The New York Police Department may be taking some pretty extreme measures to spy on its Muslim and Middle Eastern residents in order to collect counterterrorism intelligence, but it has nothing to show for its efforts. In the past six years, the Demographics Unit, the secretive program tasked with snooping on local Muslims, has failed to produce a single lead or terrorism investigation, reports the Washington Post.
This news comes directly from an NYPD officer, Assistant Chief Thomas Galati. In June, Galati delivered a recently unsealed deposition on the Demographics Unit, confessing that all of NYPD’s eavesdropping had failed to discover substantial information.
Even after journalists exposed the program in 2011, the NYPD denied that the Demographics Unit existed. With the unsealing of Galati’s testimony, there is now not only confirmation of the Demographics Unit existence, but a better understanding of how it operates.
According to testimony, the NYPD spied on Muslims and Middle Easterners constantly in the hope that an overheard conversation may lead to helpful information. Undercover agents would eavesdrop on people in mosques, restaurants, stores and residential neighborhoods based on no suspicion other than their ethnicity and the language they spoke.
While the NYPD has touted its intelligence program for helping to keep the city safe against terrorism, critics point out that — since no leads have been discovered – the Demographics Unit should not be given any credit. They also contend that the program’s methods are a violation of Muslim New Yorkers’ civil rights.
In 1971, NYPD was sued for spying on college students they believed may be Communists. As a result, new regulations forbid the NYPD from spying on people because of political speech, except in cases of suspected terrorism. The NYPD has used this terrorist exemption to conduct its investigation on Muslims.
Ever since the Demographics Unit has been revealed, it appears that the NYPD has been struggling to justify its unorthodox tactics. Mitchell Silber, who previously held a leading role in the department, asserted that the program was responsible for uncovering a tip that led to the arrest of the attempted Herald Square bomber. However, while under oath, Galati admitted that he saw no evidence that the Demographics Unit had anything to do with obtaining that information.
Eric Holder, the Attorney General, says he is concerned with the report, while some members of Congress have called the Justice Department for an investigation of the NYPD. However, they are not likely to get any support from the Commander-in-Chief considering that John Brennan, the leading counterterrorism consultant to President Barack Obama, has praised the NYPD’s actions for maintaining safety in the nation’s largest city.
One man who will be taking action is Jethro Eisenstein, the lawyer who questioned Galati on the stand. Eistenstein intends to have the Demographics Unit terminated through a lawsuit of his own. “This is a terribly pernicious set of policies,” he said. “No other group since the Japanese Americans in World War II has been subjected to this kind of widespread public policy.”
Photo Credit: Sean MacEntee