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Spies, accusations and investigations

Bill Ritter's daily take on the news.
March 9, 2012 1:25:18 PM PST
Back in the day, police spying was hardly a big deal. Under Pres. Nixon during the Vietnam War, it was expected.

The newspaper I worked for was infiltrated. Undercover cops would show up at anti-war meetings and demonstrations. Some even got close, very close, as in intimately close. It was so prevalent that at the newspaper we took to taking their pictures and publishing them. We called the feature "Undercover Trading Cards. Kids, Collect All of Them!"

Years later, I'd come to know some of these cops. I was still a reporter; they were still on the job. Some of them didn't much like what they were asked to do; others loved it.

The FBI was also there - taking notes of quite-legal events during their intelligence-gathering missions. I was left with a nearly 200-page FBI file, filled mostly with pabulum. I was thinking back to those late 60's and early 70's today as the NYPD's surveillance controversy keeps growing.

Mayor Bloomberg - who could go right down the middle of the road and say that we need to gather intelligence on radical Islamics, but we need to be careful not to trample on innocent people's rights - stepped in it and claimed that the people who are protesting are just looking for attention. This happened while the Associated Press - which has been breaking chilling details of the surveillance - had another scoop today: It got NYPD files showing tons of surveillance on Muslim American businesses and people who have been in this country for nearly a century.

For our Sunday morning show, Up Close, I interviewed today two NYU students, both Muslim Americans, who have spoken out against the NYPD's surveillance, and now worry they may be targeted. Or not. They say they just don't know. And we also spoke to a professor who says non-Muslim students are also hurt - that spying on students violates the kind of academic freedom that universities are supposed to foster.

It is a conundrum. How to you gather intelligence and try to prevent attacks by radical Islamics (the NYPD says it has broken up several terrorist plots because of its intelligence gathering) without dragging in people who have nothing to do with terrorism? How do you do this without violating Constitutional rights?

The controversy has always been a hot one in the Muslim community. But with the AP investigations, and with New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Newark Mayor Cory Booker blasting the NYPD for crossing the Hudson and spying in New Jersey, the controversy has escalated to a whole new level.

The NYPD today insisted that it informed New Jersey officials, but no New Jersey official acknowledges that; in fact, they say they were not told.

I hope you can watch Up Close, this Sunday morning at 11. And we'll have the latest on the spying controversy, tonight on Eyewitness News at 11 p.m.

Also at 11, a real mess for some young athletes in New Jersey who paid for squad jackets but never got them. They contacted Nina Pineda and 7 On Your Side and got some consolation in January - but it turns the problems persisted. So they got her involved again. And this time - she met the merchant in court, as he was charged with a crime. It's a dramatic story.

We'll also have any breaking news of the night, plus Meteorologist Lee Goldberg's weekend AccuWeather forecast, and Rob Powers with the night's sports. I hope you can join Sade Baderinwa and me, tonight at 11.

BILL RITTER

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