'Intelligent discontent is the mainspring of civilization.' -- Eugene V. Debs

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Did You Know that Yale University is in New York City? 

From the Associated Press:

Yale University and student groups are condemning the monitoring of Muslim college students across the Northeast by the New York Police Department, while Rutgers University and leaders of Muslim groups are calling for investigations.

The New York Police Department monitored Muslim college students far more broadly than previously known, at schools far beyond the city limits, including the Ivy League colleges of Yale and the University of Pennsylvania, The Associated Press reported Saturday.

Police talked with local authorities about professors 300 miles (480 kilometers) away in Buffalo and sent an undercover agent on a whitewater rafting trip in upstate New York, where he recorded students' names and noted in police intelligence files how many times they prayed.

Detectives trawled Muslim student websites every day and, although professors and students had not been accused of any wrongdoing, their names were recorded in reports prepared for Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly.

A 2006 report explained that officers from the NYPD's Cyber Intelligence unit visited the websites, blogs and forums of Muslim student associations as a daily routine. The universities included Yale; Columbia; the University of Pennsylvania; Syracuse; New York University; Clarkson University; Rutgers University; and the State University of New York campuses in Buffalo, Albany, Stony Brook and Potsdam; Queens College, Baruch College, Brooklyn College, and La Guardia Community College.

After describing others instances of the surveillance of Muslims, Kevin Gosztola speculates about the purpose of it:

Why does the NYPD need all this surveillance?

It could be how the government gets its next batch of Muslim terror suspects to target and entrap in sting operations, not dissimilar to what happened with the Newburgh Four. It could be how the NYPD helps the government ensure that no student groups build strong ties with any charities or nonprofit groups in the Middle East, who might aid Palestinians or Muslims suffering directly or indirectly as a result of the US government’s unbridled support for Israel and the war on terrorism. Or, it could be this is just another front in the war on solidarity activist groups in America.

The threat of homegrown Muslim terrorism is overblown. A stunning fact is that, since the 9/11 attacks, Muslim-American terrorist plots have killed only 33 people. In contrast, there have been over 150,000 murders in the US. Gang violence is much more of a problem for Americans than the threat of homegrown terrorism. However, the NYPD does not appear to be working to keep Americans safe. It appears to be working as a tool of US empire, an agency that watches and invades the privacy of anyone who says anything that might threaten America’s projection of power in the Middle East.

Consistent with such an explanation is the fact, as noted by Gosztola elsewhere in his post, that the NYPD carried out such surveillance with the assistance of the Central Intelligence Agency:

From an office on the Brooklyn waterfront in the months after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, New York Police Department officials and a veteran CIA officer built an intelligence-gathering program with an ambitious goal: to map the region's ethnic communities and dispatch teams of undercover officers to keep tabs on where Muslims shopped, ate and prayed.

The program was known as the Demographics Unit and, though the NYPD denies its existence, the squad maintained a long list of ancestries of interest and received daily reports on life in Muslim neighborhoods, according to documents obtained by The Associated Press.

The documents offer a rare glimpse into an intelligence program shaped and steered by a CIA officer. It was an unusual partnership, one that occasionally blurred the line between domestic and foreign spying. The CIA is prohibited from gathering intelligence inside the U.S.

Undercover police officers, known as rakers, visited Islamic bookstores and cafes, businesses and clubs. Police looked for businesses that attracted certain minorities, such as taxi companies hiring Pakistanis. They were told to monitor current events, keep an eye on community bulletin boards inside houses of worship and look for hot spots of trouble.

The Demographics Unit, a team of 16 officers speaking at least five languages, is the only squad of its kind known to be operating in the country.

Using census information and government databases, the NYPD mapped ethnic neighborhoods in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut. Rakers then visited local businesses, chatting up store owners to determine their ethnicity and gauge their sentiment, the documents show. They played cricket and eavesdropped in the city's ethnic cafes and clubs.

For some reason, I don't expect any credible investigation of this surveillance activity. Indeed, I doubt that any restrictions will be placed upon it.

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