The New York Police Department has been using invasive methods of spying on entire mosques and Islamic organizations, under the auspices of a law that allows such methods if an organization has been labeled a terrorism enterprise, the Associated Press reported.
Since the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the NYPD has launched several “terrorism enterprise investigations” into mosques, which allows police to use informants to record sermons and spy on imams, or initiate surveillance on anyone who worships there, often without specific evidence of criminal wrongdoing.
The allegations are based on hundreds of previously unpublished police files and interviews with current and former NYPD, CIA and FBI officials that are included in a new book, Enemies Within: Inside the NYPD’s Secret Spying Unit and bin Laden’s Final Plot Against America by AP reporters Matt Apuzzo and Adam Goldman.
The two reporters won the Pulitzer Prize for investigative reporting for their work uncovering the NYPD’s clandestine campaign against American Muslims.
According to an excerpt of the book published in New York Magazine this week, the NYPD’s program, “the likes of which America had never seen,” was launched by Ray Kelly almost as soon as he was sworn in as police commissioner in January 2002. The new approach was meant to empower the NYPD to prevent terrorist attacks rather than just react to them.
In terms of local and national law enforcement dragnets, “the NYPD went even further than the federal government,” the book alleges. “The activities Kelly set in motion after 9/11 pushed deeply into the private lives of New Yorkers, surveilling Muslims in their mosques, their sporting fields, their businesses, their social clubs, even their homes in a way not seen in America since the FBI and CIA monitored antiwar activists during the Nixon administration. It was a proactive approach, but, in constitutional terms, a novel one.”
The news of the NYPD’s infiltration of their lives has angered many Muslims, especially those affiliated with groups that have cooperated and collaborated with the department.
“When you lose your hope; when you lose your freedom; when you don’t find justice; when you don’t find democracy in a country always talking about these things, I think you have a right to be angry,” said Zein Rimawi, of the Islamic Society of Bay Ridge, which was infiltrated by the NYPD, in a AP video report.
This past June, the ACLU, along with the New York Civil Liberties Union and the CLEAR Project at CUNY Law School, filed a lawsuit against the NYPD, challenging the program.
The program is discriminatory and unconstitutional, as it profiles people and organizations based on religion and race, alleges the lawsuit, Raza v. City of New York. And, as a result of the spying, the plaintiffs said, their religious goals and practices have been “profoundly harmed.” Religious leaders censor what they say to their congregations, limit their religious counseling, and record their sermons, for fear that their statements could be taken out of context by police officers or informants. Newcomers are also looked at with distrust out of fear that they are NYPD informants.
“No one questions that the NYPD has a job to do,” Hina Shamsi of the ACLU, said in the AP video, “but it can’t do that job by singling people out on the basis of their religious belief or the color of their skin.”