NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — In the wake of the terrorist attacks in Brussels this week, there is renewed debate over an old controversy.
As CBS2 Political Reporter Marcia Kramer reported, U.S. Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) said the only way to protect New Yorkers in this age of encrypted phones is a return to aggressive surveillance in Muslim neighborhoods.
“No matter how much security you have at an airport or at a train station, once a person arrives with a bomb, odds are the damage is going to be done. People are going to be killed,” King said. “So it’s essential that we get intelligence, and you can only get that by being on the ground; having people in the community.”
King, a member of the House Homeland Security Committee, demanded that the NYPD return to conducting undercover surveillance of Muslims – a program that was attacked by many. He underscored the need for the officers involved to be undercover.
With terrorists able to cover their tracks with sophisticated phone and computer encryption, King said such surveillance is the only way to know what’s going on.
“I’m talking about the same thing that was done against organized crime – get undercover police, get informants, get infiltrators,” King said.
King rejected Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz’s call for uniformed police officers to “patrol and secure” Muslim neighborhoods.
Cruz defended his statement Wednesday during an interview with “CBS This Morning.”
“We saw a horrific terror attack in Brussels and our prayers this morning are with the families of those murdered, of those wounded,” Cruz said. “But what is important is that was not a lone wolf, that wasn’t an isolated attack. It was radical Islamic terrorism. It was ISIS that has declared jihad, that is waging war on us.”
Cruz specifically talked about the former NYPD program — and slammed Mayor Bill de Blasio for ending it.
“New York City under Mayor Bloomberg had a program that focused on and worked proactively with the Muslim community to stop radicalization; to prevent attacks from radical Islamic terrorism before they occur,” Cruz said. “Now what happened? Mayor de Blasio came in and decided political correctness mattered more than keeping people safe, and he disbanded the program.”
Police Commissioner Bill Bratton and Deputy Commissioner of Intelligence and Counter-terrorism John Miller also appeared on “CBS This Morning” Wednesday, and Bratton was not pleased with Cruz’s comments.
“He doesn’t know what the hell he’s talking about,” Bratton said. “To be quite frank with you, I took great offense at that statement.”
There was a great divide about King’s idea among Muslim New Yorkers who spoke to Kramer – mostly breaking down along the lines of young an old. Two older men said tighter security may be necessary.
“If anything is wrong, (police) have a right to come, and they can see. They can check. Why not?” said Sheikh Ahmed of Corona, Queens.
“If someone is wrong, he should be catched,” said Ahmed Mian of East Elmhurst, Queens.
But two younger men said they would have a problem with the return of the program.
“I think it’s a bad idea,” said Sourove Hossain of East Elmhurst. “It will probably upset a lot of people.”
“I believe it’s an invasion of privacy,” said Mohammed Khan. “It’s the First Amendment. You should have the freedom of religion. We shouldn’t have to, like, show what we’re doing.”
The Demographics Unit was created 18 months after the 9/11 terror attacks. The program, conceived with the help of a CIA agent working with the NYPD, assembled databases on where Muslims lived, shopped, worked and prayed.
Plainclothes officers infiltrated Muslim student groups, put informants in mosques, monitored sermons and cataloged Muslims in New York who adopted new, Americanized surnames.
Former Police Commissioner Ray Kelly defended the surveillance tactics, saying officers observed legal guidelines while attempting to create an early warning system for terrorism.
But in a deposition made public in 2012, an NYPD chief testified that the unit’s work had never generated a lead or triggered a terrorism investigation in the previous six years.
In defending the abolition of the program, Bratton said last November that his department had other ways to get critical information about terror cells and potential plots.
“Not one single piece of actionable intelligence ever came out of that unit in its years of existence,” Bratton said.
The NYPD has recently implemented counter terrorism canines, dogs who are trained to detect explosives with such close attention that they can smell bomb vapors on people while they are walking by.
NYPD Chief James Waters said the specially trained dogs are more important than ever given the latest suicide attacks.
“Their unique capabilities enable them to detect, not only improvised explosive devices, but also body worn explosives on a moving target in complex, crowded environments,” he said.
Eight of the specially trained dogs have just graduated the police academy.
Since the attacks, more than 500 NYPD officers have been deployed at key city landmarks and major transportation hubs, including Grand Central and Penn Station, as well as airports. A new 55-person unit also started patrolling underneath Times Square on Tuesday.
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