Posted by on May 22, 2012 in Blog

Today the New America Foundation hosted an informative discussion on the use of infiltration and surveillance by law enforcement in preventing homegrown terrorist attacks. The discussion primarily focused on the New York Police Department, and the efficacy of the vast counterterrorism unit which has drawn criticism since the Associated Press revealed that the NYPD was spying on American Muslims and Arab Americans. Two of the four Pulitzer Prize-winners of the Associated Press team, Matt Apuzzo and Adam Goldman, spoke on the panel. In addition, J.M. Berger, Author of Jihad Joe: Americans Who Go to War in the Name of Islam also spoke, and New America Foundation Research Fellow Brian Fishman moderated. Apuzzo and Goldman did not speak to the lawfulness of the NYPD actions, but focused on characterizing the NYPD’s counterterrorism apparatus, specifically with regard to its efficacy in preventing homegrown attacks. Berger put the entire issue of law enforcement surveillance into perspective, focusing on FBI efforts to infiltrate anti-government extremist networks in the early 1990s.

Apuzzo and Goldman explained the broad and sweeping approach with which the NYPD has collected data and spied on American Muslim and Arab American communities. Apuzzo said the Department’s stated objective is to focus “anywhere there is a possibility of criminal activity.” With regard to the efficacy of these surveillance and data collection practices, Goldman said that the NYPD often incorrectly receives credit for preventing attacks, which they actually had little to do with. Supporters of the NYPD often assert that the Department has thwarted roughly 14 attacks since September 11. Pointing to an article they wrote in December of 2011, Goldman cited multiple cases involving planned attacks targeting New York where the NYPD failed to connect the dots on intelligence, but because the attacks didn’t materialize for one reason or another, the NYPD claimed credit for stopping them. In other words, the NYPD is claiming credit for what hasn't happened during their watch, regardless of whether or not they proactively stopped an attack. Goldman pointed to Najibullah Zazi, Adis Medunjanin, and Zarein Ahmedzay, all individuals with ties to each other saying, “these were the people that the programs were designed to catch – these were the stereotypes. But the thing about it is they missed them completely.”

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Apuzzo and Goldman made no assertion as to whether the NYPD operations were the right thing to do, or the best way to prevent terrorism, but they did ask why other law enforcement agencies have not implemented the NYPD's so-called “gold standard” if it is indeed the most effective.


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