Revolution #182, November 8, 2009

The NYPD—Securing the City for Whom?

It is both outrageous and very disappointing that a recent book, Securing the City: Inside America's Best Counterterror Force—the NYPD, written by Newsweek reporter Christopher Dickey—a book which clearly discloses the thinking and workings of the police-state set-up of the New York Police Department (NYPD) and presents the NYPD as "model" for other police agencies to emulate– was met with nary a word of controversy or debate.

Basic summary of book

In Securing the City: Inside America's Best Counterterror Force—the NYPD (Simon and Schuster 2009), Christopher Dickey illustrates the strategy and approach of the NYPD in developing a doctrine and operation for pre-emptive police repression, utilizing extensive global and domestic intelligence gathering (with a special relation with the CIA), supposedly in order to protect New York City from another 9/11 type attack, as part of the so-called "war on terror." This book details operational approaches which have been developed to circumvent the basic constitutional protections of the First Amendment (related to speech and religion) and the Fourth Amendment (related to government search, seizure and surveillance). This book outlines the ways in which the NYPD in a very calculated way has developed a modus operandi designed to undermine the "due process of law" generally, and the legal threshold standards in relation to "probable cause" (enough factual evidence to indicate that a crime has been committed). It details how the NYPD has developed methods and resources to surveil, infiltrate and recruit among members of so-called "incipient terrorist cells" where there have been no laws broken, nor a clear basis established for "probable cause" to launch such investigations, but where nonetheless the NYPD thinks such groups or individuals may be headed towards trouble of one type or another. The cases which have been brought to court have been based on the testimony of police agents and informants, who, in most cases, planned and instigated the very "plots" which were the basis for these so-called "terrorists" to be arrested (see below for one case history). Further, these same methods of intelligence, infiltration and disruption were used by the NYPD against domestic dissidents in relation to the 2004 Republican National Convention: Using the "war on terror" as a pretext, the NYPD requested and was granted carte blanche powers to surveil and investigate protestors and protest groups without "probable cause," sending undercover agents across the country to spy on and infiltrate protest planning activities. At the time of the convention, the NYPD preemptively rounded up and incarcerated over 1,800 peaceful protestors, many without "probable cause."

While it is beyond the scope of this article to go very deeply into this, among other things, all of these measures represent a very significant leap in the integration of national and international intelligence and police agencies, and this includes the CIA, which heretofore was supposedly barred by law from spying within the U.S. on U.S. citizens or working with and carrying out common investigations and police actions with local law enforcement.

This book reveals how the government, in relation to the necessity it faces in carrying out its war for empire, is adopting ever more openly fascist and police state measures, undermining de facto (in fact, even if not yet codified in law) basic tenets of supposedly guaranteed constitutional rights. It is also a story of an ever more pliable population which, in various ways, has bought into and is becoming ever more complicit with the imperialists' logic rationalizing their war for empire and the accompanying fascist measures of oppression and repression.

NYPD Intelligence Division—An Apparatus of Police-State Repression

In November of 2001, NYPD Police Commissioner Ray Kelly recruited David Cohen to head up the NYPD Intelligence Division. Cohen was a former CIA agent who in the 1980s had been selected by Robert Gates (then deputy director of the CIA, later director of the CIA and now Secretary of Defense) to run the national collection program inside the U.S. (a program which included debriefing U.S. citizens who traveled to other countries and recruiting people from other countries who were in the U.S. to spy on their own countries). In the '90s he was the head of the CIA's Office of Global Issues and then the Directorate of Operations (which includes clandestine operations). This was the same "Directorate" which in the 1980s had been responsible for organizing and financing (with money the CIA generated from the drug trade) "Contra" death squads, a force employed by the U.S. to defeat the Nicaraguan rebels and which was responsible for massive terror and horrible atrocities against the people of Nicaragua. In his tenure as head of this "Directorate," Cohen was responsible for efforts to covertly overthrow Saddam Hussein. (See "The Spy" and "The Dark Side" chapters in Dickey's book.)

Under Cohen, the NYPD established a relationship with the CIA whereby a CIA agent was assigned to work under Cohen at the NYPD. This was not a former CIA agent, but a person currently in the employ of the CIA. This agent provided the NYPD Intelligence Division with CIA intelligence reports from all over the world, especially the interrogations of the thousands of prisoners swept up by U.S. military and intelligence forces all over the world and locked away in U.S. prison chambers all over the world—and this included interrogations of those tortured. [Dickey, pp. 73-74] Further, as part of this international dimension of NYPD intelligence, Cohen sent NYPD intelligence officers to cities all over the world to work on the street level with other cops and intelligence agencies investigating terrorism in different countries. (Dickey, pp. 15-17)

Cohen and the NYPD (including its counter-terror bureau) set out to develop a sophisticated spy network with tentacles stretching throughout New York City (and beyond). This massive apparatus consists of hundreds of cops and civilian analysts in the Intelligence Division and the counter-terror bureau. The Intelligence Division alone has 600 people, and includes people recruited from academia. Their analysts develop threat analysis and work closely with the cops on the streets who use various techniques to spy among the masses of all nationalities. The NYPD claims more linguists than either the CIA or the FBI. To give one example, according to Dickey, in 2006 the FBI had 33 agents with "some proficiency" in Arabic, while the NYPD had twice this number of officers who were "fluent" in Arabic. (Dickey, pp. 141-150)

The NYPD has long been notorious for its routine brutalizing and terrorizing of the masses, especially Black and Latino youth; for its torture of those in custody like Abner Louima; and for its bloody record of police murders, including Amadou Diallo and Sean Bell.  That the NYPD has now teamed up with the CIA, with its own documented history of committing atrocities against humanity, is a sinister development indeed. This sharply poses the question to reflect on: What is the relationship between the agencies like the CIA, the NYPD, and police agencies in general and the need and requirements of a capitalist/imperialist U.S. in its war for empire, and related to this, its need to control its own population ever more ruthlessly?

Case Study—Thwarting of So-Called "Terrorist Plot"

While this book covers the time period since September 11, 2001, there is no recounting of any actual major terror plots which were uncovered or thwarted by the NYPD intelligence unit during that entire time. One case study which is cited is that of two young Muslims in the Bay Ridge neighborhood in Brooklyn. What happened in that case is very revealing:

 The Intelligence Division pulled a cop who was born in Bangladesh out of the training academy and sent him into Bay Ridge to spy on the people and look for potential terrorists. Later a paid informant (paid $100,000), who was born in Egypt, was also sent in. These NYPD spies cultivated relationships with two young Muslims, both of whom showed anger at U.S. crimes in Iraq, and who were especially seething with the exposures of the torture and inhumanity at Abu Ghraib. The paid informant actually played the role of a provocateur, instigating and encouraging these two youth in a plan to bomb the Herald Square subway station. The paid informant told the youth he had connections with a non-existent group ("The Brotherhood") in upstate New York who could help in providing supplies and expertise (of which these two youth had none). In other words, before contact with this police provocateur, there was no probable cause for investigation, infiltration, or surveillance, let alone arrest of these youth. Like many people in this country and throughout the world, these youth were justifiably angry at the crimes committed by the U.S., and they were vociferous in their condemnation and general proclamations of wanting revenge against the U.S. for these crimes. That is, according to the account in the book, their behavior, before the police intervened and started the police orchestrated conspiracy, was one of the types of speech which is supposedly protected by the First Amendment.

Not only did these youth have no experience, but it was clear (from the taped conversations from the provocateur's wire) that they did not want to kill people and at one point even tried to back out of taking part in the plan at all—one of the youth even spoke of having to get his mother's permission—but were challenged by the police provocateur to continue. The provocateur employed psychological manipulation and coercion to get the youth to continue with this "plan" and "conspiracy", and finally, two days before the Republican National Convention in August of 2004, the NYPD arrested the two youth.

What amounts to a U.S. government sponsored and manufactured terror plot (the main glue of the so-called conspiracy was the police agent) was used not only to "herald" the supposed prowess of the NYPD anti-terror units, but also to reinforce the propaganda narrative driven by the NYPD (and others) about the so-called "homegrown terrorism" threat.

Again, something to reflect on: If we were talking about countries such as Russia, China or Iran, most people would be in immediate agreement that such an apparatus carrying out these types of spying and frame-ups of citizens represents some form of a police state—but too many people do not, or will not, see or call it this when the exact same repression occurs here in the U.S.

Demagoguery, instrumentalism and deception...the way in which the "war on terror" is used to build up instruments of repression—case study: 2004 Republican National Convention

In early 2003, the NYPD Intelligence unit set up a special Republican National Convention (RNC) unit. This unit sent undercover police operatives to other states (in addition to New York) to secretly join and spy on various groups planning to come to New York City for the 2004 Republican National Convention to protest the crimes of the Bush regime. However, in order to do this the NYPD had to deal with legal restrictions which had been put on them in response to outrageous and illegal spying undertaken by NYPD "red squads" in the 1960s. In September of 2002 the NYPD went to court to overturn these restrictions, known as the Handschu guidelines. NYPD Intelligence Division chief David Cohen filed an affidavit which stated that:"given the range of activities that may be engaged in by the members of a sleeper cell in the long period of preparation for an act of terror, the entire resources of the NYPD must be available to conduct investigations into political activity and intelligence-related issues."(Dickey, p. 186) The court agreed, striking down the Handschu guidelines, and stating that the NYPD could conduct "investigations" based on post-9/11 federal guidelines (put in place by the Patriot Act), which had significantly lowered the necessary probable cause threshold for carrying out investigations, i.e. spying on those who expose, resist and protest against government crimes.

This represents a major undermining of a basic constitutional protection: "probable cause" is a major doctrine of U.S. law which states that 1) such intrusion into the rights of a citizen must be based on actual specific and verifiable facts or evidence which indicates that a crime has been committed (not a based on a "hunch" that one may be committed); and 2) law enforcement must take such evidence before a court and get permission, in some form, to carry out such an investigation, including spying, searching a person or a person's property, or making arrests. In this case, the NYPD requested, and a court granted, permission to broadly go out and spy on citizens, not because of any specific factual evidence that any of the various groups in the 14 states may be preparing to commit a crime, but solely based on these groups and individuals political views and orientation. It would be correct to point out that such constitutional rights are violated every day, most notably in the urban centers of this country where the youth of those nationalities oppressed by the government are routinely stopped and searched at the mere whim of any local cop, and routinely beaten for no reason at all (except to "keep them in terror and in their place") and hundreds and hundreds have been unjustifiably murdered by police (who are never punished, but in fact often promoted for these homicides). Nevertheless, this undermining of "probable cause" in this manner does represent a more generalized and open rupture with certain legal norms, and this is significant as it represents a significant move in the direction of making illegal those who, in fundamental ways, question and resist the direction and legitimacy of the imperialist/capitalist empire and its state structure.

With this court decision, the NYPD Intelligence Division sent its spies to at least 13 other states (besides New York), and Montreal, Canada. Using a court decision which was based on an argument for preventing "acts of terror", the NYPD spies infiltrated peaceful protest groups all over the country.1 This is an Orwellian-type conflation of protected speech with terrorism. It cannot be allowed to become a new norm where protected speech, or genuine liberation struggles of the people, are slandered as "terrorist."

Further, the NYPD carried out preemptive mass arrests, rounded up over 1,800 people at the Republican National Convention, and kept many of these for one or two days (to prevent them from returning to the demonstrations) in a run down and unsanitary structure on Pier 57, which came to be called "Guantánamo on the Hudson" by some in the mainstream, bourgeois media. Note: 90% of the cases were thrown out by the courts or dismissed by the district attorney.

(The repressive and police-state laws passed since 9/11, laws which use the pretext of the danger of terrorism to repress and unjustly and harshly persecute those who dissent and protest, were also used against organizers of protests against the 2008 Republican National Convention in 2008 in Minneapolis/St. Paul.2]

In their own words...

What truly stands out in this book is how calculating the NYPD Intelligence Division (and Ray Kelly, NYPD Police Commissioner) were in fashioning this police-state apparatus precisely in order to undermine basic norms which have been established in this country in regards to the rule of the due process of law. "Due process of law" refers to the legal requirement in the U.S. that no person shall "be deprived of life, liberty or property without the due process of law." This is a formal overarching doctrine of U.S. law enshrined in the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution. A basic thread running through the whole book is how the NYPD has forged a "new model for domestic intelligence gathering." The basic argument underlying this "new model" is that the police, FBI, etc. should not have to follow any due process of the law; they should be free to range among the people and make their own analysis of what may or may not be potential threats and then act accordingly.

This basic argument is concentrated in the 2007 congressional testimony by Larry Sanchez, who was the CIA liaison to the NYPD and an assistant commissioner in the NYPD. This is recounted in Dickey's book (pp. 236-239). In testimony explaining how the NYPD justifies its disregard for "due process," Sanchez talks about patterns of behavior "that most people would say would be non-criminal, would be innocuous," that might be regarded as "protected by the First and Fourth Amendments rights"—but which in the eyes of the NYPD might really be "potential precursors of terrorism."... "New York City of course has created its own methods to understand them better, to be able to identify them and to be able to make judgment calls if these are things that we need to worry about. a more closed forum could go into a lot more detail, Senators...." Sanchez also reveals the NYPD's practice of arresting people on bogus charges for the purposes of coercing them into becoming informers. Speaking of the constitutional constraints on the FBI, Sanchez says, "They're going to have a heck of a harder time... [when the actions observed might not reach] a standard of criminality that you need if your prime objective is you're going to lock them up." Dickey characterizes the implications of Sanchez' testimony: "If need be, you can nail a guy for sitting on two seats [in a subway]. You identify a potential informer and you put it to him that he has a choice of incarceration or cooperation, and there's a good chance he'll choose the latter."

Dickey interviews an FBI agent who complains about the NYPD's methods: "They do stuff that would get us arrested." This agent complains how the NYPD intelligence unit operates outside of the regulations and laws imposed on the Feds. According to this FBI agent, "The constitution applies to everyone. The First Amendment guaranteeing free speech and religion and the Fourth Amendment protecting against unreasonable search and seizure still apply to anyone who carries a badge." The agent further gripes about how the NYPD had penetrated groups in all parts of the country, including putting tracers on individuals' cars and tracking them by helicopter—without warrants. (Dickey, pp. 157-159) [A note here: the book makes clear that there are tensions between the NYPD and FBI which mainly, it seems, may be related to "turf" battles, and these tensions may have been why this FBI agent was making these charges. But, it should be clear that the FBI itself has an infamous history, including in the present, of doing exactly the same things the agent is complaining that the NYPD does.]

Securing the City for What and for Whom...

In reporting all of this, Dickey proceeds from the perspective that the U.S. war for empire should be viewed as a "war on terror" and that this war poses challenges for how the government protects the people from terrorism; and flowing from this, the thesis is put forward that in order to protect the population from terrorism, it is necessary to undermine certain basic constitutional norms and to institute more police-state fascist laws and methods of "policing." This basic viewpoint is put forward even as the author has some criticisms on how the "global war on terror" had been waged by the Bush regime in that it has "helped inspire a violent loathing for Americans around the world."

To untangle the web of deceit and illusions bound up with this viewpoint, let's start by ripping apart some of its fundamental aspects. First, this "war on terror" is actually a war for empire. While started in this form under Bush/Cheney, this is still going on under Obama, even if the "war on terror" label is not trumpeted in the same way. There is a tremendous amount of demagoguery (manipulation of public opinion through fear mongering) and instrumentalism around this; that is the threat of terrorist attacks is being used to justify every new military action or move to increase repression within the U.S. or to explain why the Bush-era crimes like indefinite detention, torture, Guantánamo, domestic spying programs, etc. must be continued. At the same time it is important to understand that the phenomena of Islamic Fundamentalism does in fact pose real obstacles to the strategic objectives of the U.S., and in this sense there is very serious contention between these forces and the U.S.3 "But, in essential terms, this 'war on terror' is an imperialist program which, among other things, is aimed at blotting out and turning the attention of people, even people who should know better, away from reckoning with the profound inequalities and oppressive relations that exist within different societies but especially on a world scale, under the domination of the imperialist system and in particular U.S. imperialism, which boasts of being 'the world's only superpower' and is determined to maintain all this." (Bob Avakian, Bringing Forward Another Way, RCP Publications, 2997, p. 13)

Second, we should have no illusions that any of these police-state measures are done out of concern for the safety of the people in New York City. To whatever the extent that the government is concerned with its citizens being killed or cities attacked by terrorism, this is fundamentally related to issues of losing the allegiance of the population and the fact that it does not want to disrupt the basic workings of the system. New York City plays a crucial role as a major financial, political, cultural and media citadel within the U.S. empire, and it has a huge strategic significance for the workings and image of U.S. imperialism. It is this which is being protected by the NYPD (and security apparatus more generally)—not the people of the city.

Third, for those agonizing over whether we are living in times where constitutional protections and civil rights need to be restricted for the sake of security, it is important to understand that when the NYPD uses the Patriot Act to do away with "probable cause" limitations on spying and infiltrating resisters in this country; when it labels those who oppose and resist the government as "terrorists" and on that basis goes after protests and rebellions; when it frames-up young Muslims who speak out against the crimes of the U.S. and does the same thing to resisters and protestors within the U.S.; when it preemptively arrests almost two thousand protestors who oppose the direction and policies of the Bush regime—all of this is to protect its system from various forms of resistance and rebellion from within. We have to be clear on this: these rights are not being taken away in the interests of the security of the people; they are being stripped away as part of strengthening the repressive apparatus of the state in order to weaken our ability to oppose the crimes being committed (in this country and around the world) by this government, in any meaningful way; and to undercut the ability to fight such increasing repression. In fact these are illusory rights in the sense that a state which exists to serve and reinforce capitalism/imperialism will, if necessary, ultimately, in one form or another, formally or de facto, abolish such rights, or make illegal the forms of resistance which may have relied on those rights as an underlying foundation to fight the system.4 And this basic truth has been illustrated many times over in the history of this country.

Even while proceeding from the viewpoint of the interests of the system, the book Securing the City: Inside America's Best Counterterror Force—the NYPD is well worth studying, both as a source of living exposure of the actual workings of this system and to gain a deeper, scientific understanding of the challenges faced by those (coming from various viewpoints and programs) who have the heart and determination to resist the crimes of this system and the horrible hopelessness that this system represents for the masses of humanity.

Part 2 will appear in Revolution #184

1. These states, as cited on page 186 of Dickey’s book, were California, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Oregon, Tennessee and Texas, and Washington. D.C. [back]

2. “Fighting Against Criminalization of Protest: The Political Persecution of the RNC 8,” Revolution #157, February 22, 2009. [back]

3. These Islamic Fundamentalist forces do use terrorist methods and tactics, and do target civilians. Further, it must be recognized that the social formations represented by these Islamic Fundamentalist forces embody outmoded and reactionary class forces and ideological programs which are not in the interests of humanity, and to the extent that these forces are in control of a society this represents a complete nightmare for humanity. At the same time, it also must be recognized that the United States, historically and in the “war on terror” has committed crimes on a far greater scale and is by far the greater danger to humanity than are the theocratic fundamentalist forces in the world… but to be clear, both are complete nightmares for all of humanity. For an in depth discussion of these questions, it is necessary and important to study Bob Avakian’s Bringing Forward Another Way. Read the whole thing, but particularly relevant sections are "The 'War on Terror': What Is Really Going On and Why" and "Rejecting—and Breaking Out of—the Framework of the 'War on Terror.'" [back]

4. See Bob Avakian’s Bringing Forward Another Way, "Attacks on Foundational Things in the History of the U.S." [back]

Send us your comments.

If you like this article, subscribe, donate to and sustain Revolution newspaper.

What Humanity Needs
From Ike to Mao and Beyond