AP IMPACT: NYPD keeps secret intelligence files on city Muslims who change their names

NEW YORK — Muslims who change their names to sound more traditionally American, as immigrants have done for generations, or who adopt Arabic names as a sign of their faith are often investigated and catalogued in secret New York Police Department intelligence files, according to documents obtained by The Associated Press.

The NYPD monitors everyone in the city who changes his or her name, according to internal police documents and interviews. For those whose names sound Arabic or might be from Muslim countries, police run comprehensive background checks that include reviewing travel records, criminal histories, business licenses and immigration documents. All this is recorded in police databases for supervisors, who review the names and select a handful of people for police to visit.

The program was conceived as a tripwire for police in the difficult hunt for homegrown terrorists, where there are no widely agreed upon warning signs. Like other NYPD intelligence programs created in the past decade, this one involved monitoring behavior protected by the First Amendment.

AP IMPACT: NYPD had surveillance on US citizens based on ethnicity, not any possible crimes

The New York Police Department put American citizens under surveillance and scrutinized where they ate, prayed and worked, not because of charges of wrongdoing but because of their ethnicity, according to interviews and documents obtained by The Associated Press.

The documents describe in extraordinary detail a secret program intended to catalog life inside Muslim neighborhoods as people immigrated, got jobs, became citizens and started businesses. The documents undercut the NYPD’s claim that its officers only follow leads when investigating terrorism.

It was called the Moroccan Initiative. It started with one group, Moroccans, but the documents show police intended to build intelligence files on other ethnicities. U.S. citizens were among those subjected to surveillance. Current and former officials said the information collected by the Demographics Unit was kept on a computer inside the squad’s offices at the Brooklyn Army Terminal. It was not connected to the department’s central intelligence database, they said.

“A lot of these locations were innocent,” said an official involved in the effort, who, like many others interviewed by the AP, spoke only on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive police operations. “They just happened to be in the community.”

New York City law prohibits police from using race, religion or ethnicity as “the determinative factor” for any law enforcement action. Civil liberties advocates have said that guideline is so ambiguous it makes the law unenforceable. The NYPD has said intelligence officers do not use racial profiling or troll ethnic neighborhoods for information.