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NYPD’s “Muslim-watch” may be legal, but still worth examining

Post by Brian O'Neill on March 1, 2012 at 10:12 am with 7 Comments »
March 1, 2012 10:12 am

“The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”  Franklin Roosevelt

FDR’s famous quote, made during a bank panic in 1933, turned out to be both prophetic and ironic. In the weeks following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the Oval Office must have resounded with the phrase, “the end justifies the means.” That would best describe the rationale for FDR’s internment of Japanese-Americans for the duration of WWII. The proclamation was a capitulation to the fear-mongering and racist sentiments of a country at war.

Fast forward to post 9/11 New York City and it seems likely a similar conversation took place in the highest offices of the New York Police Department. A recent Trib update discussed NYPD’s intelligence division and its federally funded mission to monitor and investigate Muslims in the community. NYPD reportedly received an unknown portion of $135 million from the feds to target homeland security issues, some of which the department used for targeted surveillance of mosques, Muslim businesses, Muslim students, their activities and their schools.

Man in Muslim garb walks by NYPD officers/

The Muslim community, according to New York Times reporter, Joseph Goldstein, has become extremely fearful of NYPD’s so-called loose approach. Goldstein interviewed Muslims who were hesitant to make any comment that not favorable of America, a reminder of the days following Pearl Harbor when Japanese neighborhoods flew more U.S. flags than any other.

NYPD Commission Raymond Kelly refused to apologize for his department’s single-minded approach. Instead, he remarked in a radio address that people have a short memory, that several terrorist plots have been thwarted since 9/11, and commented, “What we’re trying to do is save lives…the tactics and strategies we’ve used on the streets of this city have indeed saved lives.” Which could be rephrased in another context: The end justifies the means.

Rhetoric aside, there is a clear and present danger to our country from the jihadist sector of Islam. Commissioner Kelly rightly assumes his city is Target #1, and it would be unfair to disparage NYPD’s broad investigation of the Muslim community without discussion of the federal limits on gathering intelligence.

Since the dark days of the McCarthy era (which may be a more suitable comparison than Japanese internment, but never mind for now), Congress and the Justice department have added reams of new laws and guidelines on the methods for gathering, the amounts and the expiration date of intelligence information. These statutes apply to government officials and law enforcement agencies.

Let’s skip through the thick binder of information contained under the federal code, 28 CFR Part 23, and get to the heart of it. First and foremost, if an agency intends to gather intelligence on an individual or group, there must be a common theme: Criminal activity. For example, conducting surveillance on a confirmed criminal street gang or validated gang member could be permissible based on the documented criminal actions of its members. In contrast, undercover cops noting license plates and gathering names of individuals at a Kiwanis pancake breakfast would be in violation.

Commissioner Kelly is well aware of this, and NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg has publicly stated, “Everything the NYPD has done is legal.” We would like to believe this, especially because no one wants even a small-scale repeat of the events of September 11, 2001.

The extensive investigation, however, has not sat well with the Muslim community, civil rights advocates or the media. Part of that mistrust might be based on Commissioner Kelly’s stance on the topic, which appears to brook no argument. His pitbull stance on the matter may be admirable in some quarters, but it is an insufficient explanation.

If indeed his intelligence detectives are following a criminal nexus outward, then he should say so. If that investigation goes beyond the boundaries of his five buroughs, then he should work with the other agencies upon whose jurisdiction his investigators are trampling. If the public and the media express concern over the Commissioner’s program, then he should spend more time explaining it and less time refusing to apologize for it.

Instead, with little communication to the public or its partner agencies, the NYPD appears to be going it alone. Armed with federal money (and backed by a federal government that has refused to exercise control over the money it has provides) and a single-minded purpose, Commissioner Kelly’s broad sweep is likely to hinder the future cooperation of New York’s Muslim community.

In that case the end will not justify the means.

Leave a comment Comments → 7
  1. So the targets of surveillance are complaining about being watched? Shocking news there. No one complains when it’s white militia groups being spied on, yet the vast majority of such groups are harmless tacticool joe sixpacks running around in the woods playing soldier. The White house refuses to use words like “Islamic Extremists” yet have no issues with publishing such drivel as their “terrorist indicators” briefing outlining such activities as speaking out against the government, interest in flying, guns, the constitution and other highly nefarious covert acts.

    And by the way, Joe McCarthy was right. He may have been a bombastic jerk and rubbed people the wrong way, but he was ultimately vindicated in his accusations. What was done to him was a shameful period in our country’s history.

  2. Brian O'Neill says:

    Gandalf- The difference between the “white militia groups” (a racial reference that does not help your argument) and the target of NYPD’s intel gathering is that people from Muslim countries were not given a choice as to where they were born. Again, the intel gathering may be legitimate, but it is a sensitive matter that is not being well explained to the public.

    Your reference to Joe Sixpack is an over-generalization. Otherwise, Timothy McVeigh would be the prince of the sixpack club. And if you’re gonna defend Joe McCarthy, then you are on a limb all by yourself.


    edited for brevity: read the link for info

    But of course, for the historians that hold presidents like FDR to such high regard, proof that McCarthy was right sort of messes with their assertions that there was no credible soviet (or chinese) security threat, especially for people like Lauchlin Currie, a close FDR personal assistant.

    I hate to tell you, Brian, but I am certainly NOT all by myself out here on that limb. Over 65% of the American public still believe in a JFK conspiracy too, that doesn’t change the facts.

    And I don’t paint those over-generalizations, the press does.

    But of course, you had to trot out the ol’ standby, Timmy McVeigh, to wash all White Militia Groups (which are far different from the Aryan Nation Groups that McVeigh was only slightly involved with, I might add) under one broad umbrella. Last time I checked, just about all militia groups hate McVeigh.

  4. reality476 says:

    Not a bad ‘politically correct’ report.

    This report, although, is filed a little to early. The unrest in the middle east. the hatred from Muslim radicals towards other religions and their continuing belief that religion justifies the ‘killing’ of others will soon again make it’s presence on American soil or we will be embroiled in a major War to assist Israel.
    After the death of Americans, after another ‘911,’ lets discuss this issue again. Do not worry if history and current world affairs is any indication we will not have to wait long.

  5. Chippert says:

    Interesting that you decry the “ends justify the means” in this instance and yet you advocate DNA sampling for anyone arrested but not convicted since that could solve crimes. Where does “ends justify the means” become a bad thing for you? For me it begins when basic human rights and privacy are affected. I don’t like it in either case.

  6. Brian O'Neill says:

    Chippert- I’ll admit you make a good point, but I stand by my argument.

    Consider DNA sampling- in the case of a persona arrested for a felony, it is the least of the infringement on the rights of that individual. The arrest includes the physical seizure of a person, including handcuffs and transitory pain, followed by an unwanted and unpleasant transport to a jail facility. It is arguably a far more unpleasant violation than, say, a mouth swab or a fingerprinting (both of which will be uploaded into a database).

    It is disingenuous to lump an entire community, in this case Muslims, in with individuals singled out due to their involvement in a serious crime. Apples and oranges.

  7. Shattah206 says:

    Brian, Gandalf’s got you on McCarthy. He was an a$$, but he was right. As for the “everyday” Muslims who did not choose where they were born, neither did I. But I would not dance in the streets if renegades from our country flew planes into their buildings, killing 3,000 civilians in an undeclared “war.” They did, en masse; on the other hand, the Israelis were gathering response teams to come over here and help at ground zero as soon as air travel resumed. THAT is the difference between a friend and an enemy. Only fools don’t keep a close eye on enemies. Respect their rights, yes, because that is who we are. But don’t fail to take advantage of intelligence opportunities that present themselves within the framework of the law.

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