CAIR: Firefighters’ Warrantless Searches Draw Concern


BLITZER: In the aftermath of September 11th terror attacks in New York, first responders complained about a lack of effective communication between police and firefighters. Now, some people are worried that firefighters in the city may be communicating too much with law enforcement.

CNN's Jeanne Meserve explains -- Jeanne.

JEANNE MESERVE, HOMELAND SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, a fiery debate erupted over a Homeland Security plan to expand the use of firefighters to search for terrorists.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MESERVE (voice-over): The New York City Fire Department knows about terrorism. Three hundred and forty-three of its men were killed on September 11th.

Since then, the department has trained its members to look for and report things that could indicate terrorist activity.

CHIEF SAL CASSANO, NEW YORK CITY FIRE DEPARTMENT: We get into, you know, many different places -- homes and different places of business every day, whether it's inspections or responses. And we thought that we would be the perfect people to, you know, help out on this war against terror.

MESERVE: But the program sets off alarms with constitutional experts.

JONATHAN TURLEY, GEORGE WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY SCHOOL OF LAW: It's using firefighters to get around the fourth amendment and the need for a warrant. What it effectively does is turns firefighters into sort of moving surveillance devices for the police.

MESERVE: Despite those concerns, top members of the New York Fire Department have been given security clearances by the Department of Homeland Security to make it easier to share the most current terrorism intelligence. DHS hopes the program will expand to fire departments in other cities.

A DHS official says it is not trying to turn firemen into terrorism snoopers and insists this isn't a big brother thing.

The New York Fire Department agrees.

CASSANO: Nobody's out for a witch-hunt. We're not breaking down doors. We're not going into back doors.

MESERVE: On every call, New York firefighters look for unusual telecommunications equipment, bomb making chemicals, maps, photographs. But one Arab-American group is wary that innocent people could be ensnared.

IBRAHIM HOOPER, COUNCIL ON AMERICAN-ISLAMIC RELATIONS: It's the book on the shelf. It's the picture on the wall. It's the language. It's the dress. These kind of things that could raise suspicion in some -- with somebody who had a particular prejudice or a bias.

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MESERVE: Even a firefighters' union is worried the program could erode trust and make some people reluctant to call for help when they need it -- hurting public safety, not enhancing it -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Jeanne.

Thanks very much.

Jeanne Meserve reporting.

 


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