With CIA help, NYPD moves covertly in Muslim areas
By ADAM GOLDMAN - Associated Press,MATT APUZZO - Associated Press
NEW YORK (AP) — Since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the New York Police Department has become one of the nation's most aggressive domestic intelligence agencies, targeting ethnic communities in ways that would run afoul of civil liberties rules if practiced by the federal government, an Associated Press investigation has found.
These operations have benefited from unprecedented help from the CIA, a partnership that has blurred the line between foreign and domestic spying.
The department has dispatched 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.
Neither the city council, which finances the department, nor the federal government, which has given NYPD more than $1.6 billion since 9/11, is told exactly what's going on.
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.
A veteran CIA officer, while still on the agency's payroll, was the architect of the NYPD's intelligence programs. The CIA trained a police detective at the Farm, the agency's spy school in Virginia, then returned him to New York, where he put his new espionage skills to work inside the United States.
And just last month, the CIA sent a senior officer to work as a clandestine operative inside police headquarters.
In response to the story, the Council on American-Islamic Relations, a leading Muslim civil rights organization, called on the Justice Department to investigate. The Justice Department said Wednesday night it would review the request.
"This is potentially illegal what they're doing," said Gadeir Abbas, a staff attorney with the organization.
The NYPD denied that it trolls ethnic neighborhoods and said it only follows leads. Police operations have disrupted terrorist plots and put several would-be killers in prison.
"The New York Police Department is doing everything it can to make sure there's not another 9/11 here and that more innocent New Yorkers are not killed by terrorists," NYPD spokesman Paul Browne said. "And we have nothing to apologize for in that regard."
AP's investigation is based on documents and interviews with more than 40 current and former New York Police Department and federal officials. Many were directly involved in planning and carrying out these secret operations for the department. Though most said the tactics were appropriate and made the city safer, many insisted on anonymity, because they were not authorized to speak with reporters about security matters.
In just two episodes showing how widely the NYPD cast its net, the department sought a rundown from the taxi commission of every Pakistani cab driver in the city, and produced an analytical report on every mosque within 100 miles, officials said.
One of the enduring questions of the past decade is whether being safe requires giving up some liberty and privacy. The focus of that debate has primarily been federal programs like wiretapping and indefinite detention. The question has received less attention in New York, where residents do not know for sure what, if anything, they have given up.
The story of how the NYPD Intelligence Division developed such aggressive programs begins with one man.
David Cohen arrived at the New York Police Department in January 2002, just weeks after the last fires had been extinguished at the debris field that had been the twin towers. A retired 35-year veteran of the CIA, Cohen became the police department's first civilian intelligence chief.
Cohen had an exceptional career at the CIA, rising to lead both the agency's analytical and operational divisions. He also was an extraordinarily divisive figure, a man whose sharp tongue and supreme confidence in his own abilities gave him a reputation as arrogant. Cohen's tenure as head of CIA operations, the nation's top spy, was so contentious that in 1997, The New York Times editorial page took the unusual step of calling for his ouster.
He had no police experience. He had never defended a city from an attack. But New York wasn't looking for a cop.
"Post-9/11, we needed someone in there who knew how to really gather intelligence," said John Cutter, a retired NYPD official who served as one of Cohen's top uniformed officers.
At the time, the intelligence division was best known for driving dignitaries around the city. Cohen envisioned a unit that would analyze intelligence, run undercover operations and cultivate a network of informants. In short, he wanted New York to have its own version of the CIA.
Cohen shared Commissioner Ray Kelly's belief that 9/11 had proved that the police department could not simply rely on the federal government to prevent terrorism in New York.
"If anything goes on in New York," one former officer recalls Cohen telling his staff in the early days, "it's your fault."
Among Cohen's earliest moves at the NYPD was making a request of his old colleagues at CIA headquarters in Langley, Va. He needed someone to help build this new operation, someone with experience and clout and, most important, someone who had access to the latest intelligence so the NYPD wouldn't have to rely on the FBI to dole out information.
CIA Director George Tenet responded by tapping Larry Sanchez, a respected veteran who had served as a CIA official inside the United Nations. Often, when the CIA places someone on temporary assignment, the other agency picks up the tab. In this case, three former intelligence officials said, Tenet kept Sanchez on the CIA payroll.
When he arrived in New York in March 2002, Sanchez had offices at both the NYPD and the CIA's station in New York, one former official said. Sanchez interviewed police officers for newly defined intelligence jobs. He guided and mentored officers, schooling them in the art of gathering information. He also directed their efforts, another said.
There had never been an arrangement like it, and some senior CIA officials soon began questioning whether Tenet was allowing Sanchez to operate on both sides of the wall that's supposed to keep the CIA out of the domestic intelligence business.
"It should not be a surprise to anyone that, after 9/11, the Central Intelligence Agency stepped up its cooperation with law enforcement on counterterrorism issues or that some of that increased cooperation was in New York, the site of ground zero," CIA spokeswoman Jennifer Youngblood said.
Just as at the CIA, Cohen and Sanchez knew that informants would have to become the backbone of their operation. But with threats coming in from around the globe, they couldn't wait months for the perfect plan.
They came up with a makeshift solution. They dispatched more officers to Pakistani neighborhoods and, according to one former police official directly involved in the effort, instructed them to look for reasons to stop cars: speeding, broken tail lights, running stop signs, whatever. The traffic stop gave police an opportunity to search for outstanding warrants or look for suspicious behavior. An arrest could be the leverage the police needed to persuade someone to become an informant.
For Cohen, the transition from spying to policing didn't come naturally, former colleagues said. When faced with a decision, especially early in his tenure, he'd fall back on his CIA background. Cutter said he and other uniformed officers had to tell Cohen, no, we can't just slip into someone's apartment without a warrant. No, we can't just conduct a search. The rules for policing are different.
While Cohen was being shaped by the police department, his CIA background was remaking the department. But one significant barrier stood in the way of Cohen's vision.
Since 1985, the NYPD had operated under a federal court order limiting the tactics it could use to gather intelligence. During the 1960s and 1970s, the department had used informants and undercover officers to infiltrate anti-war protest groups and other activists without any reason to suspect criminal behavior.
To settle a lawsuit, the department agreed to follow guidelines that required "specific information" of criminal activity before police could monitor political activity.
In September 2002, Cohen told a federal judge that those guidelines made it "virtually impossible" to detect terrorist plots. The FBI was changing its rules to respond to 9/11, and Cohen argued that the NYPD must do so, too.
"In the case of terrorism, to wait for an indication of crime before investigating is to wait far too long," Cohen wrote.
U.S. District Judge Charles S. Haight Jr. agreed, saying the old guidelines "addressed different perils in a different time." He scrapped the old rules and replaced them with more lenient ones.
It was a turning point for the NYPD...
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