According to an Associated Press story in the February 24 Daily News, “Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly dispatched his detectives to surveil every Muslim-owned business and community center in Newark [in] the clearest sign yet that the NYPD’s fight against terrorism has gone terribly awry.”
This has set off a debate on police tactics and surveillance of the Muslim community by U.S. law enforcement agencies.
I have full confidence in Police Commissioner Kelly and believe that whatever police surveillance he directs is done in accordance with the laws that govern what police can do to protect the people of New York City from terrorist attacks.
Instead of saying “the NYPD’s fight against terrorism has gone terribly awry,” I would say the efforts and tactics of the NYPD have been hugely successful and the NYPD, Commissioner Kelly and Mayor Michael Bloomberg should be congratulated and supported.
The tactics used by the NYPD must conform to the guidelines first laid out in a federal case that are now referred to as the Handschu agreement. Wikipedia describes the Handschu agreement as follows:
According to the terms of the agreement, purely political activity can only be investigated by the Public Security Section (PSS) of the NYPD’s Intelligence Division, and then only when the Section suspects criminal activity. When the PSS does suspect criminal activity on the part of political groups, it must obtain a warrant from the three-person Handschu Authority, a commission made up of two deputy commissioners and a mayor-appointed civilian. The agreement also prohibits indiscriminate police videorecording and photographing of public gatherings when there is no indication that unlawful activity is occurring. The department is also prohibited from sharing information pertaining to political activity with other law enforcement agencies unless those agencies agree to abide by the terms of the Handschu agreement. The court order mandates the compiling of annual, publicly-available reports listing the surveillance requests made by the NYPD and the number of such requests granted.
On some occasions, a police officer or program may go too far in carrying out surveillance, in which case, the recourse is to apply to a federal court for relief. As far as I know, those who have criticized the police commissioner – unfairly in my opinion – have not availed themselves of that right and opportunity.
Those seeking to reduce America’s concern about Islamic terrorism had to be elated by an article in The New York Times on February 8 by Scott Shane. According to Shane, “A feared wave of homegrown terrorism by radicalized Muslim Americans has not materialized, with plots and arrests dropping sharply over the two years since an unusual peak in 2009, according to a new study by a North Carolina research group.” The article continued: “Charles Kurzman, the author of the report for the Triangle Center on Terrorism and Homeland Security, called terrorism by Muslim Americans ‘a minuscule threat to public safety.’ Of about 14,000 murders in the United States last year, not a single one resulted from Islamic extremism, said Mr. Kurzman, a professor of sociology at the University of North Carolina.”
I obtained a copy of Professor Kurzman’s report. Its thrust is that Muslim-American involvement in terrorist-related activity is far less than was expected by U.S. government officials.
With respect to the actual number of Muslim-Americans involved in terrorism, Kurzman writes that “the number of Muslim-Americans who have responded to these calls [to engage in domestic terroism] continues to be tiny, when compared with the population of more than 2 million Muslims in the United States and when compared with the total level of violence in the United States, which was on track to register 14,000 murders in 2011.”
Equating terrorism with criminality is ridiculous. They have no relationship to one another. Criminality is generally for the purpose of enrichment of oneself by breaking the law. Modern day terrorism seeks to achieve political or military goals by the use of indiscriminate terror directed primarily at innocent civilians. Further, terrorists seek to demoralize their victims and enhance their perceived power by the destruction of iconic projects, buildings such as the World Trade Center towers, subway systems in large cities such as London and Madrid, and world famous bridges such as the Brooklyn Bridge (not attacked, but surveyed for attack).
So to refer to 14,000 murders in 2011 committed by criminals compared with a far lesser number killed by terrorists in any year since 9/11 is ridiculous.
In addition, no matter how good our intelligence services are – and they’ve uncovered and convicted since 9/11 about 200 Muslim-Americans – in all probability the number of undetected plots and conspirators are surely several times the number detected. Surely by aggressively – but within the law – monitoring the activities of suspected places and groups, in which terrorism may be discussed, we will prevent more attacks against us.