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Anchored by Jake Tapper, The Lead airs at 4 p.m. ET on CNN.

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September 12th, 2013
05:18 PM ET

When it mattered most, invasive surveillance programs didn't work, say reporters

Thursday marks a dubious anniversary – September 12, the day the United States woke up to a different world, one where the Patriot Act, digital surveillance, and secret data collection programs routinely bend individual liberties in the name of national security.

The leaders of the city that 12 years ago was still clouded in dust and debris remain unapologetic about the trade off of privacy in the name of counterterrorism.

The would-be subway bomber Najibullah Zazi, whose attempted attack on New York in September 2009 is described in detail in the new book "Enemies Within: Inside the NYPD's Secret Spying Unit and bin Laden's Final Plot Against America."

The book alleges that just months after the twin towers fell, a new anti-terrorism program was born within the New York Police Department. The idea was to turn plain clothes cops into intelligence agents to track the city's Muslim population.

But authors Matt Apuzzo and Adam Goldman argue that the controversial unit fell short when it mattered most: When Zazi, loaded with a detonator and explosives, drove a rental car across the George Washington Bridge and into Manhattan.

The book has dueling narratives, one follows the trajectory of terrorists like Zazi, and the other tracks the development of the NYPD's surveillance program.

The scope of the NYPD's intrusive domestic surveillance programs, built with help from the CIA, was "staggering," said Apuzzo. Such programs were designed to catch someone like Zazi – a homegrown, radicalized, al Qaeda-trained guy from Queens who wanted to blow up the subway. But they didn't.

"When it mattered most, the programs didn't work," said Apuzzo.

Along with Zazi, the book also tells the story of Bryant Neal Vinas, an American-born Latino who converted to Islam. Because of his Latino surname, the NYPD, and even the FBI, missed Vinas when he flew to Lahore, Pakistan.

"The NYPD were in his mosque, they were actually surveilling a group called the 'Islamic Thinkers' that he had joined, and they missed him completely," said Goldman. Vinas went on to become a terror consultant "to the upper echelon of al Qaeda, I mean it was an amazing journey."

After a tip from their U.S. counterparts, Pakistani security services arrested Vinas in Peshawar and transferred him into American custody.

NYPD commissioner Ray Kelly said the book is full of half-truths, and that he was just doing what he had to do after 9/11.

"Our sin is to have the temerity, the chutzpah to go into the federal government's territory of counter terrorism and try to protect this city, by supplementing what the federal government has done," Kelly told MSNBC.

Kelly has tried to make this about a turf battle between the FBI and the NYPD intelligence division, but that is not what the book is about, said Apuzzo

"What we're looking at is, post-9/11, what was built with these new authorities? What kind of surveillance are we accepting in our cities from a municipal police department post 9/11? And we want to let people decide whether they want that, and whether it's useful, and whether it's worth paying for," Apuzzo said.

For more of our interview with Adam Goldman and Matt Apuzzo, check out the video above.

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