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Len Levitt

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A Black Eye for Democracy

Posted: 03/11/2013 2:13 pm

Call it a cri de coeur, a collective cry of the heart, from voices rarely heard -- the city's Muslim community, pushing back for the first time against the NYPD's secret spying on them for the past decade.

Based on interviews with 57 people, their 54-page report, written with the support of the CUNY School of Law, Muslim Student Associations and grass-roots Muslim organizations, describes the spying's chilling effect on Muslim New Yorkers, who have come to distrust their friends, classmates, religious leaders and the NYPD.

"Conversations relating to foreign policy, civil rights and activism area all deemed off-limits as interviewees fear such conversations would draw greater NYPD scrutiny," the report says.

"Parents discourage their children from being active in Muslim student groups, protests or other activism, believing that these activities would threaten to expose them to government scrutiny."

"Interviewees unanimously observed that everyone scrutinizes everyone, noting particular hesitation with regards to new faces in the community or converts to Islam."

"I don't want any new friends," says Faisal Hashmi, who the report describes as an activist from Queens. "If I don't know you and your family or know that you have a family that I can check you back to, I don't want to know you. "

Nearly all interviewees thought they knew someone who was an informant or an undercover officer.

"Everyone is being asked to spy," the report quotes Grace, 23, identified as Queens resident. "They must have been threatened or bribed to spy... I know this because they tried to bribe me."

The report cites the case of Shamiur Rahman, who spied on members of the Muslim Students Association at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, then apologetically outed himself on his Facebook page.

Ali Naquvi, described in the report as a community organizer, says: "Surveillance has also deterred mobilization related to law enforcement accountability and reform because people fear that speaking out against surveillance would only lead to greater surveillance."

Ahsan Samad, 26, of Brooklyn says: "Free speech isn't a privilege that Muslims have."

The report also cites the "self-censorship" on college campuses because of the police's infiltrating Muslim Student Associations.

"Police monitoring of Muslims' political opinions has devastating effects on classroom dynamics," the report says, citing fears that professors might misinterpret their views.

The report quotes Brooklyn College Professor Jeanne Theoharis, saying: "I think Muslim students are getting an inferior education because of this."

The report also cites a "deep mistrust of the NYPD... Individuals did not view it as a protective force or a resource for those in need of assistance -- rather, the police are increasingly regarded as threatening and untrustworthy."

This attitude, the report says, "has trickled into day-to-day interactions with beat-police officers, whether it is hesitation about filing stolen phone complaints, asking an officer for directions or reporting hate crimes."

The report also cites the half-truths, misstatements and lies of Police Commissioner Ray Kelly and his NYPD underlings.

The report mentions the documentary, "The Third Jihad," which was used as a training tool and whose narrator suggests that Muslims want to "infiltrate and dominate" America.

After stating that the film had never been shown to officers and that Kelly had played no role in it, Kelly's spokesman, Paul Browne, admitted it had been shown to cops "on a continuous loop" and that the filmmakers had interviewed Kelly for 90 minutes.

When two reporters from the Associated Press -- whose reporting on the NYPD spying earned them a Pulitzer Prize -- asked Browne about the NYPD's Demographics Unit, which mapped Muslim communities by religion and ethnicity, Browne denied the unit had ever existed.

The report notes that the department changed its stance on the supposedly numerous terrorism plots it says it prevented against the city.

For years, Kelly and Browne maintained that the NYPD had single-handedly prevented 14 plots. More recently, they have taken this back, acknowledging that the FBI had foiled most of them, with the NYPD playing a supporting role.

None of these terrorist plots gained more mileage than that of the Brooklyn Bridge.

In 2002, after Iyman Faris, an Ohio trucker, abandoned his plan to destroy the bridge, Kelly maintained that Faris did so after spotting NYPD patrol cars at the bridge's entry ramps. As proof, Kelly cited a coded message Faris sent to his Al Qaeda superiors: "The weather is too hot."

The police presence, it turned out, had nothing to do with deterring Faris. According to a Justice Department press release at Faris's sentencing on Oct. 28, 2003, Faris said he aborted the plot because he lacked "gas cutters" -- equipment necessary to sever the bridge's suspension cables.

Despite Kelly's claims that round-the clock police presence has protected the bridge from future attacks, he has yet to explain how last summer a graffiti artist named Lewy BTM managed to climb atop the bridge and tag his name in three places. [See NYPD Confidential July 9, 2012.]

Polls show that the most New Yorkers support the NYPD spying. The city's political establishment, starting with Mayor Michael Bloomberg and continuing with the current mayoral candidates, have fallen over themselves to praise Kelly.

The leadership of the city's academic community has remained silent. After NYPD Confidential reported the NYPD's infiltration of Muslim Student Associations on six city college campuses, CUNY Chancellor Matthew Goldstein issued this response:

The university believes that its academic communities have every right to express their concerns. In this matter, since the colleges were not consulted and have indicated no knowledge on the subject, it would be inappropriate to make speculative comments.

Last year, after the AP revealed that Rahman had spied on the Muslim Student Association at the John Jay, its president, Jeremy Travis, pronounced himself "deeply troubled" and announced he would discuss the matter with the NYPD.

Apparently, the extent of Travis' discussion was a letter to Browne. Travis has refused to say what Browne replied, or if he even responded.

Many New Yorkers are aware that before the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, the radical Muslim clergymen, Sheik Abdul Rahman -- the so-called "blind sheik" and "spiritual adviser" for that attack -- had preached hatred of America in various mosques in New Jersey and in Brooklyn. Rahman was subsequently convicted of conspiring with nine others to blow up city landmarks and is currently serving a life-sentence in federal prison.

Asked why such preaching shouldn't justify the police infiltration of mosques, Diala Shamas, a Liman fellow at the CUNY School of Law and one of the report's two authors, said:

The onus should not be on the Muslim community to prove that the department is wrong in indiscriminately surveilling, recording sermons and spying on tens of thousands of people but on the police department to show that they are effective.

OK, so has the NYPD's spying been effective?

Late last year, Chief Thomas Galati, the commanding officer of the Intelligence Division, which conducts most of the spying, testified that the Demographics Unit had provided not a single lead in exposing terrorism.

Earlier this year, Kelly publicly acknowledged at a seminar at the YMHA that his vaunted oversees spying service, which has stationed detectives in 11 cities around the world, had produced not a single tip about potential attacks against the city. [See NYPD Confidential, Jan. 14th, 2013.]

Kelly has also maintained that the NYPD's spying on Muslims "only follows leads." He has yet to explain why officers from the Intelligence Division spied on Buffalo's Somali community in 2007 and 2008 when its local law enforcement liaison reported that there was no evidence of terrorism criminality in that community. [See NYPD Confidential Feb. 27, 2012.]

One of the philosophical pillars on which The NYPD has based its spying is "homegrown" or "lone wolf" terrorist threats.

Those threats have been articulated by Dr. Marc Sageman, a former CIA official with a doctorate and medical degree and the author of two books on terrorism, who in 2008 became the NYPD's first and only "scholar in residence."

In what appears to be an unprecedented financial arrangement for a municipal agency, Sageman was paid $180,000 through a non-profit organization called the NYPD Counter-Terrorism Foundation, which was set up by the department and raised $300,000 from secret donors.

Its president was Stephen Hammerman, the department's former deputy commissioner for Legal Affairs; its secretary, Joseph Wuencsh, Kelly's chief of staff.

Who the donors are remains a mystery.

The focus on lone-wolf threats has led the NYPD to pursue mentally unstable young men, at least two of whom have histories of psychiatric treatment.

It has also led them to operate as a lone-wolf law enforcement agency, apart from its terrorism-fighting law enforcement partner, the FBI.

Its first such success was the conviction of Matin Siraj, arrested on the eve of the 2004 Republican National Convention for conspiring to blow up the Herald Square subway station. The NYPD did not alert the FBI to its investigation until shortly before Siraj's indictment.

Testimony at Siraj's trial revealed that the NYPD had paid an informant $100,000 to egg on Siraj and his co-defendant, James El Shafay.

Testimony also revealed Siraj had an I.Q. considered borderline-retarded and that El Shafay, was depressive and schizophrenic, and recently released from a mental institution.

Once arrested, El Shafay pleaded guilty and testified against Siraj, who was convicted and sentenced to 30 years in prison.

This week, a second supposed lone wolf, Ahmed Ferhani, is to be sentenced after pleading guilty in Manhattan State Supreme Court under a state terrorism law, which was used because the FBI declined to pursue Ferhani's prosecution.

Law enforcement sources said that FBI agents from its Joint Terrorist Task Force, which is charged with investigating all terrorism plots, distrusted the NYPD's undercover officer who produced the evidence against Ferhani and his co-defendant, Mohamed Mamdouh. This distrust was furthered when the NYPD refused to allow the JTTF to interview the undercover. [See NYPD Confidential, May 23, 2011.]

At a City Hall news conference, announcing the arrest with great fanfare, Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance accused Ferhani and Mamdouh of plotting to blow up the largest synagogue in Manhattan and to kill as many Jews as possible.

A grand jury, however, failed to indict them on the top terrorism charge. Instead they were indicted on lesser state terror and hate crime counts.

Ferhani's lawyer has claimed Ferhani has had 30 involuntary commitments to psychiatric wards since age 17.

The third case involves Jose Pimentel, a Dominican immigrant who the NYPD says was an Al Qaeda adherent, preparing to make bombs in his mother's Washington Heights apartment. He too was described as having mental problems.

The FBI again refused to pursue the case, saying it distrusted the NYPD informant who developed the evidence against him and who supplied him with bomb-making equipment, then helped him make the bomb.

If anyone thinks he is safer from terrorism because of any of these arrests, he should think again.

With editing from Donald Forst.

 
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