Ray Kelly's WarFordham Law School in The Wall Street Journal, March 06, 2012
New York's elites put the antiterror cops on trial.
Imagine this scenario: A Columbia University graduate becomes alienated from U.S. society. He founds a website, Revolution Muslim, which publishes instructions on "How to Make a Bomb in the Kitchen of your Mom" from an al Qaeda publication. The man encourages others to kill the writers of "South Park" because they depicted the prophet Muhammad in a bear suit. Another man who visits the website decides to make pipebombs and plans attacks in New York City.
Far-fetched? Anti-Muslim, neocon propaganda?
No, the story is true, but the bombs never exploded and South Park's merry pranksters were never hurt because the New York Police Department stopped the alleged pipebomber, Jose Pimental, and the other man, Curtis Morton, before they could do any harm. The details were related on Sunday at Fordham Law School by Ray Kelly, the NYPD police commissioner, in a speech defending his department's antiterror surveillance in mosques, schools and Muslim neighborhoods.
My, how a decade without a terror attack can dull certain memories. Mr. Kelly began his second stint as Big Apple police chief in 2002, four months after 9/11. The city has since been the target of 14 terror plots, but not one has succeeded. You'd think this would be cause for thanks, if not praise. Yet Mr. Kelly is now under attack for having been too vigilant in trying to prevent attacks.
The Associated Press ignited the criticism with a series of dispatches reporting on police surveillance of Muslim groups, including students, some of them reaching all the way to . . . New Jersey and Yale. It seems one undercover cop even accompanied a group on a rafting trip—without having the courtesy of informing his fellow rafters that he was undercover.
Police practices shouldn't be immune to media scrutiny, but the AP reports have been amplified and used to suggest the NYPD is violating civil liberties and racially or religiously profiling some individuals. There's no proof of illegality, and infiltrating groups that are the most likely to produce terrorists is essential to preventing attacks.
But that hasn't stopped New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and Newark Mayor Cory Booker from criticizing Mr. Kelly for his incursion into the nation-state of New Jersey. Attorney General Eric Holder also pronounced his concern about New York's methods and said his department will review it. Mayor Michael Bloomberg is taking abuse because he has dared to defend his police chief.
Mr. Kelly is the real stand-up guy here. As he made clear at Fordham, such targeted surveillance and undercover work is essential to preventing crime of all kinds, in particular terror attacks. If mosques or universities or other places are beyond scrutiny, terrorists will inevitably use them to conceal their plans.
"Since 9/11," said Mr. Kelly, "some of the most violent terrorists we've encountered were radicalized or recruited at universities." London's 2005 subway terror bombers belonged to Muslim student groups. The tragedy is that those students hadn't been surveilled or infiltrated.
Mr. Kelly also made clear that New York's finest subject their terror investigations to rules known as the Handschu Guidelines, which were developed under court supervision to protect political activity from police interference. Surveillance must be based on bona fide leads and be cleared at the highest levels of the NYPD.
These are more restrictive rules than other police departments abide by, but the Handschu Guidelines are not a suicide pact. They allow the NYPD to visit any event or place open to the public, to search online, and to map certain neighborhoods. Believe it or not, even such open-source surveillance has been criticized.
Part of the anti-Kelly campaign is probably political, an attempt to deter him from running for mayor to succeed Mr. Bloomberg. Some liberals also want to stigmatize him so the next President wouldn't consider him to run the FBI—though he would be an inspired choice.
More disconcerting is the mindset this episode reveals. Little more than a decade after 9/11, too many of America's political elites are putting political correctness and civil libertarian scare-mongering above public safety. That's how innocent people get blown up.