Inside the NYPD’s Secret Spying Unit and Bin Laden’s Final Plot Against America
By Matt Apuzzo and Adam Goldman
Touchstone, 336 pages
There was a time when the wages of disloyalty were paid in ridicule and scorn. Today, those wages are spent in part to help journalists win Pulitzer Prizes and movie deals. At least that’s how it’s working out for Matt Apuzzo and Adam Goldman, members of an Associated Press team that spent months slandering the New York Police Department’s post-9/11 anti-terrorism programs—and who are now the authors of Enemies Within: Inside the NYPD’s Secret Spying Unit and Bin Laden’s Final Plot Against America.
The NYPD has been bird-dogging potential Islamic terrorists in New York since shortly after the Twin Towers fell. The program involves nothing illegal—certainly no one credible claims otherwise—and it has helped crack at least 14 Islamist terror plots against the city. The program has also irked the AP, which launched a crusade targeting the NYPD initiative and earned the giddy support of their brethren in the mainstream media.
Now comes this book, which contains nothing particularly insightful, or even clever. But in its sourcing and execution, Enemies Within does raise an important question: Why can’t the FBI and the CIA and all the other alphabet agencies that Americans spend gazillions on to be spared the savage attentions of Islamist fanatics simply get along?
It’s been a dozen years since 9/11. What is it that compels the FBI, for instance, to undermine the NYPD’s entirely legal, vetted-by-the-courts efforts to protect 8.3 million New Yorkers? For that is the secret of this book: It is a weapon in a turf war launched against the New York cops by the Feds, whose obsession with their own press clips has characterized the FBI since the agency’s founding.
Enemies Within is an often-breathless narrative of the takedown of a small band of aspiring subway bombers. It has villains, like Najibullah “Najib” Zazi, born in Paktia province, Afghanistan, in 1985. And there is a cast of henchmen that ranges from two Najib confederates to Osama bin Laden himself. More important, though, are the book’s two arch-villains: New York Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly and NYPD intelligence division chief David Cohen, who retired from the CIA after three-plus decades and signed on with Kelly in 2002.
Enemies Within traces the history of the department’s Intelligence Division—now run by Cohen. Noting that the unit was created in 1901 to deal with the Black Hand Society—an early iteration of La Cosa Nostra—the authors say that it soon succumbed to “what would become known as mission creep.”
And it began—gasp!—profiling. First, they write, the unit “investigated Italians” (the Black Hand presumably having enrolled few Norwegians) “and then anarchists. Germans and Japanese were next, during World War II. Then came the Cold War, which turned the NYPD’s focus to Communists…unions…and anti-war protestors” and so on, right up to 9/11 and the present.
Actually, the progression represented not so much mission creep as threat creep. Most of the unit’s targets were objective threats to New Yorkers’ safety; some imperiled civilization itself, much like Islamic fundamentalism does today.
Did the NYPD overreach in its past? Probably; what dynamic institution hasn’t? Certainly Apuzzo and Goldman think so. And they enlist a scruffy band of hard-left lawyers to walk readers through the 60s and 70s—when NYPD political surveillance was allegedly out of control.
Even as they do so, there is no mention of the radical Boudin family’s exploding Greenwich Village bomb-factory/townhouse in 1970, nor of the four people murdered by a terrorist bomb at Fraunces Tavern in 1975—incidents that suggest there was indeed an important role for intelligence-gathering even then.
In 1985, a federal court and the NYPD came to an agreement governing the way the NYPD could conduct surveillance when it came to extremist political activity. Apuzzo and Goldman treat this agreement as Holy Writ, a moment of high nobility. But in 2002, the judge who presided over the case originally consented to the agreement’s modification—to permit precisely the investigative techniques that so vex the authors.
There would be surveillance of public activities and go-where-the-leads-take-you infiltration, among other things. (The FBI does this all the time, of course; it even deploys drones without warrants! Imagine.) Clearly this aggressive effort to snuff out terrorist designs in their conceptual cribs has been controversial. Still, there is the plain fact of those 14 busted plots. Some of those were more serious than others, and Kelly, Cohen, and company don’t get all the credit. But they can be deeply proud of their work, and New Yorkers, at least, can be comforted by the fact that these efforts kept them safe.
Not Apuzzo and Goldman. They simply don’t believe local police departments should be doing counterterrorism in the first place. That, they say, is properly the responsibility of the FBI. No wonder every single person airbrushed in heroic poses in Enemies Within is a federal agent.
Writing of an embarrassingly undisciplined (albeit clearly cherry-picked and totally legal) NYPD operation in New Jersey, they note: “In any other city in America, the investigation would be the unquestioned responsibility of the FBI. State and local police would help, but it would be all run” by the G-Men.
This would be the same FBI that never picked up on 9/11; that never satisfactorily closed its probe of the 2001 anthrax attacks; that made a complete hash of the 1996 Olympic bombings in Atlanta—and that, most recently, turned up clueless on the Boston Marathon bombing (despite multiple warnings from Russia’s anti-terrorism cops).
Nevertheless, from the perspective of Enemies Within, the nation should place all its cards in the Hoover Building’s basket. There is a reason we don’t do that, and it’s precisely because counterterrorism is a frustrating business full of failure. After all, Cohen’s CIA didn’t flag 9/11 either, and the Iraqi WMD mess speaks for itself.
The NYPD has its own record of failure. It hadn’t a clue about Zazi until the FBI called. Nor did it learn of the attempted May 1, 2010, Times Square terror bombing until a street vendor saw smoke and started hollering for the cops.
It was understood in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 that cooperation between disparate parts of local, state, and federal governments working against terror was essential. This book indicates that the forces resisting cooperation in favor of turf battles and credit-hogging remain powerful—and through clever leaks and flattery, can get supposedly cynical reporters who think they know the score to work as their unwitting agents of influence.
Enemies Within could just as easily have been a compelling account of those behemoth federal alphabet agencies, hog-tied by political correctness and lawyerly timidity—but most of all paralyzed by the fear of public failure. That would have been a very useful book indeed—not quite as riveting as The Hunt for Najib Zazi, but a tale needing to be told anyway. But that wouldn’t have served the storyline that so thrills Pulitzer juries and scores its authors a lucrative movie deal.