A number of recent articles have reported on domestic intelligence operations conducted by the NYPD in the post 9-11 era. It appears that Muslim communities in the greater New York and New Jersey area as well as several educational institutions with Muslim students have been targeted by the police. I have mixed emotions about this.
On the one hand, New York is “target central” for certain terrorist organizations, with Washington D.C. as the next most important and symbolic target. Historically, the terrorist organizations that have attacked or planned major attacks against these cities have been comprised exclusively of extremist Muslim groups and individuals. In other words, some Muslim communities in the United States, although populated by law-abiding and loyal American Muslims, do contain some elements that are preparing for and trying to conduct terrorist operations.
We had an example of that here in Washington a few days ago when a suicide bomber wanted to kill people in and around the Capital. The problem is how can law enforcement agencies identify and separate Muslim terrorists from the greater population of good and decent people? Speaking from some experience, it is difficult, but when law enforcement agencies properly use the laws and guidelines that they have been given, it is not impossible. The post 9-11 record of preventions across the land supports my position.
NYPD claims to follow the same investigative guidelines as the FBI. Maybe they do, and maybe they don’t. I won’t speculate on whether they are playing by the rules. But the media reporting seems to focus attention on the NYPD’s predication and management of domestic intelligence cases pursuant to these guidelines. As part of this thinking, I wonder what third-party organization provides legal oversight to the NYPD for their domestic and foreign intelligence operations. Is it the District Attorney, the Attorney General of the State of New York or is it just NYPD itself? In the Federal system, the FBI and its domestic intelligence cases are overseen by the Department of Justice. Oversight within the FBI is also very tight and before cases are reviewed by the Department, they are scrutinized by FBI Headquarters to ensure that both the initial predication and the continuance of the cases are in line with all laws and guidelines.
It is no secret that relations between the NYPD and the FBI have been strained from time to time in the post 9-11 world. But I know that at the working level on the Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF) that FBI Agents, NYPD Detectives and other colleagues are committed to working together every day to protect the city and the nation. I don’t think that senior FBI and NYPD managers see eye to eye in a lot of areas, and politics and competition for recognition in various agencies are always things that arise when major cases occur.
In trying to better understand the extent of NYPD domestic intelligence collection, I must say that I have always been concerned about the presence of active and retired Central Intelligence Agency employees within the NYPD. I have also wondered about former State Department and National Security Council officials being directly employed by the NYPD. I can appreciate the fact that these individuals have experience, wisdom and understand counterterrorism, foreign policy and foreign intelligence collection. I think that they are great resources as advisors and experts, but I do not think they are great law enforcement people, nor do I think that they belong in leadership positions of the NYPD or any other law enforcement agency.
The primary mission of a spy is to steal the secrets of other countries or from people operating in other countries – even if laws need to be broken. CIA Case Officers, Diplomats and NSC staffers are not steeped in the domestic law enforcement world. Again, they are great people, but law enforcement should be left to law enforcement professionals. That includes managing domestic intelligence operations with foreign links.
Overall, I am very sympathetic to the position of the NYPD. They have worked long and hard to protect the city and its citizens from another unspeakable horror. They have also been an important element of the overall effort to protect the nation. It is very difficult to identify people or organizations, Muslim or otherwise, who are planning to commit crimes. At the end of the day, a judgment needs to be made as to whether the NYPD has been acting properly and legally. The question for me is who or what body will make that judgment?