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Guest Host: Tom Gjelten
Americans have long debated how much liberty is worth giving up for the sake of security. The Cold War, Vietnam War and Watergate all hold cautionary tales about unchecked government surveillance power. Then 9/11 happened. Suddenly, many Americans were willing to agree to whatever was deemed necessary to prevent another terrorist attack on U.S. soil. A new book by two investigative reporters reignites the debate. They expose a vast spying unit set up within the New York Police Department after 9/11. All Muslims were treated as potential criminals and mosques were designated terrorist hubs. Guest host Tom Gjelten talks with the authors about the reach of government surveillance in the U.S.
From ENEMIES WITHIN: Inside the NYPD’s Secret Spying Unit and Bin Laden’s Final Plot Against America by Matt Apuzzo and Adam Goldman. Copyright © 2013 by A&G Books, Inc. Reprinted by permission of Touchstone, a Division of Simon & Schuster, Inc.
MR. TOM GJELTENThanks for joining us. I'm Tom Gjelten of NPR, and I'm sitting in for Diane Rehm because she's on vacation. In the last few months, stories about the NSA's surveillance activities have reminded us how much privacy we have surrendered for the sake of national security. The debate over the balance between protecting liberty and fighting terrorism is at the center of a new book by two Pulitzer Prize winning investigative reporters.
MR. TOM GJELTENThey describe a secret spying unit set up by the New York Police Department after 9/11. Very controversial, and what's more, the authors say it didn't make New Yorkers or the rest of us any safer. The book is "Enemies Within: Inside the NYPD's Secret Spying Unit and Bin Laden's Final Plot Against America." It's written by Matt Apuzzo and Adam Goldman, and they join me here in the studio. Welcome.
MR. MATT APUZZOThanks.
MR. ADAM GOLDMANThanks for having us.
GJELTENOf course, today is the 12th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. I'm sure many of you are remembering that day. We'd like you to be part of this important conversation. Our number is 800-433-8850. Our email is firstname.lastname@example.org and you can always find us on Facebook or Twitter. So, I'm gonna say here, first, that you do not question the danger represented by Al Qaeda inspired terrorism. The last words of your sub title are "Bin Laden's Final Plot Against America."
GOLDMANThat's true. Matt and I cover the CIA and FBI in Washington, and we realize there's a real threat. There's a threat from abroad and there's also a threat from the so called home grown radicals.
GJELTENWell, talk about this plot that is the sub title of your book. "Bin Laden's Final Plot Against America." Matt Apuzzo, tell us about this plot, who is behind it, what the plan was.
APUZZOSure. This was a pretty audacious plot. Three men led by an Afghan American named Najabul Azzazi, in the fall of 2009, set their sights on blowing up the New York City subway system. And these are three guys who, you know, they come from immigrant families, basically raised in Queens, pretty Americanized guys, who, over the course of years became pretty disenchanted with American foreign policy.
APUZZOAnd they actually set out, they got on an airplane, and they set out to try to join the Taliban. They wanted to -- they had these sort of delusions of grandeur. They were gonna go grab AK-47s and get out to the front lines. And, just sort of by happenstance, these three guys, when they get out to Northwest Pakistan, they just sort of stumble into the hands of Al Qaeda, and end up at a training camp being trained in bomb making by one of Osama Bin Laden's top deputies.
APUZZOSo, you know, part of this story is, you know, 2009, suddenly these guys pop up on the grid and it's a chase. It's how the hell are we gonna save these guys? How are we gonna stop this attack? What are they planning? Who are they working for? You know, who else is involved? And it's the intelligence machine, the counterterrorism machine going full throttle for 48 hours.
GJELTENOkay. That's the plot. Let's talk about that intelligence machine. Let's talk about, in the aftermath of 9/11, how that counterterrorism mission was organized, who were the players, who were the agencies, how did they cooperate? What was that machine that Matt just described, Adam?
GOLDMANWell, the machine is called a joint terrorism task force, and that's the vehicle in which the federal government investigates terrorism and thwarts terrorism domestically. All the players are at that table. CIA, NSA, FBI, in New York it's the Port Authority. The NYPD in New York as 120 detectives on it. It's the largest in the country. And to thwart this particular attack, they went full speed, as Matt said.
GOLDMANAnd, beyond that, it really activated the whole machine in the United States, not only in New York but also in Denver. The CIA abroad was involved, the Brits were instrumental in this, so it was all the major players coming together to take down this guy, Najabul Azzazi.
GJELTENComing together? Did they really come together, Matt?
APUZZOWell, after 9/11, the NYPD decided you know what, we're gonna play with the FBI, and we're gonna play with the CIA, but the FBI hadn't really been good partners pre-9/11, and we saw...
GJELTENGood partners to the local police?
APUZZOTo the local police departments, pre-9/11. And Ray Kelly, the Police Commissioner, decided that, you know what, he needed a special intelligence unit that was gonna go its own way. It was gonna develop its own intelligence. And he recruited, out of retirement, a veteran CIA officer named Dave Cohen, who had actually risen to be the Deputy Director For Operations, which is America's top spy.
APUZZOAnd so this was a guy who's trained in the arts of subverting laws overseas and operating where the Constitution doesn't apply. And we put him in a municipal police department. There's never been anything like it. And they created this new intelligence division and they created programs, many of them modeled after the CIA programs. And working hand in glove with the CIA, that actually put entire neighborhoods, entire communities under surveillance, in ways that, frankly, would be off limits to the federal government.
GJELTENYou know, let's delve into that a little bit. There are a couple of passages in your book where I think you really, clearly lay out what it is we're talking about. You're saying they had put entire neighborhoods, basically, under surveillance. And, as we said in the intro, basically, if you're a Muslim, you're a suspect. If you go to a Mosque...
APUZZOYou're fair game.
GJELTENYou're fair game. Let's read. Adam, why don't you take the first thing? We're talking here -- well, why don't you introduce the segment? What it is, what is this policy, this new policy, this new practice that the NYPD intel unit is putting in place?
GOLDMANWell, they're looking for terrorism indicators, and it starts off with identifying people who might be from 28 countries, ancestries of interest.
GJELTENAncestries of interest? Boy, that phrase itself is kind of ominous, isn't it? I mean, ancestries of interest. In other words, your nationality is something that, sort of, is gonna be held (unintelligible) you right off the bat.
GOLDMANRight. If you were from Syria, Afghanistan, Pakistan, you know? That's important to them. And one of them was Black American.
APUZZOYeah. American Black Muslim.
GOLDMANAmerican Black Muslim which, of course, isn't an ancestry. And they looked at these people, and they were curious about rhetoric. Were people grow -- they were interested in facial hair. You know, were you growing a beard? Were you becoming more religious? And they started going after these people, essentially.
GJELTENAnd you have a selection here where you're talking about that.
GOLDMANYeah. And they looked at a couple of things. They looked at Mohammad Atta, who had gone through this radicalization. Of course, he was one of the hijackers on 9/11. And they also, you know, they looked at his history as a road map to going forward. And one of the persons who was instrumental in this was a guy by the name of Larry Sanchez. And Larry Sanchez was at the CIA, but George Tenet, who was then the director of the CIA, brought him over.
GOLDMANAnd Cohen made him his right hand man. And they dreamed up many of these...
APUZZOWhile he was on the CIA payroll.
GOLDMANWhile he was -- so, and I'll read the passage. "Profiling is a loaded word in policing, because it conjures images of white cops pulling over young black men and searching for guns or drugs. Racial profiling uses race as a stand in for behavior. That driver is probably up to no good because he's black. But racial profiling and behavioral profiling are different. The FBI, for instance, builds profiles of serial killers through its Behavioral Analysis Unit.
GOLDMANAnd while such social science has not been immune from criticism, these profiles have been credited with helping solve crimes and catch killers. Sanchez envisioned a similar role for the NYPD, but with an importance difference. It would not wait until a crime was committed. He wanted NYPD detectives to be the surrogates for all the people who had missed the significance of Atta's growing radicalization. It was an audacious plan because the behaviors to be profiled were common, not only to Atta and his murderous friends, but also to a huge population of innocent people.
GOLDMANMost café customers, gym members, college kids and pub customers were not terrorists. Most devout Muslims weren't either. Nevertheless, Cohen liked the idea. He compared it to raking an extinguished fire pit. Most coals would be harmless and gray, but rake them carefully and you might find a smoldering ember, a hot spot waiting to catch fire."
GJELTENSo, this is this practice that you describe as raking, where they would -- you know, and it's sort of the antecedent, it seems to me, of this idea of, you know, you look for the haystack, you know? If you want the needle, you first have to look at the haystack. So, they're raking in all this data, all this information about people based on their behavior, and what, finally, did it produce? And that's the second segment that I want you to read. This one is yours, Matt.
APUZZOAnd, just by way setup, what they did was they created this unit called the Demographics Unit. And they would send plain clothes officers out into the community, typically officers of Arab descent, and they would just hang out. And they'd listen, and they'd eavesdrop on conversations in delis and out halal butchers and whatever, and write down what they heard. And then they would summarize all of these businesses. Who owned them? Who were the clientele? What were they hearing?
APUZZOAnd there was some criticism inside the police department, inside the Demographics Unit. People were like, look I feel a bit weird about this. You know, I'm an Arab American and I'm helping put people in files. So, I'll read here. "The truth was that raking didn't eliminate anybody from a list. It contributed to the NYPD's growing files. One Brooklyn business, that the NYPD labeled a Bangladeshi hot spot, for example, was a restaurant named Janook.
APUZZOThe list of quote, alleged activities, included being quote, a popular location for political activities and attracting a quote, devout crowd. The Nile Valley Grocery in Brooklyn was noted simply as a medium size grocery, owned by a person of Syrian descent. Milestone Park, in Brooklyn's Bensonhurst neighborhood, was labeled a location of concern because it attracted middle aged Albanian men from the neighborhood. Quote, this location is most frequented during the early afternoons when Albanians get together for a game of chess, backgammon or just to have a conversation. "
GJELTENMatt Apuzzo is reading from the new book that he authored with Adam Goldman. It's "Enemies Within: Inside the NYPD's Secret Spying Unit and Bin Laden's Final Plot Against America." And the point here, Adam, is that in spite of this huge effort to monitor an entire demographic segment, it really didn't produce much of interest.
GOLDMANNo, not at all. And, in fact, the NYPD admitted that under oath in a federal lawsuit. They did compile a lot of information, probably the best ethnic restaurants to eat in New York City. But, when it mattered most, it was, a point we make in the case of Najabul Azzazi, these files that they kept on, let's be clear, on Americans, these files they kept on Americans, didn't help them thwart this plot.
GJELTENYou know, we know that, and you've covered the CIA, we know the CIA is not supposed to spy on Americans, and we don't have a case here of the CIA spying on Americans, but we have former CIA people using the techniques, the knowledge, the expertise, the mentality that they brought to bear on their foreign intelligence mission. And even though they're no longer at the agency, they are now doing the same thing in New York.
GJELTENWe're gonna continue this discussion. We're gonna take a short break now. Please stay tuned.
GJELTENAnd welcome back. I'm Tom Gjelten sitting in today for Diane Rehm. And of course this is the 12th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks and we're talking about one of the responses to those attacks which was the sort of the swing towards more intrusive surveillance, more intrusive policing in an effort to prevent another terrorist attack. Matt Apuzzo and Adam Goldman have documented one very important case in this regard in their book "Enemies Within: Inside the NYPD's Secret Spying Unit and bin Laden's Final Plot Against America." And Matt and Adam join me here in the studio.
GJELTENAnd just before the break, guys, we were talking about the fact that this intelligence unit within the New York City Police Department, which is of course a law enforcement body, was in many ways directed by either former or current CIA people. And what was the implications of that, Adam? I mean, as we said, the CIA's not supposed to spy on Americans. What's the significance of the CIA officers, former or current, being involved in this episode?
GOLDMANWell, the implications are huge we think because you're taking people who aren't trained to build criminal cases and you're putting them in a police department. And they're doing what they know how to do which is spy and spy on people. And that led to a change in mentality in the intelligence division itself. One of them, Larry Sanchez, in fact was actually on the CIA payroll while he was with the NYPD. And Sanchez himself was directing NYPD detectives.
GJELTENAnd is that legal?
GOLDMANWell, after our stories broke initially on this, the CIA's inspector general did an investigation. And he found that nobody had broken any laws but, you know, people had crossed the line, perhaps not criminally, in terms of gathering intelligence. And you know what? This just looks really bad for the CIA.
APUZZOAnd there had been no rules. That was the other thing. When we sent this guy from the CIA up to the NYPD and we didn't have a memorandum understanding. We didn't know what his job was going to be. He had access to the CIA's computers, he had access to the NYPD's computers. He was directing surveillance on Americans but while he was wearing the NYPD hat. It hadn't been well thought out, hadn't been well considered and it hadn't been well documented. So, you know, that was the sort of postmortem on that.
GJELTENWell, let's, you know, go back to this issue of the mentality -- the different mentalities between intelligence agencies and law enforcement agencies. I mean, the truth is, right, that Americans don't care as much about catching terrorists as they do about preventing terrorist from carrying out another attack. So isn't it sort of a normal reaction for a government agency to want to prevent something from happening rather than just, you know, go after the guys that did it after it's happened?
GOLDMANWell, that's fine if you're talking overseas because that's what the CIA does. They disrupt terrorism attacks overseas. And the last thing the CIA wants to do is get any of their information in a court of law where it might reveal sources to methods. But here in the United States, it's -- we just don't disrupt attacks. We prosecute people and we build criminal cases. And there has to be rules of law when we're doing that.
APUZZOAnd you want to do both. I mean, nobody's saying, well let's just sit back and wait for there to be an attack and then we'll just arrest the guys. I mean, that's classic pre 9/11, right?
APUZZOI mean, everybody in the NYPD and the FBI and ATF did a great job unraveling the first World Trade Center attack. I mean, you know, they found the VIN number on the engine block, I mean, traced it back to the guy who rented the van. It was just incredible police work, you know. But it was a turning point. This was ideal like, wow we're really good at police work but we didn't have a chance. You know, at the NYPD we didn't have a chance to stop this because we didn't have the information. So we're going to try to get our own information.
APUZZOAnd that's the genesis of this and it's completely the right -- I mean, of course we want to prevent terrorist attacks. What we're trying to do is say, and this is what's been done. You know, we're 12 years out. This is where we've come with that mentality. And we took a look at the Zazi case which is this incredibly exciting, you know, real terrorism case. And we said, well look, well did it work when it mattered most? Did it make us safer?
GJELTENWell, the subway bombing never took place.
APUZZOIt didn't but...
GJELTENExplain how that -- what did work in this case?
GOLDMANWell, what happened was the British rated a house in Manchester. And on the computer was an email to an al-Qaida operative in Pakistan, email@example.com. And the British shared that information with the NSA and we went up on that email. The NSA went up on that email. And Zazi, one day in September of 2009, sends an email to this al-Qaida operative, you know, using words that had been used prior to 9/11. You know, the wedding is ready. And he was asking about the recipe of a bomb (word?) and flour. And as soon as he sent that email, boom, you know, the NSA alerted the CIA. CIA alerted the FBI and they went at it.
GJELTENOkay. I'm going to read what you say here. The email address that had been traced back to Pakistan was without question an operation al-Qaida address. There was no doubt about that. The CIA officials did not reveal that the NSA had been using a highly classified program called PRISM to monitor the address, but such details didn't matter to the FBI agents. First of all, the news of the PRISM program only came out like, you know, a couple of months ago. How did you get that in your book so quickly? As a writer I'm just wondering about that first of all.
APUZZOWell, we knew -- everybody who's been paying attention to the post 9/11 NSA authorities knew that after 9/11 the NSA was giving -- frankly in just recent years the NSA was given this authority to monitor email addresses that might be foreign -- people foreign -- foreigners might be using them but they're based -- like this yahoo account, based in the United States. We didn't know the name when we just sort of had that sentence without the name. And then of course Edward Snowden announced to the world that this program had a name. It's called PRISM.
APUZZOSo we lashed at it and that word and just...
GJELTENAll you had to do is add one word, yeah.
APUZZOBut the truth of this is, let's go backwards. Pre-9/11, that email comes in. If that email gets shared, the FBI with its original FISA authorities from the 1970s could go up on that email instantaneously. Because there was -- I mean, there was no question it was an active al-Qaida email address. You know, they didn't need any sort of special program to go up on the email. It just so happens in this case that PRISM was the program that was used to carry out these authorities that would've been totally fine. So it's a little be disingenuous for the government now to say, see without PRISM we never would've caught Zazi.
APUZZOYou know, they just -- they caught him with PRISM but -- well, they discovered him with PRISM but they would've already discovered him anyway. Those authorities existed.
GJELTENOkay, Adam. This is a really important point because, as you both know, the Zazi case has been Exhibit A in the NSA and the Director of National Intelligence effort to explain and justify this email surveillance program that they call PRISM. What -- from your point of view, what's the truth there of how important -- and Matt just sort of gave his view on this issue but I want you to weigh in as well -- you know, what should we think of the NSA and the Director of National Intelligence citing the Zazi case as evidence for why this email surveillance was so important?
GOLDMANWell, Matt touched on it but the second half of this is, when Zazi flew to Peshawar, Pakistan with his two friends Zarein Ahmedzay and Adis Medunjanin, they landed in Peshawar. And the -- when he sent that email to al-Qaida, the FBI was almost, you know, within 24 hours able to learn that he had been on the plane with two buddies from Flushing. They didn't need the boat records. They didn't need the two...
APUZZOThe phone records.
GOLDMAN...the phone records. They didn't need the 215 authorities to figure out that Zazi was doing this with these two guys. So there's nothing, from what we found and what we know in talking to people involved in this, they didn't need PRISM or the telephone metadata to crack this case.
GJELTENOkay. So previously earlier in this hour we were saying that this Demographics Unit that was analyzing the behavior and investigating Muslims purely on the basis of their ancestries and their behavior, that that didn't work, that that didn't produce any useful thing. And now you're saying in addition the federal government's use of these surveillance powers wasn't actually what produced the break in this case either.
APUZZOIt wasn't essential.
GOLDMANNo, it wasn't essential. You know what was essential in this case? Traditional law enforcement skills. You know, getting somebody to confess. That was essential.
APUZZOYou know what else was essential? Collaboration and this is really -- thank God we're -- you know we're 12 years after 9/11. This doesn't read -- this book -- this -- as you said, the subway doesn't blow up at the end, right? So we all know that. The great thing about this book is we can look at it through the lens, though the prism of 9/11 and say, you know, geez isn't it great that the British shared this information with NSA which shared this information with CIA which shared the information with FBI within, you know, almost instantaneously. And then the police work started on the ground that ended up disrupting this plot.
GOLDMANAnd there was a little luck too. If Zazi hadn't sent that email, thousands might've died that day in those subways.
GJELTENIt could've been that bad.
GOLDMANIt could -- hundreds of thousands, yeah. I mean, the plan was they were going to detonate suicide vests in the subways during rush hour, 3:00, 4:00, 5:00, you know, in the tunnels. They would've been trapped. You know, the secondary -- the splinters from the seats, the shards of metal, it would've been just horrific. And anybody who's been on a subway can just imagine what that would've been like.
APUZZOI mean, rush hour in New York City?
GJELTENUm-hum. I want to read a little exchange that we pulled off our Facebook page here. Cindy posts this, "If you aren't doing anything wrong you shouldn't be worried. Get over it already." To which Liz responded, "That's one of the most common statements that tyrants like to promote to make people voluntarily give up their freedoms to make the tyrants' takeover even easier." Well, I don't know if we want to go so far as to say that the -- either the New York Police Department or the federal government is a tyrant here. But, you know, we're seeing here, this is the debate, isn't it?
APUZZOOh, yeah. And, you know, the argument of if you're not doing anything wrong what do you have to worry about, that -- we might decide as a people that we'll accept that for a Demographics Unit that just goes out and eavesdrops. Will we describe it -- will we accept it if we say, you know what? If you don't have drugs in your house, why do you mind if the police come in nightly and do random house raids without warrants? I mean, at some point we say as a people, you know what, even if you're doing nothing wrong you deserve to not be bothered.
APUZZOAnd the question I think, not just about the NYPD but for all these intelligence programs are where do we, as a people, want to draw the line? Where do we want to set the marker down? And you can't knowingly make that decision if you don't have any idea what you've given up and you have no idea what you're getting in return. So the social contract doesn't work without discussions like this.
GJELTENSo I just read this exchange on our Facebook page. If you want to join the conversation, remember our phone number is 800-433-8850. Our email address is firstname.lastname@example.org because we do want to get other people involved in this conversation. So bring us up to date. Where do things stand right now, Adam? Does the New York Police Department's -- is this intelligence unit within the New York Police Department still operating? Does it still have the support of New York City authorities? Are they well funded? Where are things at right today?
GOLDMANThey're well funded. Ray Kelly boasted earlier this summer in the Wall Street Journal that nothing has changed. there had been some small changes. The CIA no longer has an operative inside the NYPD. They changed the Demographics Unit to the Zone Assessment Unit. We write in the book that, you know, they realize that name was probably politically incorrect. And Kelly was worried about it so they changed the name of it.
GOLDMANAs our book came out and we wrote more stories, it caught the attention of some of the candidates running for mayor in New York City. And Bill De Blasio who I believe is the winner -- or could be the winner, maybe the runoff...
GJELTENRight. You got the -- it could be an off.
GJELTENHe's got the most votes so...
GOLDMANRight, he's got the most votes so far. I mean, he said he's heard from the African American community. He's heard from Muslims in New York City. And they're deeply concerned about these programs and the invasiveness of these programs. And he said he's going to review the NYPD's Intelligence Division.
APUZZOAnd I just want to make one point. You know, not that it necessarily should matter but surveillance is sort of habit forming, right. These programs began and they looked at mosques. They designated entire mosques as terrorism organizations which allowed them to do recordings inside mosques and collect license plates of everybody that showed up at mosques.
APUZZOBut you know what? We also found that, you know, in chasing these sort of relatively ambiguous leads, they were going -- they were flying detectives -- undercover detectives out to New Orleans to go to conferences for liberal advocacy groups and putting people in files who were, you know, Palestinian advocacy groups, people who were organizing labor unions for nannies. They put people in files who were going to boycott businesses over the shooting of an unarmed teenager by the NYPD.
APUZZOSo when you have this apparatus, I think the concern is what are you going to point it to? And some of the things we saw in the files, they were -- this Demographics Unit was putting in files -- I was sitting in a restaurant and these two men were talking about the State of the Union Address, and here's what they said. I mean...
GJELTENThat's an example of what was in the file.
APUZZOYeah. And when asked why that was criminally suspect they said, well they were talking about it in Urdu. It's not a joke. I mean, they were literally like, well they're talking about it in Urdu so we had to put it in the file so we would know.
GOLDMANThis is the commander of the -- the commanding officer of the Intelligence Division testifying to this.
GJELTENSo Adam, what kind of -- you know, one of the things that we've learned from the NSA controversy is -- and the NSA itself and the Director of National Intelligence office has emphasized that oversight is important for surveillance programs. What kind of oversight was in place -- oversight mechanism for the New York Police Department's Intelligence Unit?
GOLDMANWell, as far as we can tell, outside of the police department, there really wasn't any.
GJELTENThere wasn't any.
GOLDMANRay Kelly likes to say, well, we have lawyers inside the police department, there are two U.S. attorneys, there are five DAs in the boroughs. But those people aren't telling Ray Kelly and Dave Cohen in the Intelligence Division what they can investigate or not. And within the city council there was effectively no oversight. I mean, the committee charged with providing oversight, the Public Safety Committee, they had no idea what was going on.
GOLDMANAnd let's just make a point here. This isn't -- I mean, the NYPD is bigger than the FBI. It is a massive municipal police department that is not only operating domestically. They're operating overseas. And I'm not just talking about some of these detectives they post in France or Singapore who aren't affiliated with embassies. They are running overseas operations, intelligence operations that involve undercovers and informants. I mean, this is -- it's extraordinary.
GJELTENMatt, you write in this book, the NYPD says it's all been legal and it might be right. So if it was legal, what's the big issue here?
APUZZOSo that's a great question. And you see a very similar line from President Obama and from Mayor Blumberg in New York. When they talk about it they say, hey look, it's all legal. Everything we're doing is legal. That's not really the discussion, right. I mean, rendition is legal. The Supreme Court has said indefinite detention is legal. These are things that we still need to talk about. We still need to talk about these things.
GOLDMANThe water boardings.
APUZZORight. I mean, nobody's going to jail for water boarding. I mean, this isn't a question of like, wow they broke the law. They should go to jail. It's a question of, we need to have these conversations. They might be right that this is all legal. It's more a question of what have we made legal? What have we institutionalized and how can a people consent to it if they don't know about it?
GOLDMANAnd how do we know it's effective?
GJELTENThat's the issue. Does it work? And you suggest in your book that there are some very serious questions about whether these questionable practices, legal or not, are effective. The book is "Enemies Within: Inside the NYPD's Secret Spying Unit and bin Laden's Final Plot Against America." The authors are Matt Apuzzo and Adam Goldman. And after we take a short break we're going to go to the phones. A lot of people have questions for Matt and Adam, so stay tuned. I'm Tom Gjelten.
GJELTENWelcome back. I'm Tom Gjelten sitting in today for Diane Rehm with Matt Apuzzo and Adam Goldman. They're the authors of a new book "Enemies Within: Inside the NYPD's Secret Spying Unit and bin Laden's Final Plot Against America." One of the reviewers says, "Enemies Within combines the quick-paced storytelling of a mystery novel with the intellectual altitude of intelligence experts." So, you know, this was -- this is -- the plot that Matt and Adam refer to could've been a devastating plot to blow up the New York City subways.
GJELTENThe New York Police Department, the FBI and even some officers on loan from the CIA went about trying to break up this plot. And what this book does and does effectively is sort of assess what methods were used in that effort, were they successful, were they not successful and what values were compromised perhaps as a result of some of those efforts? I want to read some emails that we've already gotten in response to this conversation and then we'll go to the phones because the lines are all full already.
GJELTENLeslie from Charlotte writes in an email, "When the Boston bombers got caught everyone is asking how did they slip through the radar? Why didn't we see the warning signs with these guys? Yet we don't want surveillance. We can't have our cake and eat it too." Matt.
APUZZOYeah, so the Boston bombings are interesting. And there's been a lot of recriminations about, you know, well why didn't the FBI do more? I mean, they opened up an assessment, which is sort of the first level of an investigation. And they didn't find any criminal activity and they closed the case. And there's been some criticism where they say, well, you know, you should've done more. Do we want the FBI to just sort of keep open-ended cases on Americans with no criminal behavior?
APUZZOThe question I guess is, do we want an increased level of surveillance in people's mosques, in people's neighborhood to try to discover these sorts of things? And from what we've been able to tell and at least from what we've seen publicly, there wasn't any necessary indication that they were planning to blow up the Boston Marathon beforehand. Certainly we would've -- people would've loved to have seen the surveillance that the Russians had that were never shared with us, the intercepts that were done overseas.
APUZZOBut from what we've seen, there hasn't been any indication that a Demographics Unit in Boston would have stopped these guys because frankly the Demographic Unit in Boston didn't stop Najibullah Zazi, the subway bomber in New York City.
GJELTENThe Demographics Unit in New York didn't...
APUZZOAnd you are correct.
GJELTENYeah. Chris writes, "The problem with profiling is that it uses up a tremendous amount of resources without producing useful results. People who justify profiling as a tactic, skip over the fact that law enforcement has limited resources. And when you waste them on tactics that don't work, you're making society less safe not more safe." Chris wants to know if you agree. I think I know the answer to that question. You agree. Let's go now to James who's on the line from Silver Spring, Md. Good morning, James. Thanks for calling "The Diane Rehm Show."
JAMESHi, good morning. First, I want to thank your guests for pursuing what I think is the highest calling of their profession in a democratic society. I look forward to reading the book. I've been a grassroots organizer on the left for the better part of 20 years. And at the time of 9/11 I was really involved in the so-called anti-globalization movement. And when that movement started to morph into an antiwar movement after 9/11, in the years following it we started to get these little pieces of information from journalists, from lawyers, civil rights -- civil liberties organizations about what municipal police departments all over the country were doing.
JAMESI don't have a bunch of facts right in front of me right at the moment but one case that springs to mind was I believe it was Denver, Colorado where there was basically a McCarthy era style red squad in the local police department that was monitoring infiltrating, you know, peace organizations, the little old ladies holding peace signs in their weekly vigils against the Iraq war and such like. And I wonder if your guests could sort of compare and contrast and highlight any connections...
JAMES...between NPYD's programs...
GJELTENAnd other police departments.
JAMES...and these programs that spring up all over the country in the wake of 9/11.
GJELTENRight. Adam, as you said, the response -- sort of the organizational response to 9/11 was the creation of these joint terrorism task force that did bring local police departments together with federal law enforcement agencies. Do you know -- do either of you know of other examples of local police departments that developed an intelligence capability in the aftermath of 9/11?
GOLDMANWell, I think there were other police departments that talked about what they were willing to do. I know the LAPD, at one point there was a conversation about whether they were going to, you know, get involved in, you know, something similar to the Demographics Unit and literally map the human terrain of LA. I think there were -- within Los Angeles there was some pushback from the community once they found out and that didn't go anywhere.
GOLDMANI mean, one of the things the book explores is how they do counterterrorism on the local level in Denver, because that's where Najibullah Zazi was living when he sent the email. And they approach it differently than the NYPD. You know, the NYPD had a long history of spying on activists. You know, they had their own red squad. They had a black desk and...
APUZZOTo investigate black issues in the '60s and '70s.
GOLDMAN...and because of that some lefty lawyers found out about it and they brought a case against -- they sued the NYPD. And a federal judge imposed guidelines, certain restrictions on the NYPD because of that.
GJELTENLet's go now to Ken who's on the line from Cincinnati, Ohio. Good morning, Ken. Thanks for calling "The Diane Rehm Show."
KENGood morning. Hey, I just wanted to add to the conversation when you were talking earlier about the -- you know, why people should care if they're not doing anything wrong. And my concern is and I would always respond to people was, well ultimately all this information and data needs to be interpreted by somebody, not just computers. I mean, somebody's ultimately got to make a decision whether to take action. And I think the dangerous part is misinterpretation.
KENYou know, you're gathering data and you may be pulling people in who are completely innocent. And, you know, even if you are released, just going through that process of being interrogated or, you know, questioned, it can be very hard on people. And I think, you know, I want to preserve my rights. You know, I'm not doing anything wrong. I expect a certain amount of privacy. You know, this is a little off the wall, you know. Hey, when I'm in a bathroom, I'm not doing anything wrong but I don't want anyone knowing -- you know, I don't want anybody watching me either.
APUZZOYeah, that's a good one. I like that one.
GJELTENWell, and Ken raised this point of, you know, once you're surveilled, once they have data on you, you know, it's out of your control and they can interpret your actions, your behavior, you know, according to maybe some preconceptions or something, Adam.
GOLDMANYeah, I mean, look at in the police files that were leaked to us in the NYPD. I mean, they are interpreting Shia rhetorics, Sunni rhetoric. I mean, that's just -- that's something, right. I mean, these are centuries old debates. And they're also interpreting political rhetoric. And the problem with this, well if you're not doing anything wrong it doesn't matter, in the case of New York and the Muslim community, they are fearful. They are fearful of expressing political views in mosques. They feel it's chilled their ability -- it's chilled their free speech.
GJELTENWell, it's chilled their free speech. I'm curious about what it has done to their willingness to cooperate with law enforcement because of course many Muslims want to -- or have wanted to cooperate with law enforcement. It's not in their interests that, you know, radical Islamists in their midst do things that embarrass or shame the entire community. What's been the affect on the willingness of the Muslim community in New York to cooperate with law enforcement as a result, Matt, of these practices that you have documented in this book?
APUZZOWell, the head of the FBI in New Jersey -- the NYPD was running some of these operations in New Jersey -- and after we brought it to light the head of the FBI there actually gathered reporters around and said, listen this is actually making our state less safe. It's make it more dangerous because, you know, we are isolating people who we absolutely count on to be partners with us who have been great partners and you're isolating them.
APUZZOAnd just to echo the point you made about interpretations. After they built these programs in the NYPD, Larry Sanchez who is again from the CIA who helped build these programs, went down to congress and testified before the Senate Homeland Committee. And was asked how they go about doing the counterterrorism in New York. And he said, you know, we've realized that the NYPD has to view the First and Fourth Amendment -- First and Fourth Amendment activities a little bit differently. We need to view them through a lens that sees them as potential precursors for terrorism.
APUZZOAnd nobody said, hey, so how does the NYPD start reinterpreting the constitution here? And nobody said that. I mean, what Senator Julia (word?) said was, thank you very much. And nobody said how are you doing it and frankly nobody asked, well, if you're doing it why isn't the federal government doing this? And they were open about the fact, hey we go farther than what the federal government can do. Because, you know, we're trying to prevent people not just from blowing up the city. We want to protect you from yourself becoming a terrorist.
GJELTENAdam, you and Matt in this book quote verbatim conversations within highly classified settings. You clearly had a lot of sources for this book. I'm sure there are a lot of law enforcement and intelligence people who are not pleased by it. But clearly you had cooperation from some pretty important people on the inside here.
GOLDMANYeah, there were many people who were helpful to us. And people within the NYPD leaked us, you know, hundreds if not thousands of documents.
GJELTENWhy? Why did they?
GOLDMANFor a number of reasons. Some wanted to show us that, hey, this wasn't working. It was a waste of money. Others thought, hey, this isn't right. We shouldn't be doing this.
APUZZOSome were proud of it...
GOLDMANYeah, some were proud of it.
APUZZO...and wanted to explain it further.
GOLDMANYeah, and, you know, they were incredibly helpful from all different -- they spanned across the Intelligence Division. And then, you know, in our world, in our day jobs covering the CIA and the FBI, you know, I guess we've earned the trust of people in the intelligence community. They feel that we're thoughtful. And one of the great things about the book is we ended up getting a lot of people to go on the record.
GJELTENYou sure did.
GOLDMANWe got a lot of people -- it's not your typical Washington book.
GJELTENNo. And writing about these sensitive issues, that's not easy.
GOLDMANNo. And we used the -- you know, we judiciously used these leaked documents and we end them on the book and you can actually go up on our site EnemiesWithinBook.com and you can read the endnotes. You can read the secret files.
GJELTENWow, interesting. Let's go now to Carl who's on the line from Plano, Texas. Good morning, Carl.
CARLGood morning. You know, I think that we're doing a disservice to our country by not allowing profiles. You know, there are certain groups that have said that we want to destroy you. And if we ignore that fact and don't profile that particular group, it's going to be the downfall of our country.
APUZZOYeah, I think the issue is, you know, look nobody wants to be stupid about it, right. I mean, nobody should be -- nobody should -- for the FBI for instance, we talk a lot about the difference between the FBI and NYPD. The FBI does a lot of outreach, for instance, to Muslim communities. And, you know, they say, oh well, it's not counterterrorism, it's outreach. We're like, well you don't have a Scottish outreach program. I mean, you're not doing outreach to, you know, the British community.
APUZZOSo clearly, you know, there's a recognition that, as you said, what we're facing here in this post 9/11 world is a threat from, you know, fanatical Islamic terrorists. And that is the sort of primary bend. So we're not talking about not recognizing where the threat is coming from. We're talking about the specific tactics that are being used and not just saying whether we should or we shouldn't. Because this is exactly the conversation we should be having. The real question is, well when it mattered most, did it work?
GJELTENMatt Apuzzo and his partner Adam Goldman are Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reports for the Associated Press. They've received a George Polk Award and the Goldsmith Prize for investigative reporting among other honors for their work. I'm Tom Gjelten. You're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." And we just have a few minutes here. I want to get back to the phones if we can. I have Kirk on the line from Pensacola, Fla. Good morning, Kirk.
KIRKGood morning. Thank you for having me on your program.
GJELTENWell, what's your question or comment?
KIRKWell, my comment is that I think we might be doing a whole lot of damage to the so-called war on terrorism by roughing up and mistreating people that are innocent and they're not terrorists. I'm perhaps an environmental activist. I have been a photographer and my photography has uncovered a lot of truth. But I was caught in an airport not (unintelligible) I was just asking some questions. And I ended up being roughed up by a couple of men who worked there. They're civilians. I was detained.
KIRKI was abused and I was detained in the back of a patrol car for an extended period of time with my hands cuffed behind my back after I had more or less been beaten up. And, yeah, it's (unintelligible) ...
GJELTENSo your point -- I mean, sorry that happened, Kirk. What's your point?
KIRKMy point is that once you're treated like a suspected terrorist I think you start wondering, well maybe you should be a terrorist.
GJELTENThat's an interesting idea. I'm not sure -- that's quite a leap to make. I mean, obviously there is this process of radicalization. And the New York Police Department has done a lot of work in this area of what they call self radicalization, Matt.
APUZZOAnd certainly the point he's making of, you know, when you're isolated, right. I mean, when you're isolated that's dangerous. And whether it's -- whether 20 years ago we were worried that people who were isolated were going to join a gang and start selling drugs. And now whether we're worried about people who are going to be isolated and start becoming terrorism. That isolation from society is certainly a problem.
GOLDMANAnd I might make the point, you know, after spending an enormous amount of time studying these particular cases of radicalization, these guys are going down that path. And, you know, law enforcement's not -- they're not intervening. They're not -- they're not pulling them aside and saying, hey this is not a good thing to be doing, okay. We're watching you. Instead, they're throwing them in jail.
GJELTENThere's one other question that I wanted to ask before we leave the program. We've just got less than a minute left. Matt, I think you mentioned the informant inside the NYPD department. What happened -- how important was that informant to what they were doing and what happened to that informant?
APUZZOWell, there was a key informant, confidential informant 184 who was probably the key informant for the Intelligence Division and was paid maybe 100, $200,000. And when he was shared with the FBI, the FBI gave him a polygraph. And the polygraph went so badly, the FBI became so convinced that he was probably working for a foreign government that the NYPD killed the polygraph when it was over. And it's just an anecdote that just shows how, you know, we're trusting a lot of these people to point us in directions that -- you know, that put surveillance on American citizens who, you know, we don't necessarily totally understand their motives.
GJELTENAnd the -- any police department is not an expert at ferreting out who are the reliable informants and who aren't when it comes to...
APUZZOIntelligence is always tough.
GJELTEN...because that's not their expertise, is it? Well, this is the 12th anniversary of 9/11 and it's a good day to sort of reflect on what kind of balance we want to establish in this country between the preservation of liberty and civil liberties and privacy, or the effort to counter another terrorist attack. This book "Enemies Within: Inside the NYPD's Secret Spying Unit and bin Laden's Final Plot Against America," an important contribution to that debate. The authors are Matt Apuzzo and Adam Goldman, both investigative reporters for the Associated Press. I'm Tom Gjelten sitting in for Diane Rehm. Thanks for listening.
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