The Associated Press has confirmed the use of White House funds by the New York Police Department in the surveillance of Muslim American neighborhoods. The funds were part of the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area program (HIDTA), an effort to assist local law enforcement in combating drug crimes. It and is overseen by the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy.
HIDTA has payed out $2.3 billion to local law enforcement agencies during the past decade.
The New York and New Jersey region received $135 million from the program since the 9/11 terror attacks, with some of the money going towards cars used to conduct surveillance on Muslim American communities. Some of the funds purchased computers that store “even innocuous information about Muslim college students, mosque sermons and social events,” according to the AP.
The news agency was able to confirm the use of White House funds through secret documents, interviews with current and former federal and state officials, and obtained electronic documents with signatures that show they were saved on HIDTA computers.
It is unclear how much money in total was spent on surveillance activities, since Congress was not provided with a detailed breakdown of spending. After 9/11, some of the money appropriated was used to combat terrorism, but it’s unclear how much went to the NYPD intelligence division.
NYPD spokesman Paul Browne declined to respond to the AP. Chauncey Parker, director of the program there, commented that less than $1.3 million was spent on the vehicles used by the NYPD intelligence unit.
“Those cars are used to collect and analyze counterterrorism information,” Parker said, “with the goal of preventing a terrorist attack in New York City or anywhere else. … If it’s been used for specific counterterrorism effort, then it’s been used to pay for those cars.”
Those vehicles were used to photograph mosques and record the license plates of worshipers. White House funds were used to pay for a portion of the office space the intelligence division shares with other agencies.
The use of HIDTA funds and equipment goes farther, since HIDTA email addresses were used by intelligence officers who conducted surveillance on Muslim communities, briefing documents for police commissioner Raymond Kelly, and payments by police to confidential informants were processed through the HIDTA website. And lists of Muslims who took new, Americanized names were also stored on HIDTA computers.
Parker argued that White House funds were never used to pay any of the confidential informants used by the NYPD’s intelligence division, and he further argued that the HIDTA computer systems were to allow for information sharing between the intelligence division and other law enforcement agencies.
So far, 34 members of Congress have called for the Justice Department and the House Judiciary Committee to investigate the NYPD.
“I am shocked to hear that federal dollars may have helped finance the NYPD’s misguided efforts to spy on Muslims in America,” said Democratic California Rep. Judy Chu.
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie called the surveillance in his state “disturbing” and also asked the attorney general to investigate.
The Obama administration has neither endorsed or repudiated the NYPD program ,and has made no comment about its grant payments.
New York City Mayor Mayor Michael Bloomberg still calls the NYPD monitoring of Muslims “legal,” ”appropriate” and “constitutional,” according to the AP.
New York City Police Commissioner Ray Kelly said, “We’re going to continue to do what we have to do to protect the city.”
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