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The NYPD’s bigoted logic: Mosques are fronts for terrorism

Israel/PalestineUS Politics
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From left to right, David Cohen, NYPD Deputy Commissioner for Intelligence and former CIA agent; Mayor Michael Bloomberg; and NYPD chief Ray Kelly (Photo: EPA/ANDREW GOMBERT)

From left to right, David Cohen, NYPD Deputy Commissioner for Intelligence and former CIA agent; Mayor Michael Bloomberg; and NYPD chief Ray Kelly (Photo: EPA/ANDREW GOMBERT)

The New York Police Department’s dragnet surveillance program labeled mosques as terrorist organizations to justify infiltrating religious institutions. The latest bombshell on the program, published by the Associated Press’ Pulitzer Prize winning duo Adam Goldman and Matt Apuzzo, exposes the logic governing the NYPD’s post-9/11 activities: every Muslim is a potential terrorist.

Since the NYPD implemented its surveillance program with the help of the Central Intelligence Agency, at least a dozen mosques have come under the purview of “terrorism enterprise investigations” (TEI). Labeling a mosque a TEI means that every single person attending the institution is a potential subject for investigation. NYPD agents from its Intelligence Division were sent into mosques to record sermons and spy on imams. The AP reporters write that “many TEIs stretch for years, allowing surveillance to continue even though the NYPD has never criminally charged a mosque or Islamic organization with operating as a terrorism enterprise.”

The use of TEIs developed after 9/11, when former CIA agent David Cohen and current NYPD Intelligence Division official went to a federal judge to argue for changes in the legal framework governing surveillance. Cohen was largely successful, and the court agreed that the NYPD could open up TEIs. Cohen was also successful in convincing the judge to eliminate outside oversight of surveillance operations. Before 9/11, what are known as the Handschu guidelines required that an outside body review requests for investigations involving political groups. But after 9/11, the review process became only internal. A document published by the AP details the internal review process at one May 2009 meeting. Every single request for opening up a TEI into a mosque was granted by NYPD higher-ups.

But even with the loosened Handschu guidelines, civil rights lawyers still say the NYPD is violating the law. “The ways in which we think they’re violating the Handschu guidelines really rest on the fact that you still do need some information about criminal activity to launch an investigation,” Jethro Eisenstein, one of the original lawyers who filed a lawsuit against NYPD spying in the 1970s, told me in May. Instead, Eisenstein said, the NYPD is blanketing the “Orthodox Muslim observant community with surveillance. And that’s a violation of the Handschu guidelines.”

The latest AP story also contains other revelations: the NYPD attempted to infiltrate a prominent non-religious Arab organization, the police spied on guests attending a Brooklyn imam’s wedding and also asked the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to install eavesdropping equipment in a mosque. The FBI refused to do so, but the NYPD took other measures to spy on the mosque.

“These new NYPD spying disclosures confirm the experiences and worst fears of New York’s Muslims,” Hina Shamsi of the American Civil Liberties Union told the AP. The ACLU recently filed a lawsuit alleging the NYPD program was unconstitutional. “From houses of worship to a wedding, there’s no area of New York Muslim religious or personal life that the NYPD has not invaded through its bias-based surveillance policy.”

Some of the new details on the surveillance program track with past articles published by the AP in that they show how prominent members of the city’s Muslim community, often with ties to the police, are routinely spied on. One of those members is Linda Sarsour, a Palestinian-American Muslim and a prominent leader in the fight against NYPD spying. Sarsour, who has been honored by the White House and has met with NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly many times, runs the secular Arab-American Association of New York. And the NYPD attempted to get its own informants onto the board of Sarsour’s group.

Another subject of NYPD spying was Zein Rimawi, a Palestinian from the West Bank who immigrated to the U.S. A founder of the Islamic Islamic Society of Bay Ridge, Rimawi’s mosque was targeted and put under surveillance in 2003 by the NYPD.

Commissioner Ray Kelly defended the NYPD’s activities in an appearance on MSBC this morning as following the law and meant to protect New Yorkers. But he had previously said that the NYPD does not use TEIs to conduct surveillance, according to Brooklyn City Councilman Brad Lander.

The new expose on the NYPD is based on documents that will be published in an upcoming book by Adam Goldman and Matt Apuzzo. An excerpt of the book was recently published by New York magazine. On MSNBC, Kelly said Goldman and Apuzzo were “hyping a book” that will include “a fair amount of fiction.”

The new revelations come smack in the middle of a nationwide debate on surveillance. As Goldman and Apuzzo write in the magazine, the NYPD’s activities are far more intrusive than the National Security Agency’s. “The NYPD went even further than the federal government. The activities Kelly set in motion after 9/11 pushed deeply into the private lives of New Yorkers, surveilling Muslims in their mosques, their sporting fields, their businesses, their social clubs, even their homes in a way not seen in America since the FBI and CIA monitored antiwar activists during the Nixon administration,” the reporters write.

Both the NSA and NYPD’s activities share a common root, though: they violate civil liberties in the name of fighting terrorism.

Alex Kane
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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7 Responses

  1. seafoid
    seafoid
    August 28, 2013, 4:09 pm

    More people have died from nut allergies than from terrorism in the US in the last 15 years. But you would not know that following the news.

    The ADL should be standing up for persecuted Muslims. Instead of their persecutors.

    • peterfeld
      peterfeld
      August 28, 2013, 6:39 pm

      The ADL is a morally corrupt failed civil rights institution, I wouldn’t expect anything.

      Question: what is to stop the spied-upon communities (or those wanting to help them) from fighting back with a website resource that exposes and shames undercover NYPD and informants who attempt to infiltrate mosques, allowing mosque members to post info and photos? That would probably chill cooperation with NYPD in the same way NYPD chills free speech at mosques, no?

  2. just
    just
    August 28, 2013, 4:44 pm

    Bigotry to the nth degree.

    Disgusting. Many thanks to MW, Alex, Adam and Matt. Witness how rampant Islamophobia really is– the NYPD is acting so very stupidly.

  3. radkelt
    radkelt
    August 28, 2013, 10:30 pm

    The modest middle class, by and large secular but observant, community in which I had the privilege to grow up, would be outraged by the assaults on any minoritie’s civil/human rights. Substitute mosque for synagogue, Muslim for Jew and they would be agitating for redress.
    That those values seem to have been buried under a more muscular zionism I think is a tragic lose for civilization/humanism and civil discourse.

    • seafoid
      seafoid
      August 29, 2013, 11:18 am

      It’s very bad news for the US as well. Project these trends forward 10 years and what sort of country will there be? Hounding Muslims is no different to persecuting Jews. Cui bono?

      • just
        just
        August 29, 2013, 12:20 pm

        Fitting that Lady Liberty is staring at NYC. From wiki:

        “The Statue of Liberty (Liberty Enlightening the World; French: La Liberté éclairant le monde) is a colossal neoclassical sculpture on Liberty Island in the middle of New York Harbor, in Manhattan, New York City. The statue, designed by Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi and dedicated on October 28, 1886, was a gift to the United States from the people of France. The statue is of a robed female figure representing Libertas, the Roman goddess of freedom, who bears a torch and a tabula ansata (a tablet evoking the law) upon which is inscribed the date of the American Declaration of Independence, July 4, 1776. A broken chain lies at her feet. The statue is an icon of freedom and of the United States: a welcoming signal to immigrants arriving from abroad.”

        “”Give me your tired, your poor,
        Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
        The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
        Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
        I lift my lamp beside the golden door!””

        We’ve become quite a joke ;{

  4. Chu
    Chu
    August 29, 2013, 12:36 pm

    Muslims are guilty until proven innocent, sounds like the new American century – for those who have the money, make the rules. The billionaire mayor and his sidekick are riding the wave of 9-11 fear, but that car is running out of gas.
    It likely why DeBlasio is surging in the polls. People are tired of the old freedom-fries regime, and Quinn is forever tied to that crew.

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