By Jill Colvin and Leslie Albrecht
UPPER WEST SIDE — NYPD Deputy Commissioner Paul Browne defended the city’s counter-terrorism efforts following allegations that police have been spying on Muslim communities with the CIA’s help, blaming criticism partially on petty "jealousies that success sometimes breeds.”
In its efforts to stave off future terrorist attacks, the NYPD has been aggressively monitoring Muslim communities, according to the Associated Press, using tactics that some are slamming as gross infringements on civil liberties.
The report included allegations that the NYPD has dispatched secret teams of undercover officers into ethnic neighborhoods around the area to collect intelligence at bookstores, bars, cafes and nightclubs, and have used informants, dubbed "mosque crawlers," to monitor weekly sermons inside of mosques, even where there was no evidence of wrongdoing.
Muslim leaders, gathered at a Wednesday press conference at the offices of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, called the allegations a “shocking” betrayal of the fragile trust Muslims and law enforcement have worked to build since 9/11.
Aisha H. L. al-Adawiya, founder of Women in Islam, said for years the NYPD and other local agencies have pledged to work hand-in-hand with the Muslim community.
On Tuesday night she and other Muslim leaders attended an iftar — a dinner to break the fast during Ramadan — hosted by Mayor Michael Bloomberg at Gracie Mansion, where she said Muslims were “embraced and given all accolades.”
To wake up Wednesday morning to the AP report was “deeply offensive,” al-Adawiya said.
“We feel completely violated,” she said. “We were stabbed in the back, quite literally.”
CAIR called on the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate the allegations and wants City Council to hold hearings on the matter.
But Browne, the NYPD’s top spokesman, defended the city’s tactics and denied any wrongdoing.
“Even for a piece driven by anonymous NYPD critics, [the AP story] shows that we're doing all we reasonably can to stop terrorists from killing even more New Yorkers,” he said in a statement, adding that anything the NYPD has done was within the Constitution’s bounds.
“We don’t apologize for it and we’re not deterred by petit jealousies that success sometimes breeds," he said. "We’re going to do all we reasonably can to keep New York safe."
Browne also denied that cops engage in any type of “trolling” and dismissed the idea of “mosque crawlers” as a fabrication. He said counter-terrorism officers work like any others, following leads to determine whether investigations or arrests are justified.
Using these tactics, he said the Intelligence Division and its undercover agents have halted several potentially devastating attacks, including an alleged plot to plant explosive devices at the Herald Square subway station and a conspiracy to bomb Manhattan synagogues.
There have been at least 13 terror plots against the city since 9/11, including Khalid Sheikh Mohammed’s alleged plot to take down the Brooklyn Bridge — all of which the agency has managed to thwart, he said.
Peter Vallone Jr. — head of the City Council’s Public Safety Committee, which oversees the city’s police operations — also defended the NYPD’s domestic counter-terrorism efforts as both necessary and effective.
“I’m aware of their activities, and what they’re doing they’re legally allowed to do,” said Vallone, who said he is regularly briefed by Police Commissioner Ray Kelly on the department's counter-terrorism efforts.
While some might object to NYPD tactics, such as looking through the histories of computers at Internet cafes, Vallone said that officers are legally allowed to observe a mosque sermon, public meeting or website, just like members of the public.
“That may make people upset but that doesn’t make it a violation of anyone’s rights,” he said, adding that, to his knowledge, intelligence gathering is only done with “reasonable" suspicion.
“The police go where they reasonably believe the terrorists are,” Vallone said, arguing that cops lack the resources to do anything else.
“Maybe they should infiltrate a few sewing clubs in order to be politically correct," he quipped.
But Gadeir Abbas, a staff attorney with CAIR, said he believes that, if true, the tactics outlined in the report likely cross the legal line.
“Police are supposed to investigate crimes. Here they’re not investigating crime, they’re investigating communities, and that very likely violates the First Amendment rights of Muslim-Americans," said Abbas, who said he frequently receives phone calls from Muslims who’ve been approached by police about becoming informants.
He said CAIR will consider legal action against the city unless the tactics are shut down.
“Ideally, what would happen is this program is exposed for what it is: a despicable, unconscionable waste of taxpayer money, and the city of New York shuts it down,” he said. “If that doesn’t happen, we’ll have to explore other options."
So far the city’s top elected officials have remained mum on allegations.
Marc Lavorgna, a spokesman for the mayor, referred all questions about the report to the NYPD — including the extent of the Mayor's knowledge of NYPD counter-terrorism intelligence-gathering.
A spokeswoman for City Council Speaker Christine Quinn referred all requests for comment to Vallone.