WASHINGTON, October 15, 2013 ― As the Republicans and Democrats continue to seek a solution to the government shutdown, certain parts of Washington remain open, including agencies that gather intelligence and engage in surveillance of the American people.
In New York City, Muslim communities know the threat and power of surveillance better than most. The Associated Press’ Adam Goldman and Matt Apuzzo’s investigation led to a newly released work, “Enemies Within: Inside the NYPD’s Secret Spying Unit and bin Laden’s Final Plot Against America.” The book chronicles their inquiry into the NYPD’s program to infiltrate Muslim communities, and reveals how the most dangerous terrorist operation since 9/11 was foiled.
Goldman and Apuzzo’s investigative reporting eventually won them a Pulitzer Prize.
According to Goldman, “After 9/11, Ray Kelly (the commissioner of the NYPD) hired a man by the name of David Kohn who was the head of the clandestine service at the CIA, brought him on to revamp this intelligence division, but before they could do that, they needed to go to a federal judge and get him to loosen the guidelines that they operated under because they were operating under a consent decree.
“During the ‘60s and ‘70s they were spying on liberal activists, antiwar protestors, and they were put on this consent decree because of that previous behavior. So, once Kohn managed to convince this federal judge to loosen the standards from evidence of a crime to the possibility of a crime … Kohn and Kelly were on their way to build this intelligence apparatus.”
The NYPD infiltrated Muslim communities through several programs. Goldman says that one of the programs was called the Demographics Unit. “They put them out in the neighborhood in Queen, in Brooklyn, the Boroughs where Muslims lived, Arab Americans. The idea was they would go out … they would rake. By that, I mean they would look for hotspots. They would literally rake the coals, and maybe they would find an ember or a hot ember, and that would be a sign of radicalization. A sign that Muslim men were talking about Jihad or were lauding bin Laden or something to that effect.”
When informants from the NYPD were sent to spy on Muslim communities they would infiltrate restaurants, hookah bars, and cafes. Goldman explains what informants would look for: “They wrote in secret files if Al-Jazeera was playing on TV, they wrote if Al-Jazeera wasn’t playing on TV. One particular case they wrote about was Muslims listening to The State of the Union speech given by George Bush Jr.”
According to Goldman, NYPD commissioner Ray Kelly was able to label mosques as terrorist organizations in order to justify the department’s spying: “One of the things that Ray did after 9/11 is he got the authority to open a terrorism enterprise investigation, and this allowed him basically, using the thinnest of reasons, with no evidence of any criminal wrongdoing, to designate a mosque as a terrorism enterprise. By doing that, everybody that went into the mosque was subject to investigation.”
Civil libertarians are quick to claim that the NPYD’s covert operations against Muslims were illegal, but Goldman says he is waiting for a court to settle that dispute. “Matt and I have never come down on that in the book. We’ve suggested that it could be all legal, and that will ultimately be decided by a federal judge.”
Goldman and Apuzzo describe how the largest and most dangerous terrorist attack since September 11 was thwarted. Najibullah Zazi, who had planned to detonate a bomb within New York’s Subways on the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, was stopped after British intelligence relayed Zazi’s plan to the NSA. The NSA shared the information with the CIA and FBI, which apprehended Zazi before he was able to follow through with his plot.
Why did Goldman and Apuzzo include this particular story in their book? “There are a number of reasons. One, it’s a great story. We didn’t think it had ever been fully told in the U.S. because it was the most serious plot since 9/11 with a real Al-Qaeda cell … the other reason we chose this was because it really demonstrated on one level what the NYPD was doing wasn’t necessarily effective.
“The division that Kohn and Kelly built was created to stop an attack just like this, but at every single point they missed these guys. The NYPD infiltrated their mosque in Flushing with under covers and informants. They had turned their imam into essentially an unpaid informant, and they had infiltrated one of the co-conspirators, The Muslim Student Association in Queens College. They had even spied on the travel agency where they had bought the tickets to fly to Bashar. At every single point, they (the NYPD) missed it.”
Goldman and Apuzzo’s investigative journalism has already led to a series of internal policy changes within the NYPD. Goldman explains: “This relationship that the NYPD had with the CIA has basically ended. The CIA had a clandestine operative at the NYPD, but eventually they decided that they would pull this person out … the Inspector General from the CIA did an investigation after our stories and they determined there were a lot of problems with this.”
He adds, “The City Council passed legislation that put in an Inspector General at the NYPD. There were two people who were co-sponsors on the City Council. One was Jumaane Williams who did it because of Stop and Frisk, and the other was a guy named Brad Lander who took it upon himself to co-sponsor this because he was concerned about the Muslim spying. Partially as a result of our stories, there is now an Inspector General at the NYPD.”
Revelations about NYPD’s Muslim spying protocol have implications for the city’s mayoral race. “I think De Blasio, the Democratic candidate for Mayor, after winning the primary in the Mayor’s race in New York-he said he’s going to review the intelligence division using this new Inspector General.”
Goldman and Apuzzo’s reporting is more relevant than ever, especially after NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden’s exposure of the agency’s secret programs. “What’s going on right now, now that Edward Snowden has leaked these documents, we’re having a real debate about what the NSA has been doing, right? People knew there was a Patriot Act, but we really didn’t know how far they actually had gone in what they were doing, but now we can have a debate about that as a society.
“I think what our book allows us to do is talk about what’s going on in New York City and Ray Kelly is trying to make this a ‘is it legal or not legal issue’ and that’s really not the point here. It’s how we want to conduct ourselves as a society. That’s the point, and New Yorkers can’t make that decision unless they have all of the information at their fingertips. I don’t fault Ray Kelly for what he did after 9/11. He saw he needed to revamp his intelligence division, and what police chief wouldn’t go out and do everything they could to prevent terrorism?”
Asked whether policies that specifically targeted Muslims would be a blemish on the legacy of outgoing New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Ray Kelly, Goldman placed their legacies into the broader context of the “War on Terror.”
“I think it’s going to take some time to fully assess Bloomberg’s legacy, and whoever is going to do that, whenever they write about during his time as mayor, I think they would have to look at this. I mean, Muslim spying, Stop and Frisk. Is it a stain on his legacy? I don’t know.
“They have been unapologetic about these two programs, and regardless of the harm that is has done to the community, they really didn’t care. For the Blacks and Latinos, they felt they themselves were terrorized, right? If you’re a young Black male or a Latino, you couldn’t walk out of your home without being stopped and frisked, right?
“And the outrage is there for Muslims, too. The idea that they would put an informant on the board of their mosque has created a real chill in the community and people have changed their habits because of this. It’ll be interesting to see where history comes down on this. Bloomberg and Kelly thought they needed to do this. I think history will look back at the country’s larger policies and it probably will be an unkind review- the waterboarding, the renditions, the massive NSA spying. We’ll have to see how this plays out in New York.”
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