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The September 11 terrorist attacks brought more than the loss of American lives, they brought considerable impact on internal affairs of the United States. The CIA’s involvement with the NYPD is considered, by many, another stain on the Agency’s long history of scandals.
The CIA has been accused of infiltrating the police department and using its resources to conduct spying operations on a domestic level, mainly targeting the Muslim community in New York City. After a thorough investigation, the Associated Press has published an article revealing the relationship between the Agency and the NYPD in the past ten years.
Work have been done on two main levels. First, a veteran CIA officer was assigned to be in charge of training a police officer who would put into practice new espionage techniques inside the police units. This action allowed the CIA to influence and reorient NYPD towards serving intelligence instead of fulfilling its normal duty as a law enforcement institution.
Secondly, a senior CIA officer was sent to work as a clandestine operative inside the police headquarters, with the main goal of supervising and watching the progression of the project. Bookstores, cafes, bars and nightclubs are some of the public places targeted by the program which consisted of citizens’ surveillance, also referred to in the AP report as “human mapping.”
The same reports said that the NYPD has sent “rakers” into minority neighborhoods to spy and gather data. Police have also used informants, referred to as “mosque crawlers,” to report on religious sermons or gatherings in mosques, even in the absence of suspicious activity.
In his comments on the issue, Mayor Michael Bloomberg, admitted that NYPD is working with the CIA, but defended its practices saying, “If there are threats or leads to follow, then the NYPD’s job is to do it. The law is pretty clear about what’s the requirement and I think they follow the law. We don’t stop to think about the religion. We stop to think about the threats and focus our efforts there.”
In a response to the report, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), a Muslim civil rights organization, asked the Justice Department for an investigation into the case. CAIR attorney, Gadeir Abbas, believes that “the first amendment protects our right to associate freely with one another.”
“An investigation of a community [rather than of a crime or a particular person] unlawfully chills the rights of persons within that community. Furthermore, the Establishment Clause requires NYPD to maintain neutrality between all religions. Their intelligence unit appears to be failing to maintain that neutrality by institutionalizing suspicion of all things Islamic,” Abbas said.
Police involvement in CIA activities has blurred the lines of domestic and foreign affairs as well as the limits between local and federal jurisdiction.
Some say that the CIA’s dependence on the help of the NYPD is because of the the agency’s inexperience dealing with a domestic environment. The lack of diversity among the CIA’s personnel may also play into its inability to conduct operations independent of the police department. The NYPD has both features; a direct contact with citizens, as well as a culturally and linguistically diverse staff that more easily blends into the community.
Others are questioning why the CIA doesn’t try collaborating with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) instead of NYPD. Whatever the reason, the issues surrounding privacy and freedom is not only found in the U.S. Many Arabs are currently fighting against regimes, where spying on citizens is routine. Meanwhile, many New Yorkers are unaware of the spying efforts of the CIA and police department.