The Associated Press has released internal NYPD documents that further fuel an investigation into a controversial counter-terrorism program in New York. It's been reported that the New York Police Department and the CIA (Central Intelligence Agency) partnered up to form a surveillance unit. Undercover NYPD officers isolated Muslim communities for surveillance and infiltration. Referred to as the Demographics Unit, the NYPD repeatedly has denied that it exists. But newly released, internal documents suggest otherwise, including a presentation of the unit’s mission and a 2006 police memo reprimanding an undercover detective who allegedly wasn’t effective enough in detecting “extremist rhetoric.” The documents indicate that the unit consisted of a crew of 16 undercover officers who were dispatched to ethnic communities and instructed to identify and map ethnic “hot spots” in New York. The officers dressed in civilian clothes, identified the ethnicity of specific business owners, attended popular spots for social gatherings such as cafes, and eavesdropped on conversations. They were told to look for evidence of terrorist plots. To help the officers out, the unit listed key indicators of trouble, including criminal activity, mosques and community centers. The officers were fluent in languages commonly spoken among Muslim immigrants, including Arabic and Urdu. In addition, the unit listed 28 countries – all of which are Muslim-majority countries – as "ancestries of interest," along with “American Black Muslim[s].” Critics are calling this a blatant act of racial and religious profiling. But others contend it’s necessary for the sake of ensuring national security. Is this a violation of civil rights? Or would it be impossible for police to ignore this aspect of countering terrorism? How does this method of policing square with the latest initiative from the White House that seeks a softer, integrated approach that works within communities?
Gadeir Abbas, Staff Attorney, Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR)
Patrick Dunleavy, former Deputy Inspector General of the Criminal Intelligence Division, New York State Department of Corrections; worked with the NYPD Intelligence Division from 2002-2005; author of the forthcoming book, The Fertile Soil of Jihad: Terrorism’s Prison Connection.