Tuesday, September 17, 2013
From Mosques to Soccer Leagues: Inside the NYPDís Secret Spy Unit
Targeting Muslims, Activists
Since 9/11, the New York City Police Department has established an
intelligence operation that in some ways has been even more aggressive
than the National Security Agency. At its core is a spying operation
targeting Arab- and Muslim-Americans where they live, work and pray. The
NYPDís "Demographics Unit," as it was known until 2010, has secretly
infiltrated Muslim student groups, sent informants into mosques,
eavesdropped on conversations in restaurants, barber shops and gyms, and
built a vast database of information. The program was established with
help from the CIA, which is barred from domestic spying. Just last month,
it emerged the NYPD has labeled at least 50 Muslim organizations,
including a dozen mosques, as terrorist groups. This has allowed them to
carry out what are called "Terrorism Enterprise Investigations," sending
undercover informants into mosques to spy on worshipers and make secret
recordings. Weíre joined by the Pulitzer-winning duo who exposed the
NYPDís spy program, Associated Press reporters Matt Apuzzo and Adam
Goldman, co-authors of the new book, "Enemies Within: Inside the NYPDís
Secret Spying Unit and Bin Ladenís Final Plot Against America." Weíre also
joined by Linda Sarsour, executive director of the Arab American
Association of New York, which was among the groups targeted by the NYPD.
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
AARON MAT…: Yes, well, itís been 12 years since the 9/11 attacks, but only
now is a full picture emerging of what could be one of its most
controversial legacies. In the aftermath of 9/11, the New York City Police
Department established an intelligence operation that in some ways has
even been even more aggressive than the National Security Agency. At its
core, a spying operation targeting Muslim Americans, where they live,
work, and pray. The NYPDís demographics unit, as it was known until 2010,
has a secretly infiltrated Muslim student groups, sent informants into
mosques, eavesdropped on conversations and restaurants, barber shops, and
gyms, and built a vast database of information on Muslim Americans. The
program was established with help from the CIA, which is barred from
spying on Americans.
AMY GOODMAN: Just last month, it emerged that the NYPD has labeled at
least 50 Muslim organizations including a dozen mosques as terrorist
groups. This has allowed them to carry out what are called terrorism
enterprise investigations, sending undercover informants into mosques to
spy on worshipers and make secret recordings. That news came just weeks
after a group of Muslim Americans filed a federal lawsuit against the
NYPDís spy program, alleging what they call unconstitutional religious
profiling and suspicionless surveillance. At a news conference, plaintiff
Asad Dandia described his run-in with the man who turned out to be a
ASAD DANDIA: In March of 2012, I was approached by a 19-year-old man.
He came to me telling me that he was looking for spirituality, and
that he was looking to change his ways. He said he had a very dark
past and wanted to be a better practicing Muslim. So, I figured what
better way to have him perform his obligations than to join this
organization? In October of 2012 he released a public statement saying
he was an informant for the NYPD. When I found out, I had a whole
mixture of feelings. Number one, I was terrified and I was afraid for
my family, especially my younger sisters who were exposed to all of
this. I felt betrayed and hurt because someone I took in as a friend
and brother was lying to me.
AARON MAT…: Thatís Asad Dandia, one of the plaintiffs in the suit by
Muslim Americans against the NYPD for spying. Arguments in the case began
last week. While the spy program has been intrusive, it has also been
ineffective. The NYPD has even admitted that the demographics unit failed
to yield a single terrorism investigation or even a single lead. In a
deposition last year, the commanding officer of the intelligence division,
assistant NYPD chief, Thomas Galati, said "I could tell you that I have
never made a lead from rhetoric that came from a Demographics report and
Iím here since 2006. I donít recall other ones prior to my arrival."
AMY GOODMAN: Well, the NYPD spy program was first exposed in a Pulitzer
Prize-winning series by the Associated Press. Two lead reporters on the
story have just come out the new book that expands on their ground
breaking reporting. Their book is called, "Enemies Within: Inside the
NYPDís Secret Spying Unit and Bin Ladenís Final Plot Against America."
Co-authors Matt Apuzzo and Adam Goldman join us here in New York. They
shared the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for investigative reporting. We welcome you
both to Democracy Now! Matt, lay it out. Lay out this book for us. In a
nutshell, how you got on this story, and what you found.
MATT APPUZO: Sure, well, our book really goes a lot deeper and a lot
broader than we were able to do even in all the many stories we wrote for
the AP. What we really focused on is how in the aftermath of 9/11, about
how the NYPD working hand-in-hand with the CIA, built an intelligence
apparatus that focuses on American citizens like no other police
department in the country. This active-duty CIA officer and a retired CIA
officer built in apparatus by which, you know, a sort of army of
informants is out there and we have these demographics officers who their
job is just to hang out in neighborhoods and listen for what people are
Some of what we have seen in these files, itís a file says, we saw two men
speaking at a cafe and they were talking about what they thought about the
presidentís state of the union address, and hereís what they thought. What
do they think about drones, what do they think about foreign policy, what
do they think about American policies toward civil liberties, you know,
TSA. Are we too discriminatory against Muslims? All the stuff ends up in
police files and their justification is, we need to know what the
sentiment of these communities are so we can look for hotspots.
AARON MAT…: Adam, talk to us about how this plays out. So, you have NYPD
Commissioner, Ray Kelly, working with David Cohen from the CIA, and they
set out to create basically a map of all New Yorkís ethnic neighborhoods?
ADAM GOLDMAN: Yeah, thatís right, I mean, that is what the demographics
unit was doing. They wanted to literally map the human terrain of the five
boroughs of New York. And they went beyond too, they went into Newark,
they went into other places as well; Newark, New Jersey. So, they had this
fear after 9/11, and they looked out into the Queens and Brooklyn and
these other places where there were a lot of Muslim Americans and thought,
we donít know much about these communities and they looked, as an example,
at people like Mohammed Atta, who was one of the 9/11 hijackers. Mohammed
Atta had radicalized, he had grown more religious, and he was ó he had
given off the signals in front of the community, and they wanted to be in
the communities in New York, so if there is anyone like Mohammed Atta, in
fact anybody who was radicalizing they would have listening posts. They
would have eyes and ears in the community to pick up on that.
AMY GOODMAN: One of the things you write about is how the undercover
officers would go to the best Arab food restaurants, not coming up with
leads, but because the food was good and just "spy" there.
ADAM GOLDMAN: We found a lot that these plainclothes officers working with
the demographics unit were gravitating toward the better restaurants.
There is a bakery, the Damascus Bakery in Brooklyn that serves excellent
pastries. There is a kebab house in Flushing, Queens that serves excellent
kebab. And what the commanding officer in charge of the demographics unit
started to see was there were many reports being filed from similar
locations. And how do spend you $40 at the pastry shop? And so,
eventually, he determined they were going there, following these reports,
simply because the food was good.
AMY GOODMAN: Matt Appuzo, talk about the main players here. Talk about
Larry Sanchez, talk about David Cohen whoíd come from the CIA and went to
MATT APPUZO: Sure, Ray Kelly comes on board as police commissioner after
9/11, and says, look, we canít rely solely on the federal government. And
I think really smartly said, we canít do business as usual. We need to
start developing our own intelligence and have a better sense of what is
going on in the city. So, the guy he hired to do that is a man named Dave
Cohen, who we profile really deeply in the book, who made his career at
the CIA, rose to the level of the deputy director for operations,
basically a nationís top spy.
So, he retired as the head of the clandestine service. And he was
basically recruited out of retirement to start what is, basically a
mini-CIA at the NYPD. One of Cohenís first things, is he then calls down
to the CIA and says, hey, I need an active-duty guy who can be my
right-hand man. George tenet, the director of the CIA, sends Larry Sanchez
to New York. And Larry is this very likable guy, skydiver, scuba diver, a
guyís guy, and heís active duty, so heís got a blue CIA badge. So, he can
start the morning ó early morning at the CIA station in New York and then
kind of go over to the NYPD and he is directing domestic operations for
NYPD and he is telling officers how to do collection or where to focus
their efforts. And he really was the architect of the demographics unit.
So, this guy, active-duty for the CIA, was really the intellectual father
of the demographics unit.
AMY GOODMAN: Weíre going to break and then come back to this discussion.
We are speaking with the prize-winning reporters Matt Apuzzo and Adam
Goldman, who have written the book, "Enemies Within: Inside the NYPDís
Secret Spying Unit and Bin Ladenís Final Plot Against America." We will be
back with them in a moment.
AMY GOODMAN: Our guests are Matt Apuzzo and Adam Goldman, reporters for
the Associated Press, co-authors of the brand-new book, "Enemies Within:
Inside the NYPDís Secret Spying Unit and Bin Ladenís Final Plot Against
America." We are also joined by Linda Sarsour. She is here in New York
City, a leading Arab-American activist with the Arab American Association
of New York, a national network for Arab American communities. Iím Amy
Goodman with Aaron Matť.
AARON MAT…: Well, before break, we were talking about Larry Sanchez who
came to the NYPD from the CIA. Letís turn to a part of a 2007 hearing
before the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs
that looked at the NYPDís counterterrorism efforts. This is, then Senator,
Joe Lieberman questioning New York City Assistant Police Commissioner
Larry Sanchez, the analyst who came to the NYPD from the CIA.
JOSEPH LIEBERMAN: Iím paraphrasing, but I think you said that the aim
of this investigation and of the NYPD was not just to prevent
terrorist attacks, obviously, post-9/11 in New York City, but to try
to prevent ó understand and then prevent the radicalization that leads
to terrorist attacks. So, in the end of it, what are the steps that
you come away with that you feel in this very usual area, unremarkable
people, not on the screen of law enforcement ó how do you begin to try
to prevent the radicalization that leads to terrorism?
LARRY SANCHEZ: Let me try to answer this way; the key to it was,
first, to understand it, and to start appreciating what most people
would say would be noncriminal, would be innocuous, looking at
behaviors that could easily be argued in a western democracy,
especially in the United States, to be protected by First and Fourth
Amendment rights, but not to look at them in a vacuum, but to look
across to them as potential precursors to terrorism. New York City, of
course, has created its own methods to be able to understand them
better, to be able to identify them and to be able to make judgment
calls if these are things that we need to worry about.
AARON MAT…: Thatís Larry Sanchez, testifying in 2007. Matt Apuzzo?
MATT APPUZO: Adam and I have watched that clip and read the transcript, I
donít know, dozens of times, and one of our great regrets is that this
happened in 2007 and nobody, and including us, said, hey, that guy just
got up and said stuff that is protected by the First Amendment shouldnít
be viewed as such and should be viewed as potential precursor to terrorism
and that the NYPD has these sort of unspecified methods to decide how to
ferret that out. I kind of watch that now, and I remember when that
happened, and now Iím kind of like, how the heck did I not ó how did the
reporter in me not say, geez, well what are these methods? Why the heck
did it take four years before...? You know, Adam and I look back now and
weíre like, jeez, they told us they were doing this stuff, they told us ó
they laid it all out there. And why werenít we as journalists, as a
public, more skeptical and why werenít we willing to ask more questions?
AMY GOODMAN: The FBI, Adam Goldman, and the NYPD were also competing with
each other, so much so they were going to sue each other. Can you explain
what was happening?
ADAM GOLDMAN: Well, there was enormous friction between the FBI and the
NYPD, mainly the NYPD intelligence division. And these two outfits would
sometimes not work in harmony. Mainly because Dave Cohen thought that the
intelligence division and his detectives should go on their own. He didnít
want to be part of the part of what they called group think. So, they
said, look, weíll go out and weíre going to investigate and if we find
something, weíll bring it to you. But, the problem with doing that is
that, sometimes these investigations were in late stages and the FBI had
concerns about how they had developed these cases. And it flared up in the
newspaper. And in the end, the FBI felt like, look, you just canít go out
and do your own thing. Weíre going to stop this, we got to work as a team
and that is how you build ó cooperation is how you build stronger cases.
AARON MAT…: Matt, and the spying of course, also extended beyond the
Muslim community. Thereís reports in your book about spying on left-wing
activists, on bicycle protests?
MATT APPUZO: Yeah, so, everybody remembers the bombing of the Times Square
recruiting station. The pipe bomb, thankfully didnít injure injure anyone,
but it was 3:00 in the morning and blew out a window. Well, in the
aftermath of that, the NYPD, and weíve seen this in the files, the NYPD
did an investigation were they said, you know, we have identified this
blog that posts links to protests, news stories about protests and
pictures of protests all around the world, confrontations, anarchist
protests, radical protests, people throwing people throwing Molotov
cocktails. Thatís what this blog does, and they said, boy, that blog had a
link up to a Fox news story about the Times Square bombing within three
hours. And to the NYPD, the three hours seemed awfully quick. And so, they
said, well, maybe that suggests that the guy who runs the blog knew in
advance. And it turns out that at one point years earlier, one of the guys
who ran the blog, this guy named Dennis Burke, he had ties to Critical
Mass, the guys who ride the bikes, and Timeís Up New York, the protest
group in New York City.
AMY GOODMAN: And friends of Brad Will.
MATT APPUZO: And friends of Brad Will, the group that wants to get to the
bottom of the death of American journalists in Mexico. So, they actually
open an investigation based on those facts. They open an investigation not
only into Burke, but also into his associates in these other groups. And
so, they infiltrated the Times Up guys, the Critical Mass guys, the
Friends of Brad Will. They actually sent an undercover officer as part of
this investigation out to the Peopleís Summit in New Orleans, which is a
group of sort of anti-globalization groups, and the NYPD was there.
Because of this investigation into the bombing, they actually put into the
files, people who were organized ó labor organizing for nannies, people
who were talking about the Palestinian conflict with the Israelis, people
who are writing newsletters from, sort of, left-wing organizations, this
stuff that had no connection ó nobody believed there was any connection to
the bombing, but it just shows you how this stuff spirals away from its
AMY GOODMAN: Linda Sarsour, can you talk about, as your with the
Arab-American Association of New York, how the investigations that the
NYPD was conducting that Adam and Matt are describing, affected you and
LINDA SARSOUR: So, Adam and Matt basically confirmed everything that our
community already knew was happening, at least since immediately after
9/11. And the terrorist enterprise investigations that you heard also
included, I believe, my organization. And what the NYPD wanted to do to my
organization, they clearly lay this out in a secret document, they wanted
to recruit a confidential informant to sit on my board. So, not only were
they creating listening posts and going into our restaurants, coming to
our events, coming ó acting as clients in our organization, they wanted to
actually have someone who would be a deciding figure on my board, have
access donors, have access to information, access to financial
information, and I think that we keep learning that the program is just
more outrageous. And what it does is it creates psychological warfare in
How am I supposed to know if the NYPD was successful in that endeavor?
Thatís number one. Number two is, the community, right now, is in a
position where, how do we even know the guy next to us thatís praying at
the mosque or the guy at the restaurant thatís like trying to open a
conversation with us about something that is happening in Egypt, for
example, and for those people who know, Arabs, particularly, we love to
talk about politics. And a lot of our families came to the United States
so we could have a place to practice our religion freely, to have our own
political views, and now that we know that the NYPD wants to hear what our
sentiment is, people probably donít want to share their sentiment.
The most disturbing of all is our Muslim student association who are
calling us to consult about how political should their events be. Now,
when I was in college, I wanted my events to be as political as possible.
And if they werenít, I wanted to figure out how to make them
controversial. And the fact that our students feel that they canít do that
because there are going to be NYPD informants, because they can be taken
out of context and because they think that something like what happened to
Fahad Hashmi is going to happen to them, I think it is a valid concern.
So, Iím a New Yorker and I hope others are outraged to know that the New
York Police Department is spying on innocent Americans in their
neighborhood. The last point that I want to make is that these terrorist
investigations, what happens is, is that if they open one, anyone who
comes into that facility thatís under investigation is subject to that
investigation. So, if my organization has this terrorist enterprise
investigation, that means every client, every staff member, every family
member, every vendor that we work with is subject to this investigation by
the New York Police Department.
AMY GOODMAN: Tell us about the NYPD Soccer League.
LINDA SARSOUR: A program that the NYPD touts as a community outreach
program, and something we that believed as a community we were involved in
because we wanted to get kids off the street, we wanted kids to play
sports and it was organized sports competition between kids from different
boroughs. It was fun. We joined, as the Arab American Association of New
York. We had a team, Brooklyn United. In 2009 we beat the Turks from
Queens, and it was great, and it was fun, and we have a huge trophy from
the New York Police Department. What we learned later learned through
secret documents is that the New York Police Department was using a sports
league ó now imagine that your child is part of this league and is being
spied on by the New York Police Department. And what the New York Police
Department did is they actually mapped out for you two different
documents. One was, where did the South Asians play cricket and watch
cricket, and where did the Arabs play soccer and watch soccer? For those
of you who know soccer, Arabs are not the only ones that play soccer.
Definitely not in New York City anyway.
So, I feel the information just gets more outrageous that even something
as simple as sports, as playing soccer, is something that is under the
terrain of the New York Police Department, that our kids were subject to
intelligence gathering and spying by the New York Police Department when
all they wanted to do was beat some people or some other kids in another
borough. And I think our kids, right now, you know, their families are
like whatís this. How am I supposed to explain to them that I didnít know,
that I was not ó that I had no intention of subjecting their children to
intelligence gathering by the New York Police Department? And so, I
personally get put in a situation that Commissioner Kelly and his people
put us in. And actually the Arab officers who worked in the Community
Affairs Department, I donít know if they knew, but if they did know, shame
on them for allowing us to be a part of something where they knew had
ultimate if reasons.
AARON MAT…: Now, Linda, hear in New York, there is obviously a lot of
public protest against stop-and-frisk. How has it been to organize
resistance to this spying on your community? What are you finding in terms
of the publicís perception to this program?
LINDA SARSOUR: In New York right now, and I think in the country as a
whole, I think that youíll find it is more likely for people to say, oh,
stopping 685,000 blacks and Latino young people, thatís a little racist,
you know, thatís kind of a little too much. I think weíre finding more
people, and Iím part of the stop-and-frisk movement as a person who is not
black or Latino. So, Iíve seen that sentiment. But, with the spying, it
has been hard to get people to understand that it is the same thing. They
are both discriminatory policies that target communities of color. No
matter what way somebody tries to explain it to me.
The problem with our movement is that itís framed in the sense of personal
security, so people are like, well, if you are not doing anything wrong,
whatís the problem? Whatís the inconvenience of some guy who listens to,
like, your conversations. And I think thatís where the fundamental
principles of who we are as Americans and what our rights are, right to
privacy ó I shouldnít have to worry about working in an organization that
ó thatís infiltrated by the New York Police Department. I hope no one else
has to worry about that. But, itís been a little difficult for us to
organize around this, but continue to do so.
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