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.
I asked Comm Kelly whether NYPD has “Terrorism Enterprise Investigations” into mosques. He said no (then & now). But: http://t.co/x5l5zk2BWb
— Brad Lander (@bradlander) August 28, 2013
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.