NYPD monitored American Muslim student activities across Northeast

The Takeaway

News of New York City Police surveillance of American Muslim students struck a blow to Jawad Rasul, one of the students who was named in the leaked report.

“It’s really heartbreaking because ... these things come out which really are a slap in the face to those of us who are trying to assimilate into this country and lose our foreign identity to become American,” Rasul said.

The report revealed that in the decade after Sept. 11, the NYPD monitored Muslim student activity at 13 colleges and universities across the Northeast including Buffalo University, over 300 miles outside the city.

The NYPD cyber intelligence unit closely followed individuals involved in Muslim Student Associations at the schools. The NYPD went so far as to place an undercover officer on a whitewater rafting trip organized by City College’s Muslim Student Association. Jawad Rasul gave the officer a ride.

Matt Apuzzo, one of the AP investigators who broke the story, was stunned by the extent to which the NYPD monitored the daily activities of students who were far outside their jurisdiction.

“These documents show that every day the NYPD was going onto these MSA websites, going onto blogs, email groups, and if you were posting, if you were active, you were written into these intelligence files that were addressed directly to [Police Commissioner] Ray Kelly,” Apuzzo said.

Police Spokesman Paul Browne defended the intelligence gathering programs, arguing that they are a critical component of the NYPD’s counter-terrorism efforts. In an email to the AP, Browne provided a list of 12 people who have been accused or convicted of terrorism charges that once belonged to Muslim Student Associations.

“As a result, the NYPD deemed it prudent to get a better handle on what was occurring at MSAs,” Browne wrote.

Across the river, public officials in New Jersey have attempted to distance themselves from the controversy. On Thursday, Newark Mayor Corey Booker called for a federal investigation of NYPD activity. In a statement, Booker denounced the surveillance of Muslim students and denied that the Newark police had been involved.

"I strongly believe that we must be vigilant in protecting our citizens from crime and terrorism, but to put large segments of a religious community under surveillance with no legitimate cause or provocation clearly crosses a line," Booker said.

WNYC reporter Bob Hennelly questions the Booker's statements. He argues Booker was fully aware of the NYPD activities and had supplied the NYPD with a Newark detective while they were working there.

Whether the Newark Police collaborated with the NYPD to infiltrate Muslim Student organizations in New Jersey, the reports illuminate how far the NYPD is willing to travel outside New York City to keep tabs on suspected terrorist activity.

“Since 1980 the FBI and the NYPD have had something called the Joint Terrorism Task Force,” Hennelly said. “That is the official way that the government pursues intelligence gathering. What’s interesting is that while the detectives of the NYPD are serving with the JTTF, they are deputized as U.S. Marshalls which means they can operate anywhere in the United States.”

According to Hennelly, ever since Sept. 11, NYPD guidelines have been modified even further, allowing for the department to follow any leads they believe will help them to inhibit terrorists.

On a talk radio show Friday morning Mayor Michael Bloomberg defended the NYPD’s actions.

“Reacting after the fact is not enough,” Bloomberg said. “Our first objective, is to prevent things from happening…and we’ve got to do everything that the law permits us to do to prevent another terrorist attack.”

Sign up for our daily newsletter

Sign up for The Top of the World, delivered to your inbox every weekday morning.