Hours after the AP released a report proving that the NYPD kept files on New Yorkers for no other reason than their religion, Police Commissioner Ray Kelly met with Muslim leaders Friday afternoon at 1 Police Plaza to assure them that no laws were being broken. "They are organizing sham meetings with sham leaders of the community," Fahd Ahmed of the Muslim American Civil Liberties Coalition told NY1, implying that Kelly is dodging his most severe critics. "The Muslim community feels under siege," Mohammed Nurhussein of the United African Congress said. "And that issue has to be addressed."
In addition to the AP's extensive coverage of the NYPD's Demographics Unit, reporter Leonard Levitt's column last week detailed how the police department treated Yankee pitcher Cory Lidle's fatal 2006 plane crash as a possible terrorist attack. According to the document obtained by Levitt, police tapped their confidential informant at Brooklyn's Taqwa Mosque almost immediately.
“Upon hearing of the crash,” that report began, the “active mosque member immediately got on his cell phone. In discussions with CI about the possibility of another attack… [he] told CI he was not aware that something might happen. [He] also warned the source not to go into Manhattan that evening until it was clear what was going on … and for the remainder of the day, was observed taking and receiving numerous calls. Phone dump will be conducted on subject’s phone for that day and time period.”
According to the Intelligence Division document on Lidle plane crash, dated Oct. 16, 2006, a Confidential Informant noted of the Brooklyn Islamic Center on Oct. 12: “chatter among the regulars expressing relief and thanks to God that the crash was only an accident and not an act of terrorism, which they stated would not be good either for the U.S. or for any of their home countries.”
Seven days after the plane crash, NYPD officials determined there was no terrorism link and dropped the investigation.
Despite Mayor Bloomberg's continued defense of the NYPD's surveillance program (in a radio appearance Friday Bloomberg said, "We're doing the right thing,") The Economist, who has crowed the mayor's strengths in the past, has released an article this week entitled, "A snoop too far."
The NYPD has been duly applauded for all this. Last year Barack Obama’s head of counter-terrorism called its efforts “heroic”. But now it may have overstepped the mark. According to an exposé by the Associated Press, the NYPD has been monitoring Muslims not just in New York, but also across the Hudson river (and the state line) in Newark, New Jersey. It appears to have done so for no better reason than that its targets practise Islam.
The irony about this surveillance, says Eugene O’Donnell of John Jay College of Criminal Justice—a former policeman himself—is that it is alienating the very groups the NYPD need to keep sweet in order to induce them to give information about extremists. “This dragnet approach was a recipe for trouble,” he says.