Today the City of New York invoked the Vladimir Putin Defense by completely denying the existence of the NYPD's Muslim spying program. "There is no Muslim surveillance program," city attorney Peter Farrell told a federal judge today. "I 100 percent disagree that there was ever a Muslim surveillance program."
Farrell's comments were reported by Matt Sledge, who attended the hearing for a federal lawsuit the ACLU is filing against the NYPD.
The Associated Press has reported that, beginning in 2011, the NYPD had a broad-ranging practice of spying on mosques and Muslims. But the city has argued in response that it only follows leads when it visits Muslim neighborhoods, and does not target Muslims as such.
Nevertheless, Farrell said it was logical for the police to be concerned about extreme members of the faith.
"Since 2001, the terrorist threat against New York City has been by Islamists who are radicalized to violence," Farrell said. It would be foolish, he said, for the NYPD to act "in this vacuum that plaintiffs ask this court to work in."
The AP's extensive reporting has shown that the NYPD collects "ancestries of interest" on potential surveillance targets; pays informants to infiltrate Muslim student associations and mosques; makes lists of Muslim-owned businesses; and takes note of whether a Koran is present in a coffee shop. According to a CUNY law school report, these efforts have demonstrably damaged the NYPD's relationship with Muslim communities and have chilled political and religious activity. By the NYPD's admission, the program has generated no leads.
Why would anyone get the idea that there's a Muslim surveillance program?
The ACLU is planning on asking the judge for an injunction to halt the spying program while its legality is determined in court.
Farrell is the same city attorney in a separate case designed to limit the degree to which the NYPD can collect political speech, which we reported on last week.