The most recent installment in the New York Times’s effort to dial America’s security back to a September 10, 2001 mentality came today in the form of an article detailing the latest faux scandal the paper has tried to attach to the New York City Police Department. What did the NYPD do now? Apparently, in an unusual bout of federal-local cooperation, the Central Intelligence Agency allowed four of its staffers to help New York’s police deal with terror threats in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks. But rather than applaud this commendable instance of the national security establishment reaching out to reinforce the front lines of defense against terror, the piece was aimed at piling on the NYPD and showing that it had somehow lost its way during the course of a decade in which it managed to ensure that New York would not suffer a single terror death despite numerous plots launched by Islamists that sought to slaughter residents of the Big Apple just as they did on 9/11.
The source of the story was an internal CIA report that raised questions about the legality of having some employees of the spy agency taking part in domestic police work. But while there are obvious legal issues associated with any potential CIA spying on Americans, that doesn’t appear to have been the case here. Instead, the four who worked with the NYPD appear to have merely helped provide much needed background on foreign threats for a department tasked with coping with a myriad of possible threats from foreign and homegrown terrorists. Like the department’s sensible decision to try and get intelligence about key gathering places for Islamists that the Times has wrongly portrayed as a violation of civil rights, the CIA-NYPD relationship appears to be yet another instance in which local and national authorities are being bashed by the Times and other liberals for doing their jobs.
The CIA is prohibited from engaging in domestic surveillance. But nothing here remotely smacks of illegal behavior on the part of the agency or its employees. Of the four CIA personnel who were embedded with the NYPD, one was there on unpaid leave—and was paid by the police—and therefore exempt from any limits as to what he could see or do. Another was, according to the Times’s account, given the thankless and probably futile task of trying to better the always-fractious relationship between the FBI and the NYPD. Two others were analysts who may have seen some “unfiltered files” concerning local suspects but do not appear to have actually engaged in surveillance of any kind.
None of this seems particularly controversial, let alone illegal. But apparently some in the CIA, like the Times, were not comfortable with this much cooperation between anyone connected with the spooks in Langley, Virginia and New York cops. The author of the internal report (which was originally classified but was made available to the Times via a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit) was particularly unhappy about a CIA officer trying to broker peace between the NYPD and the FBI, since it had “placed the agency in the middle of a contentious relationship.” But the main “concern” of the CIA report critical of the cooperation with New York was that there were “risks” associated with helping the NYPD that were better not run. In other words, some in the spy agency considered themselves better off not doing all they could to prevent attacks on the homeland if it meant possible involvement in controversies.
In a sense, the Times article vindicates that view, since it lumps in the CIA’s help to New York with the paper’s attacks on the NYPD’s surveillance of mosques known to be Islamist hotbeds and other issues that supposedly demonstrate a police department that is out of control and oppressing local Muslims.
The CIA has long held itself aloof from any involvement in police actions and not only because of legal prohibitions. But what happened after 9/11 was a realization that one of the reasons the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon succeeded was the lack of cooperation between the various security agencies that seemed to view their domestic rivals as a greater threat than they did al-Qaeda. What happened on 9/11 was supposed to end that nonsense and it appears in this case, that is exactly what happened. The embedding of CIA analysts at New York’s One Police Plaza was exactly what was needed, and the sterling record the NYPD achieved on terror during the last decade is a tribute to the sort of thinking that would have been considered “outside the box” prior to 9/11.
But that is exactly what the Times and other liberal critics of the NYPD don’t want. As much as the paper pays lip service to the threat from Islamist terror, it seems to wish to demonize every effort made by the NYPD to save the lives of New Yorkers. If the NYPD, the CIA and other agencies are loathe to expose themselves to this sort of abuse in the future, we can look to the Times and other advocates of a 9/10 mentality to find the reason. We only hope New Yorkers and the rest of the nation don’t pay for this folly in blood.