The Associated Press runs a chilling investigative article today on what can only be described as a rogue operation in which the CIA and New York Police Department work together—outside of the legal jurisdictions of either agency—to "combat" terrorism by infiltrating Muslim communities, racial profiling that the FBI is prohibited from conducting by federal law.
Since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the NYPD has become one of the country's most aggressive domestic intelligence agencies. A months-long investigation by The Associated Press has revealed that the NYPD operates far outside its borders and targets ethnic communities in ways that would run afoul of civil liberties rules if practiced by the federal government. And it does so with unprecedented help from the CIA in a partnership that has blurred the bright line between foreign and domestic spying.
Neither the city council, which finances the department, nor the federal government, which contributes hundreds of millions of dollars each year, is told exactly what's going on.
The department has dispatched teams of undercover officers, known as "rakers," into minority neighborhoods as part of a human mapping program, according to officials directly involved in the program. They've monitored daily life in bookstores, bars, cafes and nightclubs. Police have also used informants, known as "mosque crawlers," to monitor sermons, even when there's no evidence of wrongdoing. NYPD officials have scrutinized imams and gathered intelligence on cab drivers and food cart vendors, jobs often done by Muslims.
Many of these operations were built with help from the CIA, which is prohibited from spying on Americans but was instrumental in transforming the NYPD's intelligence unit.
The program was largely started by David Cohen, a retired 35-year veteran of the CIA who started at the NYPD in Jan. 2002, who's tenure at the CIA as head of operations was so controversial "that in 1997, The New York Times editorial page took the unusual step of calling for his ouster." Using CIA assets and training, Cohen set up his own private, domestic CIA within the NYPD. During the Bush administration, CIA Director George Tenet selected Larry Sanchez to assist in the program, while he was still on the CIA payroll.
The division operates well outside of New York City, venturing into New Jersey, Massachusetts and Pennsylvania, without the knowledge of or cooperation with local law enforcement. "They can't make arrests and, if something goes wrong—a shooting or a car accident, for instance—the officers could be personally liable. But the NYPD has decided it's worth the risk, a former police official said." The division has done intelligence-gathering "related to the United Nations" according to the reporters. That's supposed to be the job of the FBI, which has apparently butted heads with the CIA over this program. Which makes sense, since domestic law enforcement efforts are within its scope, and supposed to be illegal for the CIA to conduct.
It's not terribly likely that the Republican-controlled House intelligence committee will feel inclined to investigate, but Sen. Dianne Feinstein must, as should Attorney General Eric Holder. This is not okay. This is not legal, even in a post-9/11 world. And if—and it's a massive if—this kind of program is necessary to prevent terrorism, it has to be done legally.