Professors at Brooklyn College have become the first city employees to publicly condemn the NYPD's spying on local Muslims.
In a September 13th resolution, Brooklyn College's Faculty Council denounced the spying on Islamic students, suggesting that the police department targeted them without any proof that they were engaging in terrorist activity.
"The Faculty Council opposes surveillance activities by the NYPD and affiliated agencies on our campus either directly or through the use of informants for the purposes of collecting information independent of a valid and specific criminal investigation," the resolution read.
Meanwhile, the department has come up with a unique way to legally justify its spying.
According to a former top police official, it has established its own internal review committee to determine whether prior evidence or indications existed that anyone under surveillance had been planning to break the law.
But this is hardly an independent committee. It reportedly consists of Police Intelligence head David Cohen, the former CIA spook and current NYPD spy mastermind; Chief Thomas Galati, the Intelligence Division's commanding officer who at Cohen's direction in 2007 violated diplomatic protocol by making the arriving Iranian delegation to the United Nations sit on the tarmac of at Kennedy airport for 40 minutes while he conducted a weapons check -- to the chagrin of the waiting Secret Service, Port Authority Police and the State Department Security Service; Stu Parker, whom the official described as "of counsel" to Cohen, although he is not listed in the NYPD roster; and the department's Deputy Commissioner of Legal Affairs, Andrew Schaffer.
This committee begs the question of whether there is any oversight over the NYPD's domestic spying program outside the police department. Three of the committee's four members belong to the Intelligence Division, which means they are monitoring themselves. The fourth, Schaffer, is not regarded as a department heavy hitter.
The Brooklyn College Faculty Council urged the college administration to issue its "own public statement outlining their opposition to on campus surveillance... as well as detailing their knowledge of or involvement in this surveillance and information gathering.
"We call on the administration to demand publicly that the NYPD inform those groups and individuals that have been the subject of this surveillance of the fact of the surveillance and the nature of the information gathered," it said.
The Faculty Council said its resolution was prompted by a recent NYPD Confidential column, also printed in the Huffington Post, that detailed the NYPD's extensive spying operation directed against hundreds of Muslim mosques, schools, business, student groups, non-governmental organizations and individuals, reaching virtually every level of Muslim life in New York City.
Documents from the NYPD's Intelligence Division revealed that between 2003 and 2006 the department monitored Muslim Student Associations at Brooklyn College, calling them "of concern."
These documents about the police spying do not make clear whether the police had evidence or suspicions of criminality to justify their monitoring of the Muslim groups.
According to the documents, at least one undercover police officer was sent to spy on Brooklyn College's Muslim student groups and a "Cyber Unit" was sent to monitor them.
The documents also listed 42 top tier "persons of concern," one of whom, the NYPD said, "lectures" at Brooklyn College.
The police documents called two other "persons of interest" Brooklyn College MSA members, saying that one "has expressed desire to be a suicide bomber in Palestine."
Karen L. Gould, who became college president in 2009, reportedly told the schools' Faculty Council that she was unaware of the spying and believed that her predecessor also didn't know about it either, according sources on faculty council.
The council is the faculty's governing body and voting members consist of chairpersons and department and divisional representatives. Ms. Gould did not return a phone call to her office.
The intelligence documents also revel the NYPD has been monitoring Muslim student groups at other local colleges, including City, Baruch, Hunter, Queens, LaGuardia, St. Johns and Stony Brook on Long Island.
The NYPD placed an undercover officer at Baruch College and the police Cyber Unit monitored students at both Brooklyn and Queens College, according to the documents.
In addition, the NYPD has used what Intelligence Division documents refer to as "secondary" undercovers at Hunter, City, LaGuardia and St. Johns.
Attempts to reach City University Chancellor Matthew Goldstein were unsuccessful.
According to the documents, a Suffolk County police department undercover was placed at the State University at Stony Brook.
These documents surfaced following an Associated Press report in late August that the NYPD had become "one of the nation's most aggressive domestic intelligence agencies, targeting ethnic communities in ways that would run afoul of civil liberties rules if practiced by the federal government."
The AP story added that the department had benefited from unprecedented help from the CIA, a partnership that the AP said "has blurred the line between foreign and domestic spying."
Last week, the AP reported that the CIA's Inspector General is investigating whether the CIA broke the law with regards to its relationship with the NYPD since it's illegal for the CIA to spy on Americans domestically.
A former top CIA official, Cohen has headed the NYPD's Intelligence Division since 2002, appointed by Ray Kelly just weeks after becoming Police Commissioner.
Cohen recruited a veteran CIA officer, Larry Sanchez, who, the AP reported, became the architect of the NYPD's intelligence programs while still working for the CIA. After leaving the CIA, he was listed in the police department's roster book as an NYPD Assistant Commissioner.
After he left the NYPD earlier this year, he was succeeded by another CIA official, whose name the Agency has asked reporters to keep confidential.
MEASELS MIKE AND PETE VALLONE. Mayor Michael Bloomberg has abdicated his responsibility as the city's top elected official to exert civilian control over the police department's spying, either for political reasons or because he is afraid to confront Commissioner Kelly.
The mayor's head-in-the-sand position towards the NYPD's spying on the city's Muslims was reflected in his bizarre response to questions about it.
"If you want to look for cases of measles, you'll find a lot more of them among young people," he said. "That's not targeting young people to go see whether they have measles or not."
Asked about the CIA's internal investigation and whether he thought its partnership with the NYPD violated any laws, Bloomberg said, "How would I know? They're doing an investigation. That's what -- if I knew, I'd be happy to tell them. But my guess is no."
Just behind Mayor Mike's ostrich-like stance is City Councilman Peter Vallone, who chairs the Public Safety Committee. When asked by the AP about overseeing the NYPD, he responded: "We have done extensive oversight of the NYPD's terror activities and that oversight includes confidential briefings by the commissioner to myself."
That sounds hardly reassuring to New Yorkers concerned about the lack of civilian oversight amid mounting sings that the police department's police Intelligence Division may have become a rogue agency.
Question for Pete: At which confidential briefing did Commissioner Kelly tell you about sending undercover police officers and confidential informants to spy on students at all those City Universities? Vallone did not return a message left on his cell phone.
YET ANOTHER TERRORISM MYSTERY. While the CIA may be barred from conducting domestic spying on Americans, the FBI has no such prohibition. In fact, that is what the FBI does. Why then didn't the NYPD partner with the Bureau instead of the CIA? Next time that Commissioner Kelly or FBI Director Robert Mueller says that media reports of tension between the two agencies are overblown, ask them that question.
TRUTH. The AP also reported the existence of the Intelligence Division's Demographics Unit, which it said used census data to match officers to ethnic communities -- i.e., Muslims from various Middle Eastern countries. NYPD spokesman Paul Browne, who is known to readers of this column as Mr. Truth, denied the existence of this Demographic Unit. Here now is a page from the Intelligence Division's own documents. Readers can judge for themselves whether Browne was telling the truth.
The Morning Email helps you start your workday with everything you need to know: breaking news, entertainment and a dash of fun. Learn more