The seven-million strong Muslim American community is alarmed at the revelation that the New York City Police Department have carried out covert surveillance on Muslims with the help of the CIA.
An Associated Press (AP) report published by the Washington Post on Wednesday exposed the NYPD spy program, which is allegedly being conducted with the assistance of individuals linked to the CIA. Following a month-long investigation, the AP reported that the NYPD is using covert surveillance techniques "that would run afoul of civil liberties rules if practiced by the federal government" and "does so with unprecedented help from the CIA in a partnership that has blurred the bright line between foreign and domestic spying."
The AP report follows a recent Mother Jones revelation that after years of emphasizing informant recruiting as a key task for its agents, the FBI now maintains a roster of 15,000 spies -- many of them tasked with infiltrating Muslim communities in the United States.
More than a dozen concerned leaders gathered Wednesday for a news conference at the Manhattan office of the Council on American-Islamic Relations' New York chapter (CAIR-NY), expressing outrage at the CIA-NYPD covert surveillance program.
"The responsibility of the NYPD is to protect all New Yorkers equally, and to investigate crimes not communities," said CAIR-NY Civil Rights Manager Cyrus McGoldrick . "Programs like this are a violation not only of the civil rights of American Muslims, but are a violation of the trust we place in our law enforcement."
The AP investigative report revealed that the NYDP has dispatched teams of undercover officers, known as 'rakers,' into minority neighborhoods as part of a human mapping program. The report said: The NYDP have monitored daily life in bookstores, bars, cafes and nightclubs. Police have also used informants, known as 'mosque crawlers,' to monitor sermons, even when there's no evidence of wrongdoing. The NYPD officials have scrutinized imams and gathered intelligence on cab drivers and food cart vendors, jobs often done by Muslims. 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.
"What is so disturbing about the NYPD's activities is that (the NYPD) erroneously conflates engaging in lawful religious beliefs and practices and First Amendment-protected activities with support for terrorism," Udi Ofer of the New York Civil Liberties Union told CNN. "This (alleged program) is a waste of precious resources, and it raises serious constitutional concerns."
"It seems to many of the leadership here, there are two kinds of authorities they are playing -- one is in the forefront which is very cooperative," Zaheer Uddin of the Islamic Leadership Council of New York told AP. "And there is another authority, which is playing against Islam and Muslims, going against the First Amendment and the security of this country."
He asked, "Are we partners, or are we a suspicious community?"
On Wednesday, the Justice Department said it will review a request by a Muslim advocacy group to investigate.
"These revelations send the message to American Muslims that they are being viewed as a suspect community and that their constitutional rights may be violated with impunity," said Ibrahim Hooper, spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, which asked for the investigation. "The Justice Department must initiate an immediate investigation of the civil rights implications of this spy program and the legality of its links to the CIA."
Not surprisingly, the AP Thursday quoted New York's police commissioner Raymond Kelly as acknowledging that the CIA trains NYPD officers on "trade craft issues," meaning espionage techniques.
Meanwhile, CIA spokeswoman Jennifer Youngblood was quoted as saying that the agency does not spy inside the United States and also described the relationship with the CIA as collaborative. "Our cooperation, in coordination with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, is exactly what the American people deserve and have come to expect following 9/11," she said.