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11 March 2012

Criticism of NYPD counterterrorism effort is getting more overheated

000.jpgEric Holder, the U.S. attorney general, professes to be “disturbed” by Associated Press reports alleging NYPD “spying” on the city’s Muslim communities. The wire service published fresh dispatches Friday.

They were not in any way troubling. Far from it. Actually, the reports were hilarious.

This was an opening sentence:

“The New York Police Department collected information on businesses owned by second- and third-generation Americans specifically because they were Muslims, according to newly obtained secret documents.”

This was a central accusation:

The NYPD engaged in “widespread spying operations that put entire neighborhoods under surveillance. Police put the names of innocent people in secret files and monitored the mosques, student groups and businesses that make up the Muslim landscape of the northeastern U.S.”

Now, let’s peek into one of the secret dossiers compiled by the department’s “secretive Demographics Unit,” an arm of the anti-terror division that in 2007 used census data to map where Muslims of various nationalities are concentrated.

One report among the AP’s “newly obtained secret documents” focused on Syrian Muslims in the city. It noted that they are concentrated in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn. There were 18 shops — delis, newsstands, restaurants and clothing stores — each meriting one picture and a brief description of what they sell, the owners’ ethnicity and the like.

All collected on public streets using public information. All perfectly innocuous. All a far cry from any sane definition of “widespread spying.” All potentially useful to have if investigators suddenly need to focus on a report that a Syrian Muslim might be involved in a terrorist plot.

And all within the legal framework governing the NYPD, as well as in full compliance with FBI standards. Those state that the bureau may “identify locations of concentrated ethnic communities . . . if these locations will reasonably aid the analysis of potential threats and vulnerabilities.”

The Syrian report is similar to one the NYPD prepared on Newark’s Muslim communities and to studies of the Egyptian and Albanian communities in the city also cited by the AP on Friday.

The gap between the AP’s overheated description of the documents and the mundane material they contain smacked of desperation to stem a growing understanding that the wire service has been journalistically hyperventilating. Sen. Chuck Schumer, Connecticut Gov. Dan Malloy and City Council Speaker Christine Quinn are among officials who have taken the time to check and found nothing to quibble with regarding the NYPD.

Read more: http://www.nydailynews.com/opinion/criticism-nypd-counter...

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