According to documents acquired by the New York Times, New York Police Department (NYPD) detectives have been trying to convince Muslim immigrants in the city's jails to become police informants. Since at least 2004, a group of detectives known as the Citywide Debriefing Team has "interviewed" hundreds of jailed Muslim men as part of a post-9/11 counterrorism initiative. During these interviews, detectives question men about their families and religious practices, and then ask if they will gather information from mosques and Muslim businesses for the NYPD. The New York Times reports: The Times reviewed two dozen reports generated by the debriefing team in early 2009. Together, the documents and the interviews offered an up-close view of how the squad operates, functioning as a recruiter for the Intelligence Division, the arm of the department that is dedicated to foiling terrorist plots. But they also showed that the division’s counterterrorism mission had come to intersect in some new — and potentially uncomfortable—ways with the department’s more traditional crime-fighting work. They showed that religion had become a normal topic of police inquiry in the city’s holding cells and lockup facilities. Some reports written by detectives after debriefing sessions noted whether a prisoner attended mosque, celebrated Muslim holidays or had made a pilgrimage to Mecca. Deputy commissioner John Miller, who oversees the NYPD's Intelligence Division, defended the program's efficacy, saying, “We were looking for people who could provide visibility into the world of terrorism … You don’t get information without talking to people.” This discovery comes just weeks after the NYPD announced its plan to shut down the Zone Assessment Unit, which came under fire for infiltrating and mapping Muslim communities in the New York area. The Times notes that the Debriefing Team's activity suggests that the department "has not backed away from other counterterrorism initiatives that it created in the years after the Sept. 11 attacks."
Sarah Berlin is an intern at In These Times.