When “Arabic-sounding” names are automatically suspicious — but financial crimes are ignored — here’s the result

Stop your car to help a woman who appears to be lost — and get pressured, while in police custody, to become an informant. That’s what happened to one of the men profiled in a recent New York Times report on yet more aggressive spying on Muslims by the NYPD.

Egyptian-born Moro Said pulled over one night because, he says, a woman looked like she needed directions. She turned out to be an undercover officer, and hauled him in on a prostitution-related charge. Then cops pressured him to start informing them on what he sees and hears in his mosque or in cafes.

As the Times describes it, the NYPD adapted a process used with suspects who might know about related crime, like drug dealers or low-level mafia members, to the Muslim community in general. When Muslims — or people with “Arabic-sounding names” — were arrested, they would be interviewed and recruited to inform generally on mosques or cafes or other areas frequented by Muslims.

The program remains active under new NYPD commissioner Bill Bratton’s lead; the Department has conducted 220 such interviews so far this year.

Around the globe, it seems, the government continues to use the tools of law enforcement to find more spies to report on innocent Muslims.

It’s not just coercion that law enforcement uses to find people to inform on their community: the government has twice told the FISA Court that it may use the phone dragnet program — in which it conducts contact chaining on a database of the phone record of Americans’ phone records — to identify potential informants.

Imagine how such generalized spying would be regarded against potentially riskier set of targets, like the finance criminals who wrecked the economy in 2008 and have continued to engaged in damaging fraud. Imagine if every banker who visited a sex worker got hauled in and was offered leniency if he informed on his co-workers, bosses, and clients? (Key to the coercion, of course, is that many Muslims don’t have the resources of bankers to fight low-level criminal accusations.)

Of course, bankers need not worry. A recent DOJ Inspector General report revealed that when DOJ attempted to roll out undercover teams (not civilian informants, but FBI undercover officers) to target mortgage fraud, FBI Agents either weren’t informed such a plan existed or, if they were, needed “specific direction or training on how to commence a mortgage fraud” undercover operation.

The FBI, apparently, couldn’t figure out how to treat suspected bank criminals like it and many other law enforcement agencies treat innocent Muslims.

Therein lies the problem. It has gotten too easy, since 9/11, to treat the Muslim community as a whole as suspect. It has become too easy to use the tools rolled out after 9/11 to combat real threats (and borrowed, before that, from the drug war) to instead criminalize a faith community. It would be unthinkable — and unworkable — for more privileged communities. And yet it continues.

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