The Central Intelligence Agency is barred from spying on Americans on U.S. soil. Fair enough. (The Federal Bureau of Investigation, however, is allowed to conduct domestic surveillance.)
In the years following the attacks of 9/11, however, civil liberties organizations have complained about the C.I.A.’s working relationship with the New York Police Department’s intelligence unit, especially in light of the N.Y.P.D.’s surveillance of the city’s Muslim community. Such cooperation between the police department and the C.I.A., critics charge, could mean that the C.I.A. is engaged in domestic spying, a violation of the agency’s charter. They note that David Cohen, the N.Y.P.D.’s head of intelligence, is a former C.I.A. official, and that a C.I.A. operative is working with the department on counterterrorism issues.
The law is clear. The C.I.A. may not conduct surveillance on U.S. soil. The agency itself has begun an in-house investigation into its working relationship with the N.Y.P.D. to see if it broke any laws or if the relationship as currently constituted is improper, if not illegal.
That said, it should be clear that in an age of global terrorism, domestic police departments in high-profile cities can and should be expected to share information and resources with the C.I.A. The N.Y.P.D. itself has gone global, sending personnel overseas to collect information on possible threats to the city as they are hatched abroad. Inevitably (and wisely), the N.Y.P.D. and the C.I.A. should be working together on these operations.
The relationship between the N.Y.P.D. and C.I.A. is necessary, but it is also fraught with concerns about civil liberties and, frankly, the rule of law. Both the department and the agency must ensure that, in the words of a C.I.A. spokeswoman, “none of the support we have provided to the N.Y.P.D. can be rightly characterized as ‘domestic spying’ by the C.I.A.”
That is how it should be.