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Questions Linger Over Why CIA Operative Is At NYPD

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(credit: Associated Press)

(credit: Associated Press)

haskell_feature Peter Haskell
Peter Haskell joined WCBS in 1994. This followed stints at WCTC Radio...
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WASHINGTON (WCBS 880/AP) — Working inside the New York Police Department is one of the CIA’s most experienced clandestine operatives. He arrived in July as the special assistant to the deputy commissioner of intelligence. While his title is clear, his job responsibilities are not.

Federal and city officials have offered differing explanations for why this top CIA officer was assigned to a municipal police department since The Associated Press revealed the assignment in August. The CIA is prohibited from spying domestically, and its unusual partnership with the NYPD has troubled top lawmakers and prompted an internal investigation.

WCBS 880’s Peter Haskell With More On The Story

The last time a CIA officer worked so closely with the NYPD, beginning in the months after the 9/11 attacks, he became the architect of aggressive police programs that monitored Muslim neighborhoods. With that earlier help from this CIA official, the police put entire communities under a microscope based on ethnicity rather than allegations of wrongdoing, according to the AP investigation.

It was an extraordinary collaboration that at times troubled some senior CIA officials and may have stretched the bounds of how the CIA is allowed to operate in the United States.

The arrangement surrounding the newly arrived CIA officer, who was at the center of one of the worst U.S. intelligence fiascos in recent history, has been portrayed differently from that of his predecessor. When first asked by the AP, a senior U.S. official described the posting as a sabbatical, a program aimed at giving the man in New York more management training.

Testifying at City Hall recently, New York Police Commissioner Ray Kelly said the CIA operative provides his officers “with information, usually coming from perhaps overseas.” He said the CIA operative provides “technical information” to the NYPD but “doesn’t have access to any of our investigative files.”

Citing a presidential order authorizing the CIA to assist local law enforcement, Kelly said: “Operating under this legal basis, the CIA has advised the police department on key aspects of intelligence gathering and analysis that have greatly benefited our counterterrorism mission and protected lives in New York City.”

CIA Director David Petraeus has described him as an adviser, someone who could ensure that information was being shared.

But the CIA already has someone with that job. At its large station in New York, a CIA liaison shares intelligence with the Joint Terrorism Task Force in New York, which has hundreds of NYPD detectives assigned to it. And the CIA did not explain how, if the adviser doesn’t have access to NYPD files, he’s getting management experience in a division built entirely around collecting domestic intelligence.

James Clapper, the director of national intelligence, mischaracterized him to Congress as an “embedded analyst” — his office later quietly said that was a mistake — and acknowledged it looked bad to have the CIA working so closely with a police department.

On Monday, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg defended the arrangement.

“We live in a dangerous world. There are people trying to kill us. And if the CIA can help us I’m all for getting any information they have and then letting the police department use it as — if it’s appropriate to protect you and to protect me,” he said.

All of this has troubled lawmakers, including Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., the chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, who has said the CIA has “no business or authority in domestic spying, or in advising the NYPD how to conduct local surveillance.”

“It’s really important to fully understand what the nature of the investigations into the Muslim community are all about, and also the partnership between the local police and the CIA,” said Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., a member of the House Intelligence Committee.

Still, the undercover operative remains in New York while the agency’s inspector general investigates the CIA’s decade-long relationship with the NYPD. The CIA has asked the AP not to identify him because he remains a member of the clandestine service and his identity is classified.

The CIA’s deep ties to the NYPD began after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, when CIA Director George Tenet dispatched a veteran officer, Larry Sanchez, to New York, where he became the architect of the police department’s secret spying programs.

While still on the agency payroll, Sanchez, a CIA veteran who spent 15 years overseas in the former Soviet Union, South Asia, and the Middle East, instructed officers on the art of collecting information without attracting attention. He directed officers and reviewed case files.

Sometimes, officials said, intelligence collected from NYPD’s operations was passed informally to the CIA.

Sanchez also hand-picked an NYPD detective to attend the “Farm,” the CIA’s training facility where its officers are turned into operatives. The detective, who completed the course but failed to graduate, returned to the police department where he works today armed with the agency’s famed espionage skills.

Also while under Sanchez’s direction, documents indicate, the NYPD’s Cyber Intelligence Unit, which monitors domestic and foreign websites, conducted training sessions for the CIA.

Sanchez was on the CIA payroll from 2002 to 2004, then took a temporary leave of absence to become deputy to David Cohen, a former senior CIA officer who became head of the NYPD intelligence division just months after the 9/11 attacks.

In 2007, the CIA’s top official in New York complained to headquarters that Sanchez was wearing two hats, sometimes operating as an NYPD official, sometimes as a CIA officer. At headquarters, senior officials agreed and told Sanchez he had to choose.

He formally left the CIA, staying on at the NYPD until late 2010. He now works as a security consultant in the Persian Gulf region.

Sanchez’s departure left Cohen scrambling to find someone with operational experience who could replace him. He approached several former CIA colleagues about taking the job but they turned him down, according to people familiar with the situation who, like others interviewed for this story, spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the department’s inner workings.

Cohen then persuaded the CIA to send the current operative to be his assistant.

He arrived with an impressive post-9/11 resume. He had been the station chief in Pakistan and then Jordan, two stations that served as focal points in the war on terror, according to current and former officials who worked with him. He also was in charge of the agency’s Counter Proliferation Division.

But he is no stranger to controversy. Former U.S. intelligence officials said he was nearly expelled from Pakistan after an incident during President George W. Bush’s first term. Pakistan became enraged after sharing intelligence with the U.S. only to learn that the CIA station chief passed the information to the British.

Then, while serving in Amman, the station chief was directly involved in an operation to kill al-Qaida’s then-No. 2, Ayman al-Zawahri. But the plan backfired badly. The key informant who promised to lead the CIA to al-Zawahiri was in fact a double agent working for al-Qaida.

At least one CIA officer saw problems in the case and warned the station chief but, as recounted in a new book “The Triple Agent” by Washington Post reporter Joby Warrick, the station chief decided to push ahead anyway.

The informant blew himself up at a remote CIA base in Khost, Afghanistan, in December 2009. He killed seven CIA employees, including the officer who had warned the station chief, and wounded six others. Leon Panetta, the CIA director at the time, called it a systemic failure and decided no one person was at fault.

What do you think about a CIA officer working inside the NYPD?  Share your thoughts in the comments section…

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