NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton told the hosts of MSNBC's Morning Joe earlier today that Paris represented "everything the jihadists hate." New York, he'd like us all to know, is probably next on the Islamic State's hit list: "Here we have the financial capital of the world, the entertainment capital of the world, the news capital of the world. It is all that they hate, so we are the most likely target."

In the wake of Friday's devastating terror attacks in Paris, Bratton and his high-ranking colleagues have gone on a media offensive, pushing once again for smartphone and app makers to stop encrypting communication, though on Morning Joe Bratton acknowledged he doesn't know how these attacks were planned. Cryptography has existed, and people interested in keeping their conversations private have used it, for as long as written communication has been around. But digital encryption is now commercially available and user-friendly on iPhones and Androids, and through messaging platforms such as WhatsApp.

From the fall of 2014 till this spring, Bratton, FBI head James Comey, and others pushed for tech companies to add backdoor keys to their encryption so that law enforcement could take a peek at people's communication. Silicon Valley stood its ground with support from civil liberties advocates concerned about unwarranted spying. And cryptography experts stressed that backdoors open up devices to hackers of all stripes, not just government snoops.

The campaign went silent last month as the Obama administration abandoned proposing a law to require backdoors. Friday's carnage prompted Bratton and friends to strike up the band once again. This morning on MSNBC, Mike Barnicle was charged with lobbing Bratton the softballs:

Barnicle: Commissioner, part of the elements of what happened in Paris are, it's been reported, I've been told from talking to people, involves encryption devices. Following the trail of potential terrorists, at one point, depending on the sophistication of these devices, the trail can go dark. Have you encountered that in New York?

A note on this. The term "going dark" is one favored by the FBI's Comey when railing against encryption. The term was used on CBS News Saturday by who else but NYPD counterterrorism head John Miller, whose last gig was as a correspondent for—who else—CBS News.

Officials have anonymously suggested encryption was used by the Paris attacks' planners, and it very likely was in some form, but so far there is no indication as to how exactly those responsible communicated. Bratton acknowledged this earlier in the MSNBC interview, saying he is sending an NYPD team to France to follow the investigation.

Here's Bratton:

We're encountering that all the time. We have, as you know, we have a huge operation in New York City working closely with the Joint Terrorism Task Force where we're monitoring and they go dark, because basically they go onto an encrypted app, they're going onto sites that we can't access.

Barnicle: Why can't you access them?

Bratton: Basically the technology has been purposely designed by our manufacturers so that they claim they can't get into their own devices after they've built them. Director Comey of the FBI has been talking about this with increasing frequency, and we've been supporting that conversation, major city chiefs, because we've been seeing it every day where we are losing the ability to gather intelligence. To stay on the offense, you can't just play defense unless—you have to be on the offense. Offense is intelligence and we are losing a lot of that intelligence momentum because of this issue.


Barnicle: Could Silicon Valley be of more assistance to you and other law enforcement agencies in dealing with these encryption devices?

Bratton: Certainly. That's the point the director of the FBI, myself, and other major law enforcement chiefs have been making: they need to work with us; right now they're working against us.

Reacting to the interview, lawyer and privacy advocate Abi Hassen said that Bratton is operating on the basis of a "fundamental misconception."

"The idea that is being floated by law enforcement that there is some way to have secure communication that is also accessible by law enforcement," he said. "The fact is that if the encryption is broken to let law enforcement see all of our private communications, it is also broken for other actors, including the Chinese hackers we keep hearing about."

Elsewhere in the interview, Bratton claimed that the NYPD has "thwarted" "over 20" terror attacks against the city since September 11th, a number that is almost certainly drastically inflated. The NYPD's public relations office did not respond to a request to enumerate the plots, but the NYPD's own website lists just 20. As has been documented at length by Pro Publica and NYPD Confidential, the NYPD was not the primary agency in breaking up many of those plots, and in some cases played no role at all. Also, several investigations have been questioned because of the dominant role played by a government informant, or because of other credibility concerns. And of course the 2010 attempted Times Square bombing wasn't so much "thwarted" as bomber Faisal Shahzad's device failed to properly detonate.

But hey, "over 20" preempted terror plots is the kind of stat you want to be able to throw around when shifting the narrative to encryption. At another stop on his Paris terror talk tour, Bratton used his camera time to justify the spying on Muslim New Yorkers exclusively reported by Gothamist late last month.

Our story described how an undercover NYPD officer posed as a young Muslim convert and spent years ingratiating herself with a group of law-abiding Muslims attending Brooklyn College. The undercover went on to nab Queens residents Noelle Velentzas and Asia Siddiqui on charges of plotting to build a bomb. Law enforcement officials claim the pair had ties to Al Qaeda and the Islamic state, but not much is known about the circumstances of the investigation. In an interview with ABC7, Bratton glossed over the part where the undercover hung around a college and worked her way into a friend group so far that she attended a woman's wedding as a bridesmaid. The ruse lasted at least until December of 2014, eight months after the de Blasio administration pledged to stop the NYPD’s blanket surveillance of innocent Muslims. Bratton claimed not to understand why anyone would mind:

And there are constant criticisms of our abilities and that we are being accused by some Muslim groups of spying on them and the one that I basically have to scratch my head at, we got these two young women who have become radicalized and now we are being accused of spying because we put one of our undercovers into contact with her when we picked up on social media that they were trying to learn how to create a bomb. To be criticized of that by the Muslim community, I'm sorry but we are spying in terms of our intelligence gathering on people who are attempting to break the law and they are attempting to break the law in a way that is extraordinarily damaging. They want to murder people.

Relatedly, law enforcement honchos have jumped to blame Edward Snowden for recent advances in terrorist communication. The Intercept's Glenn Greenwald breaks down how fundamentally dishonest that argument is.

The implicit premise of this accusation is that The Terrorists didn’t know to avoid telephones or how to use effective encryption until Snowden came along and told them. Yet we’ve been warned for years and years before Snowden that The Terrorists are so diabolical and sophisticated that they engage in all sorts of complex techniques to evade electronic surveillance.

By itself, the glorious mythology of How the U.S. Tracked Osama bin Laden should make anyone embarrassed to make these claims. After all, the central premise of that storyline is that bin Laden only used trusted couriers to communicate because al Qaeda knew for decades to avoid electronic means of communication because the U.S. and others could spy on those communications. Remember all that? Zero Dark Thirty and the “harsh but effective” interrogation of bin Laden’s “official messenger”?

Any terrorist capable of tying his own shoe — let alone carrying out a significant attack — has known for decades that speaking on open telephone and internet lines was to be avoided due to U.S. surveillance. As one Twitter commentator put it yesterday when mocking this new It’s-Snowden’s-Fault game: “Dude, the drug dealers from the Wire knew not to use cell phones.”

Greenwald lays out media reports dating back to the late '90s where law enforcement officials try to "demonize encryption generally as well as any companies that offer it." Hassen said he can't know whether Bratton really believes that iPhone encryption is one of the biggest barriers to terror investigations.

"But I do think that the government will use any crisis as an excuse to push their agenda and increase their power," he said. "This is what appears to be happening."

This afternoon, Mayor de Blasio called Bratton "the finest police leader in this city," and the two announced the first deployment of the Critical Response Command, a counterterrorism unit with 560 officers. In January, Bratton touted the formation of something called the Strategic Response Group, to be comprised of 350 officers and tasked with anti-terror work as well as policing protests. He backed off the protest component after outcry from First Amendment fans, then created a second, 550-member group to handle demonstrations. An NYPD rep said the Strategic Response Group and Critical Response Command are separate. We'll update if we hear more about the distinction.

In the meantime, here's some police car ballet: