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Stories Put Spotlight On NYPD Surveillance Program
Originally published on Fri April 20, 2012 8:33 am
Since last August, the Associated Press' investigative reporting team has published more than a dozen stories from an ongoing investigation into the New York City police department's secret spying program that monitored daily life in Muslim communities.
This week, the AP's four reporters — Chris Hawley, Adam Goldman, Eileen Sullivan and Matt Apuzzo — received the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for investigative reporting. The citation noted that their investigation resulted "in congressional calls for a federal investigation, and a debate over the proper role of domestic intelligence gathering."
On Wednesday's Fresh Air, Apuzzo joins Terry Gross for a conversation about the AP series, which revealed that the NYPD transformed itself after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks into an aggressive domestic intelligence unit and monitored hundreds of Muslims in their mosques, workplaces and schools — even when there was no evidence of any wrongdoing.
"It was really an effort to build databases of where Muslims live, eat, work, shop and pray," Apuzzo says.
Police officers also built databases on various ethnic communities in New York City, compiling information on where people of certain ethnicities gathered and worked.
"It was so that if, if there was a tip that an Egyptian terrorist was in New York City and was planning an attack, the idea was the NYPD could pull their Egyptian file off the shelf and they'd know where that guy is likely to live, where he's likely to pray, where he's likely to buy breakfast, and they can then focus all of their attention on those places," he says.
"While that certainly seems like something you want the police department to do ... the offshoot of that is that you're collecting personal information on many, many people who have no connection to terrorism, who are completely innocent," he says.
Until Apuzzo and his fellow AP reporters started publishing their stories, few were aware that the New York City monitoring program existed or that it had extensive connections to the CIA.
Last August, Apuzzo and Goldman, his fellow AP reporter, discovered that veteran CIA officer Larry Sanchez was kept on the CIA payroll and sent to New York's police department to help build out its intelligence operation.
"With Larry's help, the NYPD really ramped up its transformation from police to intelligence," says Apuzzo. "A lot of these programs really came about with Larry's help while he was on the CIA payroll."
The CIA is prohibited from spying on Americans but worked closely with the NYPD on transforming its intelligence unit.
"It raises a host of questions about where the line is between the CIA helping the NYPD do intelligence gathering on Americans and the CIA actually doing intelligence gathering on Americans," says Apuzzo.
After the story broke, the CIA's inspector general opened an investigation and found no evidence that the CIA conducted domestic spying or violated the law.
"[I am paraphrasing here but he said...] 'We don't see any evidence that the CIA actually conducted domestic spying, and we don't see any violations of law here. But, looking back, we maybe showed some poor judgment sending Larry to New York with no oversight, with no clear rules ... and we probably handled that poorly,' " says Apuzzo.
"When Larry left the NYPD in 2010, he was replaced in 2011 by another senior CIA officer. After our stories broke, the CIA announced it would be bringing that officer home," he says. "And it doesn't look like the CIA is going to be sending anyone back to the NYPD or duplicating that relationship in other departments."
But the monitoring program still exists in some respects.
Last October, Apuzzo and Goldman reported that the NYPD keeps track of every person in the city who changes his or her name. When that person's name sounds Arabic, the police run an extensive background check that is then put in a database for future reference.
"That's just a fascinating effort because the changing of names — the Americanization of names — is such a part of the immigrant story of America," says Apuzzo. "To see it now being scanned for potential red flags for terrorism just shows how much has changed in New York since 9/11, not just on the ground, but the way we view things in New York."
Since the AP stories broke, the NYPD has vigorously defended the monitoring programs as lawful and necessary, says Apuzzo.
"The NYPD has smartly said that we are constantly at risk of being attacked, and they point to a list of 14 plots that were unsuccessful — either by good work of NYPD, good work by somebody else or luck," he says.
"The question is, really, does the nonexistence of another attack prove that the programs that are in place are working? And the NYPD has said, 'Yes.' ... And of course, there's no way to disprove that. Because if we were to be attacked tomorrow, nobody presumably would say, 'This proves your programs don't work and we should stop doing them.' So it's not so much of a purely logical debate, it's more of a policy debate of what we want our police department to be doing."
TERRY GROSS, HOST:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. This week the Pulitzer Prize for investigative reporting was given to my guest, Matt Apuzzo, and a team of Associated Press reporters for their series which broke the story of the New York Police Department's clandestine surveillance program monitoring daily life in Muslim communities.
The program was created after the 9/11 attacks. The NYPD received help from the CIA, which raises questions because the CIA is prohibited from spying on Americans in the U.S. The AP series resulted in a debate over the proper role of domestic intelligence gathering and congressional calls for a federal investigation. Yesterday, the NYPD surveillance program was one of the subjects of the Senate Judiciary Committee's first hearing on racial profiling since 9/11.
Matt Apuzzo covers intelligence and national security for the AP. He shares the Pulitzer with AP reporters Adam Goldman, Chris Hawley and Eileen Sullivan. Matt Apuzzo, welcome to FRESH AIR, and congratulations on the Pulitzer.
MATT APUZZO: Thanks so much for having me.
GROSS: So let's start with a summary of what you found. What kind of groups was the NYPD conducting surveillance on?
APUZZO: Well, after 9/11 the NYPD transformed itself into not just the nation's largest police department but the nation's - one of the most aggressive intelligence agencies, domestic intelligence agencies. And what they did is they built, you know, spying programs that monitored daily life in Muslim communities.
So they had this squad called the Demographics Unit, and had plainclothes officers, typically of Arab descent, who just - their only job is just hang out in Muslim communities, hang out at cafes or hookah bars or restaurants or clubs and just be listening posts, and they're just, you know, they're chatting up the owner and trying to figure out his ethnicity, figure out what he thinks about America, what he thinks about politics.
They want to listen to the conversations that are being had. They want to make note if Al Jazeera is being played. And all of this is getting compiled into intelligence files. And it was really an effort to build, you know, databases of where Muslims live, eat, work, shop and pray.
GROSS: So they had - the NYPD had a list of ancestries of interest. What was that?
APUZZO: Right, so the NYPD has this list of its ancestries of interest, and it's - I believe it's 22 mostly Muslim countries, along with the ancestry American Black Muslim, that it considered, you know, ancestries that deserved scrutiny. And what we found through our reporting and also from some internal NYPD documents, was that they would actually build files on, you know, the Egyptian community in New York and/or the Albanian community in New York or Moroccan community in New York.
And they would go to all the businesses where either Moroccans work or where they shop, and they'd photograph them and they'd make note of this is the owner, this is the type of clientele it draws. If it's a particularly devout clientele, they'd make note of that. They'd make note of how close it was to a nearby mosque, you know, what kind of conversations were being had in the business.
They would note sort of from census material where people of certain ethnicities lived. And basically, again, it was so that if - let's say there was a tip that an Egyptian terrorist was in New York City and was planning an attack, and we don't know more than that, the idea was the NYPD could pull their Egyptian file right off of the shelf, and they'd know where that guy is likely to live, where he's likely to pray, where he's likely to, you know, buy breakfast, you know, and they can then focus all of their attention on those places.
And while, you know, certainly that seems like something you want the police department to be able to do, to know where you might find a terrorist, the offshoot of that is that you're collecting information, personal information, on many, many, many people who have no connection to terrorism, are completely innocent, and many of whom are very against terrorism and have worked with the police department to try to - to keep the city safer, and they're ending up in intelligence files.
GROSS: Yeah, and as you point out in your series, I mean the New York police have been expected to thwart terrorist attacks before they happen, and in order to do that, you need a lot of intelligence. At the same time, you want to do it legally and ethically, without violating civil liberties. So it's a line that I think police departments haven't had to walk in the same way that they've had to walk it since 9/11.
APUZZO: Right, so I mean think about the transformation in mission from September 10th to September 12th, right? So on September 10th your biggest mission is to solve crimes. You get a call a 911 call, somebody's been shot, police show up, who did it, we will find him and arrest him. That's no longer good enough for terrorism, right?
So now the police department have to find the killer before he kills and stop him. That's a huge transformation. I mean it's something that represents a fundamental shift in the mission of policing. So I think a lot of what you're seeing is this is the NYPD being aggressive, understandably aggressive, in trying to figure out the best way to do these things.
But because the NYPD exists in an environment where there's almost no oversight of these operations, you know, they've gone into areas that have surprised people when they've come to light.
GROSS: Now, this program, this NYPD program, was actually connected to the CIA, which, I don't know, may be unprecedented. What was the nature of the connection?
APUZZO: Yeah, it's completely unprecedented. So after 9/11 the NYPD hired a man named David Cohen, who was a retired CIA officer, had risen to be the nation's top spy, the deputy director of operations. And they hired him to the NYPD to run the intelligence division, which at the time was this sort of backwater glorified chauffeur service for visiting dignitaries.
But at one point it had been a very aggressive unit. In the '50s and '60s it was associated with red squads. It monitored political activity. It monitored protest groups, anti-war activists, but had been dramatically scaled back because of legal challenges to those programs.
So Cohen inherits this intelligence division, and he knows that he needs to make it into a counterterrorism force, something that will identify potential terrorists and give the police the intelligence it needs to stop terrorists from attacking. But at the time they don't have the resources, they don't have the expertise. They're building this, you know, on the fly.
So Cohen called his old colleagues at the CIA and said I need somebody. I need you to send somebody to New York to help me. And even though the CIA already has a CIA station in New York, Cohen was actually able to persuade the CIA to send somebody to New York basically to be his right-hand man but still on the CIA payroll.
That guy's name was Larry Sanchez. He had an office at the CIA station in New York. He also had an office at the NYPD. It had never been done before. It gave the CIA a foot in the door into New York. And with Larry's help the NYPD really ramped up its transformation from policing to intelligence, and a lot of these programs, you know, the Demographics Unit, for instance, really came about with Larry's help, again while he was on the CIA payroll.
GROSS: Now, the CIA is prohibited from spying on Americans. So what kind of questions does this cooperative arrangement between the CIA and the NYPD raise?
APUZZO: Well, it raises a host of questions about, you know, where the line is between the CIA helping the NYPD do intelligence gathering on Americans and the CIA actually doing intelligence gathering on Americans. After our stories broke, the CIA's inspector general looked into this and said we don't see any evidence that the CIA actually conducted domestic spying, and we don't see any violations of law here.
But looking back, we maybe showed some poor judgment sending Larry to New York with no oversight, with no clear rules and had never been signed off on by any of the lawyers, there was no memorandum of understanding about this is what you're going to do, this is what you're not going to do, and we probably handled that poorly.
And they kind of chalked it up to, well, it was after 9/11, things were really crazy, everybody was focused on just keeping us safe, and maybe we didn't, you know, dot ever I or sign every document we probably should have.
When Larry left the NYPD in 2010, he was replaced in 2011 by another senior CIA officer. After our stories broke, the NYPD - excuse me, the CIA announced it was going to be bringing that officer home, he was not going to finish his year-long tour at the NYPD. And it doesn't look like the CIA is going to be sending anybody back to the NYPD or duplicating that relationship in other departments.
GROSS: Now that the NYPD's surveillance program has been exposed, is it still operational?
APUZZO: Well, certainly parts of it are. I mean the Demographics Unit, which the NYPD originally denied even existed, I guess is now called the Zone Assessment Unit. And you know, they - they're still out there, to our knowledge, doing what they do.
They also have a very interesting program which court officials in New York tell us continues, which is if you go and you get your name changed in New York City, whether because you want to drop a married name or you want to Americanize your name like so many generations of immigrants have done, and you go to court and you do that, the court actually sends the database of its name changes to the NYPD. And that continues.
And what the NYPD does is they then sort of scan all of the people who changed their name, and they just look for people whose names sound Arab. So if you change your name from John to Mohammed or Mohammed to John, or you Americanize your last name, you're going to get flagged.
And then the NYPD will conduct a background check of you and run your name through federal databases they have access to. You know, they'll be able to check your international travel records, immigration records. They'll check and see if you have a cab driver's license, if you work for the city. And if they see anything that they think looks unusual, they might actually send a police officer out to talk to you about why you changed your name.
And the court tells us that they're still sending that data to the NYPD. So we know that continues. And that's just - I mean that's just a fascinating, you know, a fascinating effort for us because, you know, the changing of names, the Americanization of names, is such a part of, you know, the immigrant story of America.
And to see it now being sort of scanned for potential red flags for terrorism just shows, you know, how much has changed in New York since 9/11, not just on the ground, but the way we view things in New York, the way we view what had been part of America's story in New York.
GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is journalist Matt Apuzzo. He won a Pulitzer Prize this week, a prize he shares with several other Associated Press reporters for their investigation of the New York Police Department's clandestine spying program that monitored daily life in Muslim communities. Let's take a short break here, and then we'll talk some more about your investigation. This is FRESH AIR.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is journalist Matt Apuzzo. He's with the Associated Press, where he focuses on national security and intelligence issues, and this week he won a Pulitzer Prize, which he shares with several other AP reporters for their investigation of the NYPD's clandestine spying program that monitored daily life in Muslim communities.
What investigations has your investigation led to?
APUZZO: Well, as I referenced a little bit earlier in the show, the CIA's inspector general looked into this, found some poor judgment, but no outright criminal wrongdoing or violations of policy. The Justice Department is - and I have to parse this, right - the Justice Department is reviewing requests to review the NYPD.
A few dozen members of Congress have called on Attorney General Eric Holder to investigate the NYPD's programs. He says he's reviewing the requests. But he did say, on Capitol Hill, that he's disturbed by what he's seen and thinks there should be some standard of, you know, probable cause or whatnot for opening these types of investigations. But as of now there doesn't appear to be any sort of official action by the Justice Department.
You know, there's been a call in New York for maybe an NYPD inspector general to kind of fill the oversight void that exists in New York City on this topic. It doesn't look like that's going anywhere right now, but you know, who knows, that could change.
There's been also some calls up at the state legislature for adding some oversight. Again, that doesn't look like that's going to go anywhere either.
GROSS: Can the NYPD point to any terrorist plots that were foiled as a result of the surveillance program that you uncovered? Can they say, look, this program is justified, yeah we spied on Muslims, but, you know, we saved lives as a result?
APUZZO: Yes. I mean so they have - they have defended, vigorously defended these programs as lawful and necessary, and the NYPD has smartly said we are constantly at risk of being attacked. And they point to this list of plots, they have a list of 14 plots, and they say these are 14 plots that were unsuccessful either by good work of NYPD, good work of somebody else, or luck.
That has been shorthanded by supporters of the NYPD, and in some instances by Mayor Michael Bloomberg, that's been shorthanded to the NYPD has foiled 14 plots, which is not true. You know, the list of 14 includes, you know, plots like the Faisal Shahzad Times Square car bomb that was foiled because the bomb didn't work, not because of any action by law enforcement.
So I think the real - the sort of the hallmark case for them, for the NYPD on these programs, is the case involving would-be bombers of the Herald Square subway station around the time of the 2004 Republican convention in New York City. This is a plot in which they used an informant and an undercover officer to identify people who had hoped to carry out a bombing in New York City - in the subway system.
And that's kind of their signature success. You know, people were convicted. The tactics that were used, the undercover and the informant, were upheld by the court and said in this instance it's totally fine, we're going to - it's going to be admissible evidence, and people went to jail.
You know, look, defense attorneys, the civil rights community are really opposed to that case. They say, you know, look, these were people who were not particularly bright. It was a case of entrapment. The undercover officer basically enticed them to do it. But what you can't take away is that people went to jail who had hoped to do bad things or at least considered doing bad things and potentially killing a lot of people.
Now, the question is, really, is the nonexistence of another attack - does that prove that the programs that are in place are working? And the NYPD has said yes. The proof that we're doing it right is the fact that we haven't been attacked. And of course, there's no way to disprove that because if we were to be attacked tomorrow, nobody presumably would say this proves that your programs don't work and we should stop doing them.
So, again, it's not so much of a - sort of a purely logical debate. It's more of a policy debate about what we want our police department to be doing. Police Department says it's solving - it's preventing terrorism, and they can point to a decade without a terrorism attack. And I think that's a big part of the reason why the majority of New Yorkers, according to polls, support what the NYPD is doing and say they're all for it.
GROSS: I think a lot of Muslims in America have been afraid that the government was trying to spy on them since 9/11, and your investigation proves that in New York, in fact, many Muslims were spied on by the NYPD. So how has this affected relations between the police and Muslims in New York and between the city government and Muslims in New York?
APUZZO: Well, this - the NYPD and Mayor Michael Bloomberg have said we have great relationships with the Muslim community, we're in the mosques all the time, you know, we're doing outreach, everything is good. You know, the FBI, at least in nearby Newark, where the NYPD was also conducting surveillance, the top FBI officer in New Jersey has actually said, look, this is destroying our ability to get cooperation from people who we really count on for cooperation.
So many of these, you know, would-be plots are foiled because somebody makes a phone call, and we really risk that stopping if this sort of thing continues. The NYPD, we respectively disagree. You know, we're going to do everything necessary to prevent terrorism, and that includes, you know, monitoring those areas where terrorists might spring up. And so by necessity that's going to be Muslim communities.
But it's been - it's been really fascinating. What we've seen is there's been some sense of not wanting to talk publicly, not wanting to maybe go to mosques. We've heard reports of people saying, look, we don't want to go there, we don't want to go to that business, we don't want to go to that mosque because now we know it's, you know, the NYPD is sort of trawling it, looking for anything they can get, and if you say something, you might end up in an intelligence file.
I mean, look, what we've seen in the documents is that the police department uses officers to sit in parking lots or sit outside mosques and just collect license plates and take pictures and videos of people coming and going from mosques.
We know that they train video cameras on poles and point them at mosques. We know that they use informants called mosque crawlers to just sort of soak up everything that happens inside the mosque, and even stuff about lawful protests and, you know, write your congressman - all ends up in intelligence files, even if it has no connection to terrorism.
So, you know, I do think what you do see is a little bit of Muslims saying, geez, I don't want to say - I don't want to say anything. I don't want to go where people might be listening and might put me in an intelligence file even if I haven't done anything wrong.
GROSS: Matt Apuzzo will be back in the second half of the show. He and three other Associated Press reporters won the Pulitzer Prize for investigative reporting this week for their series exposing the NYPD's secret surveillance program monitoring daily life in Muslim communities. I'm Terry Gross and this is FRESH AIR.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross back with Matt Apuzzo, who won a Pulitzer Prize this week, along with three other reporters from the Associated Press, for their series revealing the New York City Police Department's secret surveillance program, monitoring daily life in Muslim communities. The series also won a George Polk Award for metropolitan reporting. Apuzzo covers intelligence and national security for the AP.
Your series starts with a building superintendent near Rutgers. Was it Rutgers? Which part of New Jersey is this?
APUZZO: In New Brunswick, New Jersey.
GROSS: in New Brunswick, New Jersey in June of 2009. So the superintendent opens the door to one of the apartments in his building and what does he find?
APUZZO: He opens the door to conduct a maintenance check and he sees terrorist literature sort of strewn about the table and surveillance equipment and computer equipment set up. And he says, oh my God, it's a terrorist cell in my building. And he calls 911 and the Police Department and the FBI rush out and it turns out there's no terrorist cell. It's an NYPD safe house, an undercover operation being run far outside their jurisdiction, being run by their undercover squad known as the Special Services Unit, and they were running clandestine operations throughout New Jersey based out of that apartment.
GROSS: So how did you find out about this?
APUZZO: Well, my colleague, Adam Goldman and I, cover a lot of intelligence issues. And we're on the investigative team here in D.C. And in the course of doing other reporting on the CIA, a couple of people said, you know, geez, you should really ask around about, you know, Ray Kelly's mosque crawlers or ask what a raker is. And these are terms that we've never heard and, you know, I've covered the Justice Department and the FBI before, an Adam has experience in intelligence, so hearing new terms kind of perked our ears up. And we just started nosing around about it. And we kept it in her notebook, and early part of spring last year, we decided let's just buckle down and really try to find out what's going on here.
GROSS: So what is a raker?
APUZZO: A raker is a plainclothes officer, typically Arab or South Asian dissent, who basically is a listening post inside a Muslim community. His job is to rake the coals looking for hotspots. So if he goes into a restaurant and a bunch of guys are watching Al-Jazeera and there's a report of an IED blowing up and Americans being killed and somebody cheers and somebody claps their hand, he'll make a note of that. That's a hotspot. And then they'll drop an informant in or they'll drop an undercover in, and try to get a sense of what's going on. But, of course, when you rake the coals, what you find is a lot of stuff that's not hotspots. And so a lot of innocent people were raked as well.
GROSS: Now I know that your, you know, a lot of your sources have to remain anonymous, because they're not supposed to be revealing the details of covert operations within the NYPD. But it makes me wonder if some of your sources were people who were disenchanted with the surveillance program and thought it was illegal or unethical.
APUZZO: Yeah. Certainly some were. I mean we certainly talk to some people who just thought, this isn't what I got into the police department to do. But a lot of the guys we talked to felt like this was a good thing, and this was a model, this was the sort of thing we should be doing in other departments. And that's frankly the kind of discussions we wanted to initiate, because if these tactics are the best way to keep a city safe, let's make those best practices and let's not just have them in New York. And if it's not the best way to do it, then why would we want it to be done in New York City, which is the premier terrorist target in the United States? So certainly there were people who were disenchanted. Many people who talked to us were not disenchanted, were directly involved in these programs, we're proud of them and we tried to do justice to both those sides.
GROSS: So those people wanted to defend the program and they knew that you would be writing about it?
APUZZO: Yeah. Yeah.
GROSS: So, the superintendent story that you told us, where he thinks he's, you know, he's come upon the terrorists cell, but it's really a covert NYPD operation, that was in New Jersey.
GROSS: And the New York Police don't have jurisdiction in New Jersey. It's not the only operation they had in New Jersey. What are some of the others?
APUZZO: Well, the Demographics Unit, which you talked about earlier, actually conducted a full operation in Newark where they mapped the entire Muslim community, identified all the mosques, photographed all the Muslim-owned businesses, where all the restaurants, tried to identify the ethnicity of the owners of all the different Muslim businesses in Newark - most of whom that we were able to identify, are, you know, American citizens and not immigrant American citizens. Newark has a very large black Muslim population so many of the people who were being monitored in Newark were actually just African-Americans. And then we also know that they were conducting mosque surveillance in northern New Jersey and we know they were infiltrating and monitoring college groups, you know, Muslim student associations in New Jersey. But certainly, it wasn't just limited to New Jersey. I mean, we've shown that they were infiltrating political groups as far away as New Orleans.
GROSS: So let's go back to New Jersey. What did New Jersey officials and New Jersey police have to say about the NYPD conducting surveillance there?
APUZZO: Well, when I called Newark Mayor, Cory Booker, for the first time about this, I think he was a little bit incredulous and, you know, that this would happen and he didn't know about it. And as we talked more about it, I think he was shocked that it happened and has asked that it not happen. And it really cause a divide between Cory Booker and Michael Bloomberg, two mayors who, you know, they're separated by a very narrow stretch of water, and who are very close, personally and politically. And it caused a real rift. And it also has gotten a lot of pushback from Governor Christie in New Jersey, who was a former U.S. attorney. And who said, this is just not the way you do counterterrorism. You have to let people know when you're going to be in their city, or you're going to be in their state, conducting these kinds of operations. And in that sense, the civil liberties issue, the idea of where you put down the marker between liberties and security has kind of gotten lost in the debate over Newark. It's totally a you were supposed to tell us who knew what when as far as the FBI versus the NYPD. You know, that age-old rift has kind of come to overshadow the actual discussion about the operations in New Jersey.
GROSS: So you said that the NYPD also conducted political activities as far away as New Orleans. What kind of other activities were they involved in in conducting surveillance?
APUZZO: Right. So the intelligence division, in addition to sort of monitoring Muslims for potential terrorist attacks, they also used their undercover officers to keep tabs on protests and groups that might protest inside New York City. So one document we were able to obtain showed an undercover officer going down to the People's Summit in New Orleans, which is just a gathering of liberal groups kind of loosely under the banner of repealing NAFTA and free trade agreements, and equalizing the division of wealth in the United States. And what we saw is political activists being put into place documents for, you know, one guy introduced a film about the plight of the Palestinians. One person was in there, you know, just noted that she was in attendance and she is a labor organizer for housekeepers and nannies. They talked about, you know, all the different groups that were there and who might protest, what their issues were. And the whole idea is that, if there were ever a going to be a big protest in New York City, we'd know who the key players were and we'd know, you know, what to expect. And I think the feeling was that nobody wants a repeat of, you know, Seattle or Quebec riots, so we have to keep tabs on this. And that was surprising to us, because even though we had known there had been some spying ahead of the Republican Convention in 2004, we didn't realize that it continued along the same vein, long after the convention was over.
GROSS: Did you get to talk to any Muslims who found out that they were spied on?
APUZZO: Absolutely. We did get to talk to a lot of Muslims who are spied on, and it was probably the most rewarding part of this project. One of the reporters on this team, Eileen Sullivan, is one of the leading experts on radicalization, homegrown terrorism and policing. And she and I, and Adam went out into these communities and we just brought the documents with us and we showed them. We said hey, you know, do you know that you were under surveillance? Did you know that an undercover officer came and took these pictures or listened to your conversations? And just hearing the range of reactions from - that's fine, we want them to do this; we want them to be here; they're keeping us safe too - to I can't believe you're doing this, I've done nothing wrong, why am I in a police file, I'm an American citizen, I don't deserve this, to one barber we talked to who was like look, I'm OK with this, because when I was in Morocco, the Moroccan police - they'll just come and take you away. So I'm OK with this. I, mean so it's been a real - it was just a real eye-opener, just to see the range of reactions from just everyday people, responding to the fact that their activities got them in police files, even when they've done nothing wrong.
GROSS: So two New York tabloids had editorials about your reporting, exposing the NYPD's undercover surveillance operation of the Muslim community. The Daily News editorial read: they just don't get it. And with the exception of the most knee-jerk civil liberties activists, they are essentially alone and not getting that the NYPD is valuably scoping out the who, what, and where of neighborhoods by observing little more than activities in public view.
And the editorial in the New York Post read that the Associated Press should take a long walk off a short pier. What the AP and the New York Civil Liberties Union forget, is that the world, and critically, the law itself changed after 9/11. New Yorkers understand that counterterror folks need to be aggressive about preempting attacks to protect them, survival comes first.
I was wondering if you had that argument in your own mind?
APUZZO: Sure. I mean we had a lot of discussions, internally, with our editors, going all the way up the chain. We were in Washington, we went - our editor, our bureau chief, top editors at the AP, had real discussions about how much to disclose. And we didn't write everything we knew. I mean there was a lot of stuff in there that we didn't write, where we said look, you know, this is intelligence gathering, pure and simple, counterterrorism focus, real potential wrongdoing. We're not going to give up the names, the locations, whatever.
We tried to focus on how the investigations, how these operations - how they worked and how entire neighborhoods were swept up. And there is a balance that they have to do, because you're writing about national security. But when you look at the major national security stories that have been written in the past decade, you know, the post-9/11 era, - you know, waterboarding, black sites, Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo Bay, rendition, drones - it's all sensitive stuff but you have to have the ability to write about it smartly and not recklessly, but you have to be able to write about it because otherwise how is anybody going to know what's going on to be able to make a decision about whether they want this done? We can't have that discussion unless you have the facts. So that was kind of always our guiding principle but, of course, we had these discussions about, you know, how much to say and how far to go.
GROSS: So what's ironic here is one of the criticisms of the CIA right after 9/11, is that it didn't have enough people on the ground who could speak Arabic and do undercover work in Muslim communities throughout the Muslim world where, you know, in parts of the world where would-be terrorists are. So it had - it just didn't have enough intelligence before 9/11. And now what you're telling us is that's the kind of work that's being done among our own citizens in New York.
APUZZO: Right. And the NYPD has language capabilities that, I mean, are really unparalleled and because they draw from such a diverse community. And I think everybody gives him credit in law-enforcement around the country, for using that and generating intelligence. But what's fascinating about this is the people the CIA is spying on overseas, don't have sort of constitutional rights. Here they do, so the language capabilities - it's one thing for overseas, it's sort of how you use them in the United States is a whole other thing. And what I am most fascinated about, this issue about CIA/NYPD relationship is, you know, the mosque crawlers program, the use of these informants to just sort of troll the mosques looking for, you know, what's going on, was actually a CIA-generated program that started overseas after 9/11 - kind of born out of desperation.
Hey, let's just put people in mosques and see if we can keep tabs on what's going on. And it didn't take long for them to realize that - or at least overseas - oh, this is a big waste of time. This is not how we're going to get, you know, we're going to identify would-be terrorists. But it really took root and became part of the culture at the NYPD, this idea of having people in mosques acting as listening posts, even though at the CIA they kind of said, eh, this isn't really the best use of our resources.
GROSS: Well, Matt Apuzzo, thank you for joining us and congratulations on the two awards that this reporting has won - the George Polk Award and now a Pulitzer Prize. So...
APUZZO: Thank you so much for having me.
GROSS: ...congratulations and thank you.
APUZZO: Great. Thanks.
GROSS: Matt Apuzzo won the Pulitzer Prize for investigative reporting this week, which he shares with three other reporters from the Associated Press, Adam Goldman, Chris Hawley, and Eileen Sullivan. You can find links to their articles on our website freshair.npr.org.
Coming up, jazz critic Kevin Whitehead reviews violinist Jenny Scheinman's new album "Mischief and Mayhem." This is FRESH AIR.
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