NYPD’s Muslim Spying Did Not Produce Leads On Terror Cases

08.21.12 David Lumb

In over six years of spying on and cataloguing Muslims, the NYPD’s secret Demographics Unit did not produce a single lead or trigger a terrorism investigation, the department acknowledged in court testimony unsealed yesterday. We say “secret” because the NYPD denied the unit existed when the AP reported on its existence last year. The Demographics Unit created a massive database of Muslim activity and inserted informants into mosques, an “early warning system” for terrorism, but a June 28 deposition by Assistant Chief and Commanding Officer of the Intelligence Division Thomas Galati revealed that none of the conversations overheard by the NYPD led to a case, though he conceded that he had no knowledge of the Demographics Unit’s results prior to his arrival in 2006.

Galati’s deposition also included the Demographics Unit’s methods of gathering information on people, wrongdoing or not, simply due to their ethnicity or native language. “As a rule, Galati said, a business can be labeled a “location of concern” whenever police can expect to find groups of Middle Easterners there,” the AP reported–this includes the out-of-state mosques that the NYPD was surveilling in New Jersey. Galati’s testimony was part of a lawsuit alleging the NYPD’s breach of the Handschu agreement, a set of guidelines for NYPD surveillance named after the lead plaintiff in 1971’s Handschu v. Special Services Division, a decision limiting the NYPD’s surveillance abilities in the wake of large-scale . It’s worth noting that the NYPD asked federal judge Charles S. Haight Jr., who presided over the original case, to loosen the restrictions in 2002 in order to accommodate the NYPD’s newly-created Counterterrorism Division. Attorney Jethro Eisenstein, who filed the Handschru case 40 years ago and questioned Galati during the deposition, asked Galati to close down the Demographics Unit (now called the Zone Assessment Unit).

The Anti-Defamation League honored Galati for “outstanding achievements combating terrorism, extremism, and injustice” in Nov 2011.

(Photo: adamgreenfield/Flickr)