Racial Profiling, Islamophobia, and Whistleblowers: Targeting the Unruly Threat

Revised (11:05 am/Feb. 18, 2013).

I’ve been dithering about writing this column for a while. But my Twitter feed in the wake of today’s “Up with Chris” segment about U.S. Air Force veteran Saddiq Long, an African American Muslim who has been placed on the TSA’s no-fly list in both directions, tells me it’s time.

Categorical distinctions are thought to be the cornerstone of philosophy. But there are sometimes important reasons to challenge distinctions, especially when they cleanse reality of important political implications.  Example 1: The CIA didn’t torture detainees. They used “enhanced interrogation techniques.”

As many social science and humanities scholars write, race is not biological, or physical, or about phenotype. Rather, it is ‘socially constructed,’ a once-promising notion that is now stultifying. In part, the ‘social construction’ trope is troubling because it seems to quell further curiosity about what to do with this thing (race) that doesn’t seem to have an objective basis, but which is still very real for many people. There is also the concern, which I share, that the term ‘racism’–or its counterpart, “White Supremacy”—does not address the reality that persecution, harassment, and exploitation isn’t just limited to darker people. I agree: exploitation, persecution, harassment certainly extends to poor whites and sexual minorities, and other marginalized groups—like Muslims of various backgrounds. White Supremacy also seems to ignore that people of color—like Condoleezza Rice, John Yoo, Alberto Gonzalez, Eric Holder, Carmen Ortiz…and yes—President Barack Obama can be actively involved in spearheading racism, exploitation, and persecution against people of color, among others.

Certainly, nothing here can annul the urgency of acknowledging class exploitation and marginalization of various populations. As Prof. Dylan Rodriguez and others, including myself, have discussed elsewhere, White Supremacy can be multiracial.

But there is another lens by which to view the exploitation, marginalization, harassment of various populations throughout the centuries: black, Muslim, brown, poor white, various women, sexual minorities. In that framework, ‘race’ isn’t the foundation, but the effect, of harassment. Race is about power as deployed against the vulnerable, the (much) less powerful, the scary threat.

On my Twitter feed, some disagreed with my insistence that racial profiling (as found in WoT-era policies) are not just randomly directed towards Muslims. Some wanted to insist that the same policies could easily be redirected towards whites, or that it’s a matter of coincidence that darker Muslims– not whites–are being targeted. In fact, the argument that some civil liberties proponents give for being concerned about the extrajudicial and undue profiling of Muslims—is that such policies could easily be extended to whites. Others pointed out that there are white men and women who have also been placed on various watch lists: Jesselyn Radack and late Sen. Ted Kennedy, among others. True. We can safely guess that Julian Assange and Bradley Manning have also been placed on those lists.

Others wanted to insist that because religion and race are distinct categories, “religious profiling” should be distinguished from “racial profiling.” Yet others insisted that Muslims should be profiled because ‘most terrorist acts are committed by Muslims.’  Nope. Not even if you don’t quibble with the definition of terrorism. Also not if you look at the demographics of mass murders, committed with the intent to terrorize some population.

According to Mother Jones, 44 of the last 62 mass shootings since 1982 have been committed by white men. According to UNC sociologist Charles Kurzman’s report, “Muslim-American Terrorism in the decade since 9/11,” Muslim terrorism is a negligible threat: 14,000 murders were committed in 2012 alone. Yet, fewer than 20 Muslims have been indicted annually since 9/11. Between 2000-3000 Pakistanis have been killed by U.S. drones in the last 9 years, although only 900 are defined as non-combatants. Over 114,000 Iraqi civilians have died under the false pretenses by which the US invaded Iraq in 2003. Hundreds of Muslim men have been rendered and tortured at CIA black sites.  U.S.-led terrorism is rampant.

‘Racial profiling’ (as seen in US counter-terrorism policies as well as immigration-regulation and drug wars,) does accord with certain populations being targeted: darker Muslims, African Americans, Latin@s, (Muslim and non-Muslim South Asians and Arabs, Iranians, Palestinians).  Policies like TSA watch and no-fly lists also include some relatively upper-class whites who used to work for the CIA or NSA.

Obviously, we don’t identify all these groups as “races,” per se. Some are ‘religious,’ ethnic, sexual, national, cultural, or class-based groups.  Yet, most of us would be hard-pressed to disagree that under the War on Terror, those groups are more often profiled—for any number of dubious reasons. But these reasons remain largely unknown. As attorney Gadeir Abbas said about Saddiq Long, the reasons he is on the no-fly list are known only to the FBI and God.

So what do they all have in common?  They are perceived as unruly threats. Some might have customs that are hated or feared (being visibly Muslim or not ‘generically’ American). They might have accents, appearances and comportment that the population has been taught to fear (dark skin, hoodies, baggy low-hanging jeans, beards, turbans, hijabs).  Or they are unruly because they criticize/challenge the state (as do dissenters and whistleblowers).

Criminalizing the unruly publicly (and under the pretense of public safety/national security) “clarifies” the good guy-bad guy distinction. It also perpetuates the stigmas that made them vulnerable and hated in the first place.  Which makes them even more vulnerable being kicked outside the gates of the city, so to speak. But look on the bright side: at least this way, the “patriots” know exactly where to stand. Behind the state.

There is little random about this. Those who are stigmatized or feared or hated are likely to be targeted. Those who are wealthy are less likely to be targeted. Those who vociferously champion or parrot the state’s policies are less likely to be targeted. Those who have powerful political connections are less likely to be targeted.

There is nothing universal about this—not all people are equally vulnerable at any given time.  Dick Cheney is hardly about to be placed on the TSA’s watch/no-fly list. And if he is, as Sen. Ted Kennedy was, it will be loudly and publicly announced as an error. Some whites will be vulnerable—if they are critical enough and loud enough for the state to hear. If they are poor. If they are part of a stigmatized group. Most whites don’t need to fear. Ditto for many (not all) wealthy brown and black people who closely conform to a generic, non-threatening, stereotype of “American.”

Racialization is the effect, not the cause, of stigma, vulnerability, and state-led targeting of unruly peoples/groups. Most often, groups are vulnerable because of their darkness or foreignness or relative poverty. We have seen the pattern of targeting the unruly threat over and over again: Enslavement of West Africans; Jim Crow; one-drop rules; Chinese Exclusion in the 19th century; the internment of Japanese migrants and Japanese-Americans in the 1940’s; the criminalizing of protesters through the second half of the 20th century; drug wars; the War on Terror.  But also vulnerable are those who can encourage the public to question the state or other authorities.  Think Socrates, Rosa Luxembourg, Rosa Parks, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.. Or white or upper-class whistleblowers and political dissenters such as Thomas Drake, John Kiriakou, Julian Assange and Bradley Manning.

There is little accidental about these events, except the precise event that will precipitate the fear, and thereby ‘compel’ the state to clamp down and tame the ‘threat.’

What does all of this have to do with Saddiq Long? Was he placed on the no-fly list because he is African American? Because he embraced Islam? Because he decided to make his post-Air Force life in the Middle East? Probably all of those are relevant to his stigmatization and political vulnerability. Would he still be on the no-fly list if he weren’t Muslim? If he were white?  I don’t know.

But I doubt that “religious profiling” is different from racial profiling in this context.  Among other reasons, those who fear Muslims don’t know jack about Islam; but they do know that they despise what Muslims supposedly represent. If we understand racialization as the systematic attempt to humiliate, dehumanize, and marginalize those who (baselessly) signify a threat to–a state or another population, then race is about the kind of persecution that applies to a range of populations across a range of situations. And it is also possible to understand how a multi-racial White Supremacy is possible.

It makes sense to point to the overlap between GWoT policies and the racial profiling of certain groups. But race doesn’t always pertain to the 3—or 5—or 7—or 42—‘races.’ Rather it points to those who are seen as unruly threats who are vulnerable to the state’s wrath. And that unruliness is hardly accidental or random.

NYPD, Islamophobia, and Federal Law: Spying and Lying as an American Way of Life

Over the last few months, the Associated Press has released multiple reports that detail the infiltration of Muslim student groups, mosques, and community centers by the New York Police Department over the last few years. Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly has denied the surveillance and infiltration of Muslim communities in NY or elsewhere, but clearly he has been lying. As we see from the numerous AP reports have been released, the NYPD’s spying program ranged over multiple states and countries. The NYPD spied on Muslim communities in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Connecticut–in mosques, on mosques, community centers, student associations, grocery stores and in neighborhoods with large numbers of Muslim families and residents. We also know that the NYPD has infiltrated Muslim student groups at Yale, Penn, Rutgers, City College, among others. On Monday of this week, Yale’s president, Richard Levin, to his infinite credit, wrote a statement that condemned and disavowed any knowledge of the NYPD on Yale’s campus. I’m waiting for similar disavowals by the presidents of these other campuses (apparently there are several). Otherwise, their silence would leave me to wonder how eager they were to collaborate in helping the NYPD to spy on their students.

Democracy Now and Colorlines have both reported in detail about the outrage of such actions on the part of NYPD. As part of a pattern of explicitly Islamaphobic practices on the part of the NYPD, we also heard about the Third Jihad, a racist training film (funded by the Clarion Fund, the same organization that attracted Sheldon Adelson, a big supporter of Newt Gingrich’s campaign) that insisted that even “normal” Muslims had deep terrorist undersides. A clip of NYPD Commissioner Kelly was included in the film, although he disavowed participating in the film and insisted that the clip was taken from elsewhere. Later, it turns out, he lied again: in fact, he was interviewed for it 5 years ago. Until that lie was revealed, Kelly refused to disavow or apologize for his part in the film; yet now he finds it “objectionable. Another lie: Kelly also denied that film was part of NYPD orientation, despite the fact that it was shown to 1500 police officers.

The prevarications and Islamaphobic policies–and illegal and unconstitutional activities– on the part of the NYPD continue. AP has reported that in 2002, then CIA director George Tenet sent an ex-CIA officer, Lawrence Sanchez, to help coordinate the management of intelligence within the NYPD, violating its own practice of not crossing over into domestic spying. Sanchez, who left over one year ago, appears to have been replaced by an unnamed agent, still part of the CIA, who has helped to coordinate the various surveillance and infiltration activities. The CIA has vacillated between denying knowledge of the coordination between itself and the NYPD, and acknowledging it. Kelly and Mayor Michael Bloomberg defended the involvement of the NYPD in spying on local communities with Bloomberg insisting that the spying program was “legal.”  According to AP, “Kelly, the police commissioner, has vigorously defended the NYPD’s relationship with the CIA. Testifying before the City Council in October, Kelly said the collaboration was authorized under the 1981 presidential order, known as No. 12333.” This order, signed by President Reagan, authorized the coordination of various federal agencies, from the NSC, CIA, FBI, the Departments of State, Defense, Treasury, Energy, and numerous other federal agencies to engage in intelligence gathering and collaboration in the interests of national security.

Order 12333 is a fascinating document, not least because of the constraints around intelligence gathering that are articulated there: According to section 2. 4 of this order, the NYPD violates the constraints of the first paragraph, namely the prohibition from engaging in “electronic surveillance, unconsented physical search, mail surveillance, physical surveillance, or monitoring devices unless they are in accordance with procedures established by the head of the agency concerned and approved by the Attorney General.”

Here’s the clause itself:

Collection Techniques. Agencies within the Intelligence Community shall use the least intrusive collection techniques feasible within the United States or directed against United States persons abroad. Agencies are not authorized to use such techniques as electronic surveillance, unconsented physical search, mail surveillance, physical surveillance, or monitoring devices unless they are in accordance with procedures established by the head of the agency concerned and approved by the Attorney General. Such procedures shall protect constitutional and other legal rights and limit use of such information to lawful governmental purposes. These procedures shall not authorize:

(a) The CIA to engage in electronic surveillance within the United States except for the purpose of training, testing, or conducting countermeasures to hostile electronic surveillance;

(b) Unconsented physical searches in the United States by agencies other than the FBI, except for:

(1) Searches by counterintelligence elements of the military services directed against military personnel within the United States or abroad for intelligence purposes, when authorized by a military commander empowered to approve physical searches for law enforcement purposes, based upon a finding of probable cause to believe that such persons are acting as agents of foreign powers; and

(2) Searches by CIA of personal property of non-United States persons lawfully in its possession.

(c) Physical surveillance of a United States person in the United States by agencies other than the FBI, except for:

(1) Physical surveillance of present or former employees, present or former intelligence agency contractors or their present of former employees, or applicants for any such employment or contracting; and

(2) Physical surveillance of a military person employed by a nonintelligence element of a military service.

(d) Physical surveillance of a United States person abroad to collect foreign intelligence, except to obtain significant information that cannot reasonably be acquired by other means.

 

The story gets murkier. According to Order 12333, the CIA cannot loan equipment, knowledge or personnel without the explicit permission of CIA counsel. Apparently, in this case, the permission of that counsel, Scott Muller, was never given.  Moreover, the leeway to surveil intrusively is permitted to the CIA and FBI, not to the NYPD.  And yet, the NYPD was–is still?–engaged in most, if not, every single one of these techniques: from physical surveillance (e.g., through the presence of undercover police officers in mosques and on the street to collect license plate numbers), to monitoring devices (by mounting cameras on street corners across the street from mosques, ). The NYPD defends its ability to surveil by insisting that mounting cameras on street corners is “public” surveillance.

It appears that it is possible for the CIA to assist the NYPD in intelligent-gathering for the purposes of “for the purpose of protecting the employees, information, property and facilities of any agency within the Intelligence Community.”  Yet, given that Sec. 2.4 paragraph pertains first and foremost to the CIA as the chief intelligence gathering agency (which presumably places it above the NYPD in terms of jurisdiction), this clause requires the US Attorney General to be notified. I wonder whether the US Attorney General Eric Holder was informed of the activities of the NYPD. Holder appears to be reluctant to clarify his relationship to NYPD’s spying program.  Is it correct to assume that Holder approved of these activities? If he wasn’t consulted by the CIA or the NYPD, why not?

We know that Mayor Corey Booker has suddenly tried to distance himself from the scandal by insisting that he didn’t know the activities that the NYPD was engaged in. Still, he acknowledges that he was approached by the NYPD to engage in activities that involved policing communities in his own jurisdiction. And he gave them permission to enter and engage in extra-municipal activities that involved his own constituents. Nice.

Were other mayors and governors of NY, NJ, CT and PA informed? NJ Gov. Chris Christie has denied being approached (or atleast he doesn’t “recall” being approached). Were the Attorneys General? I haven’t read or heard any or disavowals from any of the following current or former Governors or Attorney Generals of NY, NJ, PA, or CT:

NY Attorneys General: Eric Schneiderman (current), Andrew Cuomo (current governor), or Eliot Spitzer

NJ Attorney General: Jeffrey Chiesa (current), Paula Dow or Anne Milgram

PA Attorneys General: Linda Kelly (current), William Ryan, or Tom Corbett (current governor)

CT Attorneys General: George Jepson (current) or Richard Blumenthal (or current Gov. Daniel Malloy)

Does this mean that they approved the presence of the NYPD in their states to infiltrate Muslim student associations, community centers, stores, mosques? Moreover, Section 2.6 of Order 12333 authorizes various Intelligence agencies to cooperate with law enforcement for the purposes of tracking “clandestine…or terrorist” activities by “foreign” elements. [By the way, here is the definition of the Intelligence Community. You will notice they’re all federal, and not municipal law enforcement agencies like the NYPD.] This clause says nothing about authorizing municipal law enforcement to engage in extra-state spying or tracking of civilians. Moreover, clause 2.12 insists that “[n]o agency of the Intelligence Community shall participate in or request any person to undertake activities forbidden by this Order.”

NYPD then, was not only not authorized by this Order to participate in tracking activities, but it was also violating this order’s initial clause. Kelly’s defense appears to be either a prevarication or–at the very least–incorrect. Given his record of duplicitous behavior, I’m leaning toward the former. Section 2. 7 of the Order does say that funding sources or contracts for federal activities are not required to be revealed, which is certainly consistent with the AP’s revelation that taxpayer money was not used for this unique special project on the part of the NYPD. At least $1.6b came from the feds. I believe AP reported that other monies for the spying program came from an unnamed non-profit organization, whose name and funds will not be revealed–but I can’t find the source. The Daily Beast reports that the nonprofit Police Foundation abundantly funded Kelly’s program to send NYPD personnel overseas.As Judith Miller reports, “For several years, the foundation has helped finance most of the NYPD’s $1.5-million-a-year International Liaison Program, in which 11 NYPD detectives are embedded in police departments overseas to explore potential New York ramifications of terrorist activity abroad [it gets even better: American Airlines last year proudly announced that it would participate in the project of helping the NYPD surveil and monitor overseas activity by funding the airfare for detectives to places like “Tel Aviv, London, Amman, Singapore, Santo Domingo, Toronto, Montreal, Paris, Lyons and Madrid,” to carry out surveillance activities that the Police Fund happily underwrites].

Of course, spying is now part and parcel of American life: we saw this with the expansion of 2008 FISA, which approved warrantless wiretapping and surveillance, as well as with the recent passage of the NDAA, signed into law by POTUS on New Year’s Eve 2011. As we know, Wall Street has used millions of dollars–at least $150m— to create its own local spy network in downtown, with the help and cooperation of the NYPD as well. I wonder if NDAA will be applied retroactively to help exculpate the NYPD, AG Holder, Bloomberg and all the other charlatans involved in these egregious violations of human liberties and constitutional law.

It sounds like the NYPD Police Commissioner and a number of Mayors, Governors, and Attorney Generals need to be interrogated for their knowledge or involvement in these activities…and perhaps we need to get start calling for some firings, and at the very least, we need some regime changes in the US at the national, state, and municipal levels.