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Newark mayor and Yale president slam NYPD spying program

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Fliers outside the prayer room at the Islamic Culture Center in Newark, N.J.
(Photo: AP/Charles Dharapak)

Has the New York Police Department (NYPD) finally overplayed its hand?

As the steady drip of revelations from the Associated Press (AP) about the NYPD’s domestic surveillance program targeting Muslims continues, the reaction from New York City’s mayor has been to dismiss any concerns. But now, amid new revelations that the NYPD not only scoured the city spying on Muslims but ventured out to Newark, New Jersey and Long Island, and to Yale and the University of Pennsylvania, some power brokers are speaking up.

The AP reported yesterday:

Americans living and working in New Jersey’s largest city were subjected to surveillance as part of the New York Police Department’s effort to build databases of where Muslims work, shop and pray. The operation in Newark was so secretive even the city’s mayor says he was kept in the dark.

For months in mid-2007, plainclothes officers from the NYPD’s Demographics Units fanned out across Newark, taking pictures and eavesdropping on conversations inside businesses owned or frequented by Muslims.

The result was a 60-page report, obtained by The Associated Press, containing brief summaries of businesses and their clientele. Police also photographed and mapped 16 mosques, listing them as “Islamic Religious Institutions.”

The report cited no evidence of terrorism or criminal behavior. It was a guide to Newark’s Muslims.

According to the report, the operation was carried out in collaboration with the Newark Police Department, which at the time was run by a former high-ranking NYPD official. But Newark’s mayor, Cory Booker, said he never authorized the spying and was never told about it.

“Wow,” he said as the AP laid out the details of the report. “This raises a number of concerns. It’s just very, very sobering.”

Police conducted similar operations outside their jurisdiction in New York’s Suffolk and Nassau counties on suburban Long Island, according to police records.

The New Jersey Star-Ledger has more on Booker’s reaction to the AP revelations:

Booker said he had been unaware of the undercover work and the Newark Police Department – which had been contacted by the NYPD early on – had not been involved in any joint operations.

“What we are discovering appears to be an NYPD operation in our city that involved the blanket surveillance of Newark residents and workers based solely on the religion of those individuals,” he said. “If this is indeed what transpired, it is, I believe, a clear infringement on the core liberties of our citizenry.”

Similar outrage was expressed by Yale President Richard Levin in a statement saying that “police surveillance based on religion, nationality, or peacefully expressed political opinions is antithetical to the values of Yale, the academic community, and the United States.”

These leaders offer a sharp contrast to New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who yesterday insisted that the NYPD operations were necessary to keep the U.S. safe.

The story doesn’t stop there. The AP published another article yesterday detailing how “mosque crawlers” monitored New York imams’ sermons were monitored:

At the Masjid Al-Falah in Queens, one leader condemned the [Danish] cartoons but said Muslims should not to resort to violence. Speaking at the Masjid Dawudi mosque in Brooklyn, another called on Muslims to speak out against the cartoons, but peacefully.

The sermons, all protected under the First Amendment to the Constitution, were reported back to the NYPD by the department’s network of mosque informants. They were compiled in police intelligence reports and summarized for Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly.

Those documents offer the first glimpse of what the NYPD’s informants — known informally as “mosque crawlers” — gleaned from inside the houses of worship. And, along with hundreds of pages of other secret NYPD documents obtained by The Associated Press, they show police targeting mosques and their congregations with tactics normally reserved for criminal organizations.

They did so in ways that brushed against — and civil rights lawyers say at times violated — a federal court order restricting how police can gather intelligence.

The NYPD Intelligence Division snapped pictures and collected license plate numbers of congregants as they arrived to pray. Police mounted cameras on light poles and aimed them at mosques. Plainclothes detectives mapped and photographed mosques and listed the ethnic makeup of those who prayed there.

The NYPD is notorious for being an institution where there is little accountability. Until the latest revelations detailed above were published, there was little noise from elected officials, despite the pleas for accountability from Muslim communities and their allies. The New York City Council has little oversight of the NYPD.

But it’s in New Jersey where Muslim-Americans may begin to see the inklings of a push for accountability. Chris Christie, the Republican governor, has said that Attorney General Jeffrey Chiesa is looking into the matter. And even more importantly, New Jersey Senator Robert Menendez today became the first senator to request a federal investigation into the spying program, according to the AP.

The Justice Department says that “they’re reviewing the request.”

About Alex Kane

Alex Kane is a freelance journalist who focuses on Israel/Palestine and civil liberties. Follow him on Twitter @alexbkane.

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11 Responses

  1. lysias
    February 24, 2012, 12:54 pm

    (Sorry. My posting was put on this thread by mistake.)

  2. Les
    February 24, 2012, 8:09 pm

    Does anyone know if David Cohen, who was in charge of this, is an Israeli citizen?

  3. DICKERSON3870
    February 24, 2012, 9:28 pm

    RE: the NYPD’s domestic surveillance program targeting Muslims

    MY COMMENT: We are all Muslims now. Even us atheists!

  4. halthouse1
    February 24, 2012, 10:37 pm

    Good evening:

    I wrote this article today at The Political Commentator about the controversy surrounding the NYPD covert surveillance of mosques and schools.

    Is the United States, with New York City at the epicenter, fighting a global war on terror or not?

    This is the link:


    • Walid
      February 25, 2012, 7:26 am

      Halthouse, I read your article on 911 and how you justified NYPD’s actions and you may not know it but you are a sick Islamophobe. If you want to quote sleazebags why settle on a petty lackey like P. King instead of going all the way to the top and quote Netanyahu and his memorable “911 was good for Israel”. The war on terror was declared because Israel and its friends said so. Your little story failed to mention why 911 happened. Maybe you don’t care because the answer may not be good for Israel.

    • Oscar
      February 25, 2012, 8:40 am

      Mike, I read your blog post and your “it’s-fine-by-me” attitude is dangerous. Your perspective is admittedly held by several others (to quote Bill O’Reilly on “The View” — “The Muslims killed us on 9/11”), so let’s suspend the constitution for an entire religious group and conduct intrusive surveillance.

      Hell, let’s even have the FBI track them with GPS devices on their cars!

      Let’s take away their First Amendment rights to free speech!

      Let’s have the FBI entrap some dimwitted, mentally challenged Muslims to keep the subject in the public eye!

      If you, as an American citizen, don’t find it chilling that the CIA has teamed up with the NYPD to conduct a secret survelliance program on domestic targets without warrants, without probable cause . . . . . . then you are contributing to the destruction of the Constitution and you’re a pathetic cheerleader for a police state.

      Last month, the FBI released the following as clues that you might be white al Queda domestic homegrown terrorist. Enjoy having the NYPD conduct surveillance on you if you do the following:
      ……. you pay for your coffee with cash
      ……. you use portals or anonymizers to shield your IP address.
      ……. you shave off your beard or otherwise change your appearance before participating in paintball.
      …….. you incorporate hand-to-hand combat into your martial arts training.
      ……. you carry a backpack when you go to the mall, especially in warm weather.
      ……. you own a gas mask or other biologically protective gear.
      ……. you have left the country to perform charity work, particularly if it was religious in nature.
      ……. you rent a boat for an extended period of time.
      ……. you purchase a GPS device and batteries at the same time.
      ……. you behave impatiently at the farm supply store.
      ……. you deposit money orders, third party checks and payroll checks all into the same bank account.
      ……. you purchase firearms and ammunition outside of hunting season.
      ……. you make a large purchase from a retail store using cash.
      ……. you ask for a room in a specific or remote part of a hotel or motel.
      ……. you use a camera or video recorder at a bus, subway or train station.
      ……. you purchase water-proofed match containers.
      ……. you ask about the fuel capacity of a car you intend to rent.
      ……. you pay your rent in cash, especially if you pay it ahead of time.
      ……. you are either late paying the rent for your storage unit or you pay for several months in advance.
      ……. you get a tattoo in a concealed spot on your body, particularly if you pay cash for it.


      • halthouse1
        February 25, 2012, 9:47 am

        My simple point is if you are fighting a war, as we are on terror, then you need to sometimes do what has to be done. In a politically correct world that tends to prevent that from occurring so as not to “offend” anybody is a poor tactic.

        If the Jews were committing the majority of terror attack attempts then I would have absolutely no problem with covert operations being conducted in Yeshiva’s, Synagogues and my local Ben’s Delicatessen!

        And before you invoke the Israel/Palestinian situation it is not the same.

        Walid and Oscar, do you both live in “target” areas or someplace else?

      • Walid
        February 25, 2012, 12:09 pm

        I’m in a target area. Ben’s Delicatesen; you even use the same example as Peter King. You must really look up to this guy. The war on terror was cooked up by Israelis and Israeli sympathisers in the US, just like Frum’s “Axis of Evil” slogan.

        Try taking into account the evil cataloguing of Jews by the Nazis; they too were sure they were doing the right thing.

    • Les
      February 25, 2012, 10:30 am

      By your logic it makes sense to blame the push for war against Iran on American Jews.

  5. Walid
    February 24, 2012, 11:03 pm

    Here’s a story about a Lebanese Muslim you won’t find in the American press. It’s about a guy who may have saved Obama’s life back in November at the Cannes G20. He got an FBI medal but no recognition in the US press because it goes against the narrative being pushed; from a Nice-Matin translated article that appeared on a Nice English blog :

    Cannes Kebab Vendor Saves President Obama

    Posted on February 18, 2012 by Best of Nice Blog

    (Bilal Herche. Photo by Serge Haouzi, Nice-Matin)

    It happened the day before the G-20 Summit last November, when tensions were high and Cannes was zipped up tight as a drum: barricades, badge-only entry, missile protection systems, bomb squads, sniper teams, and spy satellites. It seems that a hungry FBI agent popped into to Al Charq, a Middle-Eastern take-away joint, but in his rush to get a sandwich to-go, left a file on the counter… Not just any file mind you, it was an Ultra-Classified-Top-Secret dossier with every detail of President Obama’s trip to the G-20 Summit.

    The file folder didn’t look like anything special, so when snack shop manager Bilal Herche innocently opened it up… merde! First page: detailed map of the 5th floor of the Hotel Carlton with President Obama’s room and evacuation plans. Second page: President Obama’s minute-by-minute schedule. Pages on the exact routes to be taken by the convoys, lists and info on the agents on the Presidential security detail. Everything.

    What would you do? And if you were Lebanese? Muslim? With a passport on the U.S. No-Fly List because you were from a country considered a Terrorist State? After 2 hours of nerve-wracking indecision, Bilal called the main FBI number that he found on the internet. A surrealist conversation ensued as Bilal tried to explain what he had in broken Arabic-accented English to a skeptical agent at desk somewhere in Washington, no doubt rolling his eyes. Finally the agent asked him to read the first page of the document… Silence. Then: “Don’t move: we’re on our way!” No address needed, the cellphone had been geolocalized and in minutes two men-in-black burst through the door. Even these jaded top-level FBI agents could not suppress gasping “Oh my god…” upon opening the dossier.

    An hour later, the original hungry FBI agent was on a plane back to Washington, while poor Bilal was undergoing full interrogation: Who gave him this file? Whom did he show it to? Who knows about it? Where are the copies? The FBI team acknowledged that, obviously, all Lebanese are not terrorrists, but they still kept a close eye on him by eating kebabs and falafels for lunch and dinner for the next 4 days.

    The G-20 having passed without a hitch, Bilal was sent an official FBI medal of honor in recognition that without him, a sandwich could have cost the life of the President.

  6. dahoit
    February 25, 2012, 12:24 pm

    A scandal as big as this,the selective targeting of Americans based on their religion might be the most arrogant impugning of our Constitution since I don’t know when,and has been shunted aside by the MSM as non existent,and unworthy of the light of day.
    If these were Jews,it would be all over the MSM,24 hours a day,but as we can see,some are more equal than others,as usual,and the absolute pass given to Zionist spies and agents in America affecting our lives and policies is given no shrift at all,is outrageous.
    And I see a hasbarite has shown up with their lies and calumny about terror and who commits it,belied by all reality of body counts and evidence that the FBI couldn’t come up with.

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