NYPD anti-terror exposes split between NYC, others

By Chris Hawley

Associated Press

Published: Thursday, March 15 2012 6:06 a.m. MDT

FILE - In this file photo of Feb. 29, 2012, New York University students, faculty and clergy gather on the NYU campus to discuss the recent discovery of surveillance by the New York Police Department on Muslim communities. Polls this week gave a mixed view of New Yorkers’ feelings about the surveillance program. A Quinnipiac University poll showed 58 percent of New York voters think the NYPD has acted “appropriately” toward Muslims, while 29 percent feel police “unfairly targeted” Muslims.

Craig Ruttle, File, Associated Press

NEW YORK — Ten years after 9/11, the New York Police Department's surveillance of Muslims has exposed a bitter divide between New Yorkers and their neighbors across the Hudson River, with city leaders defending the police force and out-of-town politicians angry to learn of New York detectives working their turf.

In New York, where random searches in the subway are the norm and Lower Manhattan is a maze of security barriers and guardhouses, polls show many residents support the NYPD. Editorial pages have said broad surveillance is needed to protect the city.

"I guess we're hardened more than anybody to this stuff," said Frank Keenan, a retired social worker. "We don't question it. We just go along for the ride."

But across the Hudson River in New Jersey, and increasingly in Washington, politicians have decried the NYPD's programs, and newspapers have editorialized against the surveillance operations.

The intelligence-gathering was first reported by The Associated Press in August, but it wasn't until February that its reporters obtained documents detailing how the NYPD monitored Muslims beyond the city limits.

"The Associated Press stories didn't get any impact, didn't get much interest in New York City," said Maurice Carroll, director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute. "Then it moved over to Jersey — bingo, it's been a big story, a lot of criticism."

In Newark, New Jersey's largest city, residents said being put under surveillance by another city's police force violates their rights.

"It's offensive," said Clarence Matthews, an out-of-work teacher in Newark. "Here you go across the water to spy on people, law-abiding citizens in another state, and the (New York) mayor thinks it's OK. I don't understand it."

Some of the NYPD's actions, such as monitoring public Internet sites or attending student events, are probably legal because police can go wherever the public goes. But civil rights activists say other practices, such as keeping notes on people's worship habits or compiling the names of innocent people in police files, could run afoul of privacy statutes and cause serious harm if the information were leaked.

Trans-Hudson tensions have intensified in the last month, pitting some of the metropolitan area's most forceful political personalities against each other.

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg has staunchly defended the department, saying its intelligence-gathering operations inside and outside the city are consitutional and necessary to keep New Yorkers safe. His administration says terrorists have targeted New York 14 times since 9/11.

But New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has accused the NYPD of acting like "masters of the universe" by sending agents into his state.

Newark Mayor Cory Booker complained: "This has been a grievous harm. It is inhibiting people's free expression of their faith. It is inhibiting people's free association with other people because they're afraid of what that might mean or how they might be accused in the future."

The FBI chief in New Jersey warned that the surveillance has undermined the bureau's own efforts to keep the nation safe by sowing distrust of authorities among law-abiding Muslims.

And schools such as Yale, the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Buffalo have condemned surveillance aimed at their students.

The Associated Press investigation revealed that the NYPD has built a nearly 400-agent intelligence division with the help of an officer from the CIA, which is barred from spying on Americans, and with money that was supposed to be used to combat drug trafficking. The division has agents in 11 cities around the world.

Among other things, the officers:

— Eavesdropped on customers at restaurants, coffee shops and other places.

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