Posted by on August 29, 2011 in Blog
Earlier this week, the Associated Press reported that the CIA and NYPD have been engaged in secret domestic surveillance of American Muslims in the New York City region. Last week, upon learning of the program, AAI cautioned against the dangerous blurring of jurisdictional lines, and the continued erosion of American civil liberties. According to the AP, “since the September 11th terrorist attacks, the NYPD has become one of the nation’s most aggressive domestic intelligence agencies, targeting ethnic communities in ways that would run afoul of civil liberties rules if practiced by the federal government.” The AP reached this conclusion after interviewing some 40 current and former NYPD and federal officials, many of whom were directly involved in planning and carrying out these secret operations for the department.
Recently, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg has come to the defense of the NYPD. Bloomberg declared that “the bottom line is that every community in this city is, unfortunately, a potential target. We'll make sure Muslims are protected, Christians are protected, Jews are protected, that people who believe in any religion or no religion are protected” adding, “I think the NYPD has done a very good job.”
However, when it came to the legality of such actions, Bloomberg was more restrained. “If there are threats or leads to follow, then the NYPD's job is to do it. The law is pretty clear about what's the requirement, and I think they follow the law” [emphasis mine]. Often, in politics, what a politician refuses to say is more telling then what they are willing to say. In this case, Bloomberg, while showing support for the NYPD, seems uncomfortable declaring the legality of their methods.
However, some City Councilmembers are still calling for increased oversight and transparency. Brooklyn City Councilmember Brad Lander has said the NYPD's covert intelligence operations need greater legislative oversight, and suggested basing it on the federal model. Councilmember Lander added, “because the NYPD has correctly decided New York City requires an intelligence-gathering division on par with federal intelligence agencies, the city also needs a framework for appropriate legislative oversight that is on par with the federal level.”
While the future of the program seems uncertain, one thing is so far clear. This issue isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. The prospect of the NYPD engaging in domestic spying operations with the assistance of the CIA blurs the lines between foreign and domestic spying, and provides great temptation to skirt the judicial checks that have enshrined our freedoms for over two hundred years. While Bloomberg has so far come to the defense of the NYPD, that calculation may well just be political. After all, how could the NYC mayor going to chastise the NYPD on the eve of the 10 year anniversary of 9/11? Whether Bloomberg will ultimately put his money where his mouth is remains to be seen.
In all likelihood this is just the start of the investigation into how far this program goes, and whether the NYPD violated the 4th, 5th, and 14th amendments along the way, which collectively require probable cause for search and seizure, due process of law, and equal protection. It is likely that some if not all aspects of the controversial program could have violated any one or all three of these core democratic principles. The question is, will Bloomberg grant outside groups access to information on the NYPD program, or will he shroud it in a cloak of secrecy?