Privacy SOS

Judge rules NYPD can employ CIA tactic to shirk transparency, accountability

When the ACLU asked the CIA for records about its drone program, the secretive espionage and paramilitary organization issued what's called a Glomar response: The CIA would neither confirm nor deny even the existence of the records. A judge later found that response didn't stand up to scrutiny, given that various Obama administration officials had already publicly conceded the CIA's role in the drone program. It was hardly a secret.

But now the NYPD has tried its hand with the Glomar.

The circumstances pertain to a Harlem imam by the name of Talib Abdur-Rashid. The Village Voice explains how Abdur-Rashid came to find out that he may be a target of NYPD spying, and sought to find out more:

According to Enemies Within, a book on the demographics unit written by then-AP reporters Matt Apuzzo and Adam Goldman, Abdur-Rashid was one of 26 people placed on a "watch list" by the department in 2004. His "views on the wars in the Middle East" were what attracted the cops' attention, as well as his anti-Semitic remarks and other comments that were "distasteful," in the authors' characterization, but not illegal.

In 2012, Abdur-Rashid demanded all records related to any investigation of him by the NYPD. Briefs flew back and forth. In February 2013, the department asked a judge to allow them to offer a "Glomar response," rather than refusing to release the records under New York's version of the Freedom of Information Act, which would normally require them to admit, at least, that such records exist.

According to the NYPD, even acknowledging that the imam is or ever was a target of any kind of NYPD spying operation would reveal sensitive law enforcement methods. That idea is patently silly to anyone who has read the AP reports on the NYPD's Muslim spying operations, which have been extensively reported elsewhere in the press and in Apuzzo and Goldman's book. Nonetheless, a judge agreed with the NYPD in September, finding that the police can legitimately invoke the Glomar in response to a public records request. Abdur-Rashid plans to appeal.

And so the national security state continues to trickle down to the state and local level. Simply mention anything having to do with Muslims and the standard operating procedures fly out the window, in favor of secrecy, draconian punishments, and other markers of emergency rule.

As usual, democracy, transparency, and accountability are the casualties.

© 2021 ACLU of Massachusetts.