Last month when Mayor de Blasio and his Police Commissioner Bill Bratton trumpeted the dissolution of the NYPD unit that systematically spied on innocent Muslims, civil rights attorney Martin Stolar expressed skepticism: “I want them to say that they’re getting rid of not just the unit, but the kind of policing that the unit did. Is it still going to be blanket surveillance of where Muslims hang out? Are they going to stop this massive surveillance?” Today's A1 story in the Times confirms that the department is still indiscriminately trolling the city for Muslims, conflating the practice of religion with terrorism.
The Citywide Debriefing Team was formed several years after 9/11, and combs the list of arrest records for "Arabic-sounding names." Cab drivers picked up in prostitution stings, vendors detained on traffic violations, teenagers arrested for shoplifting or marijuana, are taken to small rooms instead of appearing before a judge, and are questioned by detectives. Are you Sunni or Shiia? When was the last time you prayed? Where do Somali immigrants like to eat? Did your father die in Afghanistan fighting Russians?
“It’s not appropriate,” said Mr. Said. “They’re fishing. You’re in trouble with the law and they are the law.” He said that by agreeing to do some of what the investigator asked him to do, he was simply trying to placate the police, “because I’m in a situation and they can make it bigger, believe me, they can make it bigger.” He said that when a detective called him about a week later to schedule a meeting, he declined, and “then I hang up.”
“I don’t want to be a spy on anybody,” Mr. Said said in a phone interview. “I hate spying.”
The Debriefing Team appears to have recruited another Muslim informant who told the AP in 2012, "I was playing the game. I hated that I was using people to make money. I made a mistake."
A former member of the unit, Bobby Hadid, who immigrated to the U.S. from Algeria, says he recognized that the program was dubious.
“We are detectives of the New York Police Department’s Intelligence Division,” he said. “We are there to collect intelligence about criminal activity or terrorism. Why are we asking, ‘Are you Muslim?’ ‘What mosque do you go to?’ What does that have to do with terrorism?”
The team has already conducted 220 interviews in the first quarter of 2014. The NYPD tells the paper that it was "instrumental" in the terrorism case against Jose Pimentel (the incompetent, would-be terrorist plied by marijuana and an aggressive NYPD informant; the FBI would decline to prosecute and he'd plead to lesser charges) and was responsible for a "string of important cases and investigations," but these "successes" are confined to a single paragraph.
Former CBS reporter and current NYPD Deputy Commissioner John Miller heads the department's Intelligence Divsion defended the program as "noncoercive sessions where people had the ability to opt out at any time."
“It’s not a thing where they sit down and say, ‘Are you a Muslim or a Sunni or a Shiite?’" Miller says. "That’s the kind of thing that comes up in conversation.”