Thursday, August 25, 2011

CIA & NYPD Join Forces to Fight Terrorism in NYC But Is It Legal?

September 11, 2011 will be the 10 year anniversary of the 9/11 tragedy that claimed the lives of over 3,000 Americans in New York, DC, and Pennsylvania.  It is notable to observe that American men, women and children from every walk of life were killed on that day: Black, White, rich, poor, Christian, and yes, even Muslim.  All of them were victims of the acts of a handful of terrorists that day who happened to be radical extremist Muslims.  America has never been the same ever since.  Like a scorned teenager who just got dumped by his high school sweetheart and now views all women as evil, we've now come to view ALL Muslims as terrorists, or, at the very least, potential terrorists.  Sure, it's a simplistic way to view the world, but what else is new?

If you saw any newspaper on Wednesday that has anything to do with the associated press then chances are you saw this story about the 10 year marriage between the CIA and the NYPD.  Long story short, the article chronicles how former CIA Deputy Director David Cohen came to the NYPD shortly after 9/11 and helped it to form what amounted to mini-CIA counter terrorism units within the NYPD that have infiltrated, spied on, collected intelligence about, arrested and prosecuted just about any American Muslim living in the New York City metro area who has even so much as looked at America the wrong way.

On the one hand, the motivation for keeping the City safe that I and about 18 million other Americans call home is completely understandable and, to be sure, commendable.  Who wants to see another 9/11?  We damn sure don't.  However, on the other hand, something about the CIA using the NYPD to do what the CIA cannot legally do on American soil just doesn't sit well with me.  The primary function of the CIA is to collect information about foreign governments and foreign citizens -- not American citizens.  So is this union between the CIA and the NYPD legit?

Per the A.P.:

Though the CIA is prohibited from collecting intelligence domestically, the wall between domestic and foreign operations became more porous. Intelligence gathered by the NYPD, with CIA officer Sanchez overseeing collection, was often passed to the CIA in informal conversations and through unofficial channels, a former official involved in that process said.
By design, the NYPD was looking more and more like a domestic CIA.
"It's like starting the CIA over in the post-9/11 world," Cohen said in "Protecting the City," a laudatory 2009 book about the NYPD. "What would you do if you could begin it all over again? Hah. This is what you would do."
To make matters worse, the CIA is also prohibited by law from policing or engaging in law enforcement functions.  That's the FBI's job.  But according to the article:

The informant division was so important to the NYPD that Cohen persuaded his former colleagues to train a detective, Steve Pinkall, at the CIA's training center at the Farm. Pinkall, who had an intelligence background as a Marine, was given an unusual temporary assignment at CIA headquarters, officials said. He took the field tradecraft course alongside future CIA spies then returned to New York to run investigations.
"We found that helpful, for NYPD personnel to be exposed to the tradecraft," Browne said.
The idea troubled senior FBI officials, who saw it as the NYPD and CIA blurring the lines between police work and spying, in which undercover officers regularly break the laws of foreign governments. The arrangement even made its way to FBI Director Robert Mueller, two former senior FBI officials said, but the training was already under way and Mueller did not press the issue.
Now some people may say, so what?  The CIA is not supposed to do police work, and they're not supposed to spy on American citizens on U.S. soil, but who cares?  It's all one big government anyway right?  From the perspective of the people, the internal divisions between the different segments of the government are completely arbitrary aren't they? Well let's assume, for the moment, that it doesn't matter which division of government does the policing or the spying.  There's still yet another problem that brings the legality of these actions into question: violating the Constitutional rights of the people.  From the article:

For years, detectives used informants known as mosque crawlers to monitor weekly sermons and report what was said, several current and former officials directly involved in the informant program said. If FBI agents were to do that, they would be in violation of the Privacy Act, which prohibits the federal government from collecting intelligence on purely First Amendment activities.
The FBI has generated its own share of controversy for putting informants inside mosques, but unlike the program described to the AP, the FBI requires evidence of a crime before an informant can be used inside a mosque.
Valerie Caproni, the FBI's general counsel, would not discuss the NYPD's programs but said FBI informants can't troll mosques looking for leads. Such operations are reviewed for civil liberties concerns, she said.
"If you're sending an informant into a mosque when there is no evidence of wrongdoing, that's a very high-risk thing to do," Caproni said. "You're running right up against core constitutional rights. You're talking about freedom of religion."

And also: 

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.
That, my friends, is textbook racial profiling.  It doesn't matter if you're the federal government, state government, or local city government, racial profiling is illegal because it violates the 14th Amendment right to Equal Protection under the law. Moreover, as the article indicated above, going into mosques is a direct violation against our 1st Amendment right to the free practice of religion without government intrusion.  Look, I want New York City to be safe, but I can't act like these things are 100% above board.

The war against terror has forced America to consider the following question:  does being safe require us to give up some of our rights to liberty and privacy?  There's a certain level of liberty that we willingly give up everyday in the name of safety.  We're reminded of this most commonly whenever we take a flight somewhere.  There are some liberties, however, where most Americans would draw the line; being able to worship without peeking over your shoulder for the cops is likely one of them.  We can all agree that we want safety.  We can also agree that we want our freedom and our right to privacy.  The challenge comes when we try to balance one against the other.

1. Did the CIA cross the line here?
2. CIA aside, did the NYPD cross the line?
3. Which is more important to you - safety or freedom?
4. Why is this story just starting to surface 10 years after the fact?
5. Is the government justified in profiling Muslim Americans?

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