In Effort to Spot Terrorists, NYPD Shadows Muslims Who Change Names

October 27, 2011

A New York Police Department security camera is mounted on a utility pole August 9, 2007 in New York. The NYPD is increasing the use of surveillance cameras to monitor suspicious activity in an effort to reduce crime and terrorism. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)

This is the latest revelation from the AP’s months-long investigation into the New York Police Department’s surveillance of Muslims after 9/11. And while the NYPD keeps an eye out for anyone who changes their name, they pay special attention to “those whose names sound Arabic or might be from Muslim countries,” running “comprehensive background checks that include reviewing travel records, criminal histories, business licenses and immigration documents.”

One of the goals of the program, says the AP, is to detect folks like Pakistani-American Daood Gilani — otherwise known as David Coleman Headley, one of the masterminds of the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attacks. Headley applied for a name change in 2005; it became official almost six months later (“Headley” is his mother’s maiden name). As a former CIA officer told us, his name change helped Headley become the “perfect” terrorist: He had a U.S. passport, an American-sounding name and he looked like a non-Muslim westerner.

Two out of three people investigated by the NYPD “had changed their names to or from something that could be read as Arabic-sounding,” according to the AP’s investigation.

The Headley case, however, is more complicated than a simple name change — stay tuned for our Nov. 22 film, A Perfect Terrorist, a collaboration with ProPublica that investigates the mysterious circumstances behind Headley’s rise from heroin dealer and U.S. government informant to his associations with Lashkar-i-Taiba and Pakistan’s powerful intelligence service, the ISI.

Photo: A New York Police Department security camera mounted on a utility pole in New York. (AP/Mark Lennihan)

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