Muslim and Arab groups were up in arms over revelations Wednesday that the New York City Police Department had conducted surreptitious surveillance in mosques, stores, and social clubs in Muslim and Arab neighborhoods of the city. The program was funded in part by the CIA, which helped the NYPD set up a comprehensive network of surveillance cameras, informers, and paid agents to keep an eye on potential terrorists and prevent another major domestic terror attack in the U.S.
The surveillance, revealed in an an investigative report by the Associated Press Wednesday, says that the NYPD has been working since at least 2002 and operated in areas with large Arab and Muslim populations, such as in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood in Brooklyn. The report said that thanks to the program, police had been able to thwart at least seven terror attacks. The program began when NYPD officials tapped CIA veteran David Cohen for help in setting up a counter-terrorism program.
Among the tactics used by police has been the dispatching of minority officers to the neighborhoods to gain the trust of residents. Besides normal policing, however, the officers were also engaged in a “human mapping” project, observing the daily routines of potential troublemakers. Officers were instructed to keep tabs on bookstores, cabbies, hot dog vendors, cafes and bars in order to search out possible terror plots. In addition, the report said, the NYPD sent undercover officers, known as “”mosques crawlers,” to listen to sermons and gage the mood of worshippers, and networks of security cameras were used to observe the streets in Muslim and Arab neighborhoods
Muslim groups demanded the immediate investigation of the allegations, claiming that the program was unconstitutional. At a news conference held by the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), Ramzi Kassem, a spokesperson for the group, said that the matter needed ot be investigated immediately. “We need the comptroller's office to audit the NYPD and figure out how much of New Yorkers' taxpayer dollars are going towards this rogue program, and we need the federal government to look into what are quite possibly very grave breaches of federal law," Kassem said. Other speakers at the event also stressed what they called the illegal aspects of the surveillance.
But NYPD officials blasted the story, calling it largely “marked by outright fiction.” Many of the allegations, including the ones about the “mosque crawlers,” were simply false, said NYPD Deputy Commissioner Paul Browne. "We're going to do all we reasonably can to keep New York safe," Browne said. "And we uphold the Constitution in doing so,” adding that there had been at least 13 major terror plots against New York City since 9/11, and that information from the NYPD's Intelligence Unit had thwarted at least seven of them. "We commit over a thousand officers to the fight every day to stop terrorists who've demonstrated an undiminished appetite to come back and kill more New Yorkers," Browne said. "We don't apologize for it."
In an editorial, the New York Daily News praised the program. “The department's ability to investigate at home and overseas has made it a unique and hugely successful force in American terror fighting. Right up there with the best of the feds, but at once more global and more grass-roots.
“Often, the NYPD intelligence team has been described as America's home-front CIA. Who's to argue with such a high compliment to a group that has protected New York from attack for nigh on a perilous and terrifying decade?”