NYPD Monitored Muslims Students at Yale

Police trawled daily through student websites run by Muslim student groups at Yale, the University of Pennsylvania, Rutgers and 13 other colleges in the Northeast.

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    NEWSLETTERS

    TK
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    One autumn morning in Buffalo, N.Y., a college student named Adeela Khan logged into her email and found a message announcing an upcoming Islamic conference in Toronto.

    Khan clicked "forward," sent it to a group of fellow Muslims at the University at Buffalo, and promptly forgot about it.

    But that simple act on Nov. 9, 2006, was enough to arouse the suspicion of an intelligence analyst at the New York Police Department, 300 miles away, who combed through her post and put her name in an official report. Marked "SECRET" in large red letters, the document went all the way to Commissioner Raymond Kelly's office.

    The report, along with other documents obtained by The Associated Press, reveals how the NYPD's intelligence division focused far beyond New York City as part of a surveillance program targeting Muslims.

    Police trawled daily through student websites run by Muslim student groups at Yale, the University of Pennsylvania, Rutgers and 13 other colleges in the Northeast. They talked with local authorities about professors in Buffalo and even sent an undercover agent on a whitewater rafting trip, where he recorded students' names and noted in police intelligence files how many times they prayed.

    Asked about the monitoring, police spokesman Paul Browne provided a list of 12 people arrested or convicted on terrorism charges in the United States and abroad who had once been members of Muslim student associations, which the NYPD referred to as MSAs.

    They included Jesse Morton, who this month pleaded guilty to posting online threats against the creators of the animated TV show "South Park." He had once tried to recruit followers at Stony Brook University on Long Island, Browne said.

    "As a result, the NYPD deemed it prudent to get a better handle on what was occurring at MSAs," Browne said in an email. He said police monitored student websites and collected publicly available information in 2006 and 2007.But documents show other surveillance efforts continued for years afterward.

    "I see a violation of civil rights here," said Tanweer Haq, chaplain of the Muslim Student Association at Syracuse University. "Nobody wants to be on the list of the FBI or the NYPD or whatever. Muslim students want to have their own lives, their own privacy and enjoy the same freedoms and opportunities that everybody else has."

    In recent months, the AP has revealed secret programs the NYPD built with help from the CIA to monitor Muslims at the places where they eat, shop and worship. The AP also published details about how police placed undercover officers at Muslim student associations in colleges within the city limits; this revelation has outraged faculty and student groups.

    Though the NYPD says it follows the same rules as the FBI, some of the NYPD's activities go beyond what the FBI is allowed to do.

    Kelly and Mayor Bloomberg repeatedly have said that the police only follow legitimate leads about suspected criminal activity.

    But the latest documents mention no wrongdoing by any students.

    In one report, an undercover officer describes accompanying 18 Muslim students from the City College of New York on a whitewater rafting trip in upstate New York on April 21, 2008. The officer noted the names of attendees who were officers of the Muslim Student Association.

    "In addition to the regularly scheduled events (Rafting), the group prayed at least four times a day, and much of the conversation was spent discussing Islam and was religious in nature," the report says.

    Praying five times a day is one of the core traditions of Islam.

    City College criticized the surveillance and said it was unaware the NYPD was watching students.

    "The City College of New York does not accept or condone any investigation of any student organization based on the political or religious content of its ideas," the college said in a written statement. "Absent specific evidence linking a member of the City College community to criminal activity, we do not condone this kind of investigation."

    Browne said undercover officers go wherever people they're investigating go. There is no indication that, in the nearly four years since the report, the NYPD brought charges connecting City College students to terrorism.

    Student groups were of particular interest to the NYPD because they attract young Muslim men, a demographic that terrorist groups frequently draw from. Police worried about which Muslim scholars were influencing these students and feared that extracurricular activities such as paintball outings could be used as terrorist training.

    The AP first reported in October that the NYPD had placed informants or undercover officers in the Muslim Student Associations at City College, Brooklyn College, Baruch College, Hunter College, City College of New York, Queens College, La Guardia Community College and St. John's University. All of those colleges are within the New York City limits.

    A person familiar with the program, who like others insisted on anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss it, said the NYPD also had a student informant at Syracuse.

    Police also were interested in the Muslim student group at Rutgers, in New Brunswick, New Jersey. In 2009, undercover NYPD officers had a safe house in an apartment not far from campus. The operation was blown when the building superintendent stumbled upon the safe house and, thinking it was some sort of a terrorist cell, called the police emergency dispatcher.

    The FBI responded and determined that monitoring Rutgers students was one of the operation's objectives, current and former federal officials said.

    The Rutgers police chief at the time, Rhonda Harris, would not discuss the fallout. In a written statement, university spokesman E.J. Miranda said: "The university was not aware of this at the time and we have nothing to add on this matter."