NYPD Now Spying on Muslim Students Well Outside New York City

NEW YORK, NY - JANUARY 26:  A New York Police Department (NYPD) van is viewed on January 26, 2012 in New York City. After New York City's police commissioner Raymond Kelly appeared in the film "The Third Jihad" Muslim groups are asking him to step down. The groups say that the film they depicts Islam and its followers in a bad light. Approximately 20 activists held a news conference on the steps of City Hall criticizing Kelly for giving an interview to the producers of the film, which warns against the dangers of radical Islam. The film was shown to hundreds and maybe thousands of NYPD officers for training purposes.  (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
Photo: Spencer Platt/2012 Getty Images

A few months ago an AP investigation uncovered an intensive NYPD effort to spy on Muslim students in several New York City colleges. The latest update from the AP finds that the program has actually included surveillance operations at a much wider network of schools, including several outside New York. (Just a few: Yale, Rutgers, Syracuse University, SUNY Buffalo and SUNY Albany.) In many cases, like in the example below, the police used student informants or outright infiltrated Muslim student meet-ups.

Police talked with local authorities about professors 300 miles away 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.

Many of the students reached by the AP were understandably shocked that their names were showing up in reports prepared for NYPD commissioner Ray Kelly, often simply for being active in Muslim student associations or for receiving and forwarding e-mails about upcoming Islamic conferences. At least one student, who had been on the whitewater rafting trip mentioned above, conceded that, "There's lots of Muslims doing some bad things and it gives a bad name to all of us, so they have to take their due diligence." But this clearly seemed to be a minority opinion.

Ultimately, it seems little or no evidence was ever provided of wrongdoing (or even suspicious behavior) on the part of any of the students, and the same largely goes for the Islamic scholars participating in targeted seminars. (Although there was one imam whose name appears on a list of possible "co-conspirators" in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing.) What has civil liberties advocates really worried is just how far the NYPD has stretched the parameters of its domestic espionage program—until now, at least, the official line was that the force only pursued leads about suspected criminal activity. Clearly, that's no longer the case.