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Newark mayor urges probe into NYPD spying program

By Susan Candiotti, CNN
updated 6:27 PM EST, Thu February 23, 2012
Newark, New Jersey, Mayor Corey Booker said unprovoked surveillance of Muslims in his city
Newark, New Jersey, Mayor Corey Booker said unprovoked surveillance of Muslims in his city "clearly crosses a line."
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: Sen. Robert Menendez calls on U.S. attorney general and CIA director to investigate
  • New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie calls the development "disturbing"
  • Christie asks state's attorney general to investigate reports of spying on Newark Muslim areas
  • Newark's mayor calls for investigation into New York Police Department surveillance

New York (CNN) -- The mayor of Newark has called for an investigation into a far-reaching New York Police Department surveillance program that was allegedly conducted in the New Jersey city's Muslim neighborhoods.

"The Newark Police Department was not involved in joint operations with the New York Police Department as was described in the disclosed NYPD report," Mayor Cory Booker said Wednesday, referring to a leaked internal New York police document that allegedly detailed police surveillance of Muslim-owned business and mosques across the city.

"I strongly believe that we must be vigilant in protecting our citizens from crime and terrorism, but to put large segments of a religious community under surveillance with no legitimate cause or provocation clearly crosses a line," he said.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie also called the development "disturbing" and has asked the state's attorney general to investigate.

But New York police say their Newark counterparts were "briefed before and afterwards, and a Newark liaison officer accompanied NYPD personnel when they were in Newark," according to a statement from NYPD spokesman Paul Browne.

"We engaged in lawful information gathering, authorized under federal guidelines, to better understand where terrorist suspects from certain countries may relocate to blend in and avoid detection," Browne noted.

The 60-page report, obtained by The Associated Press, showed maps of Newark and photographs of Muslim residences and mosques.

There was no statement in the document regarding terrorism or criminal activity.

Sen. Robert Menendez, D-New Jersey, dispatched a letter Thursday that called on U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and CIA Director David Petraeus to conduct a separate investigation, saying he was "deeply concerned" over the allegations.

New York University 's president also sent a letter to Police Commissioner Ray Kelly, saying that if police were targeting Muslims based on religion alone, that he found that "troubling and problematic."

"All of us who lived through the events of 9/11 here in New York understand what is at stake for our city," said president John Sexton. "Still, I must report our community's alarm over the reports of this activity, and that we stand in fellowship with our Muslim students in expressing our community's dismay."

The statements come a day after New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg defended the extent of police surveillance against critics who have suggested that authorities went too far.

"We have to keep this country safe," the mayor told reporters, addressing questions about a separate report, also leaked to AP, that indicated the New York police were closely monitoring Muslim student associations in schools across the Northeast.

"If people put things on websites and make them available to everybody, of course the NYPD is going to look at anything that's publicly available in the public domain," Bloomberg said. "And given we've had a dozen people arrested or convicted of terrorist acts who've come from similar organizations, we have an obligation to do so."

That report said police have tracked websites, and on one occasion sent an undercover officer with students from the City College of New York on a whitewater rafting trip in 2008.

A law enforcement official said intelligence gathering had indicated that an extremist group, commonly known as Al Muhajiroun, was suspected of having a possible connection to students at the City College of New York.

Police then sent an undercover agent to monitor Muslim students on campus for signs of criminal behavior. The official says that action was cleared by authorities beforehand so as to adhere to legal requirements, and that the decision was approved by an NYPD legal panel.

That panel included an NYPD attorney, as well as a civilian lawyer appointed by the mayor, the official said. CNN cannot independently confirm those accounts.

During the rafting trip, the undercover agent found no suspicious activity, the official said.

Al Muhajiroun, which is thought to have been based in the United Kingdom, operates under different names and remains a focus of counterterrorism efforts.

The group has also spawned splinter factions, including the Revolution Muslim and The Islamic Thinkers Society, and is thought to have disseminated extremist ideas among Muslim youth in the United States, according to CNN terrorism analyst Paul Cruickshank.

Earlier this week, Yale University President Richard Levin described New York's surveillance program as "antithetical to the values" of the New Haven, Connecticut, university and those of the nation.

When a reporter asked if police had gone too far by sending the agent on the rafting trip, Bloomberg responded, "No."

Police told CNN earlier that officers do not track students directly, but confirmed that they monitor websites the students use.

The Columbia University Muslim Students Association condemned the police practice in a statement earlier this week.

"We are concerned that news reports about NYPD's presence on our campus have a chilling effect on the intellectual freedom necessary for a vibrant academic community," it read.

In 2006, the police program concerning the monitoring of websites was canceled only six months after it began after the probe failed to yield information pertinent to law enforcement, according to a senior law enforcement official.

The surveillance program had centered on Columbia University, the City College of New York, Syracuse University, Yale University and the University of Pennsylvania.

In December, a prominent group of Muslim leaders boycotted Bloomberg's annual interfaith breakfast in protest of the alleged spying actions by the city's police force.

The move stemmed from a series of earlier news reports that had raised questions about the nature of a CIA partnership with city police that allegedly helped to build intelligence programs meant to spy on Muslims.

The boycott stood in stark contrast to the goodwill the mayor earned among Muslim leaders when he defended plans for a controversial Islamic community center near the former site of the World Trade Center in Lower Manhattan.

The CIA later announced its internal watchdog found no issue or evidence of wrongdoing in the spy agency's partnership with New York police.

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