A building superintendent was just doing his job when he phoned the New Brunswick police department to report a suspected terrorist cell.
Salil Sheth was checking on what was supposed to be an empty apartment, in an apartment complex just off the Rutgers University campus.
The apartment had very little furniture, no clothing, but he found two beds, two computers, dozens of black plastic boxes, photos and Muslim literature on the solitary table, and also a couple of NYPD radios.
New York authorities encourage the community to report anything suspicious, especially cases of obvious intelligence collection, so when he made a very suspicious find, he did what he was told to do, he phoned 911.
This all happened in 2009, but the 911 tape has recently been obtained from the New Brunswick Police Department, following a court action by the Associated Press.
When he called 911, the baffled operator replies, “Really? In New Brunswick?”
Sheth explains that he is doing an annual inspection of the apartments in his building, and that he had come across suspicious activity in one of the apartments, which was supposed to be empty.
The 911 dispatcher asks, "What's suspicious?"
"It’s suspicious in the sense that the apartment has no furniture except two beds, has no clothing, has New York City Police Department radios," replied Sheth.
"There's computer hardware, software, you know, just lying around,” continued the caller. “There's pictures of terrorists. There's pictures of our neighboring building that they have."
"In New Brunswick?" the dispatcher asked – still seemingly unconvinced.
When asked why he was inspecting the apartment, Sheth explains, "We have our annual, every five year state inspection for every apartment."
"So we notified all the residents that we would be going into each unit."
"And that was about two weeks ago. And so we have been going through the building, you know, unit by unit and we came across this apartment, number 1076, and it had these serious items."
"But it doesn't seem like its habited [sic], like there's someone in there because we sent out a notice two weeks ago that we were going to be doing a state inspection, and that notice is still hanging on, was still hanging on the front door."
Sheth finally convinces the operator, and she said that whoever was in the apartment should get out and that she would tell her supervisor.
The FBI then rushed to the scene.
However, apartment 1076 was not a terrorist cell, but a secret hideout used by New York City Police Department detectives, where they were gathering intelligence on the Muslim community of New Brunswick. However, the NYPD had not bothered to inform local officers and agents of the operation.
From the materials found on site, it could be seen that the NYPD officers had eavesdropped in cafés, infiltrated mosques and had also kept tabs on Muslim student groups, including some at the neighboring Rutgers University.
This discovery caused some embarrassment to the NYPD, which got worse when they had to ask the FBI to return their surveillance material. There was immediately an uproar from human rights groups, who sued to shut down what they call an anti-constitutional domestic surveillance program.
Fears were also expressed that the NYPD would repeat abuses of the 1950's, when police "Red Squads" spied on activists and student groups, searching for communists.
When asked in February why the NYPD is running operations in New Jersey, and whether they have the right to do this, the NYPD's legal matters commission said that officers can operate outside of New York, as long as they are not conducting official police business.
NYPD’s deputy commissioner for legal matters, Andrew Schaffer, said, “They’re not acting as police officers in other jurisdictions.”
New York mayor, Michael Bloomberg, defended the NYPD's right to go anywhere in the country in search of terrorists without telling local police.
Since the terror attacks of September 11, 2001, the NYPD has had training and guidance from the CIA, and has been monitoring the activities of Muslims in New York and far beyond. According to media reports, the NYPD's Special Services Unit is also operating in Pennsylvania, Massachusetts and other states.
According to Associated Press, this scandal did not contravene NYPD's regulations and the practice of targeting minorities without evidence of wrongdoing continues.