A week after Gothamist reported that an NYPD undercover detective “converted” to Islam to spy on Brooklyn College students and continued to monitor their activities well into de Blasio’s first term, the police department pushed back.

"There's truth in the Gothamist story, if you pick out certain facts you can say, 'Well, this is true,' or 'That's true',” NYPD Deputy Commissioner of Intelligence and Counterterrorism John Miller, told WNYC.

“But it's wrapped around this narrative that there was this overarching blanket surveillance, which is not the case."

Yet the revelations in our story suggested that the surveillance and infiltration of Muslim communities in New York has continued, despite the de Blasio administration’s decision in April of 2014 to dismantle the notorious Demographics Unit.

“Melike Ser,” or “Mel,” as the undercover was known, developed intimate ties with the students she met, even attending bridal showers and weddings. The students saw Mel at events across the city long after they graduated, at least until December of 2014. According to two unnamed sources cited in my article, Mel is also the undercover detective who secured the arrests of two Muslim women in Queens charged with planning to make a bomb last spring.

Asked if the NYPD was continuing to spy on law-abiding Muslims, Miller replied, “That's like saying, you know, are you still beating your wife?” Miller added, “There was no blanket surveillance of Muslims.”

Glenn Katon is the legal director for Muslim Advocates and a lead attorney in Hassan vs. City of New York, which alleges that the NYPD engaged in a program of “blanket, suspicionless surveillance” that discriminated on the basis of religion.

Just last month, the Third Circuit found that the Hassan plaintiffs had standing and raised valid constitutional concerns, and reversed the suit’s previous dismissal [PDF].

“The statement that there was no blanket surveillance is refuted directly and emphatically by the NYPD’s own documents,” Katon says, referring to the sourcing for the Pulitzer-prize winning AP reporting into NYPD intelligence operations.

During the WNYC interview, Miller also discussed the legal “mechanics” of NYPD spying, explaining that the police are bound by the Handschu guidelines, which prohibit the NYPD from spying on political or religious organizations without specific information linking the group to a crime.

“We’re the people who actually have to hold our hands up on the air and take an oath to defend the Constitution, which guarantees freedom of religion and free speech,” Miller said.

Martin Stolar is one of the original plaintiffs’ attorneys in the ongoing Handschu v. Special Services Division lawsuit. He told Gothamist that in order for the undercover, “Melike Ser,” to be placed undercover in the Brooklyn College Islamic Society for as long as she was, there would have to be a terrorism enterprise investigation in place, which would require permission from the Commissioner of Intelligence and proof of an ongoing criminal conspiracy.

“Just from the facts as you laid them out, as the people have told you about them, I really question where there was a predicate to put that undercover into a student organization that was religiously based, and that had no other notions that we’re aware of that involved any kind of criminal activity,” Stolar said.

“What we are currently in the process of trying to settle with [the NYPD], is what we saw as a systematic violation of the old Handschu guidelines,” he added. “They were reading [the guidelines] in a way that was too loose. The criminal predicate became, somebody’s a Muslim, Muslims are potential terrorists, therefore we investigate Muslims.”

Soon after the story was posted, Todd Fine, a first-year history PhD student at the CUNY Graduate Center in Manhattan, started a petition demanding that the CUNY Chancellor, James Milliken, “formally state [his] opposition to these [NYPD] operations and work actively to stop them." The petition has since been handed into the Chancellor’s Office with over five hundred signatures.

Michael Arena, the director for communication and marketing at CUNY, told Gothamist, “The petition is currently under review by the University office of legal affairs.”

Toward the end of the WNYC interview, Miller said that the need to prevent terrorist attacks sometimes came into conflict with the need to respect constitutional rights. “We have two sets of tensions that pull against each other every day, and the hardest thing to have to do is find a balance.”

We asked Rumaysa, one of the three former Brooklyn College students we interviewed who knew Mel the undercover, what she thought of Miller's explanation (Rumaysa is a pseudonym—all the women requested anonymity).

"To be honest it hurts to think that the surveillance-induced trauma I've had to deal with is simply dismissed as collateral damage, if even that," she said.

"But this I am told is for my own good, for public safety—and just like that I find myself outside the scope of who qualifies for that safety."

Aviva Stahl is a Brooklyn-based journalist who primarily writes about prisons, especially the experiences of terrorism suspects and LGBTQ people behind bars. Follow her @stahlidarity.