Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Book Review: Enemies Within: Inside the NYPD's Secret Spying Unit and Bin Laden's Final Plot Against America

Enemies Within: Inside the NYPD's Secret Spying Unit and Bin Laden's Final Plot Against America
Matt Apuzzo

Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?
Who watches the watchers?

It’s become a cliché in our country that 9/11 changed everything, but the reality is that the catastrophic attack that took nearly 3,000 lives did indeed change much of our daily life. Some of these changes are obvious, such as the added precautions we are now obliged to take when boarding a plane. Other changes are so subtle we may not even notice them.

In Enemies Within: Inside the NYPD's Secret Spying Unit and Bin Laden's Final Plot Against America , Pulitzer Prize winners journalists Matt Apuzzo and Adam Goldman detail the attempted 2009 bombing attack on the New York City subway system and how it was investigated by the CIA, FBI, and the New York city Police Department. However, in the process of detailing this attempted crime, the terrorists, and their methods, the authors also reveal the activities of the New York City Police Department’s intelligence unit. Some readers may applaud this unit’s actions, some may shrug when they learn what the police did, and others may question the very existence of such a unit in a civilian police department.

In August of 2008 Najibullah Zazi, a failed college student, Zarein Ahmedzay a New York taxi driver and Adis Medunjanin a security guard traveled to Pakistan in search of a terrorist training camp. What still shocks me about this story is that Zazi and his two friends were able to simply waltz into Pakistan and sign up for an al-Qaeda terrorist camp. In a matter of mere weeks the trio had learned the rudiments of bomb making, hand to hand combat and use of the ubiquitous AK-47. The three young men were now prepared to return to America and avenge what they saw as illegal drone attacks in Afghanistan and illegal detentions at Abu Ghraib prison.

In September of 2009, in Aurora, Colorado, Najibullah Zazi, began to cook up two pounds of triacetone triperoxide (also known as TATP in terrorist circles, but the formula is so unstable that bomb makers refer to it as ‘Mother of Satan’). After loading the explosive into a rented red Impala, Zazi began his trip to New York City. His goal was to build three suicide vests to carry the TATP. Once constructed, he and his two friends would don the vests and board New York City subway trains 3, 4, and 5. When the doors closed, they would detonate their vests. The resulting carnage would be catastrophic. In addition to the irreplaceable lives lost, New Yorkers’ confidence in their subway system would be forever broken.

The story of these three young men’s murderous intent would by itself make for an intriguing read, but the authors incorporate the efforts of the controversial Intelligence unit of the NYPD to foil the attack into the narrative. This unit was patterned after the CIA and performed a similar function; they gathered information on possible terrorists. The difference being that the Intelligence unit, known simply as Intel, focused on terrorists targeting New York City. Their laudable goal was to thwart another 9/11. However, to some critics in the intelligence community, their methods were controversial. Deputy Commissioner David Cohen, head of Intel, developed several innovative methods unavailable to the FBI or CIA to gather information on New York City’s citizens in order to protect New York City’s citizens. His ultimate goal was of course to save lives. He felt the most efficient way to accomplish this was “…to know whether you were going to be a terrorist before you knew yourself.”

One of Cohen’s innovations was called raking. Rakers were young, Middle Eastern Americans fresh out of the Police Academy. After graduation they were sent into Muslim neighborhoods to “gauge sentiment.” They did not wear police uniforms. They blended in, talking to Muslims in grocery stores, mosques, barber shops, restaurants, or travel agencies about the latest news from the Middle East. At the end of the working day these policemen filed reports on every conversation. Was the shop owner critical of American policy? Was the Imam angry over the U.S. military’s latest drone strike? Was the college student exhibiting too much interest in an Al-Jazeera report discussing Guantanamo Bay detentions? Every comment was written down and stored for future analysis.

Another group within Intel was the Mosque Crawlers. These were informants who took the place of actual electronic listening devices. The FBI had vehemently refused to bug houses of worship stating, “We do collect domestic intelligence. But mosques are buildings. Mosques don’t conspire. Mosques don’t blow things up.” So Intel instead wired their informants and sent them inside the mosques in order to hear the worshipers’ conversations.

I’m not spoiling the book by telling you the attack failed; no American could forget a day so horrible as to rival 9/11. I am suggesting you read the book to discover why the attack failed, the fate of the jihadist, and whether the FBI, CIA, or Intel was responsible for preventing the attack. I believe Apuzzo and Goldman would suggest that you read their book then ask yourself what you’re willing to change in your daily life to prevent the next 9/11.

David Ryan
Business, Science & Technology Department
Central Library

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