Domestic Spying Targets Americans Nationwide

NSA Headquarters, Fort Meade, MD.
NSA Headquarters, Fort Meade, MD.

Shedding a light on the devastating impact that widespread surveillance can have on a community, the Muslim American Civil Liberties Coalition released a report today detailing the effects of unconstitutional surveillance tactics of the New York Police Department on Muslim Americans following the September 11th attacks up to today. Here is an excerpt from the press release:

Since 2002, the NYPD embarked on a covert domestic surveillance program that monitored American Muslims throughout the Northeast, from spying on neighborhood cafes and places of worship to infiltrating student whitewater-rafting trips – a program that continued despite the NYPD’s own acknowledgment that, over the course of six years, these efforts had not generated a single lead. The report is an unprecedented collection of voices from affected community members reflecting how the NYPD spying and infiltration creates a pervasive climate of fear and suspicion that encroaches upon every aspect of their religious, political, and community lives.

…“This report is critically important reading for all Americans concerned with freedom, justice, and equality in 21st century America,” said Imam Al-Hajj Talib Abdur-Rashid, Majlis Ash-Shura of Metropolitan New York. “It is the authentic voice of real people impacted by unjust policies and procedures, for which Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Ray Kelly remain both defensive and un-apologetic.”

The Associated Press first broke the story in 2011, revealing the NYPD secretly gathered intelligence on more than 250 mosques, student groups, restaurant hangouts, etc. in the New York area in one of the nation’s most aggressive domestic spying programs. A secret squad known as the Demographics Unit sent teams of undercover officers to spy on the area’s Muslim communities. Lacking any fix on a specific individual or group, the surveillance targeted an entire religious community, often putting huge numbers of innocent people under scrutiny as they engaged in peaceful daily life.

John Knefel at Rolling Stone called the spying program a “pointless national shame.”

So what has all this surveillance, this so-called “intelligence gathering,” gotten us? A terrorized local Muslim population, a police department that grossly exaggerates the terror plots it has disrupted and a crown jewel investigation of a troubled man named Ahmed Ferhani that was so problematic even the FBI – recently dubbed “the terror factory” by one author because of its role in manufacturing plots that its own agents then disrupt – wanted nothing to do with it. And as the report reminds us, Thomas Galati, the commanding officer of the NYPD’s Intelligence Division, “admitted during sworn testimony that in the six years of his tenure, the unit tasked with monitoring American Muslim life had not yielded a single criminal lead.”

The rigorous AP reporting helped enlighten the public on just how deep the domestic surveillance of American citizens goes, but the depth of the reporting had a cost. The activities of the NYPD are just a single example of an issue that effects Americans across the country in the name of national security and the war on terror.

A Senate investigation last year found that an intelligence sharing program, called fusion centers, led by the Department of Homeland Security wasted billions of dollars and infringed on Americans’ civil liberties. The investigation, the AP also reported, was “a scathing evaluation of what the Department of Homeland Security has held up as a crown jewel of its security efforts.”

“The subcommittee investigation could identify no reporting which uncovered a terrorist threat, nor could it identify a contribution such fusion center reporting made to disrupt an active terrorist plot,” the report said.

“When fusion centers did address terrorism, they sometimes did so in ways that infringed on civil liberties,” the AP reports. “The centers have made headlines for circulating information about Ron Paul supporters, the ACLU, activists on both sides of the abortion debate, war protesters and advocates of gun rights.”

Some of these intelligence centers even investigated Muslim-American community groups and their book recommendations. No evidence of criminal activity was ever found, but the government did store the information, which it is prohibited from doing for First Amendment activities.

Again, this is just another example. National Security Agency whistleblower William Binney has said that the US government is secretly gathering information “about virtually every US citizen in the country,” in “a very dangerous process” that violates Americans’ privacy.

Similarly, investigative journalist James Bamford wrote in Wired in March that “the NSA has turned its surveillance apparatus on the US and its citizens. It has established listening posts throughout the nation to collect and sift through billions of email messages and phone calls, whether they originate within the country or overseas.”

One anonymous official familiar with the NSA’s surveillance program told Bamford, “Everybody’s a target; everybody with communication is a target.”

In an interview with Current TV in May, another NSA whistleblower, Thomas Drake, made similar claims of the capability and intent of the NSA’s surveillance activities. “The vast capability of the NSA was increasingly being turned inside the US,” he said, “to surveil networks, emails, phone calls, etc.”

“The United States of America was turned into the equivalent of a foreign nation for the purposes of dragnet electronic surveillance,” Drake added.

Judging from what in depth investigative reporting and high-profile whistleblowers have revealed, the excessive domestic spying yields very little in the way of disrupting terrorist plots or anything of the sort. Yet, they continue – and even expand, making the whole enterprise seem much more like a domestic tool of subjugation than a heartfelt attempt at “keeping us safe.”