The NYPD'S Intelligence Division: It's Gone Rogue

So the NYPD's Demographics Unit never produced a single lead to a terrorist plot in the last six years and probably not in its entire decade-long existence.
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So the NYPD's Demographics Unit never produced a single lead to a terrorist plot in the last six years and probably not in its entire decade-long existence.

So said Assistant NYPD Chief Thomas Galati, the commanding officer of the vaunted Intelligence Division, of which the Demographics Unit was a key component.

Its mission was to eavesdrop on conversations in the 262 police-identified ethnic "hot spots" [including 56 in New Jersey] and to catalogue these locations as places where suspected terrorists might meet.

"I could tell you that I have never made a lead from rhetoric that came from a Demographics report and I'm here since 2006," Galati testified in a June 28 deposition. "I don't recall other ones prior to my arrival."

Police Department spokesman Paul Browne -- who initially denied the existence of the Demographics Unit -- was quick off the mark last week to downplay its importance.

Browne suggested that the eight-man unit was but a blip on the 1,000-member Intelligence Division's giant terrorism-fighting radar screen.

"The premise that the Demographic Unit was used for wholesale spying on Muslims is false," Browne said. "Neither confidential informants nor undercover officers were assigned to the Demographics Unit. It did not conduct investigations."

Browne's statement was, as usual, misleading. The Demographics Unit appears to have worked hand and glove with undercovers and informants and its fingerprints run all through the Intelligence Division.

Consider the Intelligence Division's "Strategic Posture 2006," -- a secret, 112-page NYPD document obtained by NYPD Confidential and the Associated Press in September 2011 [See NYPD Confidential September 5, 2011 and the Associated Press, September 6, 2011].

This is the document that revealed the Intelligence Division had spied on hundreds of Muslim mosques, schools, businesses, student groups, non-governmental organizations and individuals, targeting virtually every level of Muslim life in New York City.

According to this document, the police singled out 32 mosques for special vetting as "Mosques of Concern."

All 32 mosques were infiltrated by undercover officers, informants or both, the document shows. Although the details of their activities are not specified, the document reveals that the Demographics Unit was also involved in gathering intelligence on those 32 mosques.

In addition, the documents show that the Demographics Unit's activities stretched to mosques in Westchester, Jersey City and Passaic County in New Jersey.

Nobody disputes that the NYPD needs an Intelligence Division to provide intelligence on terrorism.

Nobody disputes that this may involve infiltrating mosques, as the 1993 World Trade Center bombing and a subsequent plot to blow up city landmarks was hatched in local mosques by the blind sheik Omar Addel-Rahman.

After 9/11, Police Commissioner Ray Kelly beefed up the Intelligence Division ten-fold and upgraded its mission to include building a terrorism-related "collection platform for New York City," according to another secret Intelligence document obtained by NYPD Confidential and the AP.

Since 2002, Intel, as it is referred to at Police Plaza, has been headed by a former top CIA official, David Cohen. For years he was aided by Larry Sanchez, a CIA agent secretly assigned to the NYPD. When Sanchez, retired from the Agency in 2004, he officially joined the NYPD as an assistant commissioner in the Intelligence Division at $135,000 a year. He also helped establish the Demographics Unit.

But as Fahd Ahmed, the legal and policy director of DRUM, a community organization of low-income South Asians puts it: "The pervasive surveillance yielded nothing. They spent all this money on mass surveillance, based on language, religion, country of origin and political beliefs. They alienated entire communities. They undermined their relationships these communities and caused tensions even within the communities themselves as people became afraid to talk to each other.

"This reiterates the need for oversight, using resources wisely, complying with the law and protecting the rights of people."

For the past five years, this column has raised the specter of the Intelligence Division operating with no outside supervision or accountability.

In 2009, a top NYPD counter-terrorism official described the Intelligence Division to this reporter as a "mini-CIA within a municipal agency without the safeguards to ensure that it does not break the law."

He added: "What mechanisms are in place to ensure that the NYPD does not become a rogue organization?"

In 2007, the NYPD hired another former CIA official, Marc Sageman, as the department's short-lived "scholar-in-residence." The NYPD paid his $180,000 salary in a novel way. It formed its own secret non-profit foundation, the NYPD Counter-Terrorism Foundation, which raised $300,000 from undisclosed donors.

Two of the foundation's three directors were Stephen Hammerman, the NYPD's former Deputy Commissioner of Legal Matters, and Joe Wuencsh, Kelly's chief of staff.

In state filings, both men listed their home addresses but omitted their police department affiliations.

The department has never explained this apparently unprecedented arrangement. Last year, Wuensch told this reporter he knew nothing about his being a foundation director.

Just think about it. A municipal agency seeking funding for terrorism-related programs by secret donors. That's how a municipal city agency does business?

What makes the establishment of this secret foundation more puzzling is that the department has its own official police foundation, which was formed specifically to fund special projects, like this one, that the police commissioner favors.

Department officials have maintained that sufficient in-house oversight of the department exists, especially for the Intelligence Division, because department lawyers and civilians regularly weigh in with opinions on controversial programs.

Yet the NYPD is a para-military organization. You won't find many people disagreeing with controversial policies that emanate from the top. Especially when the top is a police commissioner who, to put mildly, is not a man to disagree with.

Did any of these lawyers or civilians, for example, raise questions about the NYPD Counter-Terrorism Foundation?

Throughout his three terms in office, Mayor Michael Bloomberg has absented himself from these issues.

He has yet to comment on Galati's deposition. "Only because he has not been asked about it," said his spokesman Marc LaVorgna in an email message. "He had a press conference on Thursday as you may have seen and it did not come up."

Asked by this reporter what Bloomberg thought about the Galati's deposition, LaVorgna did not respond.

Indeed, a year after joining the Intelligence Division, Galati himself led a rogue operation.

In September, 2007, he detained an arriving Iranian delegation to the United Nations at Kennedy airport against the wishes of other law enforcement agencies and in violation of diplomatic protocol.

After insisting on a weapons checks, he prevented the Iranians from leaving the airport, upsetting of the Secret Service, the State Department's Diplomatic Security Service and the Port Authority Police.

According to a pre-arranged plan, all four agencies, including the NYPD, had been at the airport to greet the plane.

Hours before the Iranians arrived, they conducted a run-through at an airport command post, which had been set up for the three-week United Nations General Assembly session. No areas of disagreement were brought up.

Apparently on orders from Cohen, Galati suddenly held up the Iranian motorcade for 40 minutes while the Port Authority, Secret Service, and Diplomatic Security officials fumed.

The Iranians were permitted to depart the airport only after the chief of the Port Authority Police, Christopher Turcillo, contacted the NYPD's Chief of Department Joseph Esposito.

In an interview last week, Janice Fedarcyk, the outgoing head of the FBI's New York office, stressed that cooperation between law enforcement agencies is vital to the FBI's most important mission in New York City: fighting terrorism.

"People underestimate how difficult it is to protect this city and what is required to do exactly that," she said.

"The lesson should be that it really does take collaboration and partnership on many different levels and with different community members, law enforcement and intelligence committee members working together. At the end of the day we all share the common goal not just in the city but in the nation."

Asked whether the NYPD's Intelligence Division was a help or a hindrance in that common goal, she said, "I would prefer not to talk about the NYPD's Intelligence Division."

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