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.
— Invented cover stories about a crime in the neighborhood or a missing child so they could enter homes and make notes about what was on television, what books were on the shelves or what decorations were hanging on the walls.
— Photographed the homes of mosque leaders and took down the license plate numbers of people who came to worship services.
— Monitored people who changed their names. People with Arabic names who took new names that sounded more typically American were put in police files. So, too, were people who adopted Arabic-sounding names.
— Infiltrated Muslim student groups at colleges, even sending an undercover officer on a whitewater rafting trip.
— Monitored the Internet activity of students in colleges across the Northeast.
— Compiled detailed reports on Muslim neighborhoods, including pictures of Muslim-owned businesses.
— Set up a command post in New Brunswick, N.J., without telling the FBI or local police.
Christie, the New Jersey governor and a former federal prosecutor, warned that such operations run the risk of police shooting each other, tailing the same suspects or blowing each other's cover.
"9/11 was not prevented because law enforcement agencies weren't talking to each other. They were being selfish, they were being provincial, they were being paranoid, they were being arrogant," Christie said. "I do not want to return to those days."
The comments brought an angry response from fellow Republican Peter King, chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, who represents suburban Long Island.
"I wish Chris Christie was more concerned about keeping people alive than he is about trying to score cheap political points," King said in a radio interview.
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.
A second, broader poll conducted by Baruch College found New Yorkers evenly split on whether police should be "focusing on Muslims" as they try to prevent terrorist attacks.
Other studies have noted a small but growing divergence between New Yorkers and other Americans over security issues, said Carroll, the polling expert. "The further away you get from New York, the less apprehensive people are," he said.
Between 2005 and 2011, the number of Americans who said the government should not violate basic constitutional rights with their counterterrorism efforts rose from 61 percent to 71 percent, Quinnipiac polls show. In New York, it remained flat at 64 percent and 66 percent, respectively.
"The city is under constant threat of terrorist activity, and if I were a citizen of New York City I would expect that my law enforcement community would be doing everything it can within legal limits to protect the city," said Rick Nelson, a national security expert with the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. "But what's good for New York City may not always be viewed as good for the surrounding jurisdictions."Comment on this story
The split between New York and the rest of the metropolitan area has also played out on newspaper editorial pages, with the Times of Trenton, N.J., The Star-Ledger of Newark and Newsday of suburban Melville, N.Y., criticizing the surveillance and the New York tabloids defending it.
This week the feisty New York Post told New Jersey's governor: "If you promise to keep the terrorists — who have twice used Jersey as a staging area for attacks on the World Trade Center — on your side of the Hudson, we'll keep the NYPD on ours."
Associated Press reporters Matt Apuzzo and Adam Goldman contributed to this report.