On Sept, 5, 2011, NYPD Confidential published a secret Intelligence Division document, revealing that the NYPD had targeted Muslims in New York City. It had used undercover agents or informants to infiltrate and compile information on 250 mosques, 12 Islamic schools, 31 Muslim student associations and 263 places it called “ethnic hotspots,” such as businesses and restaurants. It also catalogued 138 Muslims as “persons of interest.” Police identified 53 mosques, four Islamic schools and seven Muslim student organizations as institutions “of concern.” They identified 42 individuals as top tier “persons of interest.” At least 32 mosques were infiltrated either by undercover agents or informants or both.
As Haight put it in rejecting the current settlement, the NYPD has shown a “systemic inclination” to ignore rules and is “accustomed to disregarding” court orders.
Copyright © 2016 Leonard Levitt