An internal NYPD document recently obtained by the Associated Press shows that in 2006 NYPD analysts advised the department to infiltrate a number of Shiite mosques because of tensions between the U.S. and Iran. NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly has vigorously denied that the NYPD targets Muslims for surveillance, insisting that "We don't do it ethnically, we do it geographically." But a series of in-depth AP articles have repeatedly contradicted Kelly, revealing that the NYPD does in fact have a wide-ranging surveillance operation designed to infiltrate Muslim communities and mosques. (It's even called the Demographics Unit—not the Geographics Unit.) And the latest AP scoop is further evidence of the role religion plays in NYPD spying.
The NYPD report recommended "increasing surveillance of thousands of Shiite Muslims and their mosques, based solely on their religion, as a way to sweep the Northeast for signs of Iranian terrorists," the AP says. (The full NYPD document is online here.) If in fact this operation was carried out, the NYPD would be violating city law, which prohibits the department from basing its investigations on religion. Under FBI guidelines, which the NYPD says it follows, many of the recommendations in the police document would also be prohibited.
Asad Sadiq, president of the Bait-ul-Qaim mosque in the Philadelphia suburb of Delran, N.J., scoffed at the report, which was prepared in anticipation of possible war with Iran. "If you attack Cuba, are all the Catholics going to attack here? This is called guilt by association," Sadiq said after seeing his mosque in the NYPD document. "Just because we are the same religion doesn't mean we're going to stand up and harm the United States. It's really absurd."
And several veteran counterterrorism analysts told the AP they had not seen anything like it. "It's really problematic if you make a jump from a possible international conflict to saying therefore we need to monitor Shiite mosques writ large," said Brian Fishman, the former research director at West Point's Combatting Terrorism Center. "It doesn't follow." A former police official who saw the report could not confirm if the NYPD infiltrated the mosques in the report, but said that generally "the recommendations were followed."
The news comes as Kelly weathers criticism for his participation in an anti-Islam propaganda documentary that was screened on a continuous loop for over 1,300 NYPD officers. The Brennan Center for Justice sued the NYPD to release documents related to the film, and today a spokesman for the Brennan Center tells us, "Today’s revelation about the NYPD’s program to collect intelligence about the Shia community in the City solely on the basis of religion underscores the need for independent oversight of the police."