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NYPD: Snoops, spies and … agent provocateurs?

on 15 Comments

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?)

Lizzy Ratner

Lizzy Ratner is a journalist in New York City. She is a co-editor with Adam Horowitz and Philip Weiss of The Goldstone Report: The Legacy of the Landmark Investigation of the Gaza Conflict.

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15 Responses

  1. DICKERSON3870 on March 24, 2012, 12:18 pm

    RE: “nom de provocateur” ~ Ratner

    MY COMMENT: Priceless!

    RE: “He [Ferhani] 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.” ~ Ratner

    MY COMMENT: The expression “going after the low-hanging fruit” comes to mind. Entrapping people with serious mental problems and putting them in prison has apparently become America’s notion of mental health care. How sick is that?
    I wonder if as part of the entrapment, UC242/Ilter encouraged Ferhani to go of his meds?

    RE: “Call it political profiling. Call it thought-policing. Call it all kinds of things, but especially: outrageous.” ~ Ratner

    MY COMMENT: If I were a provocateur, I might even call it proto-fascist! So much for life on the American “Heimatland”.

    • Charon on March 24, 2012, 4:41 pm

      It’s very sick. Entrapment. Agent Provocateurs with criminal records. Clandestine terrorism sponsored by the state. False intelligence. Joke ‘intelligence’ sources like SITE. What are they trying to accomplish? These sort of things create terrorism. That’s the whole point.

      Declare a war against terrorism and then any dissent can be considered terrorism. Meanwhile, instigate and promote terrorism. Sick.

  2. pabelmont on March 24, 2012, 12:28 pm

    These guys have quotas, like other NYPD cops? Is there any metric, any at all, to justify paying salaries to squads of these guys for years and years, in terms of lives saved, whatevers whatevered? J Edgar Hoover did this stuff, spied on that dangerous terror-suspect-?? MLK. Money down the drain as well as a vaiolation, generally, of civil rights.

    USA, love it? Well, not always, not in every way. And now about the $3B/year to Israel * * *.

  3. Les on March 24, 2012, 12:41 pm

    I would like to learn more about David Cohen who is in charge of the NYPD’s hunt for Muslims.

  4. CigarGod on March 24, 2012, 12:49 pm

    Hey, if you have gone out on a limb and gotten yourself a program/money…you have to justify it to your funders….brown, unstable people…aren’t even collateral damage…they don’t count at all.

  5. Ladidah on March 24, 2012, 2:48 pm

    This NYTimes story depicts a way in which this same undercover (knowingly?) tried to create a conflict for one lawyer – well known in the community – who is now one of Mr Ferhani’s lawyers, but could have been on the legal team of any of his targets:

    Oh, and here’s a testimonial he wrote before he was known as an undercover:

    • marc b. on March 27, 2012, 10:14 am

      a real scum bag move, ladidah. and remember what they did to brandon scofield.

      Mayfield was born in Coos Bay, Oregon and grew up in Halstead, Kansas. He served in the United States Army Reserve from 1985 to 1989, and then as an officer in the Army in Bitburg, Germany from 1992 to 1994. He met his wife Mona, an Egyptian national and the daughter of a college professor, on a blind date in Olympia, Washington in 1986, and converted to Islam shortly afterwards. They have lived in Beaverton, Oregon off and on since 1989. Although he was a regular worshiper at a Beaverton mosque prior to his arrest, his colleagues were unaware of his religious beliefs. The imam of the mosque has described Mayfield as “very patriotic”. Mayfield has four children.

      He studied law at Washburn University and Lewis and Clark College, receiving his law degree from Washburn in 1999, and practicing family law in Newport before moving to the Portland area. Mayfield performed work for the Modest Means Program of the Oregon State Bar, which matches attorneys who are willing to work at reduced rates for low-income clients. In 2003 he offered legal aid to Jeffrey Leon Battle, one of the Portland Seven, a group of people convicted of trying to travel to Afghanistan to help the Taliban. Battle at the time was involved in a child custody case.

      Following the September 11, 2001 attacks, Mayfield was concerned for the safety of his children and wife, and according to his father, he suspected that he was under surveillance by the federal authorities. In the weeks before his arrest, Mayfield’s family was under the impression that their house had been broken into at least twice, although nothing was stolen. According to court documents, the FBI used National Security Letters in order to wiretap his phones, bug his house, and search his house several times.

      Fingerprints on a bag containing detonating devices, found by Spanish authorities following the Madrid commuter train bombings, were initially identified by the FBI as belonging to Mayfield (“100% verified”). According to the court documents in judge Ann Aiken’s decision, this information was largely “fabricated and concocted by the FBI and DOJ”. When the FBI finally sent Mayfield’s fingerprints to the Spanish authorities, they contested the matching of the fingerprints from Brandon Mayfield to the ones associated with the Madrid bombing. Further, the Spanish authorities informed the FBI they had other suspects in the case, Moroccan immigrants not linked to anyone in the USA. The FBI completely disregarded all of the information from the Spanish authorities, and proceeded to spy on Mayfield and his family further.

      As was discovered during the court case, even the FBI’s own records show that this fingerprint, despite the sworn testimony of FBI and DOJ agents, was in all reality not an exact match but only one of 20 “similar” prints to the ones retrieved from Madrid. Based on that list of people with “similar prints” the FBI launched an extensive investigation of all 20 individuals using Letters of National Security. The investigation included medical records, financial records, employment records, etc. on all 20 people and their families. It was during this time that Brandon Mayfield’s name rose to the top of the list.

      The FBI arrested Mayfield at his offices in West Slope, an unincorporated suburb of Portland. The arrest was similar to the then-recent Mike Hawash case, under a material witness warrant rather than under charge; he was held with no access to family and limited access, if any, to legal counsel. The FBI initially refused to inform either Mayfield or his family why he was being detained or where he was being held.

      Later, the FBI leaked the nature of the charges to the local media and the family learned of the charges by watching the local news. He was at first held at a Multnomah County jail under a false name; he was later transferred to an unidentified location. His family protested that Mayfield had no connection with the bombings, nor had he been off the continent in over 11 to 14 years.

      mayfield sued and eventually won a $2M settlement and a public apology from the FBI. unfortunately when mayfield challenged the constitutionality of provisions of the Patrtiot Act, the intial ruling in his favor in US district court was overturned on appeal.

  6. yourstruly on March 24, 2012, 3:54 pm

    30 years ago when the ACLU broke the LAPD’s notorious “Red Squad” that terrorized leftist organizations, what turned up, as i recall, was that infiltrators/agent provacateurs tended to have uncertain backgrounds and no visible means of support. from my own experience about that time, another characteristic seems to be an eagerness to be involved in outreach to allied groups, the better, perhaps, to learn the names of other “co-conspirators”. about that time, for example, once after a comrade had been assassinated by an as yet unidentified person, i received a phone call from a progressive activist. the conversation went like this – “hi, —–, i heard that ——- was killed, will there be any actions in protest?” my reply, “you can be sure there will”. to which the faux activist responded, “names and organizations”, whereupon, i had this sickening feeling in my gut, “oh, shit, another f—— spy”. needless to say i never spoke to that person again.

  7. Abigail on March 24, 2012, 5:25 pm

    NYPD Web crawlers? Not only them I’m afraid. Why not say: baruch haba to some others!

  8. Abigail on March 24, 2012, 5:28 pm

    Using agents provocateurs and handlers is a typical way of how intelligence agencies work into letting others do the dirty work or part of it and lots of times the ones used are people easily manipulated or already compromised. In other words: patsies.

    earlier comment on web crawlers was a reaction of mine to Mondoweiss funny welcome to possible behind the web watchers watching us read. At least they read sensible matters too. Hope they learn something.

  9. marc b. on March 24, 2012, 7:46 pm

    this is part of a pattern. a terrorism suspect in massachusetts was similarly skirting the borders between competence and incompetence, the local police once being called when he was sited sobbing, soiling his pants in the middle of the street. he was later ‘recruited’ by a confidential informant who fed him increasingly grand plans for a terrorist attack, while, admittedly, regularly violating the standards for an informant, engaging in variety of activities that should have caused him to be terminated. i guess this is one way to get all of the american muslim males with mental illness into treatment.

  10. Pixel on March 25, 2012, 3:32 am

    “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?”

    This post is very important. We have to challenge our naivete and wake up.

    This is so common that our default should always be to assume that this is what’s going on – in every situation we can conceive of – until proven otherwise.

    It’s all part of of a well-known formula:

    Problem > Reaction > Solution

    Create the problem, manage the reaction, and implement the solution (which was the goal, from the beginning.)

  11. DaveS on March 25, 2012, 2:19 pm

    Obviously a police unit assigned to catch terrorists looks like it is not doing its job and/or should be de-funded if all they come up with is surveillance of law-abiding Muslims going about their daily business. If nobody is involved in illegal activity, that looks bad. There is pressure to identify, catch and prosecute bad guys. That’s how these agents provocateurs get started. If no one is doing something bad, let’s see who might be susceptible to suggestions of doing something bad. Then when someone is arrested, that justifies the “surveillance” in the first place, and its continuation in the future. Let’s hope Liz Fink can get somewhere with her defense of this vulnerable target, though it’s an uphill battle.

  12. Justice Please on March 25, 2012, 4:50 pm

    “yes, the NYPD did dabble in the evil arts of provocation and entrapment during its spying expeditions”

    Welcome to the real world.

  13. StanleyHeller on June 27, 2012, 2:03 pm

    Ferhani’s defense attorney Lamis Deek sums up the case on June 25, the day the Court refused to dismiss the charges:

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