US & World

NYPD Intelligence Unit seen pushing rights limits

NYPD Deputy Commissioner for Intelligence David Cohen, left, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, second from left, NYPD Commissioner Raymond Kelly , second from right, join Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance as he speaks to reporters during a news conference at City Hall in New York.
NYPD Deputy Commissioner for Intelligence David Cohen, left, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, second from left, NYPD Commissioner Raymond Kelly , second from right, join Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance as he speaks to reporters during a news conference at City Hall in New York.
AP Photo/Mary Altaffer

Listen to story

04:51
Download this story 2MB

Since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the New York Police Department has become one of America's most aggressive gatherers of domestic intelligence. Its intelligence unit, directed by a retired CIA veteran, dispatches undercover officers to keep tabs on ethnic neighborhoods — sometimes in areas far outside their jurisdiction.

The existence of the Intelligence Division & Counter-Terrorism Bureau has been public knowledge, but many of its operations were kept secret. An investigation by The Associated Press has uncovered new details about how the unit, led by Deputy Commissioner David Cohen, works.

"The lesson of 9/11 to the NYPD was, 'We can't sit back and just let the federal government tell us how to keep us safe or what intelligence we need to know or who might be after us,'" AP reporter Matt Apuzzo tells Morning Edition guest host David Greene. "We have to take responsibility for this ourselves, and we're going to go to wherever we need to go to get this information."


Interview Highlights: Guest host David Greene talks with the AP's Matt Apuzzo

On intelligence operations

"What's new here is just how close a relationship the NYPD has with the Central Intelligence Agency. And how, because of that relationship, the NYPD has been allowed to expand its intelligence gathering in ways that go far beyond what any other police department in the country can do."

On "rakers" and "crawlers"

"They have teams of undercover officers, they're known as rakers, who basically just troll ethnic neighborhoods. One officer described it as mapping the human terrain of New York. They also have informants known as mosque crawlers, who as the name indicates, just sort of hang out in mosques, being the eyes and ears of the police department inside the mosques."

On legality

"If the FBI had an informant in a mosque, without information about a crime being committed, that would seem to violate the federal privacy act, which says the federal government can't collect or maintain information specifically related to First Amendment activities [without specific cause]."

On a lack of scrutiny

"The New York Police Department is our largest police department in the country. They get a lot of money from the federal government. There's not a lot of discussion about whether New Yorkers have given up any privacy or civil liberties in exchange for security. And because there's not a lot of oversight, I don't think New Yorkers actually know whether they've given up privacy and liberty in exchange for security."

On public sentiment

"Almost every person we interviewed said, 'Look, this is exactly what you need. This is what has to happen to keep New York safe. And if we don't do it, we're not doing our jobs.' And New Yorkers won't accept another attack. They will accept this, because it's what has to be done."

On tactics

"They're being creative in ways that come right up against the line of what the federal government or other police departments either can do, or feel comfortable doing."

Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.