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Mosque Crawlers and Demonized US Muslims

Published: 15/05/2012 04:18:31 PM GMT
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WASHINGTON - After the events of September 11, 2001, unbeknownst to the public, a covert program was created for the New York Police Department (NYPD) to monitor Muslim citizens.Led by two CIA veterans, David Cohen and Lar (more)

WASHINGTON - After the events of September 11, 2001, unbeknownst to the public, a covert program was created for the New York Police Department (NYPD) to monitor Muslim citizens.

Led by two CIA veterans, David Cohen and Larry Sanchez, the program utilized methods that were normally reserved for organized crime.

Plain-clothed officers and undercover agents - sometimes dubbed "mosque crawlers" - were directed in New York City and across state lines into New Jersey, Connecticut and Pennsylvania, to monitor hundreds of Muslim citizens who were not suspected of illegal activities. Entire neighborhoods were covered, as well as places where Muslims did business, went to school, hung out, worshiped or visited.

Without warrant, website activities and telephone conversations were also scanned. Daily reports were submitted by the squad, known to insiders, as the Demographics Unit.

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The Associated Press had been reporting on this story since August of 2011. The NYPD denied the Demographics Unit existed, having their spokesman Paul Browne affirming "There is no such unit, there is nothing called the Demographics Unit."

In turn, the AP dispatched some of their evidence to the public, like a leaked 2007 internal document from the NYPD itself.

On the first page of these documents, the authors were credited as the "Intelligence Division Demographics Unit". The NYPD wasn't amused, and previous denial of these operations was dropped in favor of promoting their necessity.

When Police Commissioner Rayond Kelly engaged the Fordham Law School graduates, and as over 100 protesters gathered outside, he defended the surveillance, stating in part "If terrorists aren't limited by borders and boundaries, we can't be either."

As more documents leaked, national interest grew.

Civil rights lawyers and organizations like the Council on American-Islamic Relations, along with the American Civil Liberties Union, said this was an invasion of privacy and that it violated the US Constitution. Rutgers University balked at the harassment of their students.

Yale University students responded with a Facebook campaign using a mixture of serious and satirical photos decrying racial and religious profiling.

Muslims like Elizabeth Dann, a third-year law student at New York University, wrote articles and advocated readers to urge Congress to pass the End Racial Profiling Act, legislation that was initiated by congressmen Ben Cardin and John Conyers.

The FBI, as it turns out, was kept in the dark; but the FBI's general counsel Valerie Caproni weighed in, "If you're sending an informant into a mosque when there is no evidence of wrongdoing, that's a very high-risk thing to do, you're running right up against core constitutional rights. You're talking about freedom of religion."

The gap between reality and the perceived danger of Muslims was magnified when the New York Times interviewed Charles Kurzman, professor of sociology at University of North Carolina.

Kurzman happened to be releasing a report for the Triangle Center on Terrorism and Homeland Security.

During his interview, he "called terrorism by Muslim Americans 'a minuscule threat to public safety.' Of about 14,000 murders in the United States last year, not a single one resulted from Islamic extremism".

Demonized Muslims

This isn't the first time a minority community has been targeted without justification or even suspicion of any wrongdoing.

In 1975, when the US Senate Committee (famously referred to as the Church Committee) investigated government operations with respect to intelligence activities, they found that "The Government has often undertaken the secret surveillance of citizens on the basis of their political beliefs, even when those beliefs posed no threat of violence or illegal acts on behalf of a hostile foreign power. The Government, operating primarily through secret informants, but also using other intrusive techniques such as wiretaps, microphone "bugs" surreptitious mail opening, and break-ins, has swept in vast amounts of information about the personal lives, views, and associations of American citizens.”

“…..Groups and individuals have been harassed and disrupted because of their political views and their lifestyles. Investigations have been based upon vague standards whose breadth made excessive collection inevitable. Unsavory and vicious tactics have been employed -- including anonymous attempts to break up marriages, disrupt meetings, ostracize persons from their professions, and provoke target groups into rivalries that might result in deaths."

One of the main problems of these activities was that the list of people being investigated was perpetually increasing.

As MIT professor and political analyst Noam Choamsky explained with the BBC's Andrew Marr, "The Socials Workers Party was one tiny fragment of it. It began, uh, by the time it got through - I won't run through the whole story - it was aimed at the entire new left, at the women's movement, at the whole black movement, it was extremely broad."

Today, it seems these lessons weren't learned.

The AP would eventually win the 2012 Pulitzer Prize two months later, but beyond the limited public outcry, there was little consequence.

In February, a poll conducted by Quinnipiac University showed that 63% of New Yorkers approved of how their police were working, while 58% approved of how they dealt with Muslims.

Aside from sincere concerns for national security, Muslims were being made to fear the very police force that was responsible for protecting them.

Clearly, there are police officers who object to these measures, evidenced by the multiple leaks within the NYPD to news organizations.

Congressman Rush Holt (NJ), along with some of his colleagues, publicly called for the NYPD to purge their spy files. Federal officials like Attorney General Eric Holder, have yet to launch an actual investigation into the matter even though they promised to consider them.So far, no one was punished or held accountable for marginalizing an entire minority.

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