If ever there were a glaring example of why NSA-type spying programs inevitably lead to oppressive violation of minority rights, in addition to peaceful First Amendment protest, it is Ray Kelly's New York City Police Department. These guys are desperately in need of having their sails trimmed by a Justice Department federal consent decree. The only issue after that is what to do with the NSA's, FBI's, and state and local police departments overreach?

Recent pieces in the The Atlantic, "Is the NYPD Worse Than the NSA?," and New York Magazine's "The NYPD Division of Un-American Activities," outline well the extent of NYPD abuse of the Constitution.

As noted, the NYPD is where all of this has been heading for sometime now. Civil liberties have been steadily crushed and weakened since the 1990s, and particularly since 911. As the Atlanticarticle notes:

The surveillance debate triggered by Edward Snowden's leaks frequently features government spokespeople assuring Americans that the authorities aren't targeting us with their spying activities. Implicit is the notion that if Americans were being targeted, that would be an abuse of power.

In New York City, the debate is different, because there's no doubt about the NYPD's surveillance tactics: They're definitely targeting innocent Americans citizens and legal residents. And that's an ongoing abuse of power, even if comparatively fewer people have heard about it.

Based on an excellent overview of the NYPD published yesterday in New York Magazine, it's clear that the NYPD is just the bleeding edge of the trend, and certainly not the exception. The integration of federal spying and local police departments has contributed to significant oppression of minority rights of Muslims, the systematic abuse of "stop and frisk," the use of the DHS Terrorism Task Force and the Central Intelligence Agency to put down the Occupy Wall Street movement, and the rise of a police state mentality in New York -- which mirrors the militarization of policing and intelligence nationwide. This latter trend is well captured in Norm Stamper's (former police chief of Seattle, WA) Breaking Rank: A Top Cop's Expose of the Dark Side of American Policing.

The NYPD Division of Un-American Activities

What Kelly offered was a chance to start something new, without bureaucratic hand-wringing or political meddling. Cohen eagerly accepted. Cohen didn’t come alone. To build his new program, Cohen wanted someone by his side with access to the most sensitive intelligence, someone who could play a role in day-to-day operations. With a phone call to Langley, Cohen persuaded CIA director George Tenet to lend him Larry Sanchez. Like Cohen, Sanchez was an analyst who’d come up through the ranks. Unlike Cohen, Sanchez still had a blue CIA badge and the privileges that came with it.

Putting a CIA officer inside a police department was unprecedented. The CIA, by its very charter, was prohibited from having any “police, subpoena, or law enforcement powers or internal security functions.” But 9/11 had changed the equation. Security had become the overriding priority.

J. Edgar Hoover used the FBI COINTELPRO program to disrupt anti-war and civil rights leaders and groups, and as evidence has shown, the same surveillance and disruption tactics have emerged regarding FBI targeting of peaceful First Amendment anti-Iraq war groups and environmental groups -- leading to Criminalizing Dissent.

COINTELPRO: The FBI's War on Black America

Just One of Many Case Studies: NSA Spying on Environmentalists (aka: Dangerous Terrorists)

I'm sure everyone here knows that the FBI during the Bush administration considered U.S. environmental groups the greatest domestic terrorism threat to the country. Now there is a credible theory that at least some of the massive expansion of the U.S. security state has been caused by a response to so-called "eco-terrorism" threats, but has led to COINTELPRO-like disruption and spying on peaceful environmental groups.

Take, for example, the FBI definition of terrorism, which includes vandalism and other attacks on property (warning: PDF) leading the Bureau in the 2000s to list environmental and animal rights group “eco-terrorists” -- as the greatest U.S. domestic terrorism threat, despite the fact that such groups were responsible for few deaths or injuries.  This eventually led to a Department of Justice Inspector General’s report criticizing the FBI for targeting of First Amendment (civil liberties) and animal rights/environmental groups practicing non-violent civil disobedience, including improperly placing members of such groups on terrorism watch lists.

Subsequently, the FBI’s stance was altered to reflect criticism. But that didn't change the fact that targeting environmental groups had became an institutional mission priority that was clearly shaped by FBI terrorism definitions and mission statements interacting with (misplace, undemocratic) situational understanding of threats.

In contrast, other domestic extremists, including some anti-government, anti-abortion, and various hate groups, were responsible for hundreds of attacks and plots violent to people, yet were considered at the time less of a priority -- particularly after outcries by the rabid right against even feeble efforts by federal authorities to highlight the growing threats from domestic rightwing extremism.


Without question, the NYPD needs a mandatory Justice Department consent decree forcing them to clean up their act, as has been done with other police departments (including the Los Angeles PD in the 1990s after the Rodney King beating) in the past.

But the entire U.S. system -- local to federal -- has been moving in the general direction of fusing the criminal justice and terrorism industrial complex into one, anti-democratic behemoth. Without significant change in direction, the ability of anyone -- from environmental groups, Moral Monday or Wisconsin Walker protesters, to minority groups criminalized in wholesale ways by spying, stop and frisk, and Patriot Act abuses in the name of the War on Drugs --  to seek redress from government will be eliminated.

This is not a matter of one priority over another, however well intentioned people may be in thinking it's either-or. These are all interrelated, and eventually everyone's rights will be trampled on if the security state in New York, and across the country, continues its current trajectory.

As Jonathan Turley reminds us, we're already well on our way to an illiberal democracy -- i.e., one in name only.  10 Reasons The U.S. Is No Longer The Land Of The Free

It's not too late, but it's getting there unless we kick the ass of the the only political party that might have any interest in turning it around. Or we could just roll over and play dead.


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