The secret New York Police Department unit that spied on Muslims for more than six years never generated a lead or triggered a terrorism investigation, Adam Goldman and Matt Apuzzo of the AP report.
The Demographics Unit – built with the help of the CIA in the wake of 9/11 – assembled databases on Muslim neighborhoods, eavesdropped on conversations, infiltrated Muslim student groups and mosques, cataloged every Muslim in New York with an Americanized surname, and even set up a surveillance hub in New Jersey.
But in a June 28 deposition, Assistant Chief Thomas Galati admitted he never created a lead based on a Demographics report since he arrived in 2006 and wasn’t aware of any previous ones.
Galati, the commanding officer of the NYPD Intelligence Division, offered the first official look at the Demographics Unit, which the NYPD denied ever existed when it was revealed by the AP last year. He described how police gather information on people even when there is no evidence of wrongdoing, simply because of their ethnicity and native language.
The testimony was part of the Handschu case, a lawsuit that began in 1971 over NYPD spying on students, civil rights groups, and suspected Communist sympathizers during the 1950s and 1960s.
NSA whistleblower Thomas Drake, himself a target of ‘ill-considered’ prosecution, tweeted that the admission demonstrates “willful violation of the 4th Amendment. No probable cause. Mere suspicion now justification for all kinds of injustice.”
Mayor Michael Bloomberg has touted that NYPD’s counterterrorism tactics are a model for the rest of the country, but the track record of the largest police department in the nation may be overblown.
Justin Elliot of ProPublica recently detailed each of the 14 alleged “full-blown terrorist plots” that the NYPD has prevented since 9/11 and concluded that “the 14 figure overstates both the number of serious, developed terrorist plots against New York and exaggerates the NYPD’s role in stopping attacks.”
The attorney who filed the Handschu case and questioned Galati during the deposition said he would ask the court to have the Demographics Unit, now called the Zone Assessment Unit, shut down.
AP notes that while dozens of members of Congress have asked the Justice Department to investigate the NYPD, top counterterrorism adviser John Brennan has said he is confident the NYPD’s activities are lawful and have kept the city safe.
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