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The New York Police Department has been covertly infiltrating Muslim communities with help from the Central Intelligence Agency, using controversial tactics and even moving beyond their jurisdiction in an attempt to nip terrorist cells in the bud.According to the Associated Press, the NYPD drastically ramped up their intelligence division shortly after the September 11 attacks with direct help from the CIA, even though that agency is prohibited from domestic spying activities.
In interviews with more than 40 past and present NYPD officers and federal officials, the AP learned that the NYPD has targeted Muslim communities, cultivating a network of informants and using tactics and profiling methods that would be constitute violations of civil liberties were those tactics used by the federal government.
By law, the CIA is prohibited from gathering information about Americans' domestic activities. However, the agency was instrumental in helping the NYPD build its spying operation, and helped train at least one NYPD officer at the CIA's spy academy in Virginia.
In January 2002, the NYPD brought in David Cohen, a former head of the CIA's spy operations, to be its first Deputy Commissioner of Intelligence. Believing that 9/11 had proven that the city couldn't rely on just the federal government for protection from terrorist attacks, Cohen sought to transform the intelligence division from a small outfit into a much broader unit with far-reaching operations and a well-cultivated crop of informants.
The NYPD convinced a district judge to overturn decades-old restrictions on their spying capabilities.
In the 1960s and 1970s, the NYPD infiltrated activist groups, sometimes without probable cause to suspect that anything illegal was going on within those groups. But since 1985, the department had been forced by a court order to tighten its policies and obtain 'specific information' of criminal activity before going in to monitor groups.
In 2002, Cohen petitioned a U.S. district judge to throw out the old restrictions and replace them with more lenient ones, arguing that, 'In the case of terrorism, to wait for an indication of crime before investigating is to wait far too long.'
The judge agreed, and scrapped the old guidelines.
Teams of officers, called 'rakers,' have kept tabs on public meeting places in Muslim communities like cafes, hookah bars, and bookstores. To ensure that their operatives went unnoticed, the NYPD used census data to pair officers with communities where their ethnicities would allow them to blend in.
Cohen told officers that he wanted them to, 'rake the coals for hot spots,' according to sources who spoke to the AP, hence the term, 'rakers.'
If a raker noticed a customer looking at radical literature, he might chat up the store owner and see what he could learn. The bookstore, or even the customer, might get further scrutiny. If a restaurant patron applauds a news report about the death of U.S. troops, the patron or the restaurant could be labelled a hot spot.
Some officials and lawyers within the NYPD expressed concerns that specifically targeting Muslim communities could be considered racial profiling. They also feared that the program could give the impression that the department was gathering troves of information about innocent people.
To allay those concerns, police often shredded documents related to rakers, according to officials who spoke with the AP.
The NYPD also used informants, known as 'mosque crawlers' to monitor sermons and report what was said to the department, even if police had no prior evidence to suggest something illegal was going on at a given mosque.
The FBI is prohibited from engaging in such activity by the Privacy Act, which states that the bureau cannot keep tabs on purely first amendment activities -- such as religious services -- without first having reason to suspect illegal activity. For that reason, senior FBI officials in New York wouldn't accept reports from NYPD mosque crawlers.
An NYPD spokesman denied the existence of mosque crawlers when asked by the AP, saying that, 'someone has a great imagination.'
The NYPD has targeted individuals in occupations often held by Muslims, including food cart vendors and cab drivers.
In a highly unusual move, CIA Director George Tenet sent veteran agent Larry Sanchez to help the NYPD establish their operation, but kept Sanchez on the CIA payroll. In New York, Sanchez had offices in both the NYPD and CIA offices, a bizarre arrangement that blurred the line between the two intelligence organisations whose areas of oversight are, to a large extent, mutually exclusive.
According to the AP, some senior CIA officials began to question whether Tenet was using one of his agents to skirt the restrictions on the CIA's power to conduct domestic spying operations.
At Cohen's request, the CIA trained detective Steve Pinkall at The Farm, the agency's spy school in Virginia.
That overlap raised concerns among some senior FBI officials, who worried about the mixing of police and spy work. Those concerns made their way all the way up to FBI Director Robert Mueller.
The NYPD created a program to find and cultivate informants, sometimes using the threat of prosecution as leverage.
At the NYPD, Cohen and Sanchez sent officers to Pakistani neighborhoods and told them to use any reason necessary to stop cars, including minor infractions like broken tail lights or missed stop signs. After the initial stop, officers could then check for outstanding warrants, look for any suspicious behaviour, and possibly leverage their position to turn people into informants.
The NYPD also launched a 'debriefing program' in which they tried to turn recently arrested individuals into informants. At one point, the department asked the city's Taxi Commission to provide a list of all the Pakistani drivers who may have received their licenses illegally, and who could then be more susceptible to pressure.
Police even popped up in prisons, offering benefits to incarcerated individuals in exchange for cooperation.
Police officers monitored and rounded up civil rights activists ahead of the 2004 Republican National Convention in New York City, as part of the beefed up intelligence-gathering campaign.
Once arrested, protesters were asked a number of questions about their political affiliations and, more to the point, 'Do you hate George W. Bush?'
Several NYPD officers have been deputized as federal marshals, allowing them to work outside of their normal jurisdiction. The department has operatives in nearby states and even overseas, though those operatives cannot make arrests when working outside of their normal turf.
In June 2009, a building superintendent in New Jersey went into one of his units and came across a stash of surveillance equipment and terrorist literature. Thinking he'd stumbled across a terrorist hideout, he called the police. However, when local law enforcement and the FBI arrived, they discovered that the apartment was not a terrorist base, but actually a secret command post set up by a team of NYPD officers.
Neither the FBI nor the local police had any idea the NYPD had been operating there.
Using information gathered from mosque crawlers, informants, and other investigations, the police department mapped all mosques within 100 miles of New York, analysing their potential to be infiltrated by radical groups.
Though the City Comptroller's office has audited the NYPD several times, it has never specifically looked into the intelligence division. Likewise, the Department of Homeland Security has reviewed NYPD grants, but not the programs those grants would fund.
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