Facing questioning through an internal affairs investigation, the New York Police Department is attempting to explain what a CIA operative was doing on the force’s controversial Demographics Unit.
Despite this probe, however, the answers are still not so clear.
The Associated Press revealed in August that the NYPD was operating a top-secret unit that was performing clandestine surveillance on the Big Apple’s Muslim community without any probable cause other than targeting them for their religion. Officials on the force had originally denied the existence of the Demographics Unit, but as more and more documents surfaced through the AP’s investigation, the force eventually revealed a handful of details on the division. Now with an internal affairs probe looking to see why a CIA operative was working in cahoots with a municipal police department, an explanation, unfortunately, still seems a ways forthcoming.
The unit has reportedly singled out ethnic Muslims as high-terror-alert citizens, and sent undercover agents within the Police Department into Muslim-majority neighborhoods to conduct secret surveillance and report back with information on businesses, residences and habits. Serious questions have arisen over the legality of the operations, given that the CIA is prohibited from spying domestically in the States. Also called into question, however, has been why the NYPD has been sending officials overseas to gather intellect in foreign nations, creating much confusion as to why the two agencies have been cooperating.
Defending the Demographics Unit upon the opening of the AP’s investigation, Mayor Michael Bloomberg told reporters, “We live in a dangerous world, and we have to be very proactive in making sure that we prevent terrorism,” adding, “I think most Muslims want police protection. They don’t want their kids … falling off the … train and going down the wrong path.”
Retired-CIA Chief David Cohen told the AP, however, that surveillance occurred on unsuspected citizens with use of language-capable agents and “ethnic officers,” to which he called the department’s “secret weapon.”
In the latest news regarding the operation, NYPD Commissioner Raymond Kelly acknowledged the placement of the CIA operative on the force, and noted that the agent provides officers with “technical information” but “doesn’t have access to any of our investigative files.” On the contrary, CIA Director David Patraeus said that the operative would make sure that information pertinent to both departments was properly shared, opening up many questions about what affiliation the agent has and who is actually coming clean.
If the operative is indeed sharing information between forces, it could only be strengthening ties between the agencies. The AP reports that a CIA liaison in New York already shares intel with the Joint Terrorism Task Force, however, which is staffed by hundreds of members of the NYPD.
A senior US officially speaking anonymously to the AP says that the CIA agent is working alongside the Police Department as a means of gaining managerial training, but with the agency denying he has any access to the NYPD’s files, it is unclear how ha is supervising anyone and to what extent.
“It’s really important to fully understand what the nature of the investigations into the Muslim community are all about, and also the partnership between the local police and the CIA,” Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., a member of the House Intelligence Committee, said in a statement.