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Sept-Oct 2013 , Page 59 

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

By Barry J. Pollack

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

By Matt Apuzzo and Adam Goldman
Touchstone (2013)

With the assistance of Bradley Manning and Edward Snowden, journalists have had a treasure trove of data from which to write stories about actions taken by the U.S. government post-9/11. These actions, always characterized as having been taken “to keep Americans safe,” have in many instances been directed at Americans. This reporting has sparked a healthy debate about the scope of the national security state that has arisen in the United States in reaction to the horrific terrorist attack on New York City in 2001.

Without the benefit of having a treasure trove of data dumped in their laps, journalists Matt Apuzzo, Adam Goldman, Eileen Sullivan, and Chris Hawley of the Associated Press published a series of articles reporting on a previously secret massive operation by the Intelligence Division of the New York City Police Department. The Intelligence Division established a vast network of undercover officers and informants to spy on Muslim Americans at mosques, universities, grocery stores, and other places in and around New York City in the hopes of identifying and disrupting terrorist activity. The journalists were rewarded with a Pulitzer Prize in 2012.

Matt Apuzzo and Adam Goldman have now gone further. They have taken the fruits of their investigative journalism and turned it into a compelling book, Enemies Within: Inside the NYPD’s Secret Spying Unit and Bin Laden’s Final Plot Against America. 

Enemies Within is really two books woven into one. Written in the style of a Robert Ludlum or Tom Clancy novel, it tells the true story of a rapidly unfolding terrorist plot and the efforts of law enforcement to disrupt it before it was too late. The plot was a suicide bombing of the New York City subway system. The book follows Najibullah Zazi, an American citizen, as he travels with powerful explosives from Colorado to New York City, where he intends to meet up with two co-conspirators, also American citizens, so that they can carry out their attack on the subway system. It also follows, in real time, the actions of law enforcement, which has been tipped off that Zazi and his confederates may be planning and imminently executing a terrorist attack, but law enforcement does not know when or where.

The second book within the book is the story of the New York City Police Department’s Intelligence Division and the history and growth of its massive spying operation. The book juxtaposes Zazi’s plot with this spying apparatus and, in the most provocative fashion, asks the question: now that the type of terrorist plot everyone most feared is actually happening, how well did the intelligence network, which had spied on countless innocent American citizens, perform its intended function and provide law enforcement the tools it needed to prevent American citizens who wanted to engage in terrorism from succeeding? The answer provided by Apuzzo and Goldman is unequivocal: the intelligence network, when it was most needed, did not work at all.

In the years post-9/11 and pre-Snowden, there has been almost no public dialogue about the balance between national security and privacy. The more national security, most thought, the better. And if that meant some civil rights or the privacy of certain citizens, or categories of citizens, may suffer, so be it. There has been precious little discussion of the magnitude of resources being spent on national security and whether it could be spent better in other ways.

Critics of Apuzzo and Goldman say that they focus too narrowly on a single terrorist plot. They claim, with scant evidence, that the Intelligence Division has had other “victories” against terrorism. They make the argument that if the effort has the potential to stop a single terrorist attack, the time and money are well spent.

Apuzzo’s and Goldman’s conclusions seem well reasoned and likely correct. Their critics may nonetheless make some valid points. But the fact that they have been forced to make them, and make them publicly, is a victory for democracy. Enemies Within adds greatly to the public’s knowledge about vitally important issues. It should be mandatory reading for anyone who wants to be an informed participant in the societal debate. That Apuzzo and Goldman have made such a significant contribution to the public’s knowledge and further enhanced a public dialogue about these issues is all the more laudable because they did so not by publishing information handed to them by a whistleblower, but by ferreting out the facts through old-fashioned investigative journalism. It is comforting to know that such a thing still exists.

About the Reviewer 

Barry J. Pollack, a member at Miller & Chevalier in Washington, D.C., is NACDL’s second vice president.

The opinions expressed in reviews are those of the reviewers and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of NACDL. 

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