After the devastating 9/11 attacks, the New York City Police Department began to expand its intelligence gathering operations in an effort to prevent against future terrorist plots. The Associated Press recently conducted a probe into the CIA-linked secret program, revealing various instances in which NYPD seriously violated the civil liberties of countless Muslim-Americans throughout the eastern United States. Watch highlights from AP’s Pulitzer Prize winning investigative series here.
Led by Dave Cohen, former deputy director for operations at the CIA, the NYPD began their intelligence program by monitoring hundreds of mosques, businesses and Muslim student groups. Police kept tabs on Muslim civilians’ daily lives, cataloguing everything from where people ate and shopped to where they prayed and worked. Countless imams, cab drivers and food cart vendors fell under intense NYPD’s scrutiny and surveillance, even without any evidence of wrongdoing. They also compiled many informants, known as "mosque crawlers," who would infiltrate sermons and listen for any suspicious statements.
When the AP revealed the shocking details of the NYPD’s activities, they sparked national outrage against what was clearly a breach of Muslim-Americans’ rights to privacy. The CIA’s hand in the operations further violated basic civil liberties, as an executive order prohibits the federal body from spying on civilians within the United States.
Many have denounced the NYPD’s investigation as racial profiling because it targets a specific community and monitors people purely on the basis of their cultural heritage. The spying operations conducted in bookstores, cafes, and hookah bars across the tri-state area made the American Muslim community “human terrain” for indiscriminate suspicion.
These are American citizens deserving of the same rights as any other civilian. The NYPD must stop treating Muslim-Americans as nothing more that sources of information, warranting groundless surveillance. Rather than devoting its time to spying on innocent people, our nation’s law enforcement agents should work to ensure that all Americans receive equal protection under the law, regardless of their faith or ethnicity.