The New York Police Department regularly spied on U.S. citizens and tracked their movements as part of the NYPD's vastly expanded intelligence and surveillance mission after 9/11, The Associated Press reported.
Police officers targeted Moroccan New Yorkers in every aspect of life, from the grocery store to the mosque to their apartments, earning the program the nickname of the Moroccan Initiative. They staked out locations where Moroccans would gather: in one document obtained by the AP, police officers describe how a U.S. citizen in Queens began each day at a known Moroccan barbershop, and in another an officer described a newly identified hotel that is referred to Moroccan tourists.
Current and former officials told the AP that the project began after 2003 suicide bombings that killed 45 people in the Moroccan city of Casablanca and the 2004 train bombing in Madrid that was linked to Moroccan terrorists, with officers operating under the premise that data collected on Moroccans could be used in the event of a future terrorist attack.
That contradicts the NYPD's claim that it only followed credible evidence of attacks being planned, and would seem to violate a vaguely worded law preventing police from using race or ethnicity as the determinative factor in law enforcement.
A lot of these locations were innocent, said an official involved in the effort, who spoke to the AP only on condition of anonymity. They just happened to be in the community.
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NYPD Shifts Toward Counterterrorism
The Moroccan Initiative was part of a broader shift for the NYPD toward counterterrorism, an effort that involved guidance and cooperation from the Central Intelligence Agency. In a previous report, the AP described how the NYPD dispatched officers to Muslim neighborhoods and gathering spaces to collect information, again often in the absence of any specific evidence of wrongdoing. In a nod to the ethnic profiling involved, those officers were referred to as the Demographic Unit.
The Central Intelligence Agency has already launched an investigation as a result of the first story, and the article detailing the Moroccan Initiative prompted Rep. Rush Holt, D-N.J., to call for a Justice Department investigation.
In America, you don't put people under suspicion without good reason, said Holt. The idea that people in a group are suspect because of being members of a group is profiling, plain and simple.