On Tuesday, Sen. Ted Cruz elaborated on his call to “patrol and secure” Muslim neighbourhoods in the United States, saying on CNN he would use the New York Police Department’s discontinued surveillance program as a model.
That program, implemented after the September 11, 2001, terror attacks, used undercover officers to infiltrate and surveil heavily Muslim neighbourhoods.
Cruz called the program “successful,” praised former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg for implementing it, and criticised current Mayor Bill de Blasio of having “succumbed to unfounded criticisms” when he abolished the program in 2014.
But the NYPD program was not a success. In a 2012 deposition, an assistant chief of the NYPD admitted that over six years the program had not led to a single terrorism lead or investigation, let alone any convictions.
A 2013 cover story in New York Magazine quoted NYPD Lieutenant Hector Berdecia, a former supervisor in the program. He damningly described how it involved paying undercover officers to sit in cafes frequented by Muslims, drinking tea and eating sweets at taxpayer expense, generating no useful intelligence to protect New Yorkers or fuel prosecutions.
As Matt Apuzzo and Adam Goldman wrote for New York, the restaurants NYPD officers chose to surveil were not necessarily terror trouble spots:
One frequent destination was the Kabul Kabob House in Flushing, Queens, which was owned by a soft-spoken blonde Persian woman named Shorah Dorudi, who fled Iran after the revolution in 1979. When Berdecia asked officers whether they suspected a threat that should be reported up the chain of command, he was told they were conducting routine follow-up visits. But a look at the reports showed nothing worth following up.
That’s when Berdecia realised that, in the hunt for terrorists, his detectives gravitated toward the best food.
There were some bona-fide terror threats in New York during the program’s existence. In 2009, for instance, the National Security Agency sought the NYPD’s help in investigating Najibullah Zazi, who later pleaded guilty to involvement in a plot to bomb New York’s subways.
But the NYPD’s surveillance efforts produced no useful information to offer the NSA, even though surveillance officers “had canvassed Zazi’s neighbourhood daily, and had even visited the travel agent where he bought his tickets between New York and Colorado,” wrote Apuzzo and Goldman.
Oh, and the city ended up having to pay $1.6 million to settle lawsuits over the surveillance program.
Some security policy issues involve genuine trade-offs between public safety and civil liberties. But New York’s defunct Muslim surveillance program was not one of them. It didn’t work, and there’s no reason to take it national.
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