Black Muslims should be very afraid of NYPD spying

OPINION - This is racial, ethnic and religious profiling dressed up as counter-terrorism surveillance...

Luther Vandross was outed as gay after his death.

This is not The Wire. A domestic surveillance program by a local police department is supposed to be authorized by warrants. A new and detailed Associated Press report has revealed that the CIA trained the New York Police Department to operate a domestic surveillance program in ethnic and Muslim communities in at least New York and New Jersey, which raises serious questions regarding federal law and civil liberties.

The program was set up by David Cohen, a retired 35 year veteran of the CIA, with the help of Larry Sanchez, another CIA veteran, tapped by former CIA chief George Tenet, shortly after 9/11 in 2002. The program is made up of “rakers,” named after Cohen’s own description of what the undercover agents would be tasked to do “rake the coals, looking for hot spots.” These undercover surveillance officers are dispatched to specific neighborhoods.

Most often specific officers were selected, trained, and sent to a community based on their own race for the ease of blending in as a civilian to monitor mosques, bookstores, hookah bars and internet cafes. Their job is to observe suspicious behaviors in these communities and locations, collect intelligence and report back to the NYPD.

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A decade after 9/11, the NYPD’s surveillance program seems to walk the line of violating the civil liberties of New York area Muslims and ethnic minorities. At one point broader authority for these surveillance programs were authorized by U.S. District Court Judge Charles S. Haight Jr. to allow somewhat more lax standards guiding who could be spied on and when.

According to the AP, the blending of the CIA (who financed the program) and the NYPD raises constitutional concerns and questions of federal law because even these more lax guidelines were not always followed.

With the focus of the domestic surveillance by the NYPD’s “rakers” program being in Muslim communities the impact on black Muslims is significant. African-Americans have the highest percentage of converts to Islam, nearly 64 percent of all converts are black. The fact that the NYPD specifically targeted groups who were of particular races and certain religious faiths is extremely problematic. This is racial, ethnic, and religious profiling dressed up as counter-terrorism surveillance.

Of course effective counter-terrorism surveillance is necessary but the FBI’s guidelines should be followed as instructed by the courts, otherwise there is a possibility that a large number of innocent black Muslims are going to be swept up in this program. There is a danger that these law abiding citizens are potentially being spied on by their own police department.It is a violation of federal law for an FBI agent to monitor a mosque and even though they were supposedly following FBI guidelines. “Mosque crawlers” from the NYPD attended sermons at targeted mosques without any scintilla of probable cause according to the AP report.

Black communities have been targeted before in cities across America. Racial and ethnic profiling remains a crucial battleground for civil libertarians with laws like SB 1070 being passed targeting Hispanics in Arizona. Black communities with a large Muslim population may now face double profiling both because black communities deal with racial profiling but also because the NYPD is deliberately profiling a particular religion within that community.

The CIA is prohibited from spying domestically but with all of the information collected by “mosque crawlers,” “rakers,” and other informants a direct channel formed between the CIA and the NYPD. The Associated Press reports, “the NYPD was looking more and more like a domestic CIA” a fact that’s particularly scary for innocent black Muslims living their daily lives with no idea that their neighbor might be an undercover officer keeping a secret file on their daily activities.

It’s entirely possible that black Muslims aren’t the core group being targeted, but with such high numbers and no meaningful oversight of the program the threat to their privacy is all too real.

Racial profiling is troubling enough but coupling that with religious profiling in ethnic neighborhoods intentionally seems to open the door for civil litigation against the NYPD.

American citizens have the right under the First Amendment to practice whatever religion and they have the right to be black or Pakistani or any other ethnicity while doing it. The threat that an undercover operative posing as a fellow worshiper in their local mosque sparking conversation in order to probe them for intelligence purposes subverts the Constitution.

Without probable cause or evidence of any criminal activity beforehand, the CIA’s NYPD outfit is walking a very fine ethical and legal line and black Muslims are among the innocent Americans unknowingly in the crosshairs of the hyper local war on terror.