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Christie says NYPD spying ignored 9/11 lessons

March 1, 2012 3:11:34 PM PST
The New York Police Department ignored one of the key lessons of Sept. 11 by not sharing information with New Jersey law enforcement agencies when it conducted secret surveillance of Muslim communities, Gov. Chris Christie said Thursday.

The Republican governor's comments echoed remarks he made Wednesday night on a radio program, when he issued his harshest criticism yet of the NYPD's secret surveillance of Muslims in New Jersey's largest city and elsewhere. He said the department had a "masters of the universe" mentality."

At a briefing Thursday, the governor wouldn't weigh in on whether he thought civil rights were violated, saying that wasn't his job and that he would leave that to any agencies investigating the NYPD's intelligence operations.

"My view, politicians shouldn't be involved in that. Leave it to law enforcement," Christie said. "If there were any violations of law by the NYPD, I am sure the attorney general will take whatever steps he deems appropriate."

Nonetheless, Christie's latest comments drew praise from at least one Muslim leader in New Jersey, Aref Assaf, head of the Paterson-based American Arab Forum.

"I'm so gratified. I'm honored to be a resident of the state of New Jersey under his leadership," Assaf said. "He doesn't mince words; he was unambiguous about the incursion of the NYPD into our state without proper protocols."

Muslim leaders have been invited to a meeting Saturday in Trenton with state and federal law enforcement officials to discuss New Jersey's response to the NYPD surveillance operations.

Assaf said Muslim leaders already have a good relationship with state and federal law enforcement so he isn't sure how valuable the meeting will be unless New Jersey Attorney General Jeff Chiesa, who is reviewing the NYPD's operations, announces a more formal investigation.

Cheisa wouldn't talk about the review or offer a timetable for issuing a finding.

Christie on Thursday again focused his criticism of the NYPD on what he said was a lack of coordination with New Jersey law enforcement.

"It seems to be an abandonment of the core lesson of 9/11," he said.

The governor said it can be dangerous if law enforcement agencies don't share information. In a poke at New York Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly, Christie said Kelly wouldn't want to have to explain if something went wrong because of a lack of coordination.

On the radio program, he had mocked the commissioner as "all knowing, all seeing."

Mayor Michael Bloomberg has said New York officers are permitted to travel beyond the city borders to investigate cases. He has argued that the NYPD's actions have been constitutional and necessary in a city constantly under the shadow of a terrorist threat.

On Thursday, his office declined to comment on Christie's newest statements, referring back to the mayor's previous comments. The NYPD didn't respond to a request for comment Thursday.

Christie's remarks came in response to a series of stories by The Associated Press that detailed the monitoring or recommended surveillance of Muslims in New York and surrounding states, including New Jersey and Connecticut, by the NYPD. The AP also revealed that the NYPD secretly monitored the daily activities of Muslim college student groups across the Northeast.

Civil rights groups in the Northeast on Thursday joined widening calls for an investigation. The Justice Department said this week that it was just starting a review, months after first getting complaints about NYPD surveillance of entire American Muslim neighborhoods.

The American Civil Liberties Unions of Connecticut and Pennsylvania are seeking investigations on NYPD practices in those states, including at Yale University and the University of Pennsylvania. An NYPD report also described surveillance in Newark, on which Christie said he doesn't recall being briefed even though he was then the U.S. attorney for the state.

"I understand we need people doing covert surveillance to protect the people of our state and our region," Christie said Wednesday on Townsquare Media's "Ask the Governor" program. "No problems with that. My concern is, Why can't you communicate with the people here in New Jersey, with law enforcement here in New Jersey? Are we somehow not trustworthy?"

He said he didn't know whether the surveillance program was "born out of arrogance, or out of paranoia, or out of both."

"I had federal jurisdiction. I could go anywhere. They are the New York Police Department. I know they think that their jurisdiction is the world. Their jurisdiction is New York City," he said.

"My concern is this kind of affectation that the NYPD seems to have that they are the masters of the universe," Christie said.

In 2007, the NYPD's secretive Demographics Unit fanned out across Newark, photographing every mosque and eavesdropping on Muslim businesses. The findings were cataloged in a 60-page report, obtained by the AP, that served as a police guidebook to Newark's Muslims. There was no mention of terrorism or any criminal wrongdoing.

Newark's top officials said their police were asked to show NYPD officers around but didn't know about the nature and scope of the NYPD operation.

While stressing in his radio comments that he had no problem with "covert surveillance," Christie didn't say whether he thought it was appropriate to target certain communities as a preventive measure when there was no suspected wrongdoing.

The NYPD said it informed Newark officials, a liaison was assigned and Newark police were briefed before and afterward. New York City officials have been unapologetic.

Andrew Schaffer, Deputy Commissioner for Legal Matters, said NYPD officers weren't acting as police officers from another jurisdiction.

"They don't exercise police power, they don't make arrests, they don't conduct searches, they don't execute search warrants. That is beyond our power outside of our defined jurisdiction," Schaffer said. "But there's no prohibition on traveling to, residing in, or investigating within the United States."

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Associated Press writers Beth DeFalco in Trenton, Samantha Gross and Colleen Long in New York, and Samantha Henry in Newark contributed to this report.

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