[News] NYPD: the New Red Squad

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Fri Nov 13 11:20:34 EST 2015

November 13, 2015

  NYPD: the New Red Squad

by David Rosen <http://www.counterpunch.org/author/david-rosen/>


Are you being illegally surveilled by the New York Police Department (NYPD)?

The /Gothamist/ 
<http://gothamist.com/2015/10/29/nypd_undercover_brooklyn.php> website 
recently exposed a NYPD undercover officer, “Melike Ser,” who had been 
spying on Muslim students at Brooklyn College.  As it reported, three 
college graduates had “intimate ties” with the officer, with “her 
presence during some of the most private moments of their lives, and the 
fear they endured when they learned her true identity.”  No charges were 
brought against anyone the agent supposedly investigated.

The NYPD dismissed the story.  “There’s truth in the Gothamist story, if 
you pick out certain facts you can say, ‘Well, this is true,’ or ‘That’s 
true’,” claimed John Miller, Deputy Commissioner of Intelligence and 
Counter-Terrorism.  “But it’s wrapped around this narrative that there 
was this over-arching blanket surveillance, which is not the case,” he 
claimed.  He also suggested that the undercover agent had, in April, 
exposed the role of two Queens women as Islamic State terrorists by 
building and planning to deploy a home-made bomb.

The Brooklyn College episode is but the latest example of how the NYPD 
uses undercover officers, really secret police, to investigate — and 
sometimes provoke through /agents provocateurs/ — illegal actions.  This 
practice dates back more than a half-century and is part of the 
establishment of a new Red Squad and is unlikely to change anytime soon.

* * *

In 2012, the Associated Press (AP) broke the Pulitzer-Prize winning 
on the NYPD surveillance of Muslim throughout the Northeast.  It 
reported that the NYPD’s Intelligence Division Cyber Unit surveilled 
students throughout the City University of New York (CUNY) system 
including Brooklyn and Baruch Colleges as well as using “secondary” 
undercovers operatives Hunter, CCNY, Queens and LaGuardia colleges 
during at least from 2003 to 2006.

The NYPD surveillance activities raised a host of questions as to their 
legality.  The AP found that some CUNY personnel may have shared student 
records with the police in violation of the Federal Educational Rights 
and Privacy Act (FERPA); if convicted, a school could lose federal 
funding.  In addition, undercover cops may have violated a 1992 
between CUNY and the NYPD that restricted police “to CUNY campuses, 
buildings and other property only upon the request or approval of a CUNY 

More troubling, on Octoer 12^th , the Third U.S. Circuit Court of 
Appeals, based in Philadelphia, ruled to reinstate a lawsuit, /Hassan v. 
City of New York/, originally brought by a group of 11 Muslim people, 
businesses and organizations that were allegedly the subject of NYPD 
surveillance by its now-disbanded Demographics Unit.

The Muslim Advocates and the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) 
filed the original lawsuit in June 2012; it was dismissed in 
2014.  According to CCR, “the NYPD’s goal under this program – both 
ambitious and chilling – was to create a human mapping system that 
monitored Muslims all along the Eastern Seaboard and beyond.  No Muslim 
individual or entity appears to have been beyond suspicion.”  The NYPD 
targeted adherents of the Muslim faith from 28 “ancestries of interest” 
including Egyptian, Pakistani, Somali, Sudanese and an array of other 
Asian, Middle Eastern and African ancestries along with “American Black 

In its reversal, the Third Circuit judges noted in their 60-page opinion 
that the NYPD’s practices recalled now-condemned government actions from 
the past, “We have been down similar roads before. Jewish-Americans 
during the Red Scare, African-Americans during the civil-rights movement 
and Japanese-Americans during World War II are examples that readily 
spring to mind.”

* * *

In the wake of the colossal federal intelligence failures that 
culminated in the September 11, 2001, attacks, the NYPD both 
“federalized” and “militarized” its counter-terrorism operations.  It 
began working closely with the CIA, FBI and DHS, among others federal 
agencies, and received a considerable amount of military gear, 
including machine guns, ammunition and armored personnel carriers, from 
the Pentagon and DHS.

Following 9/11, four CIA operatives were embedded in the NYPD and, in 
2002, it launched a clandestine surveillance campaign of regional 
Muslims and Muslim organizations through its Demographics Unit that led 
to the recent Third Circuit decision.  (These activities were in 
violation of National Security Act of 1947 and the 1981 Executive Order 
12333 that barred the CIA from engaging in domestic spying.)  Also in 
2002, it marshaled its forces against protesters of the World Economic 
Forum (WEF), infiltrated various anti-globalization organizations, 
including the NYC Independent Media Center, and arrested 500 
people.  Nevertheless, a half-million people came out to voice their 
rage, the largest protest in the city’s history.

In 2004, the NYPD employed an aggressive counter-terrorism strategy to 
suppress popular protest against the Republican National Convention 
(RNC).  It deployed its “RNC Intelligence Squad” to conduct massive 
surveillance of political groups and to arrest (some preemptively), 
detain and fingerprinting over 1,800 protesters, journalists, legal 
observers and bystanders; in 2014, the city paid out nearly $18 million 
for the unlawful arrests.

In 2011, the NYPD lead a massive campaign against Occupy Wall Street 
that was distinguishing by the active collaboration of the police and a 
host of national security agencies and corporate representatives.  The 
NYPD’s worked with DHS, including ICE, the Coast Guard, the TSA’s 
Federal Air Marshals, as well as the FBI, the Secret Service and U.S. 
Marshals Service.  According to a DHS memo, its officials were “actively 
engaged with local law enforcement and trade partners to establish 
contingency plans.”

* * *

The NYPD has a long history as an undercover security service.  In 1955, 
it established the Bureau of Special Services (BOSS), popularly known as 
the “Red Squad.”  Like similar groups operating in Los Angeles, Detroit 
and other cities during the Cold War, its goal was, in the words of New 
York State’s chiefs of police, “to drive the pinks out of the 
country.”  Two undercover female police officers and numerous FBI agents 
infiltrated the Communist Party (CP) and various municipal agencies, 
including the schools; it even kept a file on Dorothy Day and the 
/Catholic Worker/ from 1955 to 1968.

 From 1957 to ’71, the NYPD actively collaborated with the FBI’s 
COINTELPRO (i.e., Counter Intelligence Program) and, initially, targeted 
the CP and Puerto Rican nationalists.  In July 1959, HUAC held hearings 
held in New York and San Juan on “Communist activities among Puerto 
Ricans in New York City and Puerto Rico.”  More then a dozen witnesses 
were subpoenaed; most of the alleged communist witnesses refused to 
testify.   One of those who testified was Mildred Blauvelt, an 
undercover BOSS officer.  “I became a member of the New York City Police 
Department in December of 1942, and upon entrance into the department 
was assigned by them to infiltrate the Communist Party as an undercover 
agent,” she revealed. Her actual infiltration of the party is a bit 
unclear:  “I succeeded in doing so by becoming a member of the Communist 
Party in April of 1948. I was expelled from the Communist Party in 
September 1943, but gained reentrance into the party once again in April 
of 1944, and stayed in the Communist Party until my expulsion in 
November of 1951.”

In the ’60s, a BOSS undercover cop, Gene Roberts, served as Malcolm X’s 
chief of security and was at the Audubon Ballroom when Malcolm 
was assassinated.  During the ‘60s and ‘70s, the Red Squad targeted 
political groups like the Black Panthers, Yippies, Young Lords, antiwar 
activists and “white hate groups.”  In the mid-‘60s, it began to deploy 
video surveillance that is now ubiquitous.  In the wake of the first 
terrorist attack on the World Trade Center in 1993, the NYPD joined 
forces with the FBI and the CIA to fight terrorism.

Deeply troubling, the NYPD has violated legal agreements limiting its 
surveillance powers.  Over the last three decades, it has circumvented 
what is known as the Handschu Consent Decree.  It is named for Barbara 
Handschu, an attorney defending the Black Panthers and Abbie Hoffman, 
who filed suit against the Red Squad in 1971.  After nine years of 
litigation, the NYPD agreed to cease investigating any individual or 
group without specific information of criminal intent; it also agreed to 
release secret files it kept on 250,000 New Yorkers.  In 2002, the 
Decree was modified in the wake of 9/11, but in 2007 the NYPD was found 
in violation of the agreement due to its videotaping of public 

  * * *

The attacks of 9/11 introduced the era of “war on terror” and 
paramilitary policing.  Now, a decade-and-a-half later, a potential 
national security threat can include any disturbance, whether political 
protest, civil uprising, publicity spectacle like the pope’s visit or 
simply being “Muslim,” a very ill-defined category.  Mass preventive 
arrests are common; undercover agents and /agents provocateurs/ are 
assumed to infiltrate local activist groups; isolated incidents can 
rapidly metastasize; and nonviolent actions can quickly be turned into 
criminal activities.

NYPD conducts surveillance operation using both undercover operatives 
and high-tech equipment.  One of its surveillance “toys” is a 
sophisticated Bell 412EP helicopter costing $10 million and acquired 
through a Justice Department grant.  It operates through a shell company 
and maintains a special FAA “undercover” registration so it can’t be 
tracked.  It is equipped with sophisticated photo- and 
video-surveillance capabilities that /Wired/ 
<http://www.wired.com/2015/06/fbi-not-alone-in-operating-secret-spycraft/> magazine 
says can capture “clear images of license plates—or the faces of 
individuals—from 1,000 feet away.”  The story noted that it could even 
“pick up the catcher’s signals at Yankee Stadium.”  John Diazo, crew 
chief for the aircraft, replied, “Obviously, we’re not looking into 
apartments. We don’t invade the privacy of individuals.  We only want to 
observe anything that’s going on in public.”  And who would know if they 

Another NYPD device is known as the StingRay, an IMSI catcher 
(International Mobile Subscriber Identity) that is a cell site 
simulator.  It appears as a cellphone tower and services as a mobile 
wiretapping device and is used to capture metadata, record the content 
of phone conversations and SMS text messages.

And then there is the Z Backscatter Van, a mobile fortress used by U.S. 
Customs and Border Protection to scan for drugs and explosives costing 
between $729,000 and $825,000.  Two were reportedly deployed at the 2004 
Republican convention, one on each side of streets near Madison Square 
Garden, to X-rayed every vehicle that passed for explosives.

Over the last century, New York has witnessed innumerable civil 
disturbances that can be divided into four categories: (i) race riots 
(i.e, whites attacking blacks) like the 1900 riot; (ii) urban riots 
(i.e., blacks uprising against racist conditions) like the 1935 Harlem 
riot and those in 1964, 1991 and 2013; (iii) civil disorders like the 
1977 blackout that witnessed widespread arson and the looting of 
over 1,500 stores (the 1965 Blackout did not result in disorder); and 
(iv) mass political protests like the 2002 mobilization against the WEF 
and the 2011 Occupy mobilization.

A violent militant protest by political activists or a riot by 
African-American or other people-of-color in New York in the near future 
seems unlikely.  If economic conditions get significantly worse, a 
relatively inconsequential act, like the ones that sparked the riots or 
protests of the past, could precipitate a very violent civil 
disturbance.  In the face of such a disruption, one can expect the 
coordinated might of the integrated security state – with its army of 
undercover secret police — rain down mercilessly.

Be prepared for the worst.

/*David Rosen *is the author of the forthcoming, Sex, Sin & Subversion:  
The Transformation of 1950s New York’s Forbidden into America’s New 
Normal (Skyhorse, 2015).  He can be reached at drosennyc at verizon.net 
check out www.DavidRosenWrites.com <http://www.davidrosenwrites.com/>./

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