Privacy SOS

NYPD propaganda machine misses a beat – or 14

Over the past year, we have learned that the New York Police Department, with 40,000 sworn officers and an annual budget of $3.9 billion, has built an intelligence apparatus to rival that of the FBI in a culture of total impunity.

The Department has at least ten different components that it mobilizes to detect “potential terrorist threats,” saturates Muslim and other ethnic neighborhoods with its surveillance operations in New York City and beyond, and spies on Muslim students across the Northeast.

To ensure that new recruits have the right mindset to do the job, it has subjected some 1,500 of them to an anti-Muslim training video entitled the “Third Jihad.”

A group of Muslim organizations from New Jersey have gone to court, charging the NYPD with discriminatory spying operations.

But to Mayor Bloomberg and other New York officials, the NYPD is simply doing its job and doing it extremely well.  The proof? 

“We have stopped 14 attacks since 9/11,” the Mayor announced proudly in mid July. 

The NYPD website featured the Big 14, under the heading:

The 10 years since September 11, 2001 mark the first decade-long period since the 1970s in which no terrorist attacks occurred in New York City, despite 14 terrorist plots targeting it.

Enter the fact-checking ProPublica.

 “Is it true?” asks Justin Elliott. “In a word, no. A review of the list shows a much more complicated reality – that the 14 figure overstates both the number of serious, developed terrorist plots against New York and exaggerates the NYPD’s role in stopping attacks.”

The list includes two and perhaps three clear-cut terrorist plots, including a failed attempt to bomb Times Square by a Pakistani-American in 2010 that the NYPD did not stop.

Of the 11 other cases, there are three in which government informants played a significant or dominant role (by, for example, providing money and fake bombs to future defendants); four cases whose credibility or seriousness has been questioned by law enforcement officials, including episodes in which skeptical federal officials declined to bring charges; and another four cases in which an idea for a plot was abandoned or not pursued beyond discussion.

In addition, the NYPD itself does not appear to have played a major role in breaking up most of the alleged plots on the list. In several cases, it played no role at all.

The cases listed on the NYPD website include that of Ohio truck driver Iyman Faris who dreamed of destroying the Brooklyn Bridge with a blowtorch – but never managed to obtain one; a few alleged plots which the FBI refused to take seriously; and the pathetic case of the Newburgh Four, where four destitute ex cons, one of whom suffered from paranoid schizophrenia, were given cash, food, rent money, drugs, cell phones, a camera and disabled explosive devices including a Stinger missile by an FBI informant who had been convicted of identity fraud and was hoping for a reduced sentence and paid $100,000 for his efforts. District Court Judge Colleen McMahon described the FBI informant as a “serial liar” who perjured himself at trial and stated that the FBI had “created the crime here.”

Is this the best the NYPD and Mayor Bloomberg can do to justify the unconstitutional spying operations to which the city’s residents and those far beyond its borders have been subjected?

© 2021 ACLU of Massachusetts.