Commentary Magazine


The FBI and the War on the NYPD and Counter-Terrorism

This morning on MSNBC’s Morning Joe program, New York City Police Commissioner Ray Kelly denounced as fiction allegations in an Associated Press article published today that the NYPD “labeled entire mosques as terrorist organizations” in order to spy on imams and members without any prior proof of wrongdoing. Kelly said the piece’s purpose was to “hype a book” that the authors of the article have written. He went on to insist that the federal judiciary has specifically authorized the activities of the NYPD’s counter-terrorism unit. Moreover, Kelly hinted that the agenda the AP reporters and their book is furthering is not so much one of innocent Muslims or the ACLU but that of the Federal Bureau of Investigation that is still angry that the NYPD had been allowed to poach on their territory and work on counter-terrorism rather than ordinary police work.

Indeed, even a quick reading of today’s AP piece, which is more or less a summary of many previous articles on the subject, indicates that although many of the official sources remain unidentified, the FBI’s fingerprints are all over what must be viewed as a hatchet job on the NYPD. But though this sort of federal-local rivalry is the stuff of numerous Law and Order episodes, the stakes in this dispute are bigger than even the egos of the personalities involved. At the heart of the tussle is the plain fact that after the 9/11 attacks, the NYPD felt that they could no longer play by the old rules of engagement that had led to the murder of thousands of New Yorkers at the hands of Islamist terrorists. Instead, they got to work investigating not only al-Qaeda imports but also the very real threat of homegrown Islamist terror.

The NYPD has come under a steady barrage of criticism for using its resources to seek out potential terror suspects in exactly the places where they are known to congregate: religious institutions led by people who encourage support for extreme Islamist views. While the FBI has chosen to avoid flack by treating Islamists with kid gloves, the NYPD did their job. The AP’s hit pieces should be viewed in the context of a long campaign by many in the liberal mainstream media to falsely assert that there has been a post-9/11 backlash of discrimination against American Muslims. But more than that, it is also part of an effort to demonize counter-terrorism work at a time when paranoia about government spying fed by the controversy over the National Security Agency is running high. But while many in Congress and the media are feeding the spirit of complacency about terror, Kelly has rightly tried to remind us that efforts such as those of the NYPD are all that stands between the nation and new atrocities.

As Kelly said:

“We have an agreement that has been authorized by a federal judge,” Kelly answered. “We follow that stipulation to the letter, and it authorizes us to do a whole series of things. Certainly investigations are part of it. We follow leads wherever they take us. We’re not intimidated as to where that lead takes us.”

Yet that is exactly what the NYPD and the anti-anti-terror lobby led by those who claim to speak for American Muslims and civil liberties extremists want.

The point of the AP piece is to portray the police investigations as a threat to the freedom of religion and the First Amendment protections that would theoretically protect sermons or other activities at mosques from any scrutiny. But the idea that the Constitution allows people to preach violence or to create places where potential terrorists are inspired or given guidance with impunity is absurd. If some religious institutions have come under such scrutiny it is because the NYPD has had a reasonable suspicion that such activities have taken place there. To treat any such investigations as inherently prejudicial not only ignores the duty of the police to follow criminals to their source but also ignores the reality that radical Islamists have found a foothold on our shores.

While I have little doubt that the actions of Kelly and the NYPD will be upheld in the courts against suits brought by critics of their policies, what their opponents are shooting for is just as important as a legal victory: the delegitimization of counter-terrorism work that is willing to address the problem of domestic Islamist terror. That is the agenda pursued by some Arab and Muslim groups that have even counseled their members not to cooperate with the authorities when they investigate terror cases.

But it is even more troubling to see that the FBI is willing to help this cause via leaks and prejudicial anonymous quotes whose purpose is to pursue their rivalry with the NYPD. It should be remembered that such turf wars was one of the principle causes of the failure of the FBI and other authorities in the 9/11 case. To see the FBI revert to this sort of lamentable behavior now in order to settle scores with the NYPD is nothing less than a tragedy.

The NYPD deserves the applause and the gratitude of the city as well as the people of the country as a whole for their sterling work that has served to ferret out potential and actual terror plots. Kelly is resolute in his determination that on his watch, those trusted with defending the safety of New Yorkers will not revert to the sort of September 10th mentality that has characterized many of those who wish to pretend there is no such thing as Islamist terror. We can only hope that the next mayor of New York will empower him and his successors to keep up the good fight to keep the city and the nation safe.

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