AP report: Federal counter-terror funds used for NYPD spying on Muslims

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President Obama and NYPD chief Ray Kelly meets with police officers and first responders at the First Precinct before visiting Ground Zero (Photo: Charles Dharapak/AP)

Outrage over the New York Police Department’s expansive spy program targeting Muslims has grown across the Northeast in recent days. The latest Associated Press (AP) revelation about the NYPD’s arbitrary surveillance of Muslims shows that the program’s long hands are intertwined with the White House’s.

The AP reports:

Millions of dollars in White House money has helped pay for New York Police Department programs that put entire American Muslim neighborhoods under surveillance.

The money is part of a little-known grant intended to help law enforcement fight drug crimes. Since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the Bush and Obama administrations have provided $135 million to the New York and New Jersey region through the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area program, known as HIDTA.

Some of that money — it’s unclear exactly how much because the program has little oversight — has paid for the cars that plainclothes NYPD officers used to conduct surveillance on Muslim neighborhoods. It also paid for computers that store even innocuous information about Muslim college students, mosque sermons and social events.

It’s highly likely that the NYPD program, funded with federal dollars, is an ongoing initiative. Police Commissioner Ray Kelly said last week that his department is “going to continue to do what we have to do to protect the city.” Translation: we’re still spying.

And it’s also highly likely that federal dollars continue to flow to an NYPD intelligence unit that has “crawled mosques” and produced “guides to Muslims” who have done nothing wrong. As the AP notes, the “HIDTA grant program is overseen by the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy.” A June 2011 report (pdf) submitted to Congress makes clear that HIDTA funds continue to go to the NYPD.

Beyond this snapshot of how federal tax dollars have been spent on an anti-Muslim programs lies a much deeper, institutional problem. Tax dollars from the Department of Homeland Security’s budget have been doled out to states for counter-terrorism programs over the past decade. But federal oversight of these programs are scant, and easily allows for tax dollars to be spent on Islamophobic trainers who give presentations to police. These presentations are often laden with anti-Muslim stereotypes that reflect the presenter’s ideology. The trainers are linked to a well-funded and influential network of Islamophobes in the U.S.

A report from the Political Research Associates explains:

A nine-month investigation by Political Research Associates (PRA) finds that government agencies responsible for domestic security have inadequate mechanisms to ensure quality and consistency in terrorism preparedness training provided by private vendors; public servants are regularly presented with misleading, inflammatory, and dangerous information about the nature of the terror threat through highly politicized seminars, industry conferences, trade publications, and electronic media.

In place of sound skills training and intelligence briefings, a vocal and influential sub-group of the private counterterrorism training industry markets conspiracy theories about secret jihadi campaigns to replace the U.S. Constitution with Sharia law, and effectively impugns all of Islam—a world religion with 1.3 billion adherents—as inherently violent and even terroristic.

The use of federal dollars for anti-Muslim trainings wholly undermines the Obama administration’s professed strategy for countering terrorism in the U.S. In August 2011, the Obama White House released a strategy paper detailing how the federal government would “support” and “empower” American communities to counter terrorism. Part of the report (pdf) reads:

Rather than blame particular communities, it is essential that we find ways to help them protect themselves. To do so, we must continue to ensure that all Americans understand that they are an essential part of our civic life and partners in our efforts to combat violent extremist ideologies and organizations that seek to weaken our society.

Linda Sarsour, the executive director of the Arab American Association of New York, said she was “disappointed” in the news and that it was indicative of a larger problem.

“Counter-terrorism training…[is] perpetuating more stereotypes and [is] supporting surveillance of Muslim-American communities,” said Sarsour in a phone interview. Sarsour was recently honored by the White House as a “Champion for Change.”

“Our next target for any movement is going to be Attorney General Holder, to hold some sort of investigation,” said Sarsour.

34 members of Congress have already signed a letter to the Justice Department calling for a probe into the NYPD’s tactics.

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