Official rationale for NYPD spying falls apart with report that ‘no leads’ came from spying on Muslims

US Politics
on 13 Comments
Imam (Photo via ArabianBusiness.com)

The New York Police Department’s (NYPD) rationale for its widespread surveillance of innocent Muslims in the Northeast has been that it helps protect the city against terrorism. “Our primary goal is to keep this city safe and save lives and that’s what we’re doing,” police chief Ray Kelly said earlier this year in response to critics of the surveillance program.

But that explanation crumbled today with an Associated Press article that reports that after six years of eavesdropping on conversations and recording them and infiltrating mosques, the spying “never generated a lead or triggered a terrorism investigation.” The admission, which came in court testimony from June that was just unsealed, was made by Thomas Galati, the head of the NYPD’s Intelligence Division.

Here’s more from the AP:

Galati testified as part of a lawsuit that began in 1971 over NYPD spying on students, civil rights groups and suspected Communist sympathizers during the 1950s and 1960s. The lawsuit, known as the Handschu case, resulted in federal guidelines that prohibit the NYPD from collecting information about political speech unless it is related to potential terrorism.

Civil rights lawyers believe the Demographics Unit violated those rules. Documents obtained by the AP show the unit conducted operations outside its jurisdiction, including in New Jersey. The FBI there said those operations damaged its partnerships with Muslims and jeopardized national security.

The AP also reports that the NYPD surveilled people just because of the language they spoke:

In one instance discussed in the testimony, plainclothes NYPD officers known as “rakers” overheard two Pakistani men complaining about airport security policies that they believed unfairly singled out Muslims. They bemoaned what they saw as the nation’s anti-Muslim sentiment since the 2001 terrorist attacks.

Galati said police were allowed to collect that information because the men spoke Urdu, a fact that could help police find potential terrorists in the future.

“I’m seeing Urdu. I’m seeing them identify the individuals involved in that are Pakistani,” Galati explained. “I’m using that information for me to determine that this would be a kind of place that a terrorist would be comfortable in.”

Galati also says that the NYPD thinks that eavesdropping at a Lebanese cafe is useful because, if customers were from South Lebanon, “that may be an indicator of possibility that that is a sympathizer to Hezbollah because Southern Lebanon is dominated by Hezbollah.”

Just as disturbing is that Galati admitted that merely expressing opposition to US policy is reason enough for the NYPD to spy on Muslims and record speech in that vein. Blogger Marcy Wheeler does some digging through Galati’s testimony, and finds that Galati said:

Their job was, if they hear people talking about it, you know, they should inform us. If what they’re hearing is hostility towards the United States or to the general public at large, you know, as a result of these events, would something happen here as a result? Their job is to listen for that…

If we deployed them because of an event that took place in a particular part of the World, a drone attack, we would want to know and we would instruct them that people are upset about this drone attack. If they are, that’s something that would be important for us to know, that would be something we would want to know.

Jethro Eisenstein, a long-time lawyer who has litigated the Handschu Guidelines case for over 40 years, told the AP that “he will go back to court soon to ask that the Demographics Unit, [the unit that spied on Muslims], be shut down.”

About Alex Kane

Alex Kane is a freelance journalist and graduate student at New York University's Near East Studies and Journalism programs. Follow him on Twitter @alexbkane.

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13 Responses

  1. Les
    August 21, 2012, 1:54 pm

    Neverthess, the NYPD will keep and share the data for 10 years, 15 years, …………

  2. Woody Tanaka
    August 21, 2012, 2:00 pm

    But we Americans wear WHITE hats and they wear BLACK hats. What more do you need than that??

    What a stupid, evil, twisted country this is some time. (Oh, wait, I better watch what I say, I don’t want some NYPD flat-foot breaking down my door and shooting my cat.)

  3. Annie Robbins
    August 21, 2012, 3:31 pm

    someday (hopefully) americans will look back at this era in shame shame shame.

  4. rensanceman
    August 21, 2012, 6:48 pm

    These same tactics were essentially used by the Gestapo and the Stasi to spy on one’s neighbor both totalitarian states.

  5. ColinWright
    August 22, 2012, 2:39 am

    Annie Robbins says: “someday (hopefully) americans will look back at this era in shame shame shame.”

    What bothers me most is that it is still going on now, even — witness the recent cancellation of the right to trial — picking up speed.

    It was understandable — if not necessarily defensible — in the immediate aftermath of 9/11.

    But it’s coming up on eleven years and this is still going on. It’s like us deciding to nuke a couple of more Japanese cities — in 1952.

    Whatever’s going on now is no longer a reaction to a specific event. It’s some kind of cultural distortion, a kind of self-perpetuating condition. What would ever cause us to stop this? Is it just going to go on indefinitely?

    After all, once any condition gets accepted as ‘normal,’ it just continues. And of course lots of people start being dependent on it — for their jobs, for a sense of safety, for whatever.

    There are all kinds of things that go on in all walks of life that technically, make no sense at all. Most roofs around here are pitched — to let the snow slide off, even though there’s no snow.

    Well, that’s okay, and it provides some insulation and architectural interest I suppose. But this security nonsense is not okay, and I want it to end before it becomes even more entrenched. I’m tired of my rights being abridged, of my occasionally having to wonder if I’ve just posted something that might set off some snooper, of reading about some subnormal schmuck who just got set up as a ‘terrorist,’ of having to stand in line at stupid security check points and empty my pockets, of having to pay for the bored people watching me do it…

    • American
      August 22, 2012, 2:28 pm

      “Whatever’s going on now is no longer a reaction to a specific event. It’s some kind of cultural distortion, a kind of self-perpetuating condition. What would ever cause us to stop this? Is it just going to go on indefinitely?..Colin

      Agreed. What’s going on here is not a reaction put in motion by 911 or fear…..the public’s attention spans aren’t that long.
      It is manufactured hate, manufactured deliberately by zio groups like Gellers, manufactured deliberately by some politicians, manufactured by some politicians out of their own hates or out of ignorance and/or self serving career aims.
      The purpose of manufacturing it is to unleash the fringes and make them seem normal and to make the US more of a police state, and using violence against
      individuals for whatever reason or on public protesters on any issue acceptable.
      I dont’ like using labels like facism but the US is looking and smelling just like Israel. And yes I think the Israeli training programs set up after 911 and carried out in our police and security agencies do have something to do with it. Not the sole cause because they had to have officials with pliable menalities within those sectors to work with to begin with, but a contributing factor.
      Whatever the cause or the causes, it’s a cancer that’s spread now.
      The fish rots from the head down though.
      So how it will be turned around I don’t know.

      • seanmcbride
        August 22, 2012, 4:40 pm

        Neoconservatives (pro-Israel militants and Likud Zionists all) have been the ringleaders of:

        1. the exploitation of 9/11
        2. the cover-up of 9/11
        3. the Iraq War
        4. the Afghanistan War
        5. the Afpak War
        6. agitation for an Iran War
        7. Judeo-Christian fascism
        8. stirring up hatred of Islam
        9. legitimizing torture
        10. pro-Israel militancy
        11. the Global War on Terror
        12. the Clash of Civilizations
        13. attacks on the US Constitution and Bill of Rights
        14. the Patriot Act
        15. the Military Commissions Act
        16. mainstreaming police state practices
        17. mainstreaming assassinations as a political tool
        18. the destruction of due process
        19. total surveillance policies
        20. NDAA, etc.

        Neoconservatives comprise the most destructive and dangerous political cult ever to arise in American politics. Their closest historical analogue: Nazis and Stalinists.

        Neoconservatives currently are the main faction defining policy for Mitt Romney, Paul Ryan and the entire GOP.

  6. seafoid
    August 22, 2012, 10:05 am

    Totally pointless. Islamophobia is ideological. It has no basis in reality.

    The security state and the wars are a form of economic stimulus . They keep the US economy from recession. All that money wasted has an economic point.
    But it would be better to spend the money on education.

  7. Don Bacon
    August 22, 2012, 11:56 am

    On the other hand, what’s wrong with cops wasting time collecting unusable information. It keeps them off the streets, for one thing. I post inflammatory comments all the time, have been doing it for years, also have had an anti-war website for years — I hope operatives have fun with it.
    bomb-terror-obama-mosque-church-explosives — deal with it.
    Speech is still free.
    (Go my bail?)

  8. American
    August 22, 2012, 1:59 pm

    Now coming to America.

    link to rt.com

    Michigan Police shoot homeless man 46 times

    Known mentally ill man carrying a knife and yelling in parking lot.
    6 cops, 46 bullets.
    6 cops can’t disarm one man with a knife or shoot him in the shoulder or arm to disable him?

    • MK_Ultra
      August 25, 2012, 5:14 pm

      And that one escalated this week when two cops shot 9 civilians on the streets of NYC while supposedly trying to take someone who had just killed another man. Of course, Mayor Bloomers explained it all beyond doubt by detailing how it was all the fault of flower pots which deflected the bullets unto the passerbys. Oh, shocks…I reckon Mayor Mikey may have to declare war on flower pots now…just to keep New Yorkers safe and all.

      • American
        August 27, 2012, 2:30 pm

        MK_Ultra

        And that one escalated this week when two cops shot 9 civilians on the streets of NYC while supposedly trying to take someone who had just killed another man. “”>>>>>>>>

        Jesus fricking christ…..out of control, out of control, authority in US totally out of control.

  9. MK_Ultra
    August 25, 2012, 5:12 pm

    I have to say one thing for as much as it pains me, at least when they were spying on the Muslims they weren’t shooting as many as 9 civilians as once while trying to shoot someone gone postal. But such is life in the empire circa 2012, one must constantly choose from the lesser of two evils.

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