Former Attorney General Michael Mukasey today defended New York Police Department surveillance tactics that civil liberties advocates and others claim violate privacy rights of citizens not suspected of any wrongdoing.
A series of reports in The Associated Press since August have explored the counterterrorism activity of the New York police intelligence division, revealing that city investigators in 2007 kept close tabs on Muslims in other cities, including in New Jersey. The reports said New York police investigated hundreds of mosques and Muslim student groups.
The NYPD intelligence division is doing “everything the law allows” to prevent another terror attack, said Mukasey, a Debevoise & Plimpton partner in New York. Federal and state law, he said, allows NYPD to study the evolution of terror cells both in the United States and abroad.
Mukasey, the keynote speaker this afternoon at an American Bar Association conference in Washington on homeland security, touted a handful of successful investigations and prosecutions, including the terror cases against Faisal Shahzad, the so-called Times Square bomber, and Najibullah Zazi, who plotted to bomb the New York City subway system.
“It’s a bit odd that these successes are not being universally celebrated,” said Mukasey, the last attorney general during the George W. Bush administration. “I would say there’s an ongoing campaign to undermine the good work of the intelligence division.”
Mukasey pinned blame on the press and on American Muslim groups that have criticized the surveillance activity.
“In part that campaign is also the work of people who you would hope would know better—people who write news for a living and some political leaders as well,” Mukasey said.
Mukasey also criticized groups that include the Council on American-Islamic Relations. CAIR earlier this month urged the Obama administration to investigation NYPD’s secret files on Muslim-owned businesses.
The group’s executive director said in a statement March 9 that “it is indisputable that the NYPD is engaged in a widespread campaign of religious profiling targeting the American Muslim community.”
Earlier this month, at a U.S. Senate Appropriations subcommittee hearing, Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) asked Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. about the propriety of the NYPD surveillance program.
In particular, Lautenberg questioned the extent to which New York law enforcement officials first contacted counterparts in New Jersey before initiating surveillance there.
“How can a long enforcement agency spy on another state’s residents without notifying the authorities?” Lautenberg said.
“I don't know,” Holder said. “We are in the process of reviewing the letters that have come in expressing concerns about those matters. There are various components within the Justice Department that are actively looking at these matters.”
Holder said New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a Republican, expressed to him the concerns that he had about the surveillance program.
“At least what I’ve read publicly—and again, just what I’ve read publicly in the newspapers—is disturbing and these are things that are under review at the Justice Department,” Holder said at the appropriations hearing.