By Jim Kouri
A classified New York City Police Department undercover/surveillance operation concentrating on Muslim-owned businesses, mosques and Muslim students on college campuses has created an enormous — and unexpected — firestorm with civil rights groups and Muslim organizations claiming that the NYPD police detectives crossed the line separating civil rights and homeland security.
Attorney General Eric Holder’s congressional testimony last Thursday included his opinion on the NYPD’s but it was evident he had as much information as the readers of the latest newspaper story about the controversial counterterrorism intelligence-gathering operation, according to a former NYPD detective.
New York’s Police Commissioner Ray Kelly — arguably the best police commander in that city’s history — continues to defend the tactics, calling them legal and necessary. But groups such as the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) are practically screaming for blood, said former NYPD police detective Sid Franes.
“What the NYPD officials did in New York and New Jersey, they’ve also done overseas in countries such as the United Kingdom, India, Indonesia, and others,” said Franes. “They are collecting intelligence not investigating and arresting suspects.
And truth be told, many policymakers and lawmakers are critical of the analysis they receive, and both intelligence consumers and producers often share a frustration over its perceived lack of utility and hence lack of impact, according to several intelligence officers who briefed the Law Enforcement Examiner on the condition of anonymity.
Local law enforcement commanders — more than ever — depend on solid information in order to deploy their resources in post-9/11 America. And the NYPD takes a backseat to no nation’s intelligence agency, according to former Detective Franes.
Working to improve the quality of intelligence gathering and analysis, however, is not enough; it is also necessary to change the relationship between intelligence producers and “consumers,” said former NYPD undercover officer Iris Aquino.
The danger of politicization — the potential for the intelligence community to distort information or judgment in order to please political authorities — is real and needs to be eradicated. Moreover, the danger can never be eliminated if intelligence analysts are involved, as they must be, in the policy process. The challenge is to develop reasonable safeguards while permitting intelligence producers and policymaking consumers to interact, claims a current intelligence analyst who spoke to the Law Enforcement Examiner on condition of anonymity.
“The need to protect intelligence from political pressure and parochialism is a powerful argument for maintaining a strong, centralized capability and not leaving decisions affecting important intelligence-related questions solely to the policymaking departments,” said the source.
“Unlike business, in the intelligence business, the customer is not always right,” said Officer Aquino.
“Perhaps most important, the leadership of the intelligence community should reinforce the ethic that speaking the truth to those in power is required — and defend anyone who comes under criticism for doing so,” said Det. Franes.