The Israelification of American Domestic Security

Back in New York, the NYPD set up a secret "Demographics Unit" designed to spy on and monitor Muslim communities around the city. The unit was developed with input and intensive involvement by the CIA, which still refuses to name the former Middle East station chief it has posted in the senior ranks of the NYPD's intelligence division. Since 2002, the NYPD has dispatched undercover agents known as "rakers" and "mosque crawlers" into Pakistani-American bookstores and restaurants to gauge community anger over US drone strikes inside Pakistan, and into Palestinian hookah bars and mosques to search out signs of terror recruitment and clandestine funding. "If a raker noticed a customer looking at radical literature, he might chat up the store owner and see what he could learn," the Associated Press reported. "The bookstore, or even the customer, might get further scrutiny."

The Israeli imprimatur on the NYPD's Demographics Unit is unmistakable. As a former police official told the Associated Press, the Demographics Unit has attempted to "map the city's human terrain" through a program "modeled in part on how Israeli authorities operate in the West Bank."

Shop 'til you're stopped

At Israel's Ben Gurion International Airport, security personnel target non-Jewish and non-white passengers, especially Arabs, as a matter of policy. The most routinely harassed passengers are Palestinian citizens of Israel, who must brace themselvesfor five-hour interrogation sessions and strip searches before flying. Those singled out for extra screening by Shin Bet officers are sent to what many Palestinians from Israel call the "Arab room," where they are subjected to humiliating questioning sessions (former White House Health and Human Services Secretary Donna Shalala encountered such mistreatment during a visit to Israel last year). Some Palestinians are forbidden from speaking to anyone until takeoff, and may be menaced by Israeli flight attendants during the flight. In one documented case, a six-month-old was awoken for a strip search by Israeli Shin Bet personnel. Instances of discrimination against Arabs at Ben Gurion International are too numerous to detail — several incidents occur each day — but a few of the more egregious instances were outlined in a 2007 petition the Association for Civil Rights in Israel filed with the country's Supreme Court.

Though the Israeli system of airline security contains dubious benefits and clearly deleterious implications for civil liberties, it is quietly and rapidly migrating into major American airports. Security personnel at Boston's Logan International Airport have undergone extensive training from Israeli intelligence personnel, learning to apply profiling and behavioral assessment techniques against American citizens that were initially tested on Palestinians. The new procedures began in August, when so-called Behavior Detection Officers were placed in security queues at Logan's heavily trafficked Terminal A. Though the procedures have added to traveler stress while netting exactly zero terrorists, they are likely to spread to other cities. "I would like to see a lot more profiling" in American airports, said Yossi Sheffi, an Israeli-born risk analyst at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Center for Transportation and Logistics.

Israeli techniques now dictate security procedures at the Mall of America, a gargantuan shopping mall in Bloomington, Minnesota that has become a major tourist attraction. The new methods took hold in 2005 when the mall hired a former Israeli army sergeant named Mike Rozin to lead a special new security unit. Rozin, who once worked with a canine unit at Ben Gurion Airport in Israel, instructed his employees at the Mall of America to visually profile every shopper, examining their expressions for suspicious signs. His security team accosts and interrogates an average of 1200 shoppers a year, according to the Center for Investigative Reporting.

One of the thousands who fell into Rozin's dragnet was Najam Qureshi, a Pakistani-American mall vendor whose father accidentally left his cell phone on a table in the mall food court. A day after the incident, FBI agents appeared at Qureshi's doorstep to ask if he knew anyone seeking to harm the United States. An army veteran interrogated for two hours by Rozin's men for taking video inside the mall sobbed openly about his experience to reporters. Meanwhile, another man, Emile Khalil, was visited by FBI agents after mall security stopped him for taking photographs of the dazzling consumer haven.

"I think that the threat of terrorism in the United States is going to become an unfortunate part of American life," Rozin remarked to American Jewish World. And as long as the threat persists in the public's mind, Israeli securitocrats like Rozin will never have to worry about the next paycheck.

"Occupy" meets the Occupation

When a riot squad from the New York Police Department destroyed and evicted the "Occupy Wall Street" protest encampment at Zuccotti Park in downtown Manhattan, department leadership drew on the anti-terror tactics they had refined since the 9/11 attacks. According to the New York Times, the NYPD deployed "counterterrorism measures" to mobilize large numbers of cops for the lightning raid on Zuccotti. The use of anti-terror techniques to suppress a civilian protest complemented harsh police measures demonstrated across the country against the nationwide "Occupy" movement, from firing tear gas canisters and rubber bullets into unarmed crowds to blasting demonstrators with the LRAD sound cannon.

Given the amount of training the NYPD and so many other police forces have received from Israel's military-intelligence apparatus, and the profuse levels of gratitude American police chiefs have expressed to their Israeli mentors, it is worth asking how much Israeli instruction has influenced the way the police have attempted to suppress the Occupy movement, and how much it will inform police repression of future upsurges of street protest. But already, the Israelification of American law enforcement appears to have intensified police hostility towards the civilian population, blurring the lines between protesters, common criminals, and terrorists. As Dichter said, they are all just "crimiterrorists."

"After 9/11 we had to react very quickly," Greenberg remarked, "but now we're in 2011 and we're not talking about people who want to fly planes into buildings. We're talking about young American citizens who feel that their birthright has been sold. If we're using Israeli style tactics on them and this stuff bleeds into the way we do business at large, were in big trouble."

 

Tags: counterterrorism, israel, jewish institute for national security affairs, max blumenthal, nypd, occupy wall street, ows, police, urban shield, yamam, zuccotti park

    • Max Blumenthal
    • Max Blumenthal is an award-winning journalist and bestselling author whose articles and video documentaries have appeared in The New York TimesThe Los Angeles Times, The Daily Beast, The NationThe Guardian, The Independent Film Channel, The Huffington Post, Salon.com, Al Jazeera Eng...

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