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| AMP Report – September 6, 2011
NYPD spied on 250-plus mosques, Muslim groups
The New York Police Department collected intelligence on more than 250 mosques and Muslim student groups in and around New York, often using undercover officers and informants to canvass the Islamic population of America’s largest city, according to officials and confidential, internal documents obtained by The Associated Press and published by New York Times.
The documents, many marked “secret,” highlight how the past decade’s hunt for terrorists also put huge numbers of innocent people under scrutiny as they went about their daily lives in mosques, businesses and social groups, the AP report said.
The documents appear at times at odds with the White House’s newly released policy on combating violent extremism. That document discourages authorities from casting suspicion on communities or conflating strong religious views with violent extremism. The White House has declined to comment on the NYPD’s clandestine programs but has applauded its counterterrorism efforts.
An AP investigation last month revealed that the department maintains a list of “ancestries of interest” that it uses to focus its clandestine efforts. A secret team known as the Demographics Unit then dispatched plainclothes officers into the community to eavesdrop in cafes and chat up business owners.
That effort has benefited from federal money and an unusually close relationship with the CIA, one that at times blurred the lines between domestic and foreign intelligence-gathering.
After identifying more than 250 area mosques, police officials determined the “ethnic orientation, leadership and group affiliations,” according to the 2006 police documents. Police also used informants and teams of plainclothes officers, known as rakers, to identify mosques requiring further scrutiny, according to an official involved in that effort, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the program.
Armed with that information, police then identified 53 “mosques of concern” and placed undercover officers and informants there, the documents show.
Many of those mosques were flagged for allegations of criminal activity, such as alien smuggling, financing Hamas or money laundering. Others were identified for having ties to Salafism, a hardline movement preaching a strict version of Islamic law. Still others were identified for what the documents refer to as “rhetoric.”
Other reasons are less clear, according to the AP report which also said:
“Two mosques, for instance, were flagged for having ties to Al-Azhar, the 1,000-year-old Egyptian mosque that is the pre-eminent institute of Islamic learning in the Sunni Muslim world. Al-Azhar was one of the first religious institutions to condemn the 2001 terrorist attacks. President George W. Bush’s close adviser, Karen Hughes, visited Al-Azhar in 2005 and applauded its courage.
“Al-Azhar was also a sponsor of Obama’s 2009 speech reaching out to the Muslim world.
“New York police identified 263 “hot spots” throughout the city, the documents show. Like the mosques, the examples of hot spots ranged from businesses that sold untaxed cigarettes and where inflammatory rhetoric was overheard to those with less obvious criminal connections.
“Police also kept tabs on seven of the area’s Muslim student associations, defined in the documents as “a university-based student group, with an Islamic focus, involved with religious and political activities.” Two were flagged for having Salafi speakers. One was cited for having students who are “politically active and are radicalizing.” [New York Times – Sept. 6, 2011]
The Long Life of Profiling, Ten Years After 9/11
The Nation on Sept. 6, 2011 published an article – titled The Long Life of Profiling, Ten Years After 9/11 – which said that the Associated Press has been doing some good investigative reporting lately. The paper said, on August 24, the AP broke the news that the CIA and the NYPD are combining forces to spy on Muslims in New York City. Since the CIA is prohibited by law to collect intelligence on American citizens, this is more than newsworthy. It’s probably unconstitutional, which explains why the NYPD has, according to the report, kept these activities secret. This is no ordinary program, nor does it seem to be merely about sharing expertise.
According to the report, the NYPD dispatches “rakers,” the NYPD term, into a “human mapping program” to monitor the daily lives of Muslim Americans in the places where ordinary living transpires, such as bookstores, cafés, bars, and nightclubs, without the hint of criminal wrongdoing. The police department also employs “mosque crawlers,” who scrutinize imams and their sermons, and have gathered intelligence on cab drivers and food cart vendors, jobs commonly associated with Muslim workers.
There is of course a sordid history to all of this, The Nation said adding: “Throughout the 1960s, about one million intelligence files were compiled on people and political groups by the NYPD through the use of “informants, wiretaps, agents provocateurs and undercover officers posing as activists, lawyers and journalists,” according to the New York Times. A federal lawsuit launched in 1971 eventually led to the Handshu Guidelines in 1985, which sought to preserve the First Amendment protections of civilians posing no threat of a crime from police surveillance. But the guidelines were weakened basically beyond recognition after 9/11.”
The Nation pointed out that in the current program, the CIA sent one of its agents, Larry Sanchez, to the NYPD, and the NYPD also sent an officer to train at its school. According to the AP report, Sanchez and the head of the NYPD’s intelligence unit, another former CIA man, David Cohen, devised a strategy to stop cars in Pakistani neighborhoods for “speeding, broken tail lights, running stop signs, whatever.” Then they could look for suspicious behavior or outstanding warrants, and if an arrest was involved, leverage the arrest to turn the person into an informant. “It’s not a question of profiling,” one official is quoted as saying in the report. “It’s a question of going where the problem could arise.”
The Nation asked, if that’s not profiling, then what is profiling? [The Nation – Sept. 6, 2011]
The CIA and the NYPD are worrisome bedfellows
In an editorial – titled the CIA and the NYPD are worrisome bedfellows – Salt Lake Today said an extensive relationship between the Central Intelligence Agency and the New York Police Department, recently revealed by the Associated Press, might be an appropriate and effective counter-terrorism partnership or it might be illegal government interference in Americans’ religious freedoms, an abuse of police power and a violation of laws forbidding the CIA from conducting intelligence activities on American soil.
The AP investigation suggested that cooperation between the NYPD and the CIA already had blurred legal lines, lacked sufficient oversight and flouted rules of police conduct, charges the department and the agency have denied. It’s not yet clear where the truth lies, the paper said adding:
“History offers many cautionary tales. In the 1960s and ’70s — and again in the mid 2000s — the NYPD abused its powers by targeting student and anti-war groups, as well as protesters at political conventions, without legitimate reasons to believe they were breaking any laws. The CIA’s illegal domestic spying activities during the 1960s and ’70s are legendary in scale and scope and were the subject of countless damning hearings.”
Salt Lake Today pointed out that successful counter-terrorism does not require violating the law and rules that protect people of all faiths and backgrounds in the United States. No one benefits if robust intelligence operations go rogue. The U.S. Justice Department should investigate the arrangement and determine which side of the line the NYPD and the CIA are on. [Salt Lake Today – September 2, 2011]
Coalition Seeks Actions on NYPD Mosque Spying
Since the AP reports, several Muslim civil rights groups and a New York congresswoman have urged the Justice Department to investigate the NYPD for what critics see as racial profiling. Under U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, the Justice Department has stepped up investigations of local police departments for possible civil rights violations, but none involves national security cases.
A coalition letter to the Senate Intelligence Committee requests that the committee conduct “an immediate investigation into this affair and hold formal hearings on the civil rights implications of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) sponsoring domestic spying activities by the NYPD and its legality.”
The coalition letter to the U.S. Marshals Service requests that the organization “withdraw its deputization of those special unit police officers involved in the above mentioned NYPD intelligence gathering activities, taking into account their safety and liability, the legality of such activities, and the civil rights implications of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) sponsoring domestic spying activities by the NYPD.”
A similar coalition letter to the Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division, Special Litigation Section requests “an immediate investigation into this apparent pattern of profiling by the New York City Police Department.”
Coalition members include: