Posted by on August 21, 2012 in Blog

The NYPD admitted in court Monday what many critics of its counterterrorism tactics have suspected: its extensive spying program has failed to produce a single lead or terrorism case in its six years of operation. Earlier this year, the Associated Press revealed that the NYPD’s Demographics Unit had been cataloguing where Arab Americans and American Muslims live, eat, and shop in New York and New Jersey. The unit coerced informants to listen to conversations and infiltrate mosques and student groups. Aside from the obvious illegality and disregard for the constitutional rights of these communities, critics have argued that the NYPD’s spying program was simply poor policing. Such dragnet operations erode the trust of these communities, and rather than help law enforcement find the needle in the haystack, such techniques add more hay. Now, by the NYPD’s own admission, this appears to be true.

Assistant Chief Thomas Galati, commanding officer of the NYPD’s intelligence division, provided the testimony as a part of a deposition in a longstanding civil rights case. In his deposition, Galati testified, "I never made a lead from rhetoric that came from a Demographics report, and I'm here since 2006.I don't recall other ones prior to my arrival.” This testimony directly contradicts the assertions by officials like New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who consistently contends that such tactics have been both necessary and successful. An investigative piece by ProPublica last month showed that the NYPD has not taken part in a single successful thwarting of a significant terror plot since 9/11. Galati’s testimony goes even further to show that the NYPD’s most odious counterterrorism tactics failed to produce even a single piece of information worthy of investigation.

This admission by the NYPD intelligence chief is undoubtedly important, but the content of his testimony should hardly be surprising to those who have read the Demographic Unit’s secret reports obtained by the Associated Press. The extensive surveillance files are full of trite and shallow observations. One of the more absurd examples is an undercover officer’s report from his infiltration of a Muslim student organization’s White Water rafting trip, in which he reported that "in addition to the regularly scheduled events (Rafting), the group prayed at least four times a day, and much of the conversation was spent discussing Islam and was religious in nature.” In another report about a travel agency under surveillance contained such inane observations as a woman named “Rasha” recommending “Royal Jordanian Airlines.” Thus, even without the admission from the NYPD, one could have reasonably assumed that nothing useful ever came of the NYPD’s spying. Instead, this illegal program that trampled on the rights of Arab Americans and American Muslims amounted to nothing but a colossal waste of resources. As AAI President Jim Zogby speculated in his column, the “Secret” label on the Demographic Unit’s reports must have been used merely to save the NYPD from embarrassment.


Blogger Marcy Wheeler dug deeper into the deposition testimony from Thomas Galati and found a particularly damning admission from the NYPD Intelligence Chief. When asked what sort of conversations would be recorded by the NYPD, Galati said:

“Their job was, if they hear people talking about it, you know, they should inform us. If what they’re hearing is hostility towards the United States or to the general public at large, you know, as a result of these events, would something happen here as a result? Their job is to listen for that.”

This statement rightfully raised eyebrows, as Galati seemed to be implying that the NYPD intelligence department was spying on people simply for disagreeing with US policy, a direct first amendment violation. Sure enough, upon being pressed further, Galati offered drone strikes as an example of a US policy for which they spied on dissenters:

“If we deployed them because of an event that took place in a particular part of the World, a drone attack, we would want to know and we would instruct them that people are upset about this drone attack. If they are, that’s something that would be important for us to know, that would be something we would want to know.”

Galati’s admission that the NYPD spied on people who opposed US drone strikes exposes even more illegality in the NYPD’s counterterrorism efforts. Not only is the NYPD guilty of widespread profiling based on race, religion, and national origin, but also of spying on American citizens based on their first amendment-protected opinions of US policy.

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