MPAC Concerned Brennan’s Statements about NYPD will Jeopardize DOJ Investigation & Community Partnerships

April 23, 2012

MPAC expressed deep concern regarding a statement by John Brennan, President Barack Obama’s Homeland Security adviser, supporting the New York Police Department’s surveillance of Muslim American communities.

SEE: “Obama’s Top Counterterrorism Adviser Praises NYPD” (Associated Press)

Brennan said during a law enforcement conference:

"I have full confidence that the NYPD is doing things consistent with the law, and it's something that again has been responsible for keeping this city safe over the past decade… the Muslim community here is part of the solution to the terrorist threat, and they need to be part of that effort, and that dialogue needs to continue." 

 This comes at a sensitive time in the process of accountability of NYPD’s actions. Brennan’s statements could undermine the preliminary review the Department of Justice is considering to determine if there were any unlawful practices that led to spying on Muslim Americans.

"If the NYPD is a model for community partnership, then all of our hard work in building partnerships on the ground is in jeopardy,” said Haris Tarin, Director of MPAC’s DC office. “There are plenty of robust partnership models that both communities and the government have invested in, and those partnerships will be jeopardized if NYPD's current tactics are not halted, and its programs are not adjusted to more successful initiatives.” 

MPAC requested an immediate public clarification of Brennan's statement in order to ensure the full integrity and independence of a review, free from even the appearance of any pressure to affect the decision-making process during this preliminary inquiry.

After MPAC expressed deep concerns with Brennan’s statement to White House officials, they issued this brief statement attempting to clarify Brennan’s remarks:

“John Brennan met with NYPD Commissioner Kelly and told him we need to be sure we are balancing security and civil rights. Commissioner Kelly agreed and told him he was doing that in NY. John was not rendering any judgment as to whether NYPD’s practices should be the focus of a federal investigation; rather he was stating that everyone in the counterterrorism and law enforcement community must make sure we are doing things consistent with the law. The NYPD has an extremely difficult job in protecting New York City and Commissioner Kelly assured John they were doing it consistent with the law. In combating national security threats we all face, the Muslim community is a part of the solution, not part of the problem.  Federal, state and local law enforcement needs to partner with all of our communities to keep us safe. When Mr. Brennan referred to NYPD as a ‘model of how a community can come together,’ he was referring to the broad partnerships that NYPD has built since 9/11.  Mr. Brennan’s comment was made in the context of the NYPD Shield Conference, part of NYPD’s public-private partnership ‘with private sector security managers with the goal of protecting New York City from terrorist attacks.’ ”

In a letter to the White House, MPAC made it clear that unless there are steps taken to further clarify the statements this could harm our shared agenda of community-partnership approaches.

We are concerned that this statement may potentially compromise the integrity of Attorney General Eric Holder's review. Holder is best positioned to determine the legal merits of NYPD’s surveillance actions.

Following the White House’s strategy of using community partnerships to counter violent extremism, the NYPD needs to shift its model to be more inclusive of all communities, and the administration needs to be consistent in how it implements its strategy. Communities cannot be sent conflicting messages on the commitment this administration has towards partnership. Either we choose partnerships or broad surveillance of all Americans.

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