Posted by on June 14, 2012 in Blog

The latest issue of Newsweek contains a profile of NYPD Police commissioner Ray Kelly comes closer to tribute than journalism. Much of the lengthy article by Chris Dickey is devoted to presenting the Commissioner as a brave, indefatigable warrior who personally prevents another 9/11 on a daily basis, despite constant interference from the federal government. The article’s argument, it seems, is that anyone who criticizes the commissioner, or disagrees with his methods, has simply forgotten about 9/11.

AAI has reported extensively on the NYPD’s shredding of the constitution in the form of its massive surveillance program against Muslims in New York and beyond. The passage of the Dickey article that addresses the Pulitzer Prize-winning investigation by the Associated Press is the most troubling portion of the piece:

Just before the anniversary of the atrocity last year, the Associated Press launched a lengthy series of stories that took a critical look at Kelly’s policing, detailing the surveillance and undercover work in Muslim communities, the cozy relationship with the CIA, and the troubled NYPD–FBI relations. The series won a Pulitzer Prize—and NYPD supporters have been rebutting its details ever since. What Kelly resents in particular is the implication, never proven in print, that he’d gone beyond the very carefully lawyered legal constraints on police activities. And, as he sees it: “These questions would not surface—and did not surface—in 2002.”

 This passage treats the memory of 9/11 as some sort of trump card that makes one immune to accusation of abuse of power. In this view, those who condemn his approach and question its legality are merely failing to properly remember September 11th.

Dickey’s article also grossly mischaracterizes Kelly’s approach to counterterrorism, describing it as “intelligence led.” Using religion as the primary factor in performing surveillance on an entire community of people without evidence or suspicion of wrongdoing is precisely the opposite of an intelligence-led approach. Unwittingly, Dickey more accurately characterizes Kelly and the NYPD’s approach in another quote earlier in the article: “Kelly’s most critical mission has been to thwart all terrorist threats against the city, and he’s aimed to do that, in some cases, even before a plot is entirely clear to the plotters themselves.”

Perhaps the most far-fetched claims that Dickey makes are on the effectiveness of Kelly’s approach to counterterrorism. He writes, “Paradoxically, because the approach is so effective, it makes people feel much safer and spurs the belief that aggressive policing is no longer necessary.” Dickey attempts to provide a case-in-point for the effectiveness of Kelly’s approach, citing at least 14 terrorist plots that have been prevented or failed on Kelly’s watch. Indeed, this claim is hard to argue with, because it is totally unsubstantiated. There’s a reason why Dickey does not give an example of the NYPD’s surveillance of American Muslims thwarting a terror plot – there are no examples. All that the NYPD’s spying on restaurants, student organizations, mosques and grocery stores across New York and New Jersey accomplished was to shatter the trust between law enforcement and the American Muslim community, an essential partner in combatting terrorism. Under Kelly’s command, the NYPD has performed absurdities like infiltrating a Muslim student organization’s whitewater rafting trip, which usually turn up nothing but extensive reports full of shallow observations. Far from being a success, the NYPD’s spying program is one of the greatest examples of ineffective policing and wasted resources in our country’s recent history. AAI’s President Jim Zogby wrote in a recent column: “as for the reports' ‘SECRET’ designation and warnings about their ‘official police use only,’ I can conclude that these were intended merely to spare the NYPD the embarrassment of having them read by the public.”

Christopher Dickey’s piece transparently provides the NYPD with a platform to push back against an unflattering New York Times story.  The Times piece details how the NYPD intelligence division interfered with an FBI task force to thwart a plot by an Afghani immigrant named Najibullah Zazi. Without consulting the task force, the NYPD’s Intelligence Division enlisted a Queens imam to help develop information about Zazi, who proceeded to tip off Zazi that he was a suspect. Dickey’s piece in Newsweek mentions the Times article, and then allows Commissioner Kelly to give a lengthy yet evidence-free explanation about how it was really the FBI’s fault, all without addressing the issue of the NYPD’s interference and lack of cooperation with the Queens imam. Dickey freely admits in the article that he has been friends with Commissioner Ray Kelly for years. Newsweek’s Editor Tina Brown is also a friend of the commissioner and has engaged in similarly sycophantic aggrandizing of Ray Kelly, writing of his “pugilist’s mug” and “lion’s heart.” The contrast between the Associated Press and Newsweek on this subject could not be starker. The AP did the public a great service by exposing a shameful program of profiling, harassment, and waste. Newsweek, on the other hand, thought the appropriate response to the NYPD’s surveillance of American Muslims was to engage in hagiography of their friend Commissioner Ray Kelly and provide him with some free PR. 

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