It must be frustrating working at the CIA sometimes, what with all those stifling rules keeping you from spying on suspicious Americans. Thankfully, there's a solution for spooks with an itch to snoop domestically: Just shuffle on over to the NYPD, which has been working closely with the CIA since 2002, when veteran CIA division head David Cohen came out of retirement to run a secretive police intelligence team. In a thorough 5,000 word article, the AP reports that the division's counterterrorism tactics have gone further than what the FBI allows, and they're probably illegal.
For almost a decade, the NYPD has aggressively courted informants by targeting, for example, Pakistani cab drivers who may have broken some law completely unrelated to terrorism. NYPD officers will then persuade them to provide intelligence in exchange for letting them off the hook, and then they'll share this information to the CIA through backdoor channels. The NYPD also sends undercover officers known as "rakers" (so called because Cohen wanted the squad to "rake the coals, looking for hot spots") into ethnic and Muslim neighborhoods with instructions to act like "a human camera" and "map the human terrain" in mosques, hookah bars, and Internet cafes.
Justice Department guidelines prohibit federal law enforcement officers from considering race when making traffic stops or assigning patrols. "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," FBI general counsel Valerie Caproni tells the AP. "You're running right up against core constitutional rights. You're talking about freedom of religion." And Christopher Dunn at the NYCLU says, "At the end of the day, it's pure and simple a rogue domestic surveillance operation."
Other critics say the NYPD is building dossiers on innocent people. As the AP puts it, "One of the enduring questions of the past decade is whether being safe requires giving up some liberty and privacy." Cohen and his former deputy, CIA veteran Larry Sanchez, think they know the answer to that question. Testifying before the Senate Homeland Security Committee, Sanchez said the key to preventing terrorism was to view "innocuous activity, including behavior that might be protected by the First Amendment, as a potential precursor to terrorism." Such activity includes seemingly innocuous stuff like commenting on a website, so choose your words carefully!