The NYPD's CIA-Influenced Spying Program (UPDATED)

The Associated Press released a long investigative piece on the New York Police Department's program to monitor extremism in the city's Muslim community. The article is underwhelming. Here is the lede of the piece:

Since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the New York Police Department has become one of the nation's most aggressive domestic intelligence agencies, targeting ethnic communities in ways that would run afoul of civil liberties rules if practiced by the federal government, an Associated Press investigation has found.
These operations have benefited from unprecedented help from the CIA, a partnership that has blurred the line between foreign and domestic spying.

Two aspects of these opening paragraphs stood out to me. The story asserts that these targeting programs would run afoul of civil liberties rules if they were practiced by the federal government. But they're not practiced by the federal government. The city obviously has its own, vetted-by-lawyers rules governing these programs, which, I might add, are overseen by a mayor who is a champion of Muslim-American equality, and a police commissioner who is  sensitive to civil liberties concerns.

9-11 Ten Years LaterThe second aspect of this lede that stood out for me is the assertion that the partnership between the CIA and the NYPD has "blurred the line" between foreign and domestic spying. As the 9/11 Commission found, the attacks 10 years ago might have been prevented had there been more blurring of that artificial line. Since then, of course, the Bush and Obama Administrations have encouraged intelligence and police agencies to share information. I think most Americans believe that, so long as this cooperation is overseen by prudent people, such as those who populate the government of New York City, it is a good thing.

It is possible to hold two, non-contradictory, thoughts in one's head at the same time. The first is that our country faces a threat from Muslim terrorists, including homegrown Muslim terrorists. The second is that the vast majority of Muslims are innocent of the crime of terrorism, and are very often its victims. Which brings me to a point made by The New York Sun editorial on this matter, that all communities, including the Muslim community, have as a profound interest the prevention of acts of terrorism. The Sun editorial is worth reading in full, but here is part:

It is hard to think of many -- if any -- here in the city or nationally who have turned in a more heroic performance than Mr. Kelly and the department he leads. No doubt there are a lot of heroes in the war that broke out a decade ago. But not many, if any, have been more steadfast, imaginative, daring, and -- though attacks are always possible -- effective than Commissioner Kelly and the NYPD. Except in a few cases that get to court -- like the plot to bomb the subway at Herald Square -- one can do little but speculate at what attacks on the city have been stymied by the NYPD. It is still hard to read the Associated Press's account without wanting to send Mr. Kelly congratulations.

UPDATE: A number of Goldblog readers have written to ask me to explain my seeming casualness re: the domestic/foreign intelligence split. I suppose in part I'm under the influence of "Counterstrike," the new book by Thom Shanker and Eric Schmitt, which contains an excellent chapter on homegrown Muslim terror and the collaborative way in which intelligence and law enforcement worked together to stop, in particular, the Najibullah Zazi plot. On this subject, I'm torn between my impulse toward civil liberties absolutism (which is why I believe th Obama Administration needs to do a much better job explaining why it has ordered the assassination of the American Anwar al-Aulaki) and my recognition that it is vitally important for law enforcement and intelligence agencies to work together. Here's a counterfactual by way of example: Imagine that the CIA had shared what information it had about what became the 9/11 plot in a useful way with local and federal law enforcement, and imagine if law enforcement had used the techniques currently employed by the NYPD to monitor the 9/11 plotters. I believe that if these things had happened, 9/11 might not have happened.

On another issue raised by a couple of readers -- the immateriality, in my eyes, of the claim that the federal government is disallowed from using the techniques employed by the NYPD -- my thinking on this is (partially) as follows: New York City is a much-more liberal place than the country as a whole, and is more attuned to civil liberties issues than either the Bush or the Obama administrations (history will remember Obama in this context for maintaining many of Bush's counterterror programs he once criticized). I have a certain amount of faith that the NYPD isn't overstepping its bounds in this matter, because of the city government's baseline level of civil liberties sensitivity, and because I'm somewhat familiar with the way these programs are vetted in New York, and the vetting is fairly rigorous. It is also true that I tend to give the NYPD a bit more slack than other agencies, because of the extraordinary nature of the threats against the city, and, obviously, because the vast majority of New Yorkers, who experienced 9/11 directly, deserve (and demand) the protection the NYPD is trying to provide.

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Jeffrey Goldberg is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and a recipient of the National Magazine Award for Reporting. He is the author of Prisoners: A Story of Friendship and Terror. More

Before joining The Atlantic in 2007, Goldberg was a Middle East correspondent, and the Washington correspondent, for The New Yorker. He was previouslly a correspondent for The New York Times Magazine and New York magazine. He has also written for the Jewish Daily Forward and was a columnist for The Jerusalem Post.

Goldberg's book Prisoners was hailed as one of the best books of 2006 by the Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Slate, The Progressive, Washingtonian magazine, and Playboy. He received the 2003 National Magazine Award for Reporting for his coverage of Islamic terrorism and the 2005 Anti-Defamation League Daniel Pearl Prize. He is also the winner of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists prize for best international investigative journalist; the Overseas Press Club award for best human-rights reporting; and the Abraham Cahan Prize in Journalism.

In 2001, Goldberg was appointed the Syrkin Fellow in Letters of the Jerusalem Foundation, and in 2002 he became a public-policy scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, D.C.

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