NYPD Undercover Spying Unit Revealed As Extensive, Far-Reaching
Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Matt Appuzo discusses how the NYPD intelligence gathering targets everyone from Muslims to Republican convention attendees
JESSICA DESVARIEUX, TRNN PRODUCER: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Jessica Desvarieux in Baltimore.
Associated Press reporters Matt Apuzzo and Adam Goldman have uncovered a surveillance apparatus that probes deeper into the lives of citizens than even the NSA. In their newly released book, titled Enemies Within: Inside the NYPD’s Secret Spying Unit and bin Laden’s Final Plot against America, they explain how the New York Police Department has been undercover spying on everyone from Muslims in their mosques to Republicans at political conventions.
Here to discuss this deeply rooted surveillance apparatus is AP reporter and author Matt Apuzzo.
Thanks for joining us, Matt.
MATT APUZZO, JOURNALIST AND AUTHOR: Thanks a lot for having me.
DESVARIEUX: So, Matt, how extensive is this operation? Can you describe this to us for our viewers?
APUZZO: Sure. This is by far and away the most extensive intelligence operation in the United States by any domestic police department. What’s been billed here in collaboration with the CIA is a division that is not built around building criminal cases like a typical police department. It’s built on gathering intelligence.
And what they have done is they have dispatched undercover officers, plainclothes detectives, and informants into neighborhoods, basically just to keep tabs on the community. So they’ll send out teams of what they call the demographics unit, teams of detectives who are in plainclothes who will hang out in a cafe or a restaurant or a deli, and they’ll make note of, you know, what’s the ethnicity of the owner, what’s the ethnicity of the clientele, do they appear to be devout Muslims. If they’re talking about politics, what are they talking about? Are they watching Al Jazeera? Are they not watching Al Jazeera? We saw some files where they put in police documents what people were saying about the president’s State of Union address.
So, you know, what they did was really they mapped the human terrain of the city. That’s what they called it. They mapped the human terrain of New York City.
DESVARIEUX: How do they determine who should be put under surveillance?
APUZZO: Well, you know, that’s an interesting question. So the NYPD has different–like the FBI, has different tiers of investigations. It actually takes very little evidence to actually open an investigation. The rules that the NYPD operates under, you don’t actually need evidence of a crime before you can start investigating. The rules allow them to investigate wherever there’s the possibility of a crime or a reasonable indication. So you’re talking about a bar that’s pretty low.
Furthermore, the NYPD can go wherever the public can go, of course, but they’re only supposed to keep files on what they hear in public places, First Amendment activity. They’re only supposed to keep files on those things when they are specifically related to terrorism. But, you know, from the documents we saw, it’s so widespread what they’re keeping in files that we’ve been able to conclude that either they’re not following those rules or that wherever the NYPD, you know, where Muslims are gathering, that’s related to a terrorism investigation.
DESVARIEUX: And we should note that the NYPD has come out and said that they are asserting that this is completely legal. What do you make of that assertion?
APUZZO: Oh, well, it might be. And, you know, one of the things we’re seeing in the NSA debate that’s going on down in Washington right now is you see people talking about, well, this is all legal. We’ve known about this for years. Well, that’s true. You know, there was a Patriot Act. Certainly they did amend the FISA Amendments to allow the kind of wiretapping we’re seeing that the NSA does. Similarly, the NYPD, they did get the rules changed after 9/11. They were given more broad surveillance powers.
As reporters, as opposed to lawyers, we’re much more interested in telling the public from a policy perspective how the government uses the powers that we the people gave it. And, you know, the people don’t–if people don’t know what’s going on, it’s–. There’s a social contract, right, and it’s informed consent. The people give the government authority and power to conduct investigations and conduct surveillance, but there has to be a little bit of knowledge of what’s exactly going on in these programs that lived in secret for so long. We felt like just bringing them to public light and letting there be a discussion about them was in the public’s interest.
DESVARIEUX: And bringing it to the public light, let’s talk a little bit about democracy. How does this affect, in your opinion, American democracy? And do you anticipate that cases like these and operations like these will grow in the long run?
APUZZO: Well, after our stories for the AP came out, the CIA, which had a CIA officer embedded inside the NYPD–an unprecedented relationship–after the stories came out, they pulled the CIA officer. So there was some increased discussion. You know, you saw some movement there.
The City Council of New York has passed an inspector general to put a layer of oversight on top of NYPD. But, you know, as of right now, the police department says, you know, these programs continue, nothing has changed. We’ll be interested to see what happens. Obviously, we’re going to have a new mayor in New York beginning next year. So, you know, it’s hard to say what will change.
But, you know, frankly, just the fact that you and I are having this conversation speaks quite well for democracy. You know, the existence of these programs has certainly not undermined our ability to have free and open discussions, and that’s what it’s all about.
DESVARIEUX: Well, we’ll continue this discussion, certainly, in the future. Thanks for joining us.
APUZZO: Great. Thanks a lot.
DESVARIEUX: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.
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