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Friday, March 7, 2014
- While some Muslim Americans might have been hoping for a relaxation of the decade-long counterterrorism onslaught on the tenth anniversary of 9/11, a report published by the Associated Press – unearthing new and shocking realities on the extent of intelligence-gathering operations in New York City – suggests that the offensive on “terror” is only just beginning.
Following months of investigations, including numerous interviews with current and former employees and agents of the New York City Police Department (NYPD) and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), the AP presented evidence Wednesday that “the NYPD (currently) operates far outside its borders and targets ethnic communities in ways that would run afoul of civil liberties rules if practiced by the federal government… and it does so with unprecedented help from the CIA in a partnership that has blurred the bright line between foreign and domestic spying.”
The report’s authors claim that neither the New York City Council – NYPD’s sole financier – nor the federal government, which doles out hundreds of millions of dollars each year, have been told exactly what is going on.
By law, the CIA is specifically prohibited from collecting foreign intelligence concerning the domestic activities of U.S. citizens; however David Cohen, a CIA veteran who jumped on board with the NYPD while the ashes of the twin towers were still smouldering, has successfully married the CIA’s intelligence architecture with the police department’s legal loopholes to create a human mapping system for identifying “potential terrorist threats” in the fearful aftermath of 9/11.
According to information from ex-police and -intelligence officers, the NYPD has dispatched teams of undercover agents, or “rakers”, into minority neighbourhoods to monitor daily life in bookstores, hookah bars and even cafes.
Police are also said to have used “mosque crawlers”, infiltrators who monitor sermons and spy on imams even with no evidence of wrongdoing. NYPD officials have even gone so far as to ‘rake’ information on cab drivers and food cart vendors, jobs often held by members of the Muslim community.
Restaurants too have been under close watch – if patrons applaud news reports on the death of U.S. troops, the restaurant could be labelled a ‘hot spot’.
Rights Groups, Lawyers Cry ‘Foul’
“This is the kind of information that must not be allowed to be buried under other news reports,” James Yee, executive director of the New Jersey chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) said at a press conference in New York City Wednesday. “What is happening (to the Muslim community) is an earthquake of a different magnitude, such that even those in New Jersey are feeling the shock- waves of the NYPD-CIA mapping programme in New York.”
Drawing members from virtually every sector of the Muslim community and its deep pool of allies – from the youth advocacy group Desis Rising Up and Moving (DRUM) to the National Lawyers Guild – CAIR today called on the Department of Justice to launch an investigation into the allegations put forward in AP’s report.
“Intelligence and law enforcement agencies need to stop preying on ethnic minorities and be transparent in their actions – they are supposed to be preventing crime, but their own covert and potentially illegal operations only corrode trust between minorities and law enforcers, despite massive publicity stunts and PR campaigns to the contrary,” CAIR-NY civil rights manager Cyrus McGoldrick told IPS.
“Such operations have real, lasting and damaging effects on the health and wellbeing of individuals and communities,” he added.
“I personally have handled people’s complaints and fears of being scrutinised, being approached by police to become informants themselves or having their immigration status threatened if they did not comply,” McGoldrick said. “This has led to a terrible breakdown in the very fabric of community life – people are afraid to worship, to commune with their neighbours, to exercise freely their religious and cultural practices, especially when actions as innocuous as quitting smoking or going to bookstores are deemed a ‘terrorist threat’.”
Spokespeople for the NYPD and the CIA have vehemently denied claims that they used census data to match undercover officers to ethnic communities in a unit that became known inside the department as the Demographic Unit.
“It’s not a question of profiling. It’s a question of going where the problem could arise,” said Mordecai Dzikansky, a retired NYPD intelligence officer. “And thank God we (now) have the language capability and the ethnic officers (to do that) – that’s our hidden weapon.”
Legal experts claim that the report’s evidence offers the possibility of a strong case against both agencies for being in violation of civil and constitutional rights.
“There are (various) avenues through which one could potentially challenge these intelligence operations in court,” Faiza Patel, co-director of the liberty and national security program at the Brennan Center for Justice, told IPS.
“The first is obviously through challenges based on violations of the first amendment, since these intelligence gathering practices potentially impinge upon protected speech. There is also the possibility of challenging them based on provisions in New York City’s administrative code, which prohibits profiling on the basis of race, religion, ethnicity etc,” she added.
“The City Council, which already has oversight of NYPD, should actually start shouldering these responsibilities. To date, they have not had a hearing to discuss intelligence-gathering activities and it’s high time they did,” Patel stressed.
However, the prospect of the CIA and NYPD being hauled into the spotlight, even for a slap on the wrist, is slim.
The AP report reminds us that, “the NYPD has faced little scrutiny over the past decade as it has taken on broad new intelligence missions, targeted ethnic neighbourhoods and partnered with the CIA in extraordinary ways.”
It continues, “Though NYPD has been mentioned as a model for policing in the post-9/11 era, it’s a model that seems custom-made for New York – no other city has the Big Apple’s combination of a low crime rate, a 4.5 billion dollar police budget and a diverse 34,000-person police force.”