Pulitzer Prize winning stories about New York Police Department intelligence and surveillance activity by the Associated Press are inaccurate, misleading and harmful, a top NYPD official writes just days after leaving the department. One allegation was "pure fiction."
Mitchell Silber was the department's director of intelligence analysis from 2007 through last month. His first public act in the private sector is a compelling 6,000 word dissection of the AP reports published in Commentary.
The stories cast the NYPD as waging unchecked, wholesale, undercover surveillance of Muslim communities inside and outside the city, done without cause and in likely violation of civil liberties protections.
It is the product. Silber argues, of "broad allegations and cherry-picked and misconstrued examples to support particularly damaging charges." They were "accepted as gospel" and "created fissures between the police and the communities it sought to protect, undermined confidence in the NYPD."
Although New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie was critical of some of those disclosures, a review by New Jersey Attorney General Jeffrey Chiesa found no laws were violated.
Court-approved guidelines allow the NYPD to gather information in public places and from public websites. That's where the bulk of the surveillance took place, he writes. Rare cases in which undercover agents were deployed were done "only on the basis of a lead or investigation reviewed and authorized in writing at the highest levels of the department" (emphasis original).
NYPD does this, Silber explains, to identify pockets of radicalization and potential plots before they materialize. It's a requirement brought on by successful terrorist attacks against the city in 1993 and 2001 and more than a dozen attempts, some of which were interdicted at last minute. In the two attacks on the World Trade Center, conspirators used New Jersey as a base in part because demographics allowed them to lay low.
The same tactics are used to stop everyday criminal networks, from drug dealers and gangs to human trafficking. They are used because they work, he writes, citing the arrest of two men trying to join the Somali terrorist group al-Shabaab, and Jose Pimentel, who lived in upstate New York and was "one hour away from completing the construction of a pipe bomb intended for detonation in New York City" when he was arrested.
AP reporters and editors, along with critics of the NYPD who embraced their reporting either haven't read the court guidelines, don't understand them or ignored them, Silber writes. "Anyone who denies the success of the demographics initiative is fortunate not to carry the burden of responsibility should there actually be a counterterrorism failure resulting in an attack. I, for one, would have borne that responsibility. The AP team would not have."
He believes the flaws were intentional.
"The war on the NYPD's method of combating terrorism is a war on the war on terror by proxy—an effort to portray the least controversial aspect of homeland security as instead a matter of great civil-libertarian concern," Silber writes in conclusion.
"By portraying the NYPD efforts as rogue operations, the AP and the Pulitzer committee are seeking to slacken attempts inside the United States to stop terrorist plots before they happen. Letting these false and misleading stories alter local counterterrorism work would be catastrophic."
Read the whole response here.