Taking office not long after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly wisely decided to beef up the Police Department’s counterterrorism program significantly, to help federal law enforcement agencies avert another disaster.
Unfortunately, they did not provide for sufficiently strong supervision of this formidable and far-flung intelligence operation — to check the well-known tendency of all such agencies, operating in secrecy and under murky rules, to abuse their powers. It appears that many thousands of law-abiding Muslim-Americans have paid a real price for that omission. A series of articles by The Associated Press has exposed constitutionally suspect surveillance of Muslims in New York, New Jersey, Long Island and beyond. Unearthed police records noticeably lack any apparent link to suspected criminal activity, or any obvious payoff for public safety.
It is a distressing fact of life that mistreatment of Muslims does not draw nearly the protest that it should. But not just Muslims are threatened by this seemingly excessive warrantless surveillance and record-keeping. Today Muslims are the target. In the past it was protesters against the Vietnam War, civil rights activists, socialists. Tomorrow it will be another vulnerable group whose lawful behavior is blended into criminal activity.
Mr. Bloomberg has reacted in the worst possible way — with disdain — to those raising legitimate questions about the surveillance program. Asking about its legality, and about whether alienating innocent Muslims is a smart or decent strategy, does not translate into being soft on terrorism, or failing to appreciate that it is a dangerous world.