Pulitzer Prize-winning reporters Matt Apuzzo and Adam Goldman held a standing-room- only audience rapt on Oct. 30 as they revealed some of New York’s Finest citizen surveillance practices.
In a lengthy Q&A session with NBC investigative reporter Robert Windrem at theFordham Law School, Apuzzo and Goldman discussed Enemies Within: Inside the NYPD’s Secret Spying Unit and bin Laden’s Final Plot Against America (Simon & Schuster, 2013).
The book expands on articles that they wrote in 2012 for the Associated Press about the NYPD’s surveillance of Muslim New Yorkers, raising questions about the activities being done in the name of national security.
The pair questions the NYPD’s assertion that there have been 14 foiled “terrorist attacks” since September 11, 2001. Goldman cited the capture and detention of Abu Zubaydah, an Al Qaeda operative who had planned to blow up the Brooklyn Bridge.
“It was aspirational. These guys dream up a lot of things,” he said. “It wasn’t an actual plot.”
A better way of describing these episodes, Apuzzo said, is that there have been 14 plots against New York that failed because of a combination of good work by the NYPD and federal officials, and luck.
In the case of Najibullah Zazi, who was arrested in 2009 for plotting to have suicide bombers detonate themselves on the 3, 5 and 6 rush hour subways, it was the National Security Agency’s PRISM program that tipped off authorities of his plans, when it intercepted an e-mail he sent to Pakistan.
Credit is due to the NYPD for preventing the attack, Goldman said, but what is disconcerting is that, at the time, NYPD had informers attending the same mosque as Zazi, working in the travel agency where he bought tickets to Pakistan, and patronizing restaurants he went to; none of which led to revelations of his plans.
The NYPD’s surveillance of the Muslim community, they said, was based on the revelation that many clues about the perpetrators of the 9/11 attacks had been overlooked by those in a position to recognize them.
This led to a process of undercover “raking,” where officers would go to coffee shops, travel agencies and delis, and suss out everyone in attendance.
Where things went overboard, the speakers said, was when police designated entire mosques as “terrorism enterprises,” which allowed for unlimited monitoring. Police also interviewed anyone who legally changed their name from an American sounding name to a Muslim one, or vice versa.
“The guys who had to go out and do the interviews told us, they’d go out and meet say, Amir Akbed, who’d become John Smith,” Goldman said. Without fail, police would discover the name was changed by the Muslim “because people think [someone with the name]Amir Akbed is a terrorist.”
Apuzzo said he feels that the social contract between the government and ordinary citizens has been broken.
“The government says, ‘We’re doing everything we can to keep you safe; trust us, it’s working,’ and then every day that you’re not blown up thus proves what they’re doing works,” he said.
“That’s post hoc ergo propter hoc, right? Every night before I go to bed, I have a bowl of vanilla ice cream, and I haven’t been trampled by elephants yet. Thus, eating ice cream keeps elephants away.”
“It just doesn’t work.”
Their appearance was sponsored by the Center on National Security at Fordham Law\