Recent Revelations Prompt Motion To Block NYPD's Surveillance Of Muslims

from the this-will-all-seem-eerily-familiar-to-the-presiding-judge dept

A recent investigative report on the NYPD’s surveillance of mosques has led to a possible revisiting of the Handschu Agreement by the federal judge presiding over a lawsuit filed against the city seeking to bar further surveillance of Muslims in New York City.

According to the 1985 ruling, the Handschu Agreement limited indiscriminate surveillance of purely political activity. If such surveillance was to take place, it first had to be approved by the three-member Handschu Authority and performed only by the specially-designated Public Security Section, a division of NYPD Intelligence. It also prohibited the videotaping or photographing of large public gatherings when there was no indication of criminal activity and forbade the sharing of information with outside agencies unless they agreed to be bound by the limitations of the Agreement.

This is what was assumed to be in place. When the plaintiffs filed in February, their attorney pointed out that the police activity that had been observed clearly violated those limitations.

The police measures directed at Muslims violate the Handschu decree “because they’re not rooted in the fact that there’s a criminal predicate,” said plaintiff attorney Paul Chevigny. “They’re rooted in the fact that the subjects are Muslims.”

It was exactly as it looked: Muslims being placed under surveillance simply because they attended certain mosques — mosques the NYPD had declared to be “terrorist organizations.”

The city has countered by claiming that it closely observes the Handschu guidelines when making decisions about how to fight terror. A city lawyer, Peter Farrell, told the judge on Tuesday that the department launches investigations based on evidence of legitimate threats, not on religion.

“It’s undeniable that New York City remains at the center of the threat by Islamists who have been radicalized to violence,” he said.

What the city lawyer’s conveniently left out was that the Handschu guidelines had been deliberately weakened by the NYPD, thanks to the efforts of a former CIA officer and his CIA liaison, who formed a so-called “Demographics Group” that was charged with monitoring activity by the city’s Muslims.

[T]he activities that [CIA liaison Larry] Sanchez and [former senior CIA officer David] Cohen were proposing would not have been permitted under the Handschu guidelines. So, on September 12, 2002, Cohen filed a 23-page document in federal court asking a judge to throw out the guidelines and give his officers more leeway.

Cohen insisted that the world had changed since Al Qaeda attacked America, and the NYPD needed to change with it. “These changes were not envisioned when the Handschu guidelines were agreed upon,” he wrote, “and their continuation dangerously limits the ability of the NYPD to protect the people it is sworn to serve.”

The severely watered-down Handschu guidelines were approved by Judge Charles Haight. The name remained unchanged and most New Yorkers were unaware that hardly any limitations remained tied to the Agreement.

After securing this expanded definition (which also thoroughly abused the word “related”), the Demographics Group proceeded to declare entire mosques as “terrorist organizations” and began constant surveillance of their members. And, contrary to what the city’s lawyer declared, it has yet to be proven by the NYPD or anyone else that New York is the “center of the threat by Islamists.” The NYPD has spent millions of dollars and thousands of manhours surveilling and investigating Muslims and has turned up exactly zero useful leads.

When the plaintiffs filed this case, they had no idea the Handschu guidelines had been so thoroughly eviscerated. Armed with this new knowledge, the plaintiffs have asked the city to turn over so-called “investigative statements” related to these surveillance operations. The city won’t even meet them halfway, offering only to turn over a “handful” for the plaintiffs’ lawyers to view without making them part of the public record.

Technically, the city is correct: the NYPD is following the guidelines, as they have been altered, not as they were originally written.

The presiding judge says he will rule at a later date. However, one key factor is problematic. The presiding judge is Charles Haight, the same judge who agreed to relax those rules for the NYPD back in 2002. When he says something like this, it’s hard to know how to take it.

“I’ve come to think of this case as a volcano that’s asleep most of the time … but every now and then blows up,” U.S. District Judge Charles Haight said at the start of a hearing in federal court in Manhattan.

This “volcano” is at least partially of his own making. Haight knows how few restrictions remain under those guidelines. The NYPD can “closely observe” the relaxed Handschu guidelines and still place entire mosques under surveillance. The protections remaining are so weak and the scope of what is deemed “terrorist-related” so broad that even the CIA itself is unable to use the information collected by the Demographics Unit because doing so means violating CIA policies regarding domestic surveillance.

But it appears (although details are incredibly light) that Haight may revisit his own decision relaxing those guidelines. His upcoming ruling will determine whether the near-useless offer the city’s lawyer made will be sufficient or if the city will need to cough up what’s been requested: investigative statements related to “any operation targeting Muslims.” Haight will also make the call as to whether the documents will remain “off the record.”

The NYPD has never been very responsive when asked to turn over information, but considering this order may come from a federal judge, rather than a member of the public, the response time might be a little quicker. As for the plaintiffs, it would seem they drew possibly the least sympathetic judge to hear this case. But who knows, maybe Haight’s had a change of heart over the years. Many rash legislative and legal decisions were made shortly after the 9/11 attacks and there have been more than a few who have expressed regret for their decisions or dismay at the continual expansion of already-broad policies. Haight might be one of the ones who regrets his decision. Fortunately, he’s still in a position to make some changes.

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Comments on “Recent Revelations Prompt Motion To Block NYPD's Surveillance Of Muslims”

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That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

And this is what happens when you take Us v. Them beyond the limits of reason.

In trying to drum up patriotism we used the same lens we applied to politics.
Everything is black and white, if your a Muslim you MUST be a terrorist.
Racism and Xenophobia were allowed to spread in the name of safety.
Slowly the pendulum is thinking about swinging back the other way.

If you look at the reality we currently live in, it is a bunch of old white men who have made the country less secure and created more enemies to keep their cash crusade rolling forward. I fear my government more than I fear anyone who is Muslim.

I’ve seen the terrorists, and they are our ‘protectors’.

OldGeezer (profile) says:

I know that this is not politically correct but I actually don’t have a big problem with giving Muslims just a little more scrutiny. In This country they are this poor innocent persecuted group but everywhere else they are shouting death to America. To prove that we are not profiling them we are shaking down senior citizens little kids at the airport. Even Al Gore was randomly picked out of the line once for extra scrutiny. I want to puke every time I hear “Islam is a religion of peace”. In many Mid Eastern countries children are taught from kindergarten age what a great honor it is to die for Allah in suicide attacks. Except for a few whack jobs like Timothy McVeigh and some Neo Nazis it IS Muslims that want to kill us. In past attacks it has turned out that some mosques WERE hotbeds of terrorist activity. When you have pregnant women hiding bombs under their berkas it should cast a bit more suspicion on Muslims. The roar of the cheers when the towers fell is enough to disprove their peace loving claims.

Anonymous Coward says:

Well, I fully expect some level of racial profiling on security activities, you won’t get Islamic fanatics watching christians or hindus or other groups, that is why people will concentrate their attention on where Muslims congregate.

Yes I know it seems unfair, it will be abused by closet racists, but really you don’t catch fish by stalking dogs.

Further most muslims communities don’t take angry talk seriously they don’t report others even knowing that is from their own mist that crazy people come from, this is were surveillance comes in and it will happen there is not another way to peer inside and doesn’t matter what others think many will turn a blind eye to the practice because it is in their interest to do so.

Anonymous Coward says:

I can kind of see why they would do that. It’s the same as when the police would take notice of someone who visits a rocker bar, which is known for it’s drugs and weapon smuggling. It’s just a bar, but if it’s being used for something else, yes, it will attract attention.

In this case it’s mosques, which might be used for something else, so in that case I can see the reason for it. And I kinda get annoyed by the whole “Oh it’s a mosque so you can do anything.” attitude. Remember, it’s not all mosques they are targeting, just those which has warrant interest, just like it’s not all bars that get raided.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

“Maybe if they’d been watching the Muslims”

Maybe if the “intelligence” community had paid attention to the information they already had … but apparently you missed that story.

“This religion breeds violence and fear worldwide”

And “that religion” is not alone in this regard is it?

“But the PC police”

There is no such thing as the Politically Correct Police. Even if there was, they would not make a dent in the racism which permeates the human species. Using someones’ fear and prejudice in order to justify ones position/action is loose footing at best and certainly will be subjected to scrutiny. Why would it not be?

OldGeezer (profile) says:

Re: Re:

They WERE aware of these two fanatics in Boston and had even interrogated them. Unfortunately even when there is intelligence about an attack most of the time there is little they can do to stop them. We need undercover agents in the mosques where the real details are being planned instead of pointless spying on everybody.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

Yeah, they already do that, and 99.9% of the time they find nothing(probably because anyone who’s an actual threat, no matter the religion, isn’t likely to be so insanely stupid as to plan something that publicly), and on at least one occasion when that’s happened the undercover agent went from spy to instigator, trying to less-than-subtly get someone, anyone, to say something ‘terrorist-y’ for their report, so the whole thing didn’t look like a complete waste of time and money.

Couple of related articles that came up from a simple search:

Wolfy says:

For reasons too numerous to delineate here, I am of the firm belief that islam is a major threat to the human race. Don’t get me wrong, I think ALL religion is a threat to human prosperity, but islam is a special case. You do not see other religions engaging in unrelenting armed warfare. You do not see other religions engaged in wholesale murder against their own, because of microscopic differences. If you feel you must be an apologist for a religion that REQUIRES it’s adherents to murder anyone who wishes to leave the religion, then knock yourself out. Just stay clear of me.

OldGeezer (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Unfortunately centuries ago this was not always true. The Roman Catholic church practiced wholesale slaughter on the Muslims during the crusades. This is how they justify their war on us. I am no expert on this but from what I have read the basic social tenants of Mohammad and Christ paralleled in many ways and had the followers of both always obeyed their true teachings none of this would have ever happened. The founding fathers had no concept of extremist terrorists when they adopted freedom of religion. Al-Qaeda hides behind these protections and mock us for our naivete. Keeping a watchful eye on them and even infiltrating them makes more sense than the massive surveillance on everyone trying to “connect the dots”. Certainly not everyone attending the mosques are terrorists but you can bet that all the terrorist go there. Whether is from the leadership down or just small sleeper cells I am betting that there is some degree of activity at most of them.

JJ Joseph (profile) says:

Re: Religion is a thrst?

@Wolfy:” I think ALL religion is a threat to human prosperity, but . . . You do not see other religions engaging in unrelenting armed warfare.”

Wolfy, make up your mind, you’re sounding a bit schizo. Are you dying to say that Christianity is also a threat to prosperity . . . or not? That Christians, too, are out there blowing up shoppers and gleefully beheading the helpless? Are you wanting to say that the apparent prosperity of the Christian world is just an illusion because Christianity is actually a “threat to human prosperity”? Make up your mind, friend.

OldGeezer (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Praying to cow shit or giving your millions to a cult based on some very bad science fiction writing is pretty goofy but last I heard they weren’t blowing themselves up to kill innocent people so they could pop 80 cherries. I don’t care how nutty your religion might be. If you aren’t hurting anybody more power to you.

OldGeezer (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

Didn’t just mean blowing things up. By not hurting anyone I meant not causing any harm. If your children die because your religion won’t allow them medical care you belong in jail. People have done heinous things in the name of religion. Sexually abusing children, advocating mass suicide, defrauding gullible people out of their savings, etc. A lot of people believe some pretty weird things and are harmless.

Anonymous Coward says:

But they’re Muslims and we all know Muslim = TERRORIST.

Sorry my local NSA officer was standing over me and if I said otherwise I would be considered the terrorist.

I know I should not cave, but I’m not in the mood to be the next don’t tase me bro after being beaten half to death attacked by dogs and raped.

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