[Marxism] Spying on mosques ends in NY or does it?

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Sun May 11 07:08:02 MDT 2014


NY Times, April 15 2015
New York Drops Unit That Spied on Muslims
By MATT APUZZO and JOSEPH GOLDSTEIN

The New York Police Department has abandoned a secretive program that 
dispatched plainclothes detectives into Muslim neighborhoods to 
eavesdrop on conversations and built detailed files on where people ate, 
prayed and shopped, the department said.

The decision by the nation’s largest police force to shutter the 
controversial surveillance program represents the first sign that 
William J. Bratton, the department’s new commissioner, is backing away 
from some of the post-9/11 intelligence-gathering practices of his 
predecessor. The Police Department’s tactics, which are the subject of 
two federal lawsuits, drew criticism from civil rights groups and a 
senior official with the Federal Bureau of Investigation who said they 
harmed national security by sowing mistrust for law enforcement in 
Muslim communities.

(clip)

NY Times, May 11 2015
New York Police Recruit Muslims to Be Informers
By JOSEPH GOLDSTEIN

One man was a food cart vendor from Afghanistan, arrested during an 
argument with a parking enforcement officer over a ticket. Another was 
an Egyptian-born limousine driver, picked up in a prostitution sting. 
Still another was an accounting student from Pakistan, in custody for 
driving without a valid license.

The men, all Muslim immigrants, went through similar ordeals: Waiting in 
a New York station house cell or a lockup facility, expecting to be 
arraigned, only to be pulled aside and questioned by detectives. The 
queries were not about the charges against them, but about where they 
went to mosque and what their prayer habits were. Eventually, the 
detectives got to the point: Would they work for the police, 
eavesdropping in Muslim cafes and restaurants, or in mosques?

Beginning a few years after the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, a 
squad of detectives, known as the Citywide Debriefing Team, has combed 
the city’s jails for immigrants — predominantly Muslims — who might be 
persuaded to become police informants, according to documents obtained 
by The New York Times, along with interviews with former members of the 
unit and senior police officials.

Last month, the Police Department announced it had disbanded a 
controversial surveillance unit that had sent plainclothes detectives 
into Muslim communities to listen in on conversations and build detailed 
files on where people ate, prayed and shopped. But the continuing work 
of the debriefing team shows that the department has not backed away 
from other counterterrorism initiatives that it created in the years 
after the Sept. 11 attacks.

Indeed, in the first quarter of this year, according to police 
officials, the team conducted 220 interviews.

The Times reviewed two dozen reports generated by the debriefing team in 
early 2009. Together, the documents and the interviews offered an 
up-close view of how the squad operates, functioning as a recruiter for 
the Intelligence Division, the arm of the department that is dedicated 
to foiling terrorist plots. But they also showed that the division’s 
counterterrorism mission had come to intersect in some new — and 
potentially uncomfortable — ways with the department’s more traditional 
crime-fighting work.

They showed that religion had become a normal topic of police inquiry in 
the city’s holding cells and lockup facilities. Some reports written by 
detectives after debriefing sessions noted whether a prisoner attended 
mosque, celebrated Muslim holidays or had made a pilgrimage to Mecca. 
The report on the food cart vendor described the location of his 
Flushing mosque and noted that worshipers were a “mix of Afghani, 
Persian (Iranians) and Pakistani.” The Egyptian limousine driver said he 
“considers himself to be a Sunni Muslim” but “has not prayed at a Mosque 
in quite some time,” according to the report.

Debriefing Prisoners

Detectives have long relied on informants, including drug addicts and 
underworld figures. But the informants are typically asked to provide 
information about crimes they know about or other criminals with whom 
they are acquainted. By contrast, the Citywide Debriefing Team has 
sought to recruit Muslims regardless of what they know. Police officials 
described the interviews as voluntary, but several Muslim immigrant 
interviewees reached by The Times said they were shaken by the encounters.

John Miller, the deputy commissioner in charge of the Police 
Department’s Intelligence Division, said the debriefing team had emerged 
from the department’s urgent need in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 
attacks for a cadre of sources around the city who might be helpful in 
counterterrorism. One way to fill that gap, he said, was to look to the 
hundreds of thousands of people arrested by the department every year.

“We were looking for people who could provide visibility into the world 
of terrorism,” he said. “You don’t get information without talking to 
people.”

The debriefing team, he said, was extending an old, proven police 
technique — debriefing prisoners for what they might know about local 
crimes — and applying it to counterterrorism. “Has it had a learning 
curve?” said Mr. Miller, who previously led police counterterrorism 
efforts in Los Angeles under Commissioner William J. Bratton. “Yes, but 
it has also been effective.”

A former lieutenant in the Intelligence Division, William McGroarty, who 
retired last year, described the team as a “great asset” and said it 
provided “a big percentage” of the informants who were later parceled 
out to other units in the Intelligence Division.

The department’s wide-ranging surveillance of mosques and Muslim civic 
institutions and businesses has stoked controversy since The Associated 
Press first published documents detailing the monitoring in 2011. The 
A.P. mentioned the existence of the debriefing team that year but did 
not elaborate on its activities. Little had been publicly known about 
how the detectives went about identifying potential informants and the 
nature of their jailhouse interviews.

Police officials described the debriefing team’s interviews as 
“conversations,” as opposed to interrogations. But many of those 
interviewed said that as Muslim immigrants in a post-9/11 world, they 
felt they had little choice but to cooperate.

Reduced Charges

Bayjan Abrahimi, the food cart vendor from Afghanistan, was expecting to 
be released quickly after his arrest in March 2009 because of a dispute 
over a parking ticket. But three detectives came to interview him at the 
Harlem station house where he was being held.

They wanted to know “about Al Qaeda, do you know these people?” recalled 
Mr. Abrahimi, 31, who moonlights as a D.J. at Afghan weddings in Queens.

Mr. Abrahimi pleaded ignorance, but the questions continued. Detectives 
asked him about the mosque he attended and the nationalities of other 
Muslims who prayed there. They wanted to know about his brother, a taxi 
driver in Mazar-i-Sharif, in eastern Afghanistan. In the end, they made 
him a proposition: Would he be willing to visit mosques in the city and 
gather information, maybe even travel to Afghanistan?

“I say, ‘O.K., O.K., O.K., because I want to finish,’ ” Mr. Abrahimi 
said. “At this time, I’m really scared.”

The detective’s report on Mr. Abrahimi offered a sense of just how far 
into his personal life they had plumbed, noting that Mr. Abrahimi’s 
father had died fighting the Russians in Afghanistan a generation before 
and that Mr. Abrahimi now lived with his mother and a brother in 
Flushing, Queens. He spent his “free time in library reading and 
learning English,” according to the report. The report noted that Mr. 
Abrahimi agreed to provide detectives with the overseas phone number of 
his brother, the taxi driver. “Subject believes other family members 
would help if asked,” the report stated. Mr. Abrahimi was willing, if 
the Police Department requested, “to attend services at other locations 
and travel,” according to the report, which concluded by endorsing Mr. 
Abrahimi as “suitable for assignments locally and outside the city” and 
described him as showing “high potential to be used as an asset.”

After his release from jail — Mr. Abrahimi is uncertain but said he 
believed that the charges against him were simply dropped — he never 
heard from the detectives again, he said. In a recent interview, 
however, he remained troubled by the 2009 episode, trembling at the memory.

Moro Said, the Egyptian-born limousine driver picked up on prostitution 
charges, provided a similar account of what happened to him the month 
before Mr. Abrahimi’s arrest. Mr. Said, 57, said he was driving in 
Flushing when he pulled over because he thought a woman needed 
directions. The woman was an undercover police officer, and Mr. Said was 
arrested and brought to central booking in Queens.

Mr. Said expected to be brought before a judge, when officers led him 
out of a holding cell. He found himself in a small room, where a police 
officer offered to make his case go away.

“If you can help us, everything will be O.K.,” Mr. Said recalled the man 
as saying. When Mr. Said asked what was wanted in return, “He says, ‘You 
just go to the mosque and the cafe and just say to us if somebody is 
talking about anything, anything suspicious.’ ”

Mr. Said said he found it coercive that they would ask him to become an 
informant while he was in custody. While he was waiting, Mr. Said said 
an Afghan prisoner was also taken out and interviewed by the same 
investigator.

“It’s not appropriate,” said Mr. Said. “They’re fishing. You’re in 
trouble with the law and they are the law.” He said that by agreeing to 
do some of what the investigator asked him to do, he was simply trying 
to placate the police, “because I’m in a situation and they can make it 
bigger, believe me, they can make it bigger.” He said that when a 
detective called him about a week later to schedule a meeting, he 
declined, and “then I hang up.”

“I don’t want to be a spy on anybody,” Mr. Said said in a phone 
interview. “I hate spying.”

‘Noncoercive Sessions’

Mr. Miller described the debriefings as “noncoercive sessions where 
people had the ability to opt out at any time.” The goal was not to 
conduct an interrogation but to start a conversation and eventually 
build a relationship, he said. Investigators were trained to let the 
interview subject drive the conversation, he said, adding that religion 
might come up in that context.

“It’s not a thing where they sit down and say, ‘Are you a Muslim or a 
Sunni or a Shiite?’ ” Mr. Miller said. “That’s the kind of thing that 
comes up in conversation.”

Police officials credited the debriefing team, which they said dated to 
at least 2004, with generating a string of important cases and 
investigations. It was instrumental, they said, in identifying an 
informant who was later involved in the case against Jose Pimentel, a 
Manhattan man who had become fascinated by the American-born Muslim 
militant Anwar al-Awlaki, and later pleaded guilty to a terrorism 
charge. Police officials said the debriefing team also had led to 
information about individuals providing weapons to the Taliban, as well 
as fraudulent visas to the United States originating out of Guyana.
In 2007 and 2008, the squad’s 10 investigators conducted more than 1,000 
interviews, mostly in jails and during home visits with people on 
probation, according to the documents reviewed by The Times. Police 
officials say the pace has remained roughly the same, along with the 
size of the unit. A document dated Nov. 19, 2008, notes that in less 
than two years, the debriefing team shared the names of 171 people who 
expressed willingness to become confidential informants with other 
detective squads, including one known as the Terrorist Interdiction Unit.

Mr. McGroarty, the former Intelligence Division lieutenant, said that 
when detectives needed an informant for a specific investigation, they 
would ask the debriefing team to help them find a suitable person.

Bobby Hadid, a former sergeant with the unit and himself a Muslim 
immigrant from Algeria, said he had become increasingly uncomfortable 
with what he and his colleagues were doing, particularly when it came to 
asking questions about religion of many of the prisoners, who had been 
arrested for petty crimes or violations.

“We are detectives of the New York Police Department’s Intelligence 
Division,” he said. “We are there to collect intelligence about criminal 
activity or terrorism. Why are we asking, ‘Are you Muslim?’ ‘What mosque 
do you go to?’ What does that have to do with terrorism?”

Once a well-regarded investigator who had worked on the F.B.I.-led Joint 
Terrorism Task Force before being tapped to join the Intelligence 
Division, Mr. Hadid was eventually removed from the force after being 
convicted of perjury in a case unrelated to his counterterrorism work. 
The conviction, which he is appealing, involved his role as a translator 
in a murder investigation that had led to his being sent to France.

According to Mr. Hadid, each morning, detectives with the debriefing 
unit received a list of immigrants, cataloged by country of origin, who 
had been arrested in New York the previous day. Arrestees from Middle 
Eastern and other predominantly Muslim countries, typically, attracted 
the most interest from detectives, along with prisoners with 
Arabic-sounding names, Mr. Hadid said. Periodically, there would be 
directives for the detectives to focus on immigrants of a specific 
nationality.

A 2007 document showed the team interviewed 564 people from 66 
countries. More than a third came from the Middle East; another sixth 
came from Southeast Asia; and just under a tenth came from Africa.

Held a Few Hours Longer

“Please don’t let him through until my guys talk to him,” Mr. Hadid 
recalled saying when calling ahead to a precinct or lockup facility to 
ask that a prisoner be held until his detectives arrived. As a result, 
Mr. Hadid said, these immigrants remained locked up a few hours longer.

After each interview, the detectives filed detailed reports about the 
prisoner that were entered into a database. In many instances, they 
included the names of relatives, including children: “Subject daughter 
is ‘Myriam’, age 6 and youngest child is ‘Omar’ age 2 years,” stated 
part of a six-page report filed about a furniture salesman, who had been 
arrested for driving without a license and making an improper left turn.

At times, the information supplied would seem of greater relevance to a 
sociologist studying assimilation than to police detectives. During one 
interview, a detective asked about where Somali immigrants tended to 
gather. “Subject stated that a popular restaurant for Somalis is uptown 
in NYC,” the detective wrote. “This is a Korean ‘all you can eat’ 
restaurant.”

In reports reviewed by The Times, prisoners provided information about 
crimes or people who were harassing them. One report provided 
information about suppliers of khat leaves, a stimulant popular among 
immigrants from the Horn of Africa. In another report, an Egyptian 
immigrant who joined the United States military named several men who he 
believed were part of the Muslim Brotherhood of Egypt and who were 
pressuring him to hand over his military pay because “it was unholy money.”

Not every interview ended with a prisoner agreeing to become an 
informant. One Somali, a detective noted in his report, “wishes to get 
out of jail first before making a decision.”

In interviews, other men said they had agreed to become informants to 
placate the police, but had little intention of following through. 
“You’re going to agree with the cops and try to help your situation in 
any way possible,” said one man, the son of Egyptian immigrants, who was 
arrested at age 19 over a stolen fountain pen.

The man, who insisted on anonymity because of the sensitivity of the 
matter, recalled being surprised when detectives began asking him where 
he prayed and other queries “that had nothing to do with the incident.”

After he was released from the station house, the man began getting 
calls from a detective. They met once at a shopping mall, and the 
detective offered to pay him if he would visit different mosques and 
report back to the police on “what was going on.”

He said he had told the detective that he needed to focus on college and 
could not become an informant. When the detective called again, the man 
did not pick up.

Matt Apuzzo contributed reporting.




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