In 2011 Mayor Bloomberg assured us that the NYPD was not crudely designating all Muslims as potential terrorists. “We don’t stop to think about the religion. We stop to think about the threats and focus our efforts there," he said. NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly has made similar comments. All are untrue. A new book by two Pulitzer Prize-winning AP reporters shows that the NYPD treated mosques as potential criminal organizations, spying on them with no other specific justification other than the faith itself.
According to the two reporters, Matt Apuzzo and Adam Goldman, the FBI hasn't opened up a single investigation on a mosque as a terrorist enterprise. Meanwhile, the NYPD was spying on at least a dozen as early as 2003, recording sermons, taking down names, descriptions, and phone numbers.
As Apuzzo and Goldman explain in their book, the FBI technically has the power to surveil mosques, but chooses not to. "We don't target mosques," a supervisory FBI agent is quoted as saying. "Mosques don't conspire. Mosques don't blow things up."
But even if the FBI wanted to indiscriminately spy on mosques, the department is answerable to Congress and their own Inspector General, both of whom are sensitive to First Amendment breaches. Not so, for the NYPD.
In 2003 the NYPD's Intelligence Division's chief David Cohen, a former CIA executive, asked a federal judge to relax the guidelines for NYPD surveillance. Cohen explained that the NYPD would conduct "Terrorism Enterprise Investigations [TEI]" when "facts or circumstances reasonably indicate" that groups of people were plotting an act of terror or a violent crime.
The judge agreed, giving the NYPD plenty of leeway. Judge Charles Haight wrote that TEIs "may be less precise than that directed against more conventional types of unlawful conduct…It often requires the fitting together of bits and pieces of information, many meaningless by themselves, to determine whether a pattern of unlawful activity exists."
So the NYPD immediately set out to spy on mosques, their attendees, and their leaders, even when the leaders were cooperating with police. The Justice Department has declined to investigate the NYPD's activities. President Obama's Homeland Security advisor says everything is fine.
The NYPD's surveillance hasn't generated a single lead as it alienated Muslim communities across New York City. In fact, as Apuzzo and Goldman argue in their book, the NYPD Intel unit actually hindered terrorism investigations, and almost ruined the probe into the bin-Laden backed 2009 plot to detonate bombs on the subway.
In April, Commissioner Kelly said that "nothing" has changed with the way the NYPD conducts its surveillance.
Check back next week for our interview with Apuzzo and Goldman about their book, Enemies Within.