by ELIAS ISQUITH
Since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the New York Police Department has 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, an Associated Press investigation has found.
The operations have benefited from unprecedented help from the CIA, a partnership that has blurred the line between foreign and domestic spying.
The department has dispatched undercover officers, known as “rakers,” into minority neighborhoods as part of a human mapping program, according to officials directly involved in the program. They’ve monitored daily life in bookstores, bars, cafes and nightclubs. Police have also used informants, known as “mosque crawlers,” to monitor sermons, even when there’s no evidence of wrongdoing.
Neither the city council, which finances the department, nor the federal government, which has given NYPD more than $1.6 billion since 9/11, is told exactly what’s going on.
Many of these operations were built with help from the CIA, which is prohibited from spying on Americans but was instrumental in transforming the NYPD’s intelligence unit.
First it becomes uncontroversial for the CIA to de facto direct domestic spying operations. Soon it’s hardly a hop, skip, or jump from that to saying, “Hey, we might as well just do this ourselves. It’ll be cheaper. Belt-tightening! Austerity!” I’m not always so fond of slippery-slope arguments, but this one hardly requires one to bust out the tin-foil hat.
What makes this even more disconcerting, however, is the content of the operations the CIA is now second-degree running in NYC, which are patently based upon racial profiling. Take this less-than-wholly-convincing non-sequitur response from an NYPD official, supposedly explaining how that’s just simply not true:
The NYPD assigned undercover officers to monitor neighborhoods, looking for potential trouble. Using census data, police matched undercover officers to ethnic communities and instructed them to blend in, the officials said. They hung out in hookah bars and cafes, quietly observing the community around them.
The unit, which has been undisclosed until now, became known inside the department as the Demographic Unit, former police officials said.
“It’s not a question of profiling. It’s a question of going where the problem could arise,” said Mordecai Dzikansky, a retired NYPD intelligence officer who said he was aware of the Demographic Unit. “And thank God we have the capability. We have the language capability and the ethnic officers. That’s our hidden weapon.”
Cohen said he wanted the squad to “rake the coals, looking for hot spots,” former officials recalled. The undercover officers soon became known inside the department as rakers.
For years, detectives also used informants known as mosque crawlers to monitor weekly sermons and report what was said, several current and former officials directly involved in the informant program said. If FBI agents were to do that, they would be in violation of the Privacy Act, which prohibits the federal government from collecting intelligence on purely First Amendment activities.
Browne, the NYPD spokesman, flatly denied the accounts of mosque crawlers and rakers. He said the NYPD only uses undercover officers and informants to follow leads, not to target ethnic neighborhoods.
Nearly ten years after September 11, our law enforcement agencies are still operating as if it were 9/12/2001, with all the hysteria and short-sightedness that entails.....