The Right Opinion

The Associated Press' Undeserved Pulitzer

By Arnold Ahlert · Apr. 19, 2012

And the death of mainstream journalism.

On Monday in New York City, would-be jihadist Zarein Ahmedzay testified in Brooklyn federal court that co-conspirator Adis Medunjanin “was committed” to carrying out a wave of terrorist attacks in New York City. A third man, Najibullah Zazi, has already pleaded guilty to the plot that was unraveled by the New York Police Department (NYPD) and the FBI. On the same day, the Associated Press (AP) won a Pulitzer Prize for a series of stories “revealing the New York Police Department’s widespread spying on Muslims.” It was precisely such “spying” that thwarted several terrorist plots all designed to once again to kill untold numbers of innocent New Yorkers.

The Pulitzer Board at Columbia University cited AP reporters Matt Apuzzo, Adam Goldman, Eileen Sullivan and Chris Hawley “for their spotlighting of the New York Police Department’s clandestine spying program that monitored daily life in Muslim communities, resulting in congressional calls for a federal investigation, and a debate over the proper role of domestic intelligence gathering.”

Here’s what not debatable: the NYPD has thwarted fourteen separate plots against New Yorkers since 9/11. Furthermore, the AP’s and Pulitzer Prize Committee’s sensibilities are completely at odds with the public. A poll by Quinnipiac University revealed that voters, by a margin of 59-28 percent, believe the NYPD has behaved appropriately in dealing with Muslims, and approve of the way the NYPD is doing its job in general by a margin of 63-31 percent. A whopping 82 percent also think the NYPD has done an effective job of combating terrorism. Police Commissioner Ray Kelly? He enjoys a 64-25 percent approval rating.

“New Yorkers brush aside the gripes about police surveillance of the Muslim community,” said Maurice Carroll, director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute. “Voter approval of the way police are handling terrorism is through the roof and overall approval for police in general and for Commissioner Ray Kelly is undented by criticism.”

None of it matters to those determined to undermine the strategy. In February, the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU) demanded that the NYPD be investigated for using federal drug fighting funds to help underwrite its surveillance of Muslim mosques and businesses. "We are deeply concerned that federal resources may have been used and spying information stored in violation of federal regulations that protect Americans' privacy and constitutional rights against law enforcement overreach,“ said Hina Shamsi, director of the ACLU’s National Security Project. In March, Attorney General Eric Holder claimed he was "disturbed,” and that the NYPD’s methods for combatting terrorism are “under review at the Justice Department." 34 members of Congress demanded a federal investigation, as did the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), while schools such as Yale, the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Buffalo condemned surveillance aimed at their students.

The ever-reliable New York Times piled on, noting that a lack of sufficient supervision "of this formidable and far-flung intelligence operation…operating in secrecy and under murky rules” was an invitation for the NYPD “to abuse their powers.” New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) and Newark Mayor Cory Booker also criticized the NYPD’s tactics when it was revealed that some of their leads have taken them across the river into the Garden State and other Northeast locations. Michael Ward, director of the FBI’s Newark division, contended that the expansion of investigations into New Jersey was undermining the FBI’s ability to gather counter-terrorism intelligence.

Commissioner Kelly and Mayor Michael Bloomberg remained unrepentant. Kelly defended the practice of using federal drug funds (whose specific allocation cannot be controlled by the feds) to combat terror, noting that the NYPD had arrested 44 terrorism suspects and the department’s “primary goal is to keep this city safe and save lives.” Eric Holder has yet to file any charges at all, and Mayor Bloomberg defended the expansion of investigations outside of New York, noting that the city has been granted limited ability to conduct investigations in the Garden State. “Anything we’ve done in New Jersey, we have done under an agreement with the state of New Jersey that was signed by a previous governor, and still remains in effect,” he said. He further contended that the NYPD “goes where there are allegations. And they look to see whether those allegations are true,” he told reporters in February. “That’s what you’d expect them to do. That’s what you’d want them to do. Remind yourself when you turn out the light tonight.”

The NYPD also reminded those criticizing its expanded investigations of an inconvenient truth: the bomb that was detonated at the World Trade Center in 1993 was built in New Jersey, and would-be Times Square bomber Faisal Shazad assembled his device in Connecticut. Commissioner Kelly emphasized the point. “We have to be cognizant of what’s going on in the surrounding area. Obviously, it would be naive to limit our focus just to the five boroughs of New York City,” he said.

As for CAIR, Rep. Peter King (R-NY) put their efforts in perspective as well. "It is absolutely disgraceful that The New York Times, the Associated Press, other elements of the politically correct media have allowed themselves to be used by groups such as CAIR and I just wish once…just once, the New York Times or the Associated Press instead of calling CAIR a ‘Muslim civil rights organization’ would refer to them as what they are; unindicted co-conspirators in the most major terrorist financing case in the United States,“ he said.

Yet it was NYPD spokesman Paul Browne’s response to the FBI’s Michael Ward that revealed the most critical distinction between spying and surveillance. In an emailed response, he contended that plainclothes officers from the NYPD operating outside of New York "were not conducting blanket ongoing surveillance of communities.” They were going into neighborhoods with concentrated populations from “countries of interest” and observing people in public establishments. “This is an important point–only public locations were visited,” Browne noted. “This was perfectly within the purview of the NYPD.” Mayor Bloomberg underscored what this meant. "[NYPD officers] are permitted to travel beyond the borders of New York City to investigate cases, they can look at websites, they can watch television to detect unlawful activities,“ he said.

Furthermore, the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), an organization focusing on Constitutional law, did an extensive legal analysis of the NYPD’s activities. Their conclusion? "The surveillance techniques used by the NYPD pose no constitutional concerns and reflect a sound and legitimate response to ongoing terrorist threats facing New York and America,” said Jay Sekulow, Chief Counsel of the ACLJ. The report itself concluded that the NYPD “is not straying from limits imposed by the Constitution nor is it taking extraordinary measures not authorized by the [court-sanctioned procedural and investigative] Guidelines. The world is changing, and law enforcement must be given the means to deal with the new challenges created by global terrorism. Surveillance of mosques and student organizations with a significant record of terrorism is a legitimate response to a serious problem facing New York City and the nation.”

After the report was issued, more than 20,000 Americans voiced their support for NYPD’s anti-terrorist operations. And lest anyone think the people in New Jersey were upset by the NYPD expanding its efforts into the Garden State, think again: another Quinnipiac poll released on April 11th revealed that 71 percent of New Jersey voters believe the NYPD is “doing what is necessary to combat terrorism” and 62 percent believe Muslims are being treated appropriately.

Yet it was the New York Post that delivered the ultimate reality check regarding the entire series of AP stories and the subsequent awarding of the Pulitzer Prize honoring them. They noted that the AP’s “one-sided narratives…never even cited a single thing the cops did that is illegal, or even ill-advised.” They further contended that the AP’s “ill-gotten prize…says more about mainstream journalism than about the NYPD.”

The three men involved in the terrorist trial that began Monday trained in Pakistan, where they learned to use AK-47 assault rifles, rocket-propelled grenade launchers and small arms, according to Zarein Ahmedzay. They also met with a jihadist operative named “Hamad,” with whom they discussed launching attacks in New York when they got back home. "Are we talking about suicide operations, suicide attacks in New York City?“ asked federal prosecutor Berit Berger. "Yes,” replied Ahmedzay. What were the targets? "Times Square, Grand Central Station, Penn Station and the Stock Exchange,“ Ahmedzay replied. A successful attack at any one of those locations would have killed hundreds, if not thousands, of New Yorkers.

Perhaps the AP and the Pulitzer Committee should take note: Islamic jihadists have their "prizes” as well.