Civil Liberties

How Cops "Create and Capture" Terror Talk

Spying on New York's Muslims, baiting them, and taking their words out of context.


The Associated Press has a big story this morning about the New York Police Department's Constitution-shredding surveillance of the city's Muslims. Here's the opening:

A paid informant for the New York Police Department's intelligence unit was under orders to "bait" Muslims into saying incriminating 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 Bengali descent who has now denounced his work as an informant, said 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."

The reporters, Adam Goldman and Matt Apuzzo, say they "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 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."

Rahman says "he received little training and spied on 'everything and anyone,'" the AP reports, but "his handler never once told him he was collecting too much." The informant adds that while he never witnessed any actual criminal activity, 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 wanted to please his NYPD handler, whom he trusted and liked.

"I was trying to get money," Rahman said. "I was playing the game."

If you were wondering why the NYPD's spy-on-the-Muslims program failed to produce useful leads, you now have part of the answer.