Archive for Michael Powell

In Police Training, a Dark Film on U.S. Muslims

Posted in Loon Politics, Loon-at-large with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on January 24, 2012 by loonwatch
An Islamic flag atop the White House in “The Third Jihad.”
An Islamic flag atop the White House in “The Third Jihad.”

In Police Training, a Dark Film on U.S. Muslims

By MICHAEL POWELL

Ominous music plays as images appear on the screen: Muslim terrorists shoot Christians in the head, car bombs explode, executed children lie covered by sheets and a doctored photograph shows an Islamic flag flying over the White House.

“This is the true agenda of much of Islam in America,” a narrator intones. “A strategy to infiltrate and dominate America. … This is the war you don’t know about.”

This is the feature-length film titled “The Third Jihad,” paid for by a nonprofit group, which was shown to more than a thousand officers as part of training in the New York Police Department.

In January 2011, when news broke that the department had used the film in training, a top police official denied it, then said it had been mistakenly screened “a couple of times” for a few officers.

A year later, police documents obtained under the state’s Freedom of Information Law reveal a different reality: “The Third Jihad,” which includes an interview with Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly, was shown, according to internal police reports, “on a continuous loop” for between three months and one year of training.

During that time, at least 1,489 police officers, from lieutenants to detectives to patrol officers, saw the film.

News that police trainers showed this film so extensively comes as the department wrestles with its relationship with the city’s large Muslim community. The Police Department offers no apology for aggressively spying on Muslim groups and says it has ferreted out terror plots.

But members of the City Council, civil rights advocates and Muslim leaders say the department, in its zeal, has trampled on civil rights, blurred lines between foreign and domestic spying and sown fear among Muslims.

“The department’s response was to deny it and to fight our request for information,” said Faiza Patel, a director at the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University Law School, which obtained the release of the documents through a Freedom of Information request. “The police have shown an explosive documentary to its officers and simply stonewalled us.”

Tom Robbins, a former columnist with The Village Voice, first revealed that the police had screened the film. The Brennan Center then filed its request.

The 72-minute film was financed by the Clarion Fund, a nonprofit group whose board includes a former Central Intelligence Agency official and a deputy defense secretary for President Ronald Reagan. Its previous documentary attacking Muslims’ “war on the West” attracted support from the casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, a major supporter of Israel who has helped reshape the Republican presidential primary by pouring millions of dollars into a so-called super PAC that backs Newt Gingrich.

Commissioner Kelly is listed on the “Third Jihad” Web site as a “featured interviewee.” Paul J. Browne, the Police Department’s chief spokesman, wrote in an e-mail that filmmakers had lifted the clip from an old interview. The commissioner, Mr. Browne said, has not asked the filmmakers to remove him from its Web site, or to clarify that he had not cooperated with them.

None of the documents turned over to the Brennan Center make clear which police officials approved the showing of this film during training. Department lawyers blacked out large swaths of these internal memorandums.

Repeated calls over the past several days to the Clarion Fund, which is based in New York, were not answered. The nonprofit group shares officials with Aish HaTorah, an Israeli organization that opposes any territorial concessions on the West Bank. The producer of “The Third Jihad,” Raphael Shore, also works with Aish HaTorah.

Clarion’s financing is a puzzle. Its federal income tax forms show contributions, grants and revenues typically hover around $1 million annually — except in 2008, when it booked contributions of $18.3 million. That same year, Clarion produced “Obsession: Radical Islam’s War Against the West.” The Clarion Fund used its surge in contributions to pay to distribute tens of millions of copies of this DVD in swing electoral states across the country in September 2008.

“The Third Jihad” is quite similar, in style and content, to that earlier film. Narrated by Zuhdi Jasser, a Muslim doctor and former American military officer in Arizona, “The Third Jihad” casts a broad shadow over American Muslims. Few Muslim leaders, it states, can be trusted.

“Americans are being told that many of the mainstream Muslim groups are also moderate,” Mr. Jasser states. “When in fact if you look a little closer, you’ll see a very different reality. One of their primary tactics is deception.”

Footage of an interview with the police commissioner, Raymond W. Kelly, is used in the movie.Footage of an interview with the police commissioner, Raymond W. Kelly, is used in the movie.

The film posits that there were three jihads: One at the time of Muhammad, a second in the Middle Ages and a third that is under way covertly throughout the West today.

This is, the film claims, “the 1,400-year war.”

How the film came to be used in police training, and even for how long, was not clear. An undated memorandum from the department’s commanding officer for specialized training noted that an employee of the federal Department of Homeland Security handed the DVD to the New York police in January 2010. Since then, this officer said, the video was shown continuously “during the sign-in, medical and administrative orientation process.” A Department of Homeland Security spokesman said it was never used in its curriculum, and might have come from a contractor.

As it turned out, it was police officers who blew the whistle after watching the film. Late in 2010, Mr. Robbins contacted an officer who spoke of his unease with the film; another officer, said Zead Ramadan, the New York president of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, talked of seeing it during a training session the previous summer. “The officer was completely offended by it as a Muslim,” Mr. Ramadan said. “It defiled our faith and misrepresented everything we stood for.”

When the news broke about the movie last year, Mr. Browne called it a “wacky film” that had been shown “only a couple of times when officers were filling out paperwork before the actual course work began.”

He made no more public comments. Privately, two days later, he asked the Police Academy to determine whether a terrorism awareness training program had used the video, according to the documents.

The academy’s commander reported back on March 23, 2011, that the film had been viewed by 68 lieutenants, 159 sergeants, 31 detectives and 1,231 patrol officers. The department never made those findings public.

And just one week later, the Brennan Center officially requested the same information, starting what turned out to be a nine-month legal battle to obtain it.

“It suggests a broader problem that they refuse to divulge this information much less to discuss it,” Ms. Patel of the Brennan Center said. “The training of the world’s largest city police force is an important question.”

Mr. Browne said he had been unaware of the higher viewership of the film until asked about it by The New York Times last week.

There is the question of the officers who viewed the movie during training. Mr. Browne said the Police Department had no plans to correct any false impressions the movie might have left behind.

“There’s no plan to contact officers who saw it,” he said, or to “add other programming as a result.”

Michael Powell: Police Eyes Hovering Over Muslims

Posted in Loon-at-large with tags , , , , , , , , , , on October 21, 2011 by loonwatch

NYPD

“In our society, government is supposed to be public and you’re supposed to have a private life,” Moustafa Bayoumi, an English professor at Brooklyn College, said. “We’ve flipped that on its head.”

Police Eyes Hovering Over Muslims

By MICHAEL POWELL (NewYorkTimes)

Hello to you, and to whoever might be spying on us tonight.

This is how some Muslim New Yorkers have grown accustomed to opening meetings, on campus and at mosques from Steinway Street in Queens to Fifth Avenue in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn. Their assumption is that someone is always listening for hints of frustration and anger and disloyalty.

And that the listener works for the New York Police Department.

“In our society, government is supposed to be public and you’re supposed to have a private life,” Moustafa Bayoumi, an English professor at Brooklyn College, said. “We’ve flipped that on its head.”

The temptation is to dismiss such fears as post-9/11 paranoia. But The Associated Press, in a startling series, and the dependable Leonard Levitt, who writes the NYPD Confidential Web site, have put substantial meat on the bone of these suspicions.

They found that undercover officers, known as rakers, infiltrated hundreds of mosques; that a secret demographic unit compiled extensive dossiers on where Muslim New Yorkers eat, work, type on computers and transfer money to relatives; and that even imams who worked closely and courageously with the police have found themselves spied on and listed as “suspects.”

The Police Department’s reach extends to India, Pakistan and the Middle East, and less exotically to New Jersey, where undercover police cells have taken roost. And the department works with the F.B.I. and, more controversially, the C.I.A. in a way that sounds less fraternal than like a blood marriage.

Recently, the C.I.A. sent what The A.P. described as “one of its most senior clandestine officers” to work at One Police Plaza. It is highly unusual and troubling for the C.I.A. to work so closely with a police department.

So how should we parse these deeply unsettling findings? We live in an age of moral murk. It is to diminish none of the power of The A.P.’s work to acknowledge that some revelations fall into moral shadow rather than a Manichean play of pitch darkness and light.

Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly vibrates with certitude. He watched those towers transformed into calamitous clouds of dust. He learned of profound federal intelligence failures and bristles with a determination not to go there again.

“We’re paid to think the unthinkable,” Mr. Kelly told the City Council at a hearing 11 days ago. “We want to know how individuals traveling here communicate and conceal themselves. We go where the leads take us.”

I get that. The word “if” dominated our lives for many months after 9/11. Shortly afterward, my wife and I decided not to send our son to a fine public middle school in Lower Manhattan, for fear of having him too far removed from our Brooklyn home if. …

And I have felt a bubbling up of impatience with some religious leaders. The Al Farooq Mosque in Brooklyn was briefly home to the Blind Sheik, Omar Abdel Rahman, who helped plot the attack on the World Trade Center in 1993, and since then other radicals are reported to have passed through. Does anyone there tend the door?

Councilman Brad Lander is one of those wrestling thoughtfully with such questions. But as he put pointed questions to Mr. Kelly at the hearing, the answers were illuminating in not terribly comforting ways.

It sounds, Mr. Lander said, as if you’re engaged in religious and ethnic profiling.

The commissioner shrugged. “I wouldn’t believe everything that I read,” he replied.

This fell well short of candor, which is unfortunate at a time when the police brass ask us to give them something like blind trust in their intentions. Afterward, an A.P. reporter asked, point-blank, Can you point to specific factual inaccuracies in our reporting?

And the commissioner replied: No.

This pattern recurs. Paul J. Browne, the department’s chief spokesman, has a tendency to emphatically deny what has certifiably happened, whether the spying on and locking up of demonstrators for days at the Republican National Convention, or these recent revelations.

Credibility is like sand flowing through an hourglass. It runs out.

Professor Bayoumi rides subways and elevators and understands terrible possibilities. “I understand there need to be investigations,” he said. “But to base it on religious beliefs and what someone says at a meeting, rather than on actual leads …”

He paused, frustrated. “It weakens the bonds in a community and corrodes trust. Is that useful?”

E-mail: powellm@nytimes.com