WASHINGTON –- Don’t get Associated Press reporters Matt Apuzzo and Adam Goldman started on the lack of transparency in the New York Police Department.
“For the most part, they don’t respond,” Apuzzo, 34, said in an interview with The Huffington Post. “I don’t think people are well-served by that. Even the NSA responds.”
“Even the CIA responds,” Goldman, 42, jumped in. “Even the FBI responds.”
The "public is not well-served by a police department that doesn’t allow you access to 911 calls or public records, police reports" and then "produces their own summaries of cases for you to look at, but doesn’t let you get access to the underlying documents,” Apuzzo added later.
“The NYPD is deciding what’s news,” Goldman said.
Except when the AP is breaking news about the NYPD.
Two years ago, Apuzzo and Goldman began reporting a Pulitzer Prize-winning series revealing how the NYPD’s Intelligence Division surveilled Muslim communities in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. On Tuesday, the pair expanded upon that reporting with their first book, “Enemies Within: Inside the NYPD's Secret Spying Unit and bin Laden's Final Plot Against America.”
The new reporting uncovers how the NYPD designated entire mosques as terrorism organizations in order to gather intelligence on their members without the presence of a specific threat. And as with the 2011-2012 series, Apuzzo and Goldman published internal documents to back up their reporting. But, they say, they only included a small amount of what they obtained.
"We’re not trying to be the WikiLeaks of the NYPD here," Apuzzo said. "We’re not trying to dump everything out and let people sort it out ... We were pretty rigorous about endnoting, about saying where we were getting things."
In “Enemies Within,” the reporters trace the growth of the NYPD’s Intelligence Division, overseen by former high-ranking CIA official David Cohen. There's also a dueling narrative about the pursuit of a Najibullah Zazi, a 24-year-old Afghan immigrant from Queens who was involved in a 2009 al Qaeda plot to bomb the city’s subway system.
The book raises concerns about the extent of the domestic surveillance that was permitted after 9/11, a policy debate playing out nationally following disclosures of NSA surveillance by former contractor Edward Snowden. Over a decade after the attacks, journalists and lawmakers are increasingly asking questions about whether post-9/11 surveillance methods infringe on civil liberties and, importantly, whether there's evidence they have worked.
In 2002, Cohen pushed to relax the city's Handschu guidelines for police investigations, which were enacted in 1985 following a lawsuit by left-wing groups spied on during the Vietnam Era. Under Handschu, the authors wrote, the police department “could investigate constitutionally protected activities only when it had specific information that a crime was being committed or was imminent.
Cohen argued that the Handschu guidelines were outdated and a judged agreed. The NYPD, under commissioner Ray Kelly, interpreted the revised guidelines to permit intelligence-gathering on Muslim restaurants, mosques and neighborhoods, including Zazi’s. And yet the NYPD's extensive, years-long surveillance operation didn't play a role in stopping the Zazi plot.
"When it mattered most," the authors write, "those programs failed.”
'BAD FOR DEMOCRACY. BAD FOR EVERYONE.'
Over beers at Maddy's Tap Room, downstairs from the AP's Washington D.C. bureau, Apuzzo and Goldman discussed reporting the NYPD stories and covering national security, the justice department and intelligence in the nation's capital, where they live with their families. Apuzzo and Goldman are in close agreement over issues of journalism and transparency, and they quickly jumped off of, and expanded upon, each other's thoughts.
Apuzzo, who once covered corruption in Connecticut, and Goldman, who cut his teeth covering the Las Vegas gambling industry, have built a strong reputation in Washington. Spencer Ackerman, national security editor for The Guardian, dubs them the “new Woodward and Bernstein” on the book’s back cover.
They've also ruffled feathers in the White House. The Justice Department has opened leak investigations into three separate stories they've written, making them the target of more known investigations than any other reporter or reporting duo since President Barack Obama took office. The first two investigations were spurred by Apuzzo and Goldman's reporting on a sealed indictment related to the subway plot in June 2010 and their story a week later on an al Qaeda plot in Norway.
But it's the third investigation that drew the journalism world’s attention.
It was revealed in May that the DOJ had secretly seized phone records for 20 AP phone lines in an investigation related to a 2012 report by the duo on a CIA-thwarted al Qaeda plot in Yemen. The DOJ's sweeping move drew condemnation from free speech advocates and helped lead to new press guidelines in July.
Apuzzo and Goldman, who have chimed in on Twitter about the double standard that seemingly guides the Obama administration's decisions to investigate or ignore leaks, declined to comment on their personal situation. However, they spoke broadly about concerns over the public primarily getting information that has been filtered by the government.
“This administration [is] cracking down on people who talk to reporters when it’s not sanctioned by the government,” Apuzzo said. “And that’s just such a tremendous disservice to the public -- that the only people willing to talk to reporters are those who have been blessed by official Washington."
“What if we’re only getting the administration’s views on why we should bomb Syria,” Goldman said. “Didn’t we just go through this with Iraq?
“It’s just bad for democracy,” Apuzzo said.
“Right,” Goldman said.
“It’s just bad for everyone,” Apuzzo said.
“If we can’t reach out to people to get a more thorough understanding of why this country might, in effect, bomb another country,” Goldman said, “that’s serious.”
FROM NYPD TO NSA
After finishing "Enemies Within" in April, Apuzzo and Goldman returned to covering national security and intelligence matters.
In June, they challenged the government’s claims that PRISM, an NSA program revealed in the Snowden documents, was necessary to stopping the New York City subway plot. Government officials, they wrote, “have changed their stories and misstated key facts of the Zazi plot,” while neglecting to mention that “the email that disrupted the plan could easily have been intercepted without PRISM.”
The reporters say that working on the book helped them skeptically assess the government's claims.
“If you’re a reporter who hadn’t been lucky enough to have just written a book about this, you have very little ability to question the official Washington narrative of background press conferences and off-the-record spin that happens,” Apuzzo said.
“Reporters constantly need to remind themselves to be deeply skeptical of what the government’s telling them, whether it’s the power structure here in DC or the power structure in New York," Goldman said. "Just because [Mayor Michael] Bloomberg says it, does not make it true. Just because Kelly says it, does not make it true.”
But when Kelly and Bloomberg have suggested that the police department only follows specific leads and that it wouldn't participate in wholesale spying on mosques or target individuals based on religion, the New York media has often taken them at their words, despite documents obtained by Apuzzo and Goldman that suggest otherwise.
The city’s top tabloid newspapers, the New York Post and Daily News, editorialized against the AP's NYPD series in 2011, and The New York Times did little follow-up reporting on the revelations and newly published documents.
"It was extremely surprising to us that putting a former CIA officer in charge of the NYPD intelligence division and creating what’s been created generated so little attention at the time," Apuzzo said.
“Looking back, the decision to put somebody with no law enforcement experience in charge of hundreds of police officers is really an extraordinary move in the history of policing and deserved more attention than it got,” he said.
“There were all sorts of signs that the NYPD was going to build what it ultimately built and it didn’t get as much attention as it should’ve,” he continued. “That’s on all of us. For years, this went on and I think we only sort of realized what was being built now that we look back. I think we all should have been a little more curious at the time because it raises a ton of public policy questions about the role of police as intelligence gatherers.”