19-year-old informant: The NYPD paid me to ‘bait’ Muslims
A paid informant for the New York Police Department’s intelligence unit was under orders to “bait” Muslims into saying inflammatory things as he lived a double life, snapping pictures inside mosques and collecting the names of innocent people attending study groups on Islam, he told the Associated Press.
Shamiur Rahman, a 19-year-old American of Bangladeshi descent who has now denounced his work as an informant, said the police told him to embrace a strategy called “create and capture.” He said it involved creating a conversation about jihad or terrorism, then capturing the response to send to the NYPD. For his work, he earned as much as $1,000 a month and goodwill from the police after a string of minor marijuana arrests.
“We need you to pretend to be one of them,” Rahman recalled the police telling him. “It’s street theater.”
Rahman said he now believes his work as an informant against Muslims in New York was “detrimental to the Constitution.” After he disclosed to friends details about his work for the police – and after he told the police that he had been contacted by the AP – he stopped receiving text messages from his NYPD handler, “Steve,” and his handler’s NYPD phone number was disconnected.
Rahman’s account shows how the NYPD unleashed informants on Muslim neighborhoods, often without specific targets or criminal leads. Much of what Rahman said represents a tactic the NYPD has denied using.
The AP corroborated Rahman’s account through arrest records and weeks of text messages between Rahman and his police handler. The AP also reviewed the photos Rahman sent to the police. Friends confirmed Rahman was at certain events when he said he was there, and former NYPD officials, while not personally familiar with Rahman, said the tactics he described were used by informants.
Informants like Rahman are a central component of the NYPD’s programs to monitor life in Muslim neighborhoods since the 2001 terrorist attacks. Police officers have eavesdropped inside Muslim businesses, trained video cameras on mosques and collected license plates of worshippers. Informants who trawl the mosques – known informally as “mosque crawlers” – tell the police what the imam says at sermons and provide the police lists of attendees, even when there’s no evidence they committed a crime.
The programs were built with unprecedented help from the CIA.
The police recruited Rahman in late January, after his third arrest on misdemeanor drug charges, which Rahman believed would lead to serious legal consequences. An NYPD plainclothes officer approached him in a Queens jail and asked whether he wanted to turn his life around.
The next month, Rahman said, he was on the NYPD’s payroll.
NYPD spokesman Paul Browne did not immediately return a message seeking comment. He has denied widespread NYPD spying, saying the police only follow leads.
In an Oct. 15 interview with the AP, however, Rahman said he received little training and spied on “everything and anyone.” He took pictures inside the many mosques he visited and eavesdropped on imams. By his own measure, he said he was very good at his job and his handler never once told him he was collecting too much, no matter whom he was spying on.
Rahman said he thought he was doing important work protecting New York City and considered himself a hero.
One of his earliest assignments was to spy on a lecture at the Muslim Student Association at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in Manhattan. The speaker was Ali Abdul Karim, the head of security at the Masjid At-Taqwa mosque in Brooklyn. The NYPD had been concerned about Karim for years and already had infiltrated the mosque, according to NYPD documents obtained by the AP.
Rahman also was instructed to monitor the student group itself, though he wasn’t told to target anyone specifically. His NYPD handler, Steve, told him to take pictures of people at the events, determine who belonged to the student association and identify its leadership.
On Feb. 23, Rahman attended the event with Karim and listened, ready to catch what he called a “speaker’s gaffe.” The NYPD was interested in buzz words such as “jihad” and “revolution,” he said. Any radical rhetoric, the NYPD told him, needed to be reported.
John Jay President Jeremy Travis said yesterday that the police had not told the school about the surveillance. He did not say whether he believed the tactic was appropriate.
“As an academic institution, we are committed to the free expression of ideas and to creating a safe learning environment for all of our students,” he said in a written statement. “We are working closely with our Muslim students to affirm their rights and to reassure them that we support their organization and freedom to assemble.”
Rahman, who was born in Queens, said he never witnessed any criminal activity or saw anybody do anything wrong.
He said he sometimes intentionally misinterpreted what people had said. For example, Rahman said he would ask people what they thought about the attack on the U.S. Consulate in Libya, knowing the subject was inflammatory. It was easy to take statements out of context, he said. He said he wanted to please his NYPD handler, whom he trusted and liked.
“I was trying to get money,” Rahman said. “I was playing the game.”