Friday, April 18, 2014

155.3 - Good News: NYC shuts down program spying on Muslims

Good News: NYC shuts down program spying on Muslims

Yet another bit of good news is out of New York City, this one on a different topic.

In 2002, the New York Police Department, the NYPD, established what it called the Demographics Unit. What this unit did, in the name of "counterterrorism," was, in short, spy on Muslims and not only in the city but well beyond.

The unit, conceived with the help of a CIA agent working with the NYPD, assembled databases on where Muslims lived, shopped, worked and prayed. Plainclothes officers infiltrated Muslim student groups, put informants in mosques, monitored sermons, and cataloged Muslims in New York who adopted new, Americanized surnames.

They eavesdropped on conversations in restaurants and bookstores. They monitored Muslims’ social media activity, their websites, their blogs. They watched community centers, businesses, and even elementary schools.

This went on for years, continuing even after it was exposed in a Pulitzer-prize winning series by the
Associated Press. Continued despite the blatant bigotry in the bottom-line concept that the Muslim community is the place to look for quote "budding terrorist plots." In fact, in a deposition related to a suit against the program, Assistant Chief Thomas Galati described how police gathered information on people even when there was no evidence of wrongdoing, simply because of their ethnicity and native language.

And you know what all this produced? Nothing. Not a damn thing. In that same deposition, Galati said that in the six years he had been commanding officer of the NYPD's Intelligence Division, the Demographics Unit never generated a lead or triggered a terrorism investigation.

Those two things together - the blatant bigotry and the fantastic failure - lead, on April 15, to the only good news that can come out of such an abomination: The program has been shut down. The unit has been disbanded.

But I have to add: Hold the applause. Remember I told you last week that one of the ways the spooks get away with continuing to spy is when they're caught, they change some names, shuffle some papers, and say "oh well, that old bad program, that's all gone now" while they continue to do the same things under a different name.

What we need to be satisfied - or, more accurately, reasonably reassured - is a flat-out statement that the NYPD will no longer spy on or surveil any individual, community, location, or organization without actual suspicion of wrongdoing and that the information gathered by the Demographics Unit - which, by the way, had been renamed the Zone Assessment Unit (Remember what I said about just renaming things?) - has been destroyed, including any copies that may have been distributed to other units or agencies.

No loopholes. As one leader of the Muslim community in New York put it, "The concern wasn't just about the fact that this data was being collected secretly - it was about the fact that this data was being collected at all."

The good news is that the NYPD has been forced to react. Now it's necessary to make sure it's more than words.

Sources cited in links:

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