[UPDATED bad link.]
A piece this morning by Adam Goldman for Associated Press should have been headlined:
Your tax dollars at work: eviscerating constitutional protections and civil rights of U.S. citizens while accomplishing precisely nothing.
Instead, AP went with this pithy if regrettably bland heading:
NYPD: Muslim spying led to no leads, terror cases
Here’s the story:
NEW YORK (AP) — In more than six years of spying on Muslim neighborhoods, eavesdropping on conversations and cataloguing mosques, the New York Police Department’s secret Demographics Unit never generated a lead or triggered a terrorism investigation, the department acknowledged in court testimony unsealed late Monday.
The Demographics Unit is at the heart of a police spying program, built with help from the CIA, which assembled databases on where Muslims lived, shopped, worked and prayed. Police infiltrated Muslim student groups, put informants in mosques, monitored sermons and catalogued every Muslim in New York who adopted new, Americanized surnames.
Police hoped the Demographics Unit would serve as an early warning system for terrorism. And if police ever got a tip about, say, an Afghan terrorist in the city, they’d know where he was likely to rent a room, buy groceries and watch sports.
But in a June 28 deposition as part of a longstanding federal civil rights case, Assistant Chief Thomas Galati said none of the conversations the officers overheard ever led to a case.
“Related to Demographics,” Galati testified that information that has come in “has not commenced an investigation.”
That’s right: “none of the conversations the officers overheard ever led to a case.” In six years. I mean, it’s been a while since 9/11 so I may be a little bit fuzzy about the details, but I seem to recall that most of the terrorists involved came from Saudi Arabia, and not, say, Brooklyn. Further, it came out in the aftermath that there were numerous reports by law enforcement of their alarming activities in the States prior to 9/11 and that these were provided to highest levels of the Bush adminisration, but they were completely ignored:
Consider the briefing that landed on George W. Bush’s desk on Aug. 6, 2001: “Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S.”
…Bush’s subordinates—the people who were responsible, after all, for identifying and thwarting terrorist threats—knew that Zacarias Moussaoui had been taking lessons on how to fly a 747. They knew that an Al Qaeda intelligence report said that something “very, very, very, very” big was about to happen. And yet, because of some failure “of imagination,” as the 9/11 Commission Report put it, they didn’t sound an alarm loud enough to save the 2,976 people who died that day.
Seems like a better use of everyone’s time (and money) to remedy that little “failure of imagination” problem—if that is indeed what it was. But what do I know? I’m just a New Yorker whose neighbors are being infiltrated and spied on by the NYPD (and the CIA).
And I would be remiss if I did not point out that more terrorist attacks have been thwarted by everyday citizens than by this entire boondoggle. Remember Richard Reid, the would-be “Shoe Bomber”? Despite all the security theater (and x-ray doses) to which commercial air travelers are now subjected, this @$$hole still managed to get a bomb on board an American Airlines flight to Miami. When he tried to set the thing off, passengers smelled smoke and called the crew’s attention to him. What happened next?
Reid was next subdued by several passengers on the airliner, and then bound up using plastic handcuffs, seatbelt extensions, and headphone cords. A physician on board the airliner administered to Reid a tranquilizer that he found in the emergency medical kit of the airliner.
[A] T-shirt vendor on the sidewalk saw smoke coming out of vents near the back seat of the S.U.V., which was now parked awkwardly at the curb with its engine running and its hazard lights on. The vendor called to a mounted police officer, the mayor said, who smelled gunpowder when he approached the S.U.V. and called for assistance.
The car bomb was diffused, but what happened the next day is instructive: lapses in security theater allowed Shahzad to board an airplane. As soon as it was determined that he was a suspect he was put on the no-fly list, but law enforcement didn’t know he was planning to leave the country, and they lost track of him before he drove to the airport. The airline didn’t check the no-fly list when Shahzad made a reservation, or an hour later when he picked up his ticket at JFK airport—paying for it with cash—and he was later allowed to board the flight. Hours later, when the plane had already pulled away from the gate, a routine post boarding check revealed that Shahzad was indeed on the no-fly list. Minutes before takeoff the plane was recalled to the gate and Shahzad was arrested.
It’s bad enough that invasive, expensive security procedures are largely ineffective. But officials lying about the effectiveness and even the existence of these programs is not a good sign:
Galati, the commanding officer of the NYPD Intelligence Division, offered the first official look at the Demographics Unit, which the NYPD denied ever existed when it was revealed by the AP last year. He described how police gather information on people even when there is no evidence of wrongdoing, simply because of their ethnicity and native language.
After the AP began reporting on the Demographics Unit, the department’s former senior analyst, Mitchell Silber, said the unit provided the tip that ultimately led to a case against a bookstore clerk who was convicted of plotting to bomb the Herald Square subway station in Manhattan. Galati testified that he could find no evidence of that.
John Brennan, President Barack Obama’s top counterterrorism adviser, has said he is confident the NYPD’s activities are lawful and have kept the city safe.
No, John Brennan. Whether these activities are lawful is for the courts to decide, not you. But they have not kept the city safe. Look, it says it right there in the headline:
NYPD: Muslim spying led to no leads, terror cases.
Worse still, according to the FBI these programs actually harm national security:
Documents obtained by the AP show the unit conducted operations outside its jurisdiction, including in New Jersey. The FBI there said those operations damaged its partnerships with Muslims and jeopardized national security.
Here’s just one example of how ridiculous the NYPD-CIA program is:
In another example, Galati said, eavesdropping on a conversation in a Lebanese cafe could be useful, even if the topic is innocuous. Analysts might be able to determine that the customers were from South Lebanon, he said, adding, “That may be an indicator of possibility that that is a sympathizer to Hezbollah because Southern Lebanon is dominated by Hezbollah.”
I just want to highlight a few key words here. So, eavesdropping at a local Lebanese coffee shop, “Analysts might be able to determine that the customers were from South Lebanon,” and “That may be an indicator of possibility that that is a sympathizer to Hezbollah because Southern Lebanon is dominated by Hezbollah.”
It is not a crime to be a sympathizer to Hezbollah. But if indeed that were a real concern, I would hazard a guess that it is possible to make Muslim-Americans more sympathetic to Hezbollah, perhaps by having police infiltrating their schools, mosques and businesses and spying on everyone in their communities when there is no evidence of any wrongdoing whatsoever.
Security: Ur doin’ it rong.