Pulitzer Prize May Be Most Coverage NYPD Spy Program Will Get All Year


Among today's Pulitzer Prizes is an award for the Associated Press' investigation of the NYPD's vast secret surveillance operation targeting Muslim populations across the Northeast.

The Associated Press reported in August:

Since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the NYPD has become one of the country's most aggressive domestic intelligence agencies. A months-long investigation by The Associated Press has revealed that the NYPD operates far outside its borders and targets ethnic communities in ways that would run afoul of civil liberties rules if practiced by the federal government. And it does so with unprecedented help from the CIA in a partnership that has blurred the bright line between foreign and domestic spying. 

By February, even more details were coming out on the extent of the spy program, leading New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg to vigorously defend the program in public:

Everything the NYPD has done is legal, it is appropriate, it is constitutional. They are permitted to travel beyond the border of New York City to investigate cases. We don't target individuals based on race or religion. We follow leads… When there's no lead it's just you're trying to get familiar with what's going on and where people might go and where people might be. If they're going to give a public speech you want to know where they do it.

Newark Mayor Cory Booker, whose city's Muslim neighborhoods were among those targeted, denied knowing about the program and condemned the idea. The police chief in charge in Newark at the time, however, Garry McCarthy, who once worked at the NYPD and now runs Chicago's police department, said he was given a "courtesy call" by the NYPD, but that his own officers did not participate. Other regional leaders, like New Jersey's Governor Chris Christie, also lambasted the program, calling it either an act of ignorance or paranoia.

Asked about the program in February, Attorney General Eric Holder told Congress:

I don't know even if the program as it has been described in the news media was an appropriate way to proceed, was consistent with the way in which the federal government would have done these things. I simply just don't know the answers to those questions at the beginning stages of this matter.

It's not the first time Holder's leaned on news reports of issues he should be better versed in. The Department of Justice has been receiving complaints about the NYPD's Muslim surveillance program for months, but the decision to review the complaints came only after the increased attention from the AP's investigation. It was also revealed the program was partially funded by post-9/11 drug war grants.

Meanwhile, investigations in Newark or by the schools where some of the surveillance took place are unlikely to be meaningful, and not even the Pulitzer Prize would acknowledge the program as illegal, awarding the Pulitzer for the AP reporters' "spotlighting of the New York Police Department's clandestine spying program" which led to "congressional calls for a federal investigation, and a debate over the proper role of domestic intelligence gathering."

Debates and calls for investigation are small consolation to the residents of the Muslim neighborhoods targeted by the NYPD. They've been infiltrated wholesale by a police department working under the assumption it's engaged in a war with radical Islam, and live in a country that claims that war is being waged around the world, their backyards included.