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On Monday in New York City, would-be jihadist Zarein Ahmedzay testified in Brooklyn federal court that co-conspirator Adis Medunjanin “was committed” to carrying out a wave of terrorist attacks in New York City. A third man, Najibullah Zazi, has already pleaded guilty to the plot that was unraveled by the New York Police Department (NYPD) and the FBI. On the same day, the Associated Press (AP) won a Pulitzer Prize for a series of stories “revealing the New York Police Department’s widespread spying on Muslims.” It was precisely such “spying” that thwarted several terrorist plots all designed to once again to kill untold numbers of innocent New Yorkers.
The Pulitzer Board at Columbia University cited AP reporters Matt Apuzzo, Adam Goldman, Eileen Sullivan and Chris Hawley “for their spotlighting of the New York Police Department’s clandestine spying program that monitored daily life in Muslim communities, resulting in congressional calls for a federal investigation, and a debate over the proper role of domestic intelligence gathering.”
Here’s what not debatable: the NYPD has thwarted fourteen separate plots against New Yorkers since 9/11. Furthermore, the AP’s and Pulitzer Prize Committee’s sensibilities are completely at odds with the public. A poll by Quinnipiac University revealed that voters, by a margin of 59-28 percent, believe the NYPD has behaved appropriately in dealing with Muslims, and approve of the way the NYPD is doing its job in general by a margin of 63-31 percent. A whopping 82 percent also think the NYPD has done an effective job of combating terrorism. Police Commissioner Ray Kelly? He enjoys a 64-25 percent approval rating.
“New Yorkers brush aside the gripes about police surveillance of the Muslim community,” said Maurice Carroll, director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute. “Voter approval of the way police are handling terrorism is through the roof and overall approval for police in general and for Commissioner Ray Kelly is undented by criticism.”
None of it matters to those determined to undermine the strategy. In February, the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU) demanded that the NYPD be investigated for using federal drug fighting funds to help underwrite its surveillance of Muslim mosques and businesses. “We are deeply concerned that federal resources may have been used and spying information stored in violation of federal regulations that protect Americans’ privacy and constitutional rights against law enforcement overreach,” said Hina Shamsi, director of the ACLU’s National Security Project. In March, Attorney General Eric Holder claimed he was “disturbed,” and that the NYPD’s methods for combatting terrorism are “under review at the Justice Department.” 34 members of Congress demanded a federal investigation, as did the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), while schools such as Yale, the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Buffalo condemned surveillance aimed at their students.
The ever-reliable New York Times piled on, noting that a lack of sufficient supervision “of this formidable and far-flung intelligence operation…operating in secrecy and under murky rules” was an invitation for the NYPD “to abuse their powers.” New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) and Newark Mayor Cory Booker also criticized the NYPD’s tactics when it was revealed that some of their leads have taken them across the river into the Garden State and other Northeast locations. Michael Ward, director of the FBI’s Newark division, contended that the expansion of investigations into New Jersey was undermining the FBI’s ability to gather counter-terrorism intelligence.
Commissioner Kelly and Mayor Michael Bloomberg remained unrepentant. Kelly defended the practice of using federal drug funds (whose specific allocation cannot be controlled by the feds) to combat terror, noting that the NYPD had arrested 44 terrorism suspects and the department’s “primary goal is to keep this city safe and save lives.” Eric Holder has yet to file any charges at all, and Mayor Bloomberg defended the expansion of investigations outside of New York, noting that the city has been granted limited ability to conduct investigations in the Garden State. “Anything we’ve done in New Jersey, we have done under an agreement with the state of New Jersey that was signed by a previous governor, and still remains in effect,” he said. He further contended that the NYPD “goes where there are allegations. And they look to see whether those allegations are true,” he told reporters in February. “That’s what you’d expect them to do. That’s what you’d want them to do. Remind yourself when you turn out the light tonight.”
The NYPD also reminded those criticizing its expanded investigations of an inconvenient truth: the bomb that was detonated at the World Trade Center in 1993 was built in New Jersey, and would-be Times Square bomber Faisal Shazad assembled his device in Connecticut. Commissioner Kelly emphasized the point. “We have to be cognizant of what’s going on in the surrounding area. Obviously, it would be naive to limit our focus just to the five boroughs of New York City,” he said.
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