Tuesday, a news conference held by New York Police Commissioner William Bratton announced the dismantling of the NYPD Muslim community surveillance program, The Demographic Unit, renamed the Zone Assessment Unit. Department spokesperson Stephen Davis remarked:
Understanding certain local demographics can be a useful factor when assessing the threat information that comes into New York City virtually on a daily basis. In the future, we will gather that information, if necessary, through direct contact between the police precincts and the representatives of the communities they serve.
Democrat Mayor of New York, William Di Blasio called the move:
a critical step forward in easing tensions between the police and the communities they serve, so that our cops and our citizens can help one another go after the real bad guys.
CAIR New York Board Chairman, Ray Mahoney said:
CAIR-NY welcomes the closing of the NYPD Zone Assessment Unit. This is an important first step. However, the damage of unconstitutional mass spying on people solely on the basis of their religion has already been carried out and must be addressed. We need to hear from the mayor and NYPD officials that the policy itself has been ended and that the department will no longer apply mass surveillance or other forms of biased and predatory policing to any faith-based community.
Linda Sarsour of the Arab American Association of New York said:
The Demographics Unit created psychological warfare in our community. Those documents, they showed where we live. That’s the cafe where I eat. That’s where I pray. That’s where I buy my groceries. They were able to see their entire lives on those maps. And it completely messed with the psyche of the community.
Thus ends a program developed in 2003 with the assistance ex-CIA officer Lawrence Sanchez at the request of former Commissioner Ray Kelly. In the wake of 9/11 it was deemed important to try and identify extremists in New York and outlying targeted Muslim communities who might provide assistance in terrorist plots threatening the City of New York. That meant identifying informants within the community, creating a veritable census of the community and its institutions including monitoring Mosques and their leaders for inflammatory ideology.
Given the failure within the federal intelligence community exposed in the Report of the 9/11 Commission to collect, analyze and disseminate counter terrorism intelligence, forming special units within the NYPD to detect and prevent terrorist attacks made eminent sense to former Mayor Michael Bloomberg and former Police Commissioner Ray Kelly. The NYPD counterterrorism program had another component the International Liaison Program with officers located in 11 overseas cities. The combined NYPD counterterrorism effort alleged to have stopped more than 16 terrorists plots including intercepting a perpetrator of a possible dirty bomb attack planned for the 2004 Republican National Convention in Manhattan. These programs have been pummeled with criticism that they were costly, and didn’t result in any arrests. New York Muslim community activists and civil liberties groups point to a “pretrial examination before the US District Court for the Southern District of New York in which Commanding Officer of the Intelligence Division Thomas Galati admitted that the program had never generated a lead”.
With the arrival of Mayor De Blasio and Commissioner Bratton in 2014, the Muslim Community Mapping effort by the NYPD became subject to litigation by Muslim plaintiffs, in actions previously filed in the Newark, New Jersey Federal District Court and in the Eastern District Court in Brooklyn. Mayor DiBlasio during his electoral campaign had urged accommodation of New York Muslim community concerns. The Washington Post tagged Bratton, in December 2013 as “healer in chief of a worried Muslim community”.
The first case was brought by Muslim plaintiffs in 2012 against the City of New York as a result of a 2011 Associated Press investigation of the New York Police Department (NYPD) surveillance of Muslim mosques in New Jersey. The AP series:
Revealed that the NYPD dispatched undercover officers into minority neighborhoods as part of a human mapping program. Police also used informants, known as “mosque crawlers,” to monitor sermons, even when there was no evidence of wrongdoing. Hundreds of mosques and Muslim student groups were investigated and dozens were infiltrated. 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 after 9/11.
The NYPD had also undertaken similar surveillance of the Somali Muslim community in Buffalo, New York. The Newark federal court ruling was immediately contested by Muslim community leaders and civil rights groups as abetting ‘spying’ and so-called community profiling. The New Jersey case harkens back to CAIR and other Muslim advocacy groups in New York contesting a 2007 NYPD Muslim profiling manual. There was also a case brought by an ex- Muslim NYPD officer against a consultant to the NYPD counterterrorism unit. Ironically, former NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly, who set up the Muslim community surveillance program, received an award in 2012 from the Department’s Muslim Advisory Council.
On February 20, 2014, the first action brought by New Jersey Muslim Plaintiffs in the matter of Hassan v. City of New York, 2:12-CV-3401, U.S. District Court, District of New Jersey (Newark) was dismissed by Federal District Judge William F. Martini who noted in his decision:
[T]he Plaintiffs in this case have not alleged facts from which it can be plausibly inferred that they were targeted solely because of their religion. The more likely explanation for the surveillance was a desire to locate budding terrorist conspiracies. The most obvious reason for so concluding is that surveillance of the Muslim community began just after the attacks of September 11, 2001. The police could not have monitored New Jersey for Muslim terrorists’ activities without monitoring the Muslim community itself. While this surveillance program may have had adverse effects upon the Muslim community after the AP published its articles; the motive for the program was not solely to discriminate against Muslims, but rather to find Muslim terrorists hiding among ordinary, law-abiding Muslims.
In an interview with Brooke Goldstein of the Lawfare Project, we asked her about the NYPD surveillance program. She said:
What I can say is that from my dealings with the NYPD, they were not targeting Muslims and engaging in discrimination based on race or religion. What they were doing was targeting institutions that have a connection to terrorism and those groups happen to be Islamist… Simply because of the fact they have a theological justification has now opened up the NYPD surveillance program to accusations of so-called Islamophobia which are absolutely baseless and ridiculous.
In light of Tuesday’s announcement by NYPD Commissioner Bratton, could the Eastern District case brought by New York plaintiffs be mooted? Or will the announcement spur further Lawfare litigation by New York Muslim plaintiffs?
The NYPD abandonment of the Muslim community mapping programs may embolden Muslim Brotherhood influencers in the Obama Administration, especially Arif Alikhan, assistant secretary for policy and Mohamed Elibiary, a senior member of the US Department of Homeland Security’s advisory council. Alikhan, as deputy mayor of Los Angeles for public safety, worked to scuttle a similar Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) Muslim community ‘mapping’ program in 2007 when current NYPD Police Commissioner William Bratton was LAPD Police Chief from 2002-2009. Elibiary on the DHS Advisory panel had been actively involved in elimination of Islamic Jihad doctrine from DHS and other federal agencies’ counterterrorism training materials. Perhaps NYPD Commissioner might turn to a community self policing proposal being promoted by MPAC, a Muslim Brotherhood front with influence in Washington, called “Safe Spaces”. According to a Wall Street Journal article, “Mosques get a New Message”, Safe Spaces , is about a voluntary program by boards of American Mosques engaging in identifying and ‘converting’ extremists in their midst thereby co-opting local and national law enforcement profiling of their communities.
With the end the NYPD Muslim community surveillance by order of Commissioner Bratton, New Yorkers must be concerned about who will monitor Islamist extremists and potential terror threats in the Big Apple. As of Tuesday, Lawfare by Muslim Brotherhood interests reigns supreme in all five boroughs.
EDITORS NOTE: This column originally appeared on The New English Review.