NYPD Repeatedly Broke Surveillance Rules While Targeting Muslims after 9/11 Attacks

Wednesday, August 24, 2016
NYPD Inspector General Philip K. Eure


By Al Baker and Rick Rojas, New York Times


NEW YORK — The New York police repeatedly broke rules governing intelligence-gathering while targeting Muslims for surveillance after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, according to a report issued on Tuesday.


The report (pdf) — by the Office of the Inspector General for New York Police Department, a civilian agency created in 2013 — said that the department’s Intelligence Bureau regularly let deadlines pass before asking to extend investigations into political activity, and often failed to explain the roles of undercover officers and confidential informers, as required.


“The fact that deadlines were missed and rules were violated is troubling and must be rectified,” the report said.


While those findings contradict the department’s assurances that investigations of suspected terrorists “were always supervised,” the report also found that the police had acted properly in choosing whom it would investigate and why. That led one high-ranking official to call the report a “clean bill of health” for the nation’s largest municipal police force.


That official, John J. Miller, the Police Department’s deputy commissioner for intelligence and counterterrorism, said the office of the inspector general, Philip K. Eure, had given the Police Department “very high marks” on issues involving “whether we were looking at the right people for the right reasons within the bounds” of privacy guidelines.


Members of Eure’s staff, as part of their inquiry, analyzed a set of cases closed between 2010 and 2015 — but opened as early as 2004 — to test for compliance with a set of safeguards known as the Handschu Guidelines. Those guidelines were created in response to a 1971 class-action lawsuit and are meant to protect political and religious activities from overreaching police surveillance.


From a broad perspective, the inspector general’s office found, the Police Department was always able to explain its rationale for new cases and always met the “informational threshold” required to open them. The report noted that there was no evidence of “improper motives” on the department’s part in those cases.


The report said, however, that the failures that had been uncovered demonstrated “the need for ongoing oversight” of the department, and included 11 new recommendations. Eure said that adopting the recommendations would “give the public greater confidence” in how the police operate.


In January, Mayor Bill de Blasio, a Democrat, agreed to appoint a civilian to monitor the department’s counterterrorism activities as part of a settlement of two lawsuits claiming Handschu guidelines had been violated. That settlement has not yet been approved by a federal judge, according to the New York Civil Liberties Union, which represents plaintiffs in one of the suits.


Donna Lieberman, executive director of the civil liberties group, said in a statement that the settlement would address the types of failures an outside monitor would most likely have averted. But she added that her group stood by its “allegations that there were often no valid reasons for the NYPD to open or extend investigations of American Muslims.”


“The inspector general’s report has provided yet more evidence that the NYPD’s surveillance of American Muslims was highly irregular, operated in a black box and violated even the weaker rules that existed before our proposed settlement,” Lieberman said.


Speaking at an afternoon news conference at Police Headquarters in Lower Manhattan, police officials described the report as vindicating most of the department’s actions.


“We’re actually, as a department, very pleased with the inspector general’s report,” said Lawrence Byrne, the department’s deputy commissioner for legal matters.


Byrne noted that the report found “every one of our investigations, and every one of the people we investigated, were investigated for valid and proper purposes under the Handschu guidelines.”


“We’ve always felt we did that,” he continued. “We’ve said that publicly. We now have an independent third party who has reviewed that and reached the same conclusion.”


To Learn More:

An Investigation of NYPD’s Compliance with Rules Governing Investigations of Political Activity (New York City Department of Investigation, Office of the Inspector General for the NYPD) (pdf)

NYPD Accused of Entrapment and Warrantless Searches at Immigrant-Owned Shops (by Sarah Ryley for ProPublica and the New York Daily News)

Civil Liberties Group Sues Fed over Counter-Terrorism Program Seen as Damaging to Muslims (by Dustin Volz and Mark Hosenball, Reuters)

Muslim Surveillance Lawsuits Settle with No NYPD Admission of Wrongdoing or Damages Paid, Just a Promise to Stop Spying (by Tom Hays, Associated Press)

Since 9/11, More Americans have been Killed by Right-wing Extremists than by Muslim Jihadists (by Noel Brinkerhoff and Danny Biederman, AllGov)

Judge Throws Out Lawsuit against NYPD for Spying on Muslims, Faults the Press for Reporting It (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)


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