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The NYPD's Big Lie

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The NYPD has violated a longstanding court order in its pervasive spying on Muslims and lied about it, according to papers to be filed today in federal court.

"The NYPD has deceived this court and counsel, as well as the public, concerning the character and scope of its activities," according to the papers, filed as a notice to enforce the 1986 court-ordered settlement with the police department.

The settlement, known as the department's Handschu guidelines, prohibited the NYPD from monitoring political activity without a prior indication of criminal activity.

It also prohibited the police department from maintaining files on political groups where there no evidence exists of criminal activity.

The papers, filed by civil rights lawyers long affiliated with the Handscu settlement, cite a speech of Police Commissioner Ray Kelly on March 3, 2012, to Fordham Law School alumni in which he said that "undercover officers and confidential informants do not enter a mosque unless they are following up on a lead vetted under Handschu."

Kelly's remarks seem belied by a secret Intelligence Division document, cited in the court papers, concerning the single-engine plane crash of Corey Lidle, a former New York Yankee baseball player, on October 11, 2006, and which was reported by NYPD Confidential on March 5, 2012.

The documents reveal that within 24 hours of the crash, the NYPD was searching for a terrorism link. By the following day, detectives from the NYPD's Intelligence Division had contacted informants and undercover detectives in at least five mosques and Islamic Centers around the city and in New Jersey to gauge the reaction to Lidle's crash.

"This exhibit illustrates the constant infiltration of religious organizations and meetings," the court papers say.

Here the NYPD is monitoring reaction to a plane crash already known not to involve terrorism or crime. The exhibit well characterizes the information collected as nothing but 'general chatter, statements of regret and expressions of relief.' For one member of a mosque, who 'appears agitated' the informant went so far as to promise a follow-up...

According to the court papers, Handschu lawyers seek to stop the department from keeping reports on police visits to public places like mosques that do not concern potential or unlawful terrorist activity.

The lawyers also seek a permanent auditor to monitor the department.

"There is a history of NYPD behavior that goes back to the Black Hand squad at the turn of the century that was directed against Italians," said Jethro Eisenstein, one of the lawyers who filed the court papers.

"The Black Hand squad became the Red Squad, which was directed against communists. The Red Squad became the Bureau of Special Services and Investigations [BOSSI], which was directed against the Black Panther Party. BOSSI is now the Intelligence Division, which is directed against Muslims."

In 2003, at the behest of Kelly and David Cohen, a former top CIA official who the year before Kelly appointed Deputy Commissioner of the Intelligence Division, Judge Charles Haight Jr. modified the Handschu guidelines. This allowed the department to investigate political activity without a criminal predicate.

Eight months later, after learning that detectives had questioned arrested anti-Iraq protestors in their jail cells about their personal lives and political affiliations, and then recorded their answers on a "demonstration debriefing form," Haight modified his modification.

Kelly denied all knowledge of the detectives' actions. In his decision Haight compared him to the Claude Rains character in the movie Casablanca, who says he is "shocked" to learn gambling goes on in Rick's café as he is handed his winnings.

The parties have been going round on Handschu issues ever since.

According to the court papers, this latest enforcement notice was predicated on reporting over the past two years by the Associated Press and this reporter.

In 2011, the AP disclosed that the Intelligence Division's Demographics Unit had mapped Muslim "hot spots" across the city by religion and national origin.

Adam Goldman, one of the four AP reporters who won the Pulizter Prize for their stories, said last month that Paul Browne, the police department's Deputy Commissioner for Public Information, had lied to him and reporter Matt Apuzzo before their first story appeared by denying the Demographics Unit ever existed.

Browne did not return an email message seeking comment.

Besides the Demographics Unit, the court papers cite a 2006 Intelligence Division "Strategic Posture" document -- reported by NYPD Confidential on September 5, 2011 and by the AP shortly afterwards -- which disclosed how the NYPD had infiltrated virtually every level of Muslim life in New York City.

According to that document, the NYPD's spying operation compiled information on 250 mosques, 12 Islamic schools, 31 Muslim student associations, 263 "ethnic hotspots" that include business and restaurants as well as 138 "person of interest." [See NYPD Confidential, Sept 5, 2011.]

In addition, the court papers cite a deposition, reported by the AP last August, of Assistant NYPD Intelligence Chief Thomas Galati, in which he said that in six years the Demographics Unit had not produced a single terrorist lead.

The papers also cite the NYPD's infiltration of the Muslim Student Association at John Jay College, also reported by the AP, by a police informant who has come forward and disowned his role in the spying.

"At first I thought I was helping to fight terrorism," the informant, Shamiur Rahman, says in a deposition, "but as I saw what I was asked to do, I was more interested in the money..."

"One of my earliest assignments was to spy on a lecture at the Muslim Student Association at John Jay College in Manhattan. I was told to report any 'buzz words' like jihad or revolution by the speaker. I was also told to monitor the student group itself..."

"On the instructions of my NYPD boss Steve, I attended additional events at John Jay and I traveled to events organized by the Islamic Circle of North America and the Muslim American Society. I was told to spy on the speakers and to collect information about those who attended..."

"I never saw anyone I spied on do anything illegal, not even littering."

His deposition concluded with the following: "At the end of September, 2012, I decided I did not want to spy on people any longer and I told my NYPD boss Steve that I was quitting. He offered me more money to continue but I declined the offer. I believe that the spying on the Muslim communities in New York by the NYPD Intelligence Division puts everyone at risk. If they are able to continue to target Muslims, they will end up spying on other groups as well."

A KOCH TALE. My most instructive Ed Koch story was one I never wrote. It was a story more about journalism than it was about Koch.

Shortly after Koch left office, the late newspaper columnist Jack Newfield called me. He said he was writing a book about New York's political corruption under Koch and that his last chapter concerned Koch and his supposed homosexual lover, a mid-level city employee.

Newfield said he did not want to be the first publish this homosexual allegation. To do so, he said, might hurt his image as a crusading liberal. Instead he asked me to write the story for New York Newsday, where I was then employed. He said he would then include it in his book's last chapter.

He gave me the city employee's name and I called both him and Koch. Both gave equivocal answers about their relationship, which, I felt, justified writing the story.

Still, feeling uneasy, I approached Sydney Schanberg, the former NY Times columnist and Vietnam correspondent who had recently come to Newsday.

Schanberg and Koch had been feuding. As mayor, Koch had denounced him before the City Hall press corps. If anyone had a personal beef with Koch, it was Schanberg.

Yet Schanberg advised me not to write the story. So what if Koch's answers had been equivocal? he said. This was not a matter involving corruption. It was about a personal relationship. Who of us, he said, always tells the truth about personal relationships?

I never wrote the story. I didn't think much of Newfield after that. I thought a lot of Schanberg.

With editing from Donald Forst