The recently revealed joint CIA/NYPD operations being run all along the Eastern Seaboard are, of course, completely illegal but are perhaps symptomatic of the past decade’s use of the word “terrorist” to excuse any and all bad behavior by law enforcement and intelligence agencies. The NYPD Intelligence Division and Counter-Terrorism Bureau, which incorporates an “dirty tricks” undercover Special Services Unit and a Terrorist Interdiction Unit that runs informants and maps the city’s “human terrain,” is headed by David Cohen, a former top CIA analyst. Its budget is $62 million per year.
To summarize for those who have not read the lengthy investigative report by Associated Press, the CIA had senior officers posted to New York City who worked directly with the NYPD to establish what amounted to an Agency presence within the police force. They instructed undercover cops, including one who was actually trained at the CIA’s “Farm” facility in Williamsburg Virginia, to recruit sources in the local Muslim communities and to use informants to search for possible terrorism hotspots in book stores, cafes, and mosques. NYPD officers and their own “snitch” sources did the trolling but they were directed by CIA officers and, ignoring normal police and FBI guidelines, did not require probable cause of criminal activity to initiate an operation.
Operations were run not only in New York, but throughout northern New Jersey and as far away as Massachusetts without any liaison with the local authorities or even with the FBI. Reports on every mosque in the New York area were compiled by undercover officers and informants. Liaison offices were established in eleven foreign cities, not unlike CIA stations. Apparently, only Muslims were targeted initially, though antiwar activists were also pursued by the Bureau during the 2004 Republican National Convention. Court documents reveal that one of the questions police asked protesters who were detained was “Do you hate George W. Bush?’
Cohen’s Bureau regularly shreds documents relating to its operations so there will be no paper trail. The FBI has refused to let its New York office even look at the information that is being collected by the NYPD intelligence unit because it considers it illegal. At a minimum, the NYPD intelligence unit is overwhelmingly targeting one religious community and illegally collecting information on American citizens and residents who are innocent of any crime. They are justifying doing so due to suspicion that someone might be contemplating a crime, which criminalizes thoughts rather than deeds and violates the First Amendment. They are violating their own rules for initiating an investigation as well as the guidelines set down by the FBI and are operating far removed from their jurisdiction in New York City under no legal authority. The CIA, for its part, is clearly engaged in and supporting domestic spying. The Bureau and Agency are also collaborating in illegally using CIA resources, as most of the officers in question seconded to New York were paid out of Langley and were presumably able to tap into Agency data bases.
Will Attorney General Eric Holder either say or do something? Will he launch a Justice Department investigation or will he ignore the whole matter, “looking forward” as his boss in the White House has so often recommended? If he chooses to ignore the domestic spying, presumably because he is more interested in how New York City votes for 2012, it will be just one more chipping away at the liberties that we Americans used to enjoy. But we have become accustomed to that.