NEW YORK — Officials in three states traded accusations over who knew what about a secret 2007 New York Police Department operation that monitored and catalogued Muslim neighborhoods throughout New Jersey's largest city.
The operation resulted in a 60-page NYPD report, released by The Associated Press this week, containing photographs and notes about every mosque and Muslim business in Newark, just west of Manhattan.
In this Dec. 29, 2011, file photo, New York City Police Commissioner Ray Kelly speaks at a news conference with New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg standing to his right. New York Police Department 'spying operations' began after the 2001 terror attacks with unusual help from a CIA officer. "If there are threats or leads to follow, then the NYPD's job is to do it," Bloomberg said. "The law is pretty clear about what's the requirement, and I think they follow the law. We don't stop to think about the religion. We stop to think about the threats and focus our efforts there." (AP Photo)
NYPD spokesman Paul Browne said Thursday that Newark police were fully aware of the operation, contradicting statements by Newark officials a day earlier. He did not get into specifics on the case.
"In this particular case, (the department) did notify Newark officials, before and after, and ... a Newark liaison officer was assigned to the NYPD personnel when they were in there," he told reporters.
Newark Mayor Cory Booker and his police director criticized the report and said the NYPD misled them, telling them only that it was going into the city as part of a terrorism investigation. Had they known their entire Muslim community was under scrutiny, they said, they never would have allowed it.
"If anyone in my police department had known this was a blanket investigation of individuals based on nothing but their religion, that strikes at the core of our beliefs and my beliefs very personally, and it would have merited a far sterner response," Booker said Wednesday.
The dispute stretched all the way to Chicago because the Newark police director in 2007 is now running Chicago police.
Superintendent Garry McCarthy said he got nothing more than a courtesy call that the NYPD was sending plainclothes officers into Newark.
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel defended McCarthy and distanced his city from the NYPD's tactics.
"We don't do that in Chicago, and we're not going to do that," Emanuel said.
While polls show most New Yorkers strongly support the NYPD's counterterrorism tactics, the politics are different outside New York.
In New Jersey, the NYPD report was met with outrage by some Muslims whose mosques and businesses were cataloged. Booker, a rising star in the Democratic party, said he was offended.
The AP has reported for months that the NYPD infiltrated mosques, eavesdropped in cafes and monitored Muslim neighborhoods. New Muslim converts who took Arabic names were compiled in police databases.
Universities including Yale and Columbia have criticized the police department for infiltrating Muslim student groups and trawling their websites, then putting the names of students and academics in reports.
Browne said the NYPD isn't prohibited by law from conducting investigations outside New York.
The NYPD, because of its history of surveillance of political dissidents and anti-war protesters in the 1960s and 1970s, has operated for years under a federal court order that restricts its ability to collect intelligence on activities protected under the First Amendment. After the Sept. 11 terrorist attack, a federal judge agreed to give broader authority to the police department for counterterrorism.
The new rules give police broader leeway to conduct surveillance in public places, like photographing mosques or eavesdropping inside businesses. They also give police the right to conduct online searches and gain access to online forums to develop intelligence information or prevent terrorism. Police are authorized to prepare reports and assessments concerning terrorism or unlawful activities for planning purposes.
NYPD officials said Thursday that all of their activities fell within the boundaries of those rules.
"There's been an implication ... that what we've engaged in is illegal," Browne said. "And that's not the case."
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