As the shock over the revelations that the New York City Police Department spied on progressive groups, including Palestine justice groups, continues to ripple up, down, and around the solidarity-sphere, it seems important to ask: Did the NYPD ever go even further than spying? As its agents amassed dossiers filled with our names, protest plans, political passions, and innocent comments, did they ever attempt to muck about? Provoke? Entrap?
Recent details about the case of Ahmed Ferhani, one of the NYPD's star terrorism suspects, suggest that the answer is quite possibly yes -- yes, the NYPD did dabble in the evil arts of provocation and entrapment during its spying expeditions. And, more particularly, it did this dabbling at rallies and meetings of Palestinian justice groups, particularly student groups.
Ferhani is a young, Algerian-born man who was arrested last spring on charges of plotting to bomb a synagogue in Manhattan -- a heinous and serious charge indeed. He is also a young man with a record of mental illness -- as in, 30 involuntary commitments to psychiatric wards between the ages of 17 and 26. According to court papers filed by his lawyer, Elizabeth Fink, and reported on by the storied police reporter Leonard Levitt on his website NYPD Confidential, Ferhani found his way from psych patient to terrorist with the help of an undercover cop who went by the nom de provocateur of Ilter (in the court papers he is referred to as UC242). For six months, Ilter/UC242 worked Ferhani over, eventually entrapping him into buying weapons.
But here's where it gets really interesting. As reported by Levitt, the court papers filed by Fink claim that, before UC242/Ilter found Ferhani, UC242 was scouting around the Palestine solidarity crowd -- attending student rallies and conferences, spewing violent, inflammatory rhetoric:
As described by Fink (and quoted by Levitt):
UC 242 first appeared at student rallies protesting Israel’s campaign against Gaza more than two years ago, portraying himself as a Turkish Muslim who had been part of that community since 2008, and a fervent sympathizer with the Palestinian cause.
For many months, UC 242 was a continual presence within these student groups, providing constant support and doing anything to ingratiate himself with the activist group that supported Palestine. Over time he attended several student conferences outside New York City. He constantly engaged in provocative and violent rhetoric to the plight of the Palestinians (emphasis added). It is obvious that all of this activity must have generated hundreds of NYPD reports, summaries and related documentation…
However, Fink continues (and Levitt quotes):
These two years of effort brought about no tangible results, other than the acquisition of information by the NYPD. What they needed was someone to arrest for ‘terrorist’ activities and UC 242’s efforts to obtain that person or persons had been totally unsuccessful.
This, says Fink, is when Ilter/UC242 lighted on Ferhani.
Or, to summarize it a little differently: before the undercover cop went after the man with the psychiatric and criminal record, he set himself on groups of students and activists organizing around Israel-Palestine, implicitly criminalizing a whole group of people because of their beliefs.
Call it political profiling. Call it thought-policing. Call it all kinds of things, but especially: outrageous.
(P.S. To the NYPD web crawlers who may be reading this post: welcome to Mondoweiss! I know, it's not your first time, but still, welcome! I hope you enjoyed this post. How does it compare to all the others?)