Watchdog group sues CIA for information on collaboration with NYPD surveillance program

Israel/PalestineUS Politics
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From left to right, David Cohen, NYPD Deputy Commissioner for Intelligence and former CIA agent; Mayor Michael Bloomberg; and NYPD chief Ray Kelly (Photo: EPA/ANDREW GOMBERT)

The government watchdog group Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) has filed a lawsuit aimed at forcing the Central Intelligence Agency to release a report that provided details about the agency’s collaboration with the New York Police Department’s spying program.

The October 2011 report, written by the CIA Inspector General, reportedly concludes that the agency did no wrong and did not break any laws when it assisted the NYPD’s program of surveillance of Muslim communities across the Northeast. The IG report also “faulted the agency for sending an officer to New York with little oversight after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and then leaving him there too long, according to officials who have read or been briefed on the inquiry,” according to the Associated Press. But the Inspector General’s report has yet to be released, and now EPIC is trying to make sure the CIA’s assessment of the program does reach the public.

The news was first reported by The Huffington Post’s Matt Sledge, who quotes EPIC staffer Ginger McCall as saying that the 2011 CIA investigation into their collaboration with the NYPD was “never made public…I can’t see what’s actually in the report unless I have it in my hand.”

Under U.S. law, the CIA is prohibited from collecting intelligence on Americans. A presidential order cited by NYPD chief Ray Kelly allows the intelligence agency to assist local police forces, but not to engage in spying. And an AP article last year discovered that “the CIA’s top lawyer never approved sending a veteran agency officer to New York, where he helped set up police spying programs.” Such approval is “required under the presidential order that Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said authorized the unusual assignment.”

The EPIC suit stems from a March 2012 Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request filed by EPIC that sought to compel the CIA to release the internal report. The group says the CIA has violated FOIA by not releasing the records in a timely manner and that it is unlawful for the CIA to refuse to release the report.

The lawsuit asks for the federal court in Washington, D.C. to compel the CIA to release the Inspector General’s report.

This lawsuit is the latest to be filed related to the NYPD’s vast surveillance program targeting Muslim communities across the Northeast. A lawsuit filed in New Jersey in June by the organization Muslim Advocates goes after the NYPD for violating the constitutional rights of Muslims.

The legal actions are a reaction to the NYPD’s spy program, which was first revealed by the Associated Press in a series of articles that eventually won the Pulitzer Prize. In August 2011, the first of these stories was published. The AP story reported that the surveillance program, which targeted innocent Muslim students, mosque goers and business owners, was “built with help from the CIA.” The man at the center of this collaboration was David Cohen, a 35-year CIA veteran who went to work for the NYPD after the September 11 attacks. Cohen tapped another CIA agent, Larry Sanchez, to work with the NYPD.

Sanchez left the NYPD in 2012 after the Inspector General report criticized the CIA’s assistance to the NYPD while simultaneously finding the CIA did not break any laws.

The CIA collaboration with the NYPD’s surveillance program is only one example of how the NYPD has turned into a global force. Under Cohen’s direction, the NYPD sent officers around the globe in the run-up to the 2004 Republican National Convention in New York City. The NYPD’s Intelligence Unit spied on left-wing protesters in cities such as Montreal, San Francisco and Miami. And the NYPD’s Intelligence Unit also targeted Palestine solidarity activists in 2008. In addition, the NYPD has set up shop in London, Hamburg and Toronto. And in September, the NYPD opened a police branch in Israel to facilitate coordination with the Israeli police.

The Associated Press investigation into the NYPD’s surveillance program targeting Muslims reported that it was “modeled in part on how Israeli authorities operate in the West Bank, a former police official said.”

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