In a special joint hearing of the House and Senate intelligence committees on Monday, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and CIA Director David Petraeus said that the CIA’s Inspector General was investigating whether or not the agency’s collaboration with the NYPD’s counterterrorism program was appropriate. The Associated Press recently reported that the CIA had helped the NYPD execute a massive domestic intelligence gathering operation focused on the city’s Muslim community, one that could operate without the sort of investigative guidelines that the federal government is required to follow. Even those guidelines, in the eyes of civil liberties advocates, are already too permissive.
According to the AP, the NYPD sent operatives into Muslim neighborhoods as spies without any actual evidence of crimes, including stores, restaurants, and mosques. The story suggests that the FBI was so concerned about the program’s legality that it refused to accept information gathered from it. The CIA is also prohibited by law from spying on Americans.
Both Clapper and Petraeus used strong language to reassure Congress that the matter was being addressed. Responding to a question from Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), Clapper acknowledged that “there has been help there, there is an embedded analyst, not anyone from the CIA who is out there on the streets collecting humint [human intelligence].” Clapper added, “my personal view is that it’s not a good optic to have CIA involved in any city level police department.”
“We are very sensitive to the law, and civil liberties and privacy, and indeed there is an active Inspector General investigation,” Petraeus said, “that I will continue to follow up on just to ensure we are doing the right thing in that particular case.”
But while the CIA’s role in this will be thorougly investigated, the NYPD’s may not. Because of the Church Committee reforms in the 1970s, the CIA is subject to avenues of accountability (like congressional oversight) that the NYPD is not, says Liza Goitein, co-director of the Brennan Center’s Liberty and National Security Program. “There’s an open question as to whether the CIA has crossed the line, but because we have the ability to ask David Petraeus questions, and because there’s an IG who is conducting an investigation, we will be getting answers,” says Goitein. “On the NYPD side, there is really no one who is looking into the question, and there’s no oversight mechanism for finding out whether the NYPD Crossed the line.” The “line” in this context refers to previous court decisions binding the NYPD to certain limits on when and how it’s allowed to monitor people without evidence of a crime.
“The immediate need is for the city council to examine and do its own investigation along the lines of which the CIA is now doing internally,” Gotein says, “and whether what the NYPD was doing was appropriate given the guidelines that exist.”
The chairman of the relevant New York City Council committee, Peter Vallone Jr., suggested to WNYC that he wasn’t concerned that the NYPD had overstepped its bounds. (“We have done extensive oversight of the NYPD’s terror activities and that oversight includes confidential briefings by the commissioner to myself,” Vallone said.) Absent the sort of oversight present at the federal level, however, we may never know for sure.