The NYPD: Spies, Spooks and Lies – NYPD Confidential – September 5, 2011

The NYPD: Spies, Spooks and Lies

by Leonard Levitt – author of NYPD Confidential

September 5, 2011

The New York City Police Department has been spying on hundreds of Muslim mosques, schools, businesses, student groups, non-governmental organizations and individuals, NYPD Confidential has learned.

The spying operation has targeted virtually every level of Muslim life in New York City, according to a trove of pages of Intelligence Division documents obtained by NYPD Confidential.

The documents do not specify whether the police have evidence or solid suspicions of criminality to justify their watching the Muslim groups.

The breadth and scope of the surveillance described in the documents suggest that the police have been painting with a broad brush and may have targeted subjects without specific tips about wrongdoing.

The NYPD’s spying operation has compiled information on 250 mosques, 12 Islamic schools, 31 Muslim student associations, 263 places it calls “ethnic hotspots,” such as businesses and restaurants, as well as 138 “persons of interest,” according to the Intel documents.

Police have singled out 53 mosques, four Islamic schools and seven Muslim student associations as institutions of “concern.” They have also labeled 42 individuals as top tier “persons of interest.”

At least 32 mosques have been infiltrated by either undercover officers, informants, or both, according to documents, which are dated between 2003 and 2006 and marked “secret.”

The NYPD has also been monitoring Muslim student associations at seven local colleges: City, Baruch, Hunter, Queens, LaGuardia, St. John’s and Brooklyn.

The department calls the two student groups at Brooklyn and Baruch colleges “of concern” and has sent undercover detectives to spy on them, the documents reveal.

The department defines a Muslim student association as “a university based student group, with an Islamic focus, involved with religious and political activities.”

The documents reveal that an Intelligence Division Cyber Unit has monitored MSAs at Brooklyn, City and Queens colleges.

The department also lists 10 non-governmental organizations as “of concern.” According to the documents, all 10 organizations have been spied upon by NYPD undercovers, informants, detectives with the Joint Terrorist Task Force or what the documents describe as a “secondary.”

On the NYPD list of 42 top tier “persons of interest” are: a corrections officer, a former imam, an un-indicted co-conspirator in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, a lecturer at Brooklyn College and what the department describes as a “Brooklyn College MSA member [who] has expressed desire to be a suicide bomber in Palestine.”

The police have spied on all these people with either an undercover officer, an informant, or both, the documents say.

The NYPD has also conducted spying operations within the state prisons on prisoners and imams. It has identified seven prisons “of concern”: Shawangunk, Gouverneur, Green Haven, Fishkill, Woodbourne, Attica and Great Meadow. The police have also complied information on about 200-250 inmates from “countries of concern,” identified in the documents as Algeria, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Tanzania and Yemen, the documents show. They have also compiled information on the top five mosques called from prisons, the documents show.

The documents include a map of the city, which it calls a “Primary Defensive Perimeter.”

There is also a pie chart with a percentage breakdown by country of origin of the city’s Muslim communities.

Another map shows parts of New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts and Pennsylvania, and calls this area an “Expanded Defensive Perimeter.” The department has sent detectives outside the city to these four states on undercover missions, although the NYPD lacks legal jurisdiction outsides New York City.

And there is the NYPD’s own special language. Some “persons of interest” are described as “ideological detonators — Those who endorse and/or plan an act of violence.” Others are called “detonatees — Those who are more likely to commit an act of violence.”

One of the four Islamic schools that the department cited as a ”school of concern” is the Al-Noor School in Brooklyn, which runs classes from kindergarten to high school and describes itself as “one of the largest and fastest growing Islamic schools in America. … committed to the pursuance of excellence in Islamic and academic studies, the inculcation of Islamic values and morals and the development of a strong attachment of students to the Islamic culture.”

Lamis Deek, an attorney and Palestinian activist for Arab communities, said: “The leadership of many schools, especially Al-Noor, has repeatedly reached out to invite Commissioner Kelly every year to say to the NYPD and other law enforcement agencies, ‘We are here to help you.’

“They have attempted to build a relationship of trust with the NYPD but, no matter what they do, they are seen as targets and as suspects. Here they are extending this trust but instead are being surveilled and betrayed and abused.”

Since 2003, this column has written about the NYPD’s out-of-state spying on political groups; the department’s botched sting operation in New Jersey; and a connection to the CIA through Deputy Commissioner of the Intelligence Division David Cohen, a former top CIA top official, and through Larry Sanchez, another former CIA official, who, until his retirement earlier this year, was listed in the police roster as an NYPD Assistant Commissioner of the Intelligence Division.

Last month, Associated Press reporters in Washington uncovered evidence that the NYPD’s spying is far larger than previously reported. The AP report stated that the department had targeted ethnic communities “in ways that would run afoul of civil liberties rules if practiced by the federal government.”

“These operations have benefited from unprecedented help from the CIA, a partnership that has blurred the line between foreign and domestic spying,” the AP said.

The NYPD maintained to the Associated Press that no spying had occurred without a criminal lead.

“We do not employ undercovers or confidential informants unless there is information indicating the possibility of unlawful activity,” police spokesman Paul Browne said. Browne also denied the existence of a demographics unit.

The documents obtained by NYPD Confidential appear to belie both Browne’s statements. The Demographics Unit is cited numerous times in the documents.

Browne was said to be out of town and did not answer an email from this reporter. Deputy Inspector Kim Royster, a police spokeswoman, did not return a phone call.

Articulating the department’s position on its spying, Browne also told the AP that the NYPD “is doing everything it can to make sure there’s not another 9/11 here… And we have nothing to apologize for in that regard.”

In the past he has justified the NYPD’s spying by citing a shifting number of unnamed plots supposedly foiled by the department.

One highly publicized plot involved a Pakistani immigrant, Shahawar Matin Siraj, convicted of planning an attack on the Herald Square subway station days before the Republican National Convention was to begin. Testimony at the trial in Brooklyn federal court revealed that the police department paid $100,000 to an undercover who encouraged Siraj in the bombing plot.

Both Kelly and Cohen have cited the department’s anti-terrorism efforts as having prevented a further attack on the city after 9/11.

Neither Mayor Michael Bloomberg nor City Councilman Peter Vallone, who heads the Council’s Public Safety Committee, has publicly questioned the extent of the department’s spying.

“Ray Kelly briefs me privately on certain subjects that should not be discussed in public,” Vallone told the AP.

Bloomberg said in response to the AP story that the NYPD does not take religion into account in its policing, a statement that, like Browne’s, appears to be belied by the documents obtained by NYPD Confidential.

It appears that no one outside the police department is monitoring the NYPD’s anti-terrorism measures. A former anti-terrorism commissioner described the NYPD as “a municipal agency operating like a mini-CIA.”

“What safeguards are there to ensure that the NYPD doesn’t break the law?” he said. “What mechanisms are in place to ensure that the NYPD, a municipal agency, does not become a rogue organization?”

“The NYPD has decided that the Muslim community as a whole is the enemy,” says defense attorney Elizabeth Fink. She is representing Ahmed Ferhani, who was indicted in Manhattan State Supreme Court in June for planning to blow up two synagogues.

The case is controversial — the FBI refused to participate, unofficially citing doubts about the reliability of the police undercover in the case, who developed evidence against Ferhani and another suspect.

For the first time in New York, a terrorism case is being tried in state, not federal court.

Men Plead Not Guilty to Synagogue Bomb Plot – Courthouse News – June 15, 2011

Men Plead Not Guilty to Synagogue Bomb Plot
Published June 15, 2011 at Courthouse News

MANHATTAN (CN) – Two men accused of plotting to bomb New York City synagogues pleaded not guilty to terrorism charges Wednesday; one man’s attorneys told reporters that an undercover detective entrapped their emotionally unstable client.
Ahmed Ferhani, 26, was forcibly institutionalized at least 20 and possibly more than 30 times in the past decade, his lawyers said.
Attorneys for alleged co-conspirator Mohamed Mamdouh, 20, could not immediately be reached for comment.
According to their indictment, the pair met at Ferhani’s home in Queens with an undercover detective on April 12 to plan how to blow up a synagogue without being caught by law enforcement.
Prosecutors say Ferhani met with the detective on several subsequent occasions to discuss bomb-making, selling drugs to fund weapons procurement, and posing as a religious Jew to carry out the alleged plot.
Mamdouh allegedly said that he had no qualms about killing Jews, and requested that the detective only discuss bombs in person, rather than over the phone.
Farhani and Mamdouh, handcuffed and clad in orange prison jumpsuits, were ushered into the Manhattan Criminal courtroom by several cops for the minutes-long hearing.
After one officer removed his handcuffs, Farhani hugged his attorney Elizabeth M. Fink, a prominent civil rights attorney. At the brief hearing, Mamdouh’s attorney mentioned that the charges against the defendants “dropped a significant level” since the time of their arrest.
At the time of their May 12 arrest, both faced first-degree and second-degree charges, including conspiracy, weapons possession and attempted weapons possession with hate crime and terrorism enhancements.
While the terrorism and hate-crime charges remain, defense attorney Fink said that the conspiracy charges have been reduced to a fourth-degree offense.
“The city of New York for their own nefarious purposes created a situation where these people were accused of the top charges,” Fink said. “Now, the charges have been substantially lowered from first degree, second degree to fourth degree.”
Yet, two of Ferhani and Mamdouh’s charges still qualify as “Class B” violent felonies, carrying potential 25-year sentences.
Unlike most terrorism prosecutions of its kind, Ferhani and Mamdouh will be tried in state court.
WNYC reported that anonymous FBI agents claimed that the “hyped” terror charges would not hold up in court.
At an impromptu press conference, Fink said she believed the FBI “wouldn’t touch it.”
“You don’t think they prosecute down there?” Fink asked. “I spend a lot of time down there. They prosecute all the time down there.”
New York City’s district attorney, however, is taking it very seriously.
“A picture emerges from today’s indictment that describes how the defendants plotted to bomb synagogues in Manhattan in an effort to contribute to what they referred to as ‘the cause,'” District Attorney Cyrus Vance said. “Their desire to commit violent jihad against Jewish Americans is not only an act of terrorism, but also a hate crime. Any threats to the safety of New Yorkers will be addressed swiftly and aggressively by this Office and our partners in the NYPD.”
Fink was quick to tell reporters that Farhani’s attorneys are “five Semites” – four Jews and one Palestinian, she explained – many of whom have long histories representing vilified defendants.
A junior partner on the case, Sarah Kunstler, is the daughter of self-described “radical lawyer” William Kunstler, who defended Stokely Carmichael, Lenny Bruce, and perhaps most infamously, World Trade Center bomber Omar Abdel-Rahman, who was nicknamed the Blind Sheik.
Assisting Fink’s press relations was Dhoruba bin Wahad, who was acquitted in the case of the so-called Panther 21, referring to the number of Black Panthers accused then cleared of plotting to bomb various sites in New York.

Fink said that their case parallels that of Ferhani.
“I think it is really unbelievable that this case came out and was brought 40 years to the day of the Panther 21 acquittal, which is what this case is about,” she said.
Like the Panther 21 case, Fink said she believe her client’s was “political,” stemming from the “personal ambitions” of the Manhattan district attorney and the city’s police commissioner and mayor.
She confirmed rumors that she would use an entrapment defense at trial, which has been used, mostly unsuccessfully, in several prominent terrorism trials across the county. One such case, that of the convicted synagogue bomb plotters nicknamed Newburgh 4, who have yet to be sentenced amid repeated procedural delays.
“The truth here is that our client has a significant psychiatric problem,” Fink said. “The city of New York knew that. The police department knew that, and for their own purposes, they brought this case.”
Her co-counsel elaborated on their claims regarding Ferhani’s psychiatric conditions.
“He was institutionalized by the city of New York anywhere between 20 and perhaps over 30 times over the course of the past 10 to 15 years of his life,” said Lamis Deek, another co-counsel. “He would be subdued, then taken into East Elmshurst for institutionalization.”
Fink added that Ferhani is being examined by two psychiatrists, who will determine his prognoses.
An New York Police Department spokesman could not immediately respond to an email inquiry for comment.

Most Serious Charges Are Rejected in Terror Case – New York Times – June 15, 2011

Most Serious Charges Are Rejected in Terror Case

Published June 15, 2011 in the New York Times

Two men who were accused of plotting to blow up the largest synagogue in Manhattan, and kill as many Jews as possible in the process, were formally indicted on Wednesday, but not on the most serious criminal charges sought by the Manhattan district attorney’s office.

Ahmed Ferhani and Mohamed Mamdouh, who were accused of plotting to blow up the largest synagogue in Manhattan, at their arraignment in State Supreme Court on Wednesday. They were not indicted on the most serious criminal charges sought by the Manhattan district attorney.

The state grand jury that heard evidence against the men declined to indict them on the charges of second-degree conspiracy as a crime of terrorism and as a hate crime, rejecting the prosecution’s assertion that they had plotted to blow up synagogues while there were worshippers inside. Instead, the panel favored lesser charges that suggested that the defendants, at best, had wanted to destroy a synagogue when it was empty.

The case that led to the charges against the men, who were arrested last month, was unusual for both the way it was pursued — both the investigation and prosecution were handled by local, not federal, authorities — and the way it was announced at City Hall on May 12, with city officials displaying live-action arrest photos.

Indeed, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg; the Manhattan district attorney, Cyrus R. Vance, Jr.; and the police commissioner, Raymond W. Kelly, were asked at that news conference why the case, which was presented as a serious investigation of a terrorist plot, had not been brought in federal court.

The men provided different answers. The mayor simply said that federal prosecutors “don’t take all the cases”; the commissioner noted that federal authorities have the right of first refusal, but that this case had actually started as a criminal matter and “morphed” into a terrorism inquiry; and Mr. Vance said his office focused on “local, unaffiliated threats.”

The F.B.I., which oversees the Joint Terrorist Task Force, whose agents and police detectives generally investigate such matters, declined to pursue the case and have said little about it. Federal prosecutors, apparently, were not consulted.
On Wednesday, after the defendants were arraigned on the indictment, a lawyer for one of them suggested that the investigation had continued because of politics and a desire to grandstand.

“I think you’re going to see that this case is a case based on the financial, political and personal ambitions of the police commissioner of the City of New York, the mayor of the City of New York and the district attorney of New York County,” said Elizabeth Fink, who represents the lead defendant, Ahmed Ferhani.

But Mr. Vance, in a statement, said the indictment highlighted how the defendants’ “desire to commit violent Jihad against Jewish Americans is not only an act of terrorism, but a hate crime.”

Despite the absence of the most sensational charges, the men were nonetheless arraigned on serious felonies under the state’s terrorism law, for which they could face up to 25 years in prison if they are convicted. Had the top counts been included in the indictment, the men would have faced mandatory life sentences if convicted. The law, passed after the Sept. 11 attacks, has never been used in such a case.

Mr. Ferhani, 26, and his co-defendant, Mohamed Mamdouh, 20, pleaded not guilty at the hearing in State Supreme Court in Manhattan. Ms. Fink asked Justice Michael J. Obus to appoint a forensic psychiatrist to evaluate her client’s mental condition.

After the arraignment, Ms. Fink called the case “bogus” and told reporters that Mr. Ferhani had a long history of mental illness.

Another lawyer representing him, Lamis Deek, said that Mr. Ferhani had been hospitalized 20 to 30 times in the past 10 to 15 years and had been involuntarily committed to a psychiatric hospital by the Police Department. Paul J. Browne, the Police Department’s chief spokesman, said in a statement that the department does not commit people, but may sometimes transport those who appear emotionally disturbed for evaluation at a psychiatric hospital, and has no say over whether the person is admitted.

“Even so, should that leave the police powerless from interrupting a plot to blow up a synagogue and to shoot and kill Jews in New York City?” he asked, adding, “Don’t think so.”

Mr. Ferhani’s mental history could have a significant impact on the prosecution’s case, which grew out of a sting operation in which undercover police detectives with the Intelligence Division sold guns and a hand grenade to the men. Mr. Ferhani’s lawyers said they intended to pursue an entrapment defense.

At the arraignment, Aaron Mysliwiec, the lawyer for Mr. Mamdouh, underscored the grand jury’s failure to include the top counts, saying, “The charges have dropped a significant level here in this case.”

Adam S. Kaufmann, the chief of Mr. Vance’s Investigation Division, said in a statement that grand juries were empowered to decide independently what crimes to charge defendants with, adding, “The violent crimes of terrorism for which they have been indicted expose these defendants to potentially lengthy prison terms.”

Al Baker contributed reporting.

Men Accused of Synagogue Bomb Plot Plead Not Guilty – DNAinfo – June 15, 2011

Men Accused of Synagogue Bomb Plot Plead Not Guilty

June 15, 2011 12:26pm | By Shayna Jacobs, DNAinfo Reporter/Producer

Suspects in the Manhattan synagogue plot, Ahmed Ferhani (l) and Mohamed Mamdouh, at their arraignment May 12. (Pool photo by Lucas Jackson)

By Shayna Jacobs

DNAinfo Reporter/Producer

MANHATTAN SUPREME COURT — Two men who prosecutors say planned to attack New York synagogues have been indicted in connection to the plot, prosecutors said.

Ahmed Ferhani and Mohamed Mamdouh pleaded not guilty to weapons possession and hate crime and terrorism conspiracy charges at their arraignment in Manhattan Supreme Court on Wednesday.

Ferhani, 26, and Mamdouh, 20, were originally charged with more serious conspiracy offenses but still face up to 25 years in prison if convicted of the top count, the felony weapons charge.

District Attorney Cyrus Vance said the defendants “plotted to bomb synagogues in Manhattan in an effort to contribute to what they referred to as ‘the cause.'”

“Their desire to commit violent jihad against Jewish Americans is not only an act of terrorism, but also a hate crime,” the DA said in a statement.

But lawyers for the defendants claim they were set up by a politically driven mayor, district attorney and police commissioner seeking to further their own “financial personal and political ambitions.”

Lawyer Elizabeth Fink, who represents Ahmed Ferhani, cited the fact that the city went ahead with the case despite the fact that federal agencies opted not to pursue it.

“The FBI refused this case. The joint terrorism task force refused this case,” she said.

Fink admitted Ferhani purchased semi-automatic pistols, a revolver and a grenade as alleged but insisted he had no plans to blow up a synagogue.

But she said her client is mentally ill and was ensnared by authorities.

Lawyer Lamis Deek, who also reps Ferhani, said he has been involuntarily committed for psychiatric issues by the city “20 to 30 times.”

Mamdouh’s lawyer Aaron Mysliwiec noted that the “charges have dropped a significant level” between the time of the defendants’ arrest and the indictment by the grand jury.

They are due back in court on Sept. 25.

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