The AP reports that in court testimony unsealed yesterday, a New York Police Department official conceded that the Department’s Demographic’s Unit, which targeted Muslim citizens in mosques, stores, restaurants, and other locations, failed to produce a single investigation of a terrorism threat.
[Thomas] Galati, [the commanding officer of the NYPD Intelligence Divisio], testified as part of a lawsuit that began in 1971 over NYPD spying on students, civil rights groups and suspected Communist sympathizers during the 1950s and 1960s. The lawsuit, known as the Handschu case, resulted in federal guidelines that prohibit the NYPD from collecting information about political speech unless it is related to potential terrorism.
Civil rights lawyers believe the Demographics Unit violated those rules. Documents obtained by the AP show the unit conducted operations outside its jurisdiction, including in New Jersey. The FBI there said those operations damaged its partnerships with Muslims and jeopardized national security.
In one instance discussed in the testimony, plainclothes NYPD officers known as “rakers” overheard two Pakistani men complaining about airport security policies that they believed unfairly singled out Muslims. They bemoaned what they saw as the nation’s anti-Muslim sentiment since the 2001 terrorist attacks.
Galati said police were allowed to collect that information because the men spoke Urdu, a fact that could help police find potential terrorists in the future.
“I’m seeing Urdu. I’m seeing them identify the individuals involved in that are Pakistani,” Galati explained. “I’m using that information for me to determine that this would be a kind of place that a terrorist would be comfortable in.”
He added, “Most Urdu speakers from that region would be of concern, so that’s why it’s important to me.”
About 15 million Pakistanis and 60 million Indians speak Urdu. Along with English, it is one of the national languages of Pakistan.
The AP investigative reporting team won a Pulitzer Prize earlier this year for its expose of the spying program.
Galati also testified that eavesdropping on conversations in Lebanese cafes could be “useful” (even though it wasn’t) because the NYPD “might be able to determine that the customers were from South Lebanon,” and “that may be an indicator of possibility that that is a sympathizer to Hezbollah because Southern Lebanon is dominated by Hezbollah.”
What. The. Hell.
The attorney who filed the original civil rights case, Jethro Eisenstein, told the AP that he is going to ask the court to shut down the unit, which is now called the “Zone Assessment Unit.” See, they’re not targeting you because you’re Muslim or Lebanese. They’re targeting you because you’re in the NYC Hezbollah zone. Or something.
How can this possibly be constitutional?