NEW YORK — Fed up with a decade of police spying on the innocuous details of the daily lives of Muslims, activists in New York are discouraging people from going directly to the police with their concerns about terrorism, a campaign that is certain to further strain relations between the two groups.
Muslim community leaders are openly teaching people how to identify police informants, encouraging them to always talk to a lawyer before speaking with the authorities and reminding people already working with law enforcement that they have the right to change their minds. Some members of the community have planned a demonstration for next week.
Some government officials point to this type of outreach as proof that Muslims aren’t cooperating in the fight against terrorism, justifying the aggressive spy tactics, while many in the Muslim community view it as a way to protect themselves from getting snared in a secret police effort to catch terrorists.
As a result, one of America’s largest Muslim communities — in a city that’s been attacked twice and targeted more than a dozen times — is caught in a downward spiral of distrust with the nation’s largest police department: The New York City Police Department spies on Muslims, which makes them less likely to trust police.
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.
NEW YORK (AP) — Seven Democratic state senators called Wednesday for the state attorney general to investigate the New York Police Department’s spying on Muslim neighborhoods.
In a letter to Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, the senators cited an Associated Press investigation that found the NYPD has subjected entire communities to surveillance and scrutiny, often without any allegation of wrongdoing. Police built databases of businesses that catered to Muslims and monitored where certain Muslims ate, shopped, lived and prayed.
The Democrats who signed the letter represent districts in New York City. They asked Schneiderman to investigate whether police surveillance and operations without evidence of criminality or wrongdoing violated the state constitution.
Sen. Kevin Parker, who represents part of Brooklyn and said the borough has one of the largest Muslim populations in the nation, said he was “deeply troubled that the NYPD seeks to criminalize an entire faith tradition.”
“The message seems to be if you are Muslim, you are guilty until proven innocent,” he said. “… We face serious security challenges; unfortunately this approach by the department may not only violate the law but also focuses resources on law-abiding citizens rather than focusing on those who seek to do us harm.”
NEW YORK (AP) — With its whitewashed bell tower, groomed lawns and Georgian-style buildings, Brooklyn College looks like a slice of 18th Century America dropped into modern-day New York City. But for years New York police have feared this bucolic setting might hide a sinister secret: the beginnings of a Muslim terrorist cell.
Investigators have been infiltrating Muslim student groups at Brooklyn College and other schools in the city, monitoring their Internet activity and placing undercover agents in their ranks, police documents obtained by The Associated Press show. Legal experts say the operation may have broken a 19-year-old pact with the colleges and violated U.S. privacy laws, jeopardizing millions of dollars in federal research money and student aid.
Meanwhile, students said they worried the surveillance on campus could follow them after graduation or extend to their families and workplaces.
“We have nothing to hide. But this is obviously baby steps: it could lead to something greater,” said Sultan Alreyashi, 18, a freshman. “They could say, ‘Oh, now we need to investigate the mosques, now we need to investigate whatever.’ So it becomes very disturbing to the whole community, not just to students in college. You give them a hand, they take a whole arm.”
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.
WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama’s counterterrorism adviser and the Republican chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee are offering support for the New York Police Department after an Associated Press investigation revealed a secret police unit that monitored daily life inside Muslim communities.
Muslim civil liberties groups and a Brooklyn congresswoman have called on the Justice Department to investigate the NYPD for its Demographics Unit, which maintained a list of 28 countries that, along with “American Black Muslim,” were considered “ancestries of interest.” Nearly all were Muslim countries.
Undercover police officers known as “rakers” would then eavesdrop inside Muslim businesses and write daily reports as they kept an eye on mosques, religious schools and social clubs.
The NYPD has denied that the department has ever had anything called the Demographics Unit. Documents obtained by the AP describe the Demographics Unit in great detail, showing how the NYPD singled out minority neighborhoods for extra scrutiny.
The Demographics Unit and other NYPD intelligence programs were created in the months after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks as part of an unusual partnership with the police department and the CIA. The CIA dispatched a veteran officer, Lawrence Sanchez, to New York, where he guided and oversaw the programs.
By Michelle Nichols
Islamist extremists similar to the Times Square bomber are living among New Yorkers and the threat of attack by “homegrown terrorists” is not diminishing, city Police Commissioner Ray Kelly said. A failed attempt by a Pakistan-born U.S. citizen to blow up a car bomb in midtown Manhattan last month confirmed “the threat from radical Islam shows no sign of receding,” Kelly told the Association for a Better New York, a non-profit group.
(NEW YORK, NY 9/9/09) A coalition of Muslim advocates, lawyers and community leaders today called the NYPD decision to add a “Statement of Clarification” (Clarification) to its 2007 report, “Radicalization in the West: The Homegrown Threat” a “welcome first step.” They urged the NYPD to publicize the Clarification and engage in deeper dialogue with the group to ensure effective security policy.
The Clarification, which followed ongoing meetings and consultation with the New York based Muslim American Civil Liberties Coalition (MACLC), stated clearly that the NYPD’s 2007 report “should not be read to characterize Muslims as intrinsically dangerous or intrinsically linked to terrorism, and that it cannot be a license for racial, religious, or ethnic profiling.”
Report with clarification (pp 11-12) available here.
At the headquarters of the New York Police Department, in a high-ceilinged, wood-floored room, Erhan Yildirim is speaking to a group of officers. As he lists facts about Islam, they crack their gum and tap their feet. Yildirim is slighter, shorter and snazzier — in a sleek Turkish-made suit — than most of his audience, and he speaks with a Turkish accent to their Brooklynese. Yildirim, as the part-time civilian liaison of the NYPD to Muslims throughout the city, is a man assigned to bridge cultures. “I’m the PR,” says Yildirim, and the PR goes two ways: At once, he is trying to redeem the name of the police department to Muslims and the reputation of Islam to police officers.