- The Washington Times - Friday, December 6, 2002

New York Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly's efforts to revisit a 1985 consent decree limiting his department's ability to monitor the activities of suspected extremist organizations, including mosques that may be involved in violence, have apparently displeased some important folks at The Washington Post, which did a front-page hatchet job on the proposal last week. Commissioner Kelly's efforts to modify these guidelines deserve strong public support.
In late September, his department asked a federal district judge to modify a 1985 consent decree that effectively bars surveillance of private organizations unless police have a suspicion that they are engaged in violence. These would include local mosques, some of which have served as recruiting centers for terrorist operations like the one involved in the February 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center. The decree requires police to request permission from a three-member panel before conducting such surveillance. Investigators are also blocked from sharing information about political groups with other law-enforcement agencies, unless they agree to abide by the same crippling restrictions.
Under the city's proposal, these cumbersome limitations would end. But, the panel would still have authority to hear complaints and recommend disciplinary action against police who abuse their authority. Even with these reasonable limitations on police power, the Kelly proposal has drawn heavy fire from the American Civil Liberties Union and Arab-American groups, which complain that any relaxing of the consent decree would infringe the First Amendment.
Yet Heather McDonald of the Manhattan Institute provides the counterexample of an imam at a New York mosque who collects money for "martyrs in Palestine" and receives large wire transfers from Saudi Arabia. Moreover, CIA reports point out that associates of radical fundamentalists routinely visit that mosque before visiting other centers of Islamic radicalism in the United States. But, under the current guidelines, she writes, "the NYPD cannot even send a uniformed officer, let alone an undercover operative, to attend a service. It cannot ask a friendly neighborhood Muslim to keep the department informed. It cannot look further at where the foundation is getting or sending money, or where those wire transfers came from or went."
The guidelines veritably require such ignorance because they force police to prove a crime has been committed or is about to be before monitoring political or religious groups. But, this creates a potentially deadly Catch-22: It's impossible in many cases to prove that a crime is about to be committed without having already infiltrated the group in the first place.
New York City's surveillance guidelines are but one part of a pattern, which began with the Church Committee hearings of the 1970s, of discouraging federal, state and local law-enforcement agencies from seriously probing extremist groups. For example, if authorities had immediately and thoroughly searched the home of El-Sayyid Nosair following the 1990 assassination of Rabbi Meir Kahane, they would have learned that he was also involved with the terrorist cell responsible for 1993 World Trade Center bombing, which killed six persons and wounded 1,000. It is entirely possible that that attack may have been prevented.
Yet, The Post's story, which focused on the arguments of the ACLU and other critics of changing the consent decree, omitted any serious discussion of how the decree makes it more difficult for police to go after terrorist groups before they commit their destructive acts. In reality, if the court rules in favor of Commissioner Kelly's reform proposal, Americans will be far better protected against future terrorist atrocities.

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