Lawyer: NYC hopes surveillance deal alters image of police

NEW YORK — A New York City lawyer said Wednesday that the city hoped to improve the image of its police department when it reached a deal with civil rights advocates to allow a civilian to serve on a committee of high-ranking police officials as they discuss investigations relating to surveillance of political activities.

City attorney Peter Farrell made the comment as he urged a federal judge in Manhattan to approve a deal settling lawsuits contending that the police department had violated constitutional rights in its infiltration and surveillance of Muslim communities after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

As part of the deal, an attorney chosen by the city’s mayor and police commissioner would serve for five years on a committee along with a dozen New York Police Department officials to discuss the initiation, continuation and closing of investigations pertaining to political activities.

The deal grew in part from a 2013 lawsuit in Brooklyn federal court by mosques, a charity and community leaders alleging that the department was discriminating against Muslims.

Several years ago, The Associated Press revealed that New York City police spied on Muslims, infiltrated student groups and sent informants to mosques.

4 Muslims Seek Damages for Time on Government No-Fly List

NEW YORK — Four Muslim men who have accused FBI agents of putting them on a no-fly list because they refused to become informants want to pursue damages against the agents even though the travel ban has been lifted, the men’s lawyers told a federal judge Friday.
Plaintiff lawyer Robert Shwartz told U.S. District Judge Ronnie Abrams that “various FBI agents punished (the men) and put them on because they refused to become informants at their mosques.” As a result, they were unable to travel to see loved ones, lost job opportunities and suffered the “stigma of being treated as threats to aviation security,” he said.

NYPD’s new spying outrage: Innocent Muslims treated worse than guilty bankers

When “Arabic-sounding” names are automatically suspicious — but financial crimes are ignored — here’s the result

Stop your car to help a woman who appears to be lost — and get pressured, while in police custody, to become an informant. That’s what happened to one of the men profiled in a recent New York Times report on yet more aggressive spying on Muslims by the NYPD.

Egyptian-born Moro Said pulled over one night because, he says, a woman looked like she needed directions. She turned out to be an undercover officer, and hauled him in on a prostitution-related charge. Then cops pressured him to start informing them on what he sees and hears in his mosque or in cafes.

As the Times describes it, the NYPD adapted a process used with suspects who might know about related crime, like drug dealers or low-level mafia members, to the Muslim community in general. When Muslims — or people with “Arabic-sounding names” — were arrested, they would be interviewed and recruited to inform generally on mosques or cafes or other areas frequented by Muslims.

The program remains active under new NYPD commissioner Bill Bratton’s lead; the Department has conducted 220 such interviews so far this year.

Around the globe, it seems, the government continues to use the tools of law enforcement to find more spies to report on innocent Muslims.

It’s not just coercion that law enforcement uses to find people to inform on their community: the government has twice told the FISA Court that it may use the phone dragnet program — in which it conducts contact chaining on a database of the phone record of Americans’ phone records — to identify potential informants.

Imagine how such generalized spying would be regarded against potentially riskier set of targets, like the finance criminals who wrecked the economy in 2008 and have continued to engaged in damaging fraud. Imagine if every banker who visited a sex worker got hauled in and was offered leniency if he informed on his co-workers, bosses, and clients? (Key to the coercion, of course, is that many Muslims don’t have the resources of bankers to fight low-level criminal accusations.)

Of course, bankers need not worry. A recent DOJ Inspector General report revealed that when DOJ attempted to roll out undercover teams (not civilian informants, but FBI undercover officers) to target mortgage fraud, FBI Agents either weren’t informed such a plan existed or, if they were, needed “specific direction or training on how to commence a mortgage fraud” undercover operation.

The FBI, apparently, couldn’t figure out how to treat suspected bank criminals like it and many other law enforcement agencies treat innocent Muslims.

Therein lies the problem. It has gotten too easy, since 9/11, to treat the Muslim community as a whole as suspect. It has become too easy to use the tools rolled out after 9/11 to combat real threats (and borrowed, before that, from the drug war) to instead criminalize a faith community. It would be unthinkable — and unworkable — for more privileged communities. And yet it continues.

NYC defends use of Muslim police informants

NEW YORK — The New York Police Department disbanded a unit that tracked the everyday lives of Muslims, but it has taken a tough stance in a heated legal battle over its continuing use of Muslim informants in terror threat investigations.

Muslim groups filed a civil rights lawsuit last year asking a federal judge to declare the surveillance unconstitutional and halt it.

City lawyers struck back by suggesting the plaintiffs brought the attention on themselves with “rhetoric or their known, suspected or rumored associations with people or organizations of ill repute.” The city then demanded any communications by the plaintiffs — including two Brooklyn mosques, an imam and a Muslim charity — that mention terrorism, jihad or the war in Afghanistan as well as financial records from the mosques and the charity, including names of donors.

The plaintiffs say the city is unjustly seeking private information. Disclosure of records from the mosque and the charity “would further alienate and chill congregants, members, donors and donees … and thereby infringe on plaintiffs’ right to free exercise, free speech and associational privacy,” their lawyers wrote in court papers in late March.

The New York Times, citing internal NYPD documents, reported this week that the police department’s Intelligence Division is continuing to debrief Muslims arrested for petty offenses to see what they know about other crimes and if some could be persuaded to volunteer as informants.

Police Commissioner William Bratton defended the debriefings Tuesday on a visit to Israel, telling the Jerusalem Post that they are “an essential element of policing” that doesn’t single out Muslims. City lawyers also say the NYPD puts people under surveillance for legitimate investigative reasons, not because of their ethnicity or religion.

But Muslim advocates say the program sends the wrong message.

 

“You Might Get Hit by a Car”: On Secret Tape, FBI Threatens American Muslim Refusing to be Informant

New details have emerged about the FBI’s efforts to turn Muslim Americans living abroad into government informants. An exposé in Mother Jones magazine chronicles the story of an American named named Naji Mansour who was living in Kenya. After he refused to become an informant, he saw his life, and his family’s life, turned upside down. He was detained, repeatedly interrogated and ultimately forced into exile in Sudan, unable to see his children for years. Mansour began recording his conversations with the FBI. During one call, an agent informs Mansour that he might get “hit by a car.” Mansour’s story is the focus of a new piece in Mother Jones titled “This American Refused to Become an FBI Informant. Then the Government Made His Family’s Life Hell.” We speak with Naji Mansour in Sudan and Nick Baumann, who investigated the story for Mother Jones.