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Pulitzer Profile: AP’s Investigative Reporting Prize for NYPD Profiling Series

April 17, 2012 at 12:00 AM EDT
First brought to light in an Associated Press series of reports, a post-9/11 surveillance program by the New York City Police Department on Muslim communities has raised calls for a federal probe. Jeffrey Brown and the AP's Adam Goldman discuss the series that was awarded a Pulitzer Prize for investigative reporting on Monday.

JEFFREY BROWN: And now the fallout from a prize-winning investigation.

A post-9/11 surveillance program by the New York City Police Department on Muslim communities has raised calls for a federal probe and sparked a debate over domestic intelligence gathering.

It was first brought to light last summer in a series of reports by The Associated Press. Yesterday, the AP journalists responsible for the story were awarded a Pulitzer Prize for investigative reporting.

Adam Goldman is a part of that team and joins me now.

And, first, congratulations to you.

ADAM GOLDMAN, Associated Press: Thank you.

JEFFREY BROWN: Tell us — set the scene for us a bit. How did this start for you and your team?

ADAM GOLDMAN: As far back December 2010 and January 2011, Matt Apuzzo, who was on the investigative team with me at the AP in the D.C. bureau, we started hearing terms we were unfamiliar with, mosque-crawlers, rakers, a demographics unit.

And we set about trying to unravel what those terms meant.

JEFFREY BROWN: So what did you find? Tell us a little bit about the scope of this surveillance program by the NYPD.

ADAM GOLDMAN: We found that the NYPD had systematically infiltrated entire ethnic communities in New York City. And our investigation led us to believe that they weren’t doing this based on leads, but merely based on the fact that these people were Muslim.

JEFFREY BROWN: And that led you into — and they were looking at mosques, schools? Tell us. What did that mean, to infiltrate?

ADAM GOLDMAN: Well, basically, how you would live. They looked at where Muslims shopped or where Arab shopped, where they prayed, where they ate. And they catalogued these daily acts of life.

JEFFREY BROWN: And what surprised you as you starred to peel back layers here?

ADAM GOLDMAN: Well, what surprised us was the extent of the infiltration. The other thing that surprised us was the changing — the evolution of the NYPD’s narrative.

At first, Mayor Bloomberg had said that we don’t do this by religion. And Ray Kelly, the police chief, said, we don’t do this by ethnicity. And, in fact, we obtain many, many secret NYPD documents that demonstrated they were doing exactly this.

JEFFREY BROWN: Now, you and your colleague, you’re based here in Washington. And I gather your intelligence I guess is spending more time on the CIA. Now there was, I guess, some questions about the CIA’s involvement or relationship to this program?


Well, after 9/11, George Tenet, who was then the director of the Central Intelligence Agency, set up — sent a CIA officer to assist the NYPD. And this particular CIA officer was the architect of these spying programs.

JEFFREY BROWN: And then there were further questions about the program leaving the jurisdiction of New York City as well, right, into New Jersey and Connecticut?

ADAM GOLDMAN: Yes. That came to a real head in January, after we exposed the fact that the NYPD had infiltrated Newark as well and applied their same counterterrorism tactics there.

JEFFREY BROWN: Meaning into the same — into the communities?

ADAM GOLDMAN: Into the communities, going to the mosque and treating — in fact, in at least one instance, we found treating mosques as if they were a criminal organization, taking pictures of people’s cars, photographing who went into the mosque. So the mere act of being a Muslim was almost as if it was a crime.

JEFFREY BROWN: Now, you mentioned the response from Mayor Bloomberg, from police chief Ray Kelly. They’re saying this is,– you know, I mean, it evolved, as you said. But this is — they’re within legal bounds. This is a tough job. They deterred terrorism. Right?

ADAM GOLDMAN: The NYPD says they did deter terrorism. And they have a certain narrative that they use. They say that we have managed to thwart many attacks.

But as we looked at what they say they thwarted, we found in fact it wasn’t the case. For instance, if you just take a look at the Times Square bomber, Shahzad, that was a person that the NYPD had missed, or Najibullah Zazi, who tried to blow up the subway in 2009. In fact, it was the federal government that uncovered that plot.

So, that led us to ask questions about, well, how effective are these programs if they have missed in fact the most serious plot directed in New York City since 9/11?

JEFFREY BROWN: Well, so, your series, I gather, raised a big debate about the whole issue of racial profiling, community profiling, ethnic profiling. What has come from it?

ADAM GOLDMAN: Well, a couple things have come from it.

I think our stories laid bare the fact that the Muslims in New York City don’t have much of a voice. And they have taken to our stories as a reason to mobilize. And the other thing is, Eric Holder, the attorney general, said he’s reviewing complaints from the Muslim community. He said he had, I presumed, read reports or read our stories. And he was disturbed by what he found.

JEFFREY BROWN: And it continues? Or what — I mean, the program?

ADAM GOLDMAN: As far as we know, the NYPD is unapologetic.

Politicians in New York City are unwilling to ask the questions: Is this an effective use of taxpayers’ money and does any of this work?

JEFFREY BROWN: All right, Adam Goldman of the AP, thanks so much.

ADAM GOLDMAN: Thank you.