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CIA Agents Were Embedded With NYPD And Had “No Limits” (firedoglake.com)
201 points by eightyone on June 28, 2013 | hide | past | web | favorite | 75 comments

You see things like this all the time, where some government functionary declares something manifestly retarded to be true, and the statement is then taken on faith by (the media, message boards, politicians).

The best example of this I can think of is the "100 mile from the border Constitution-free zone", which was the stated position of some moron at DHS that was then (maddeningly, given how great they normally are) picked up by the ACLU. In reality, the notion that there's a 100 mile zone of warrantless personal searches extending inward from every border was a notion that was litigated by SCOTUS in the '70s and, obviously, found wanting.

I would support a public policy that would make statements of this sort ("the CIA has no limits when working with the NYPD!", "We can ghost your laptop as long as you're within 100 miles of any airport!") a firing offense, but short of that, there's not a lot you can do about this problem; if the USG employed 1/4th the number of people it does now, that'd still be over a million people, and no group of one million people can possibly avoid a couple crazy people.

The real check on this sort of stupidity is the courts.

The "100 mile from the border Constitution-free zone" (actually 150 miles I believe) has more of a basis in reality than you acknowledge.

The Border Patrol is able to operate in that zone, and they operate under somewhat different rules than other forms of law enforcement. Furthermore they sometimes interpret their ability to operate somewhat more generously than a court would agree to. So while in theory they can't do what they sometimes do, in practice they are the ones there with guns and they do it anyways.

(In particular the court has ruled that they can stop and question everyone on a public thoroughfare because the intrusion is short in duration. I've seen documented cases where agents in the field clearly believed that they could question for as long as they wanted to question. The reasoning of the court would not support that conclusion...)

So, very much not really a constitution-free zone. But certainly the border patrol walks closer to the edge of constitutional protections that we take for granted.

The problem with the Internet meme is that to be valid, as I understand it based on my reading, the search has to be incident to an actual recent border crossing. Merely living in NYC does not subject you to routine searches under the border search exemption. But that's what the meme says!

I believe that your reading is incorrect.

The border patrol can and does regularly put up blockades on major thoroughfares, stops everyone, and potentially could choose to search anyone that they reasonably suspect was recently out of the country or is illegal.

This is not hypothetical. I personally have encountered this when I was stopped and questioned both on the I-5 just north of San Diego, and on secondary streets in Los Angeles. Neither time did they choose to search me, but I saw others that I believe were searched.

I believe you can refuse to comply with those checkpoints.

As an aside, the ACLU's "Constitution free zone" campaign isn't referring to citizenship checks†; it's referring to a DHS employee's insistence that being within N miles of anything that could be considered a border subjects you to warrantless border searches. Which, again, is something you can find a SCOTUS case refuting.

Unfortunately, it's now apparently the law of the land that the police can demand identification from citizens, which is one of the great BS decisions of the last 20 years.

I believe you can refuse to comply with those checkpoints.

I know that people have done so, and the result has been somewhat interesting. Based on what I've read, I suspect that the actual protection from the 5th amendment is currently being interpreted much more narrowly than they were historically, and if the agents pushed it you have a lot less immunity from having to answer their questions than you would like.

Please note that I said, "I suspect". I have read conflicting opinions on this in the past, have no idea which is right, and so it is necessary to put significant disclaimers next to anything that I say on the topic.

What's the case?

That's the ID case, btw, not the border search case. I'll try to track that down today.

Oh, I thought that's what the replier was asking about. The border stuff, I think you're right that 'constitution-free zone' thing is rather hyperventilaty.

On the other hand, the notion that a bunch of uniformed, armed dudes pulling you off the I5 well north of San Diego for no apparent reason and asking things is 'a search you can refuse' is a little glib. When it happens, 'but wait there is case law' or 'I saw this on youtube' is not the first thing that comes to mind.

It was a glib answer. It's not wrong, though. Read Almeida-Sanchez v. US.

Reminder, though: we're talking about two different things: warrantless searches and documentation checks. It is, unfortunately, lawful for the police to demand your identification in a wide variety of circumstances, post Hiibel. (You still have the right to remain silent at those checkpoints, which is what the Youtube videos demonstrate).

Agreed on the 'search vs id check' distinction. The case law you mention involved someone taking it up all the way to the Supreme Court, a luxury not many have.

The reality is that these border patrol checks do happen, often well outside any reasonable range of an actual border and that they tend to be aggressive and searchy and done by people and to people who most likely did not take a close reading of Almeida-Sanchez v. US.

Living in NYC might not subject you to routine searches, but that seems to be more of an issue of practicality than legality. Living in southern Arizona does in fact subject you to routine searches.

I have been personally stopped near the AZ/Mexico border (maybe 15 miles away), questioned before being allowed to drive away, and I have never actually crossed that particular border.

This is true. My father and brother were recently stopped near Bisbee. I guess my brother has been stopped in New Mexico 3 times.

Have you ever watched any of the videos of the guys refusing to answer even the simplest questions at those checkpoints?

No, I haven't. What happens?

Nothing. CBP asks questions. The drivers refuse to answer. CBP gets their supervisor. One guy asks the supervisor for proof of his citizenship. All the drivers get waved through within a couple minutes.

They key appears to be not to pull to the side of the road for extended questioning, because as long as you're in the main lane, you're holding up traffic.

Its even worse! They call it a "Constitution-free" zone as if it has any connection with other rights.

Perhaps you should experience it for yourself as I and others have, and see whether it remains just an internet meme.

This is a more serious problem than you think. If someone in any position of power thinks that there are no limits, not even the constitution, on their power then that is very bad. It's even worse if they say it publicly and are not immediately out on their ass and publicly humiliated and shunned.

The fact is that there are individuals abusing their power and often times they are getting away with it, even when it becomes widely known.

P.S. To add to this, it's important to understand the relation of law to society. There is nothing inherently special about law other than that people generally follow it. The more that people, especially people given power through positions in government, start ignoring or misinterpreting the law the less the law actually matters. What is the truth of legality is irrelevant to the facts on the ground. Murder may be illegal but that won't stop you from being murdered. Similarly, "constitution free zones" may not be legal but that doesn't help you if the police think otherwise. For that particular point, for example, consider the many immigration stops the police make in states near the mexican border. Legally they can't force you to stop and submit to a document check but that doesn't stop them from doing so anyway, and from most people complying to a simple request from a police officer.

The less oversight there is, the less punishment there is, the more likely it is that abuses of power will become more common.

>* if the USG employed 1/4th the number of people it does now, that'd still be over a million people, and no group of one million people can possibly avoid a couple crazy people.*

Also known as "the lone wolf" - "bad apple" explanation / defence.

It's not about what he said (which sounds like a BS excuse in the first place) -- or even if he "had no limits" or not. Of course he had limits. He couldn't open fire in 5th Avenue and expect it to be OK.

The issue is what he was doing there and in what authority. Also, does anybody really believes they respect the limitation of operations inside US, because "it's the law"?

The unrelated case of the "100 mile from the border Constitution-free zone" is also not about the legal basis. Dismissing the legend part of it doesn't change the reality of border patrol more often than not taking the law into their hands and doing whatever the fuck they like with little repercussions.

I've always been baffled by the use of "Oh, it's just a few bad apples" as if that excuses things, when the original idiom is "a few bad apples spoil the barrel" - meaning that if you leave rotten apples with other apples, the other apples will rot, so you need to keep on top of the situation and get rid of the bad apples ASAP. But they use it like it was "a few bad apples aren't a big deal, get rid of them whenever someone leaks it".

Why are CIA agents being embedded with NYPD?

That's the main question. If they had limits or not is secondary.

After 9/11, the CIA were tapped to help the NYPD set up an anti-terrorism intelligence wing. This is a pretty good book about it:


We should call / email the CIA and see if they can loan us some agents to help establish a "Hacker News Anti-Surveillance Wing".

If HN was subject to a credible terrorism threat, they would be happy to. The CIA, DHS, and many other state and federal agencies work with the NFL and MLB to help protect the Superbowl and World Series. The NSA sends its people to help secure Google against Chinese hackers.

If they didn't, we would complain they weren't doing their jobs.

The best example of this I can think of is

.. something other than the topic at hand, where only the gullibe just take "retarded statements" on faith, even if only as much to further discuss them, while the super heroes of intellectual honesty dismiss them on the same basis and blame bad apples.

"Nothing to see here", in however many words it is said, is really just a meme as well.

I disagree and don't bother downvoting, someone else downvotes me for that and doesn't even attempt to argue? To each their own...

Would it make sense for courts to sign off on regulations before they're enacted? This is like an engineer throwing code into production only to test it after enough customers complain.

Every time you see a proposal that suggests increasing the power of the courts, remember that federal judges aren't elected, and we're not a nation governed by a panel of philosopher-kings. The courts are already very powerful.

Tuesday's Shelby County v. Holder decision, which struck down part of the Voting Rights Act, was a power grab by the court majority that strayed wildly from precedent. From SCOTUS blog:

"Regarding deference, not that long ago, the Justices believed Congress held something close to plenary power when it crafted remedies addressing racial discrimination in voting. In case after case, the Justices made clear that they would not second-guess congressional judgments on the subject. Even as the Justices began looking more rigorously at particular types of congressional remedial action elsewhere, they repeatedly distinguished the invalidated laws from the VRA and celebrated provisions like preclearance as paradigmatic examples of permissible congressional action...

"The decision significantly diminishes Congress’s ability to craft future remedies for racial discrimination in voting and beyond. Indeed, after today, an administrative agency acting within the sphere of its expertise enjoys more discretion than does Congress when acting in the realm in which its power was once viewed to be at its apogee.

"At oral argument last winter, Justice Kagan bristled at the notion that the Court, rather than Congress, was the proper institution to decide when remedial action in this realm was needed. Justice Scalia was nevertheless convinced that “[t]his is not the kind of question you can leave to Congress.” Today’s decision makes clear that a majority of the Court shares this view. Earl Warren would have been astounded. William Rehnquist, too."


"The formula that was struck down identified jurisdictions subject to preclearance as those with a history of a voting test or device and less than 50 percent voter registration or turnout as of 1964, 1968 or 1972."


The decision hinged upon this very narrow point. Congress' decision to require preclearance was not declared unconstitutional on its own. The problem was that the formula for deciding who required preclearance is a static rule that does not allow for the evaluation of any events after 1972. Therefore, regardless of how much a state or other jurisdiction changes, they could not change their status under this law. If they were originally on the preclearance list, never had another voting anomaly, elected minorities to every position in the state, and had 100% minority turnout, for decades on end, they would remain on the preclearance list, because of what happened 40 years ago.

Chief Justice John Roberts even wrote in his opinion that congress is free to make new legislation that has the same consequences. But it must rely on current data to evaluate jurisdictions.

> The problem was that the formula for deciding who required preclearance is a static rule that does not allow for the evaluation of any events after 1972. Therefore, regardless of how much a state or other jurisdiction changes, they could not change their status under this law. If they were originally on the preclearance list, never had another voting anomaly, elected minorities to every position in the state, and had 100% minority turnout, for decades on end, they would remain on the preclearance list, because of what happened 40 years ago.

That's simply not true. You can seek exemption from section 5. It's called "bailing out". A county or state on the preclearance list that has not been discriminatory for 10 years (see [1] for criteria) may sue to be exempt from Section 5. Many counties have done this successfully; the state of New Hampshire successfully bailed out as recently as this March.

States or counties that were found to be discriminatory could also be "bailed in." Arkansas and New Mexico, LA County in California, as well as several other counties were bailed in.

In other words, the Voting Rights Act was built with a mechanism to self-destruct when it was no longer necessary. Congress overwhelmingly approved an extension of the VRA in 2006 after extensive research and testimony. If a state or county was still covered in 2013, then it had a problem with discrimination within the past ten years, which is the minority thought the opinion that "things have changed" was foolish.


The problem for me with this is that SCOTUS is defining "current," and additionally defining it in a nebulous way.

If they were originally on the preclearance list, never had another voting anomaly, elected minorities to every position in the state, and had 100% minority turnout, for decades on end, they could introduce a bill in Congress to end preclearance in their specific case. Of course, the current data from those jurisdictions is probably nearly as dismal as it was in 1972, so this wouldn't happen. Instead, the requirement for preclearance has been removed by dictate, with no evidence that the situation has significantly changed.

Some notion of testing before pushing to production mightn't be a bad idea, though. Or at least make bug reports quicker and less expensive, rolling back easier, &c.

Yes it would. This was mentioned earlier on the site on a similar thread.


The real check on this sort of stupidity is actual journalist doing actual journalism.

Is there a good cite for the 100-mile border search zone being "found wanting"? A court case or something? I'd like to be able to link that in discussions, if it's true.

It is taken on faith by the media because these statements ARE TRUE until proven otherwise in the courts! You think these sorts of attitudes are confined to management? If the guy on the ground thinks it is true, it is true. And especially as they are guys that are highly unlikely to be investigated and with whom the courts can be extremely lenient.

I fully understand that this is case of little boys playing cops and robbers and making the rules up as they go.. but they are playing with real guns.

So, theoretical surveillance state nightmare for an average citizen:

You violate some law online (knowingly or unknowingly, doesn't matter), and the NSA records it and flags it for later review based on some pattern matching. Upon review, it gets forwarded (at the discretion of an agent who will make his determination with little oversight) to an embedded CIA agent in your local PD. Forbidden from operating against you themselves by federal law, they inform the local PD of the problem and you get a SWAT team at your house at 2am.

I don't think we are there yet, but I'm actually not convinced that the average American will see this as a problem - after all, they have nothing to hide.

You left out the part where you go to some protest (OWS, anti-gmo, anti-KeystoneXL, anything that opposes the corporate interests that run the government). That's what makes this whole surveillance thing scary is that it can easily be used to quelch opposition, not just to the government, but to the corporations whose interests are protected by the government.

The real divide is really between progressives who want less corporate involvment in government and more real government regulations, and those who benefit from regulatory capture. In the middle are those who don't know what to believe. For example, GMOs. The corporate interests want them permitted and unlabeled as much as possible. Progressives make noise about how they (or the associated pesticides/herbicides) could be dangerous to people and/or the environment. Government run by corporate interests doesn't want the information to spread to the less informed, they don't want people thinking about those things.

Protests and information campaigns are essential to a working democratic republic, and they will be the first targeted by the surveillance information.

Yeah. One reason why it's much safer if surveillance is restricted to foreign sources, is that, unlike foreign surveillance, domestic surveillance is combined with the legal power to fine, imprison, and execute. Citizens of foreign countries, on the other hand, are presumably protected from this by their own governments.

Wouldn't the PD need to show in court why they suspected you in the first place? If their raid is based on illegal info, then it's not legal.

Turning secret inadmissible evidence into legal admissible evidence seems tricky.

The only game plan I can see is this: You find out someone is up to something illegal; then you just happen have have a police officer walking by the coffee shop when you're discussing it with an associate.

Or walk down the street from the precinct and use the payphone to anonymously phone in a tip. Or launder the info through an existing CI. Or gin up an unrelated minor excuse for a home visit and leverage that to find probable cause and then just "happen" to find the evidence with your warrant.

> Wouldn't the PD need to show in court why they suspected you in the first place?

No, not really. They have to show e.g. probable cause but they can happily use secret information to create serendipity: "We happened to be parked outside the suspect's location at just the right time to wittiness them talking to a known communist sympathizer."

Its not unusual for information from paid informants to get washed in this way in order to conceal their identity and prolong their usefulness.

Yeah, but that's often hard to pull off.

For instance in the original example you're violating an internet law. It's not exactly something the PD can just pretend to stumble upon unless you're really careless and do it in a public place.

"National security"

Even your crimes are secrets to be withheld from you.

Fundamental problem with this: Military (NSA) and civilian (CIA) agencies don't like each other and don't work well together.

The FBI, CIA and military intelligence agencies are known for hiding information from each other.

Not anymore. All of the members of the "Intelligence Community"[1] now report up to the DNI, and sharing and coordination are a core mission.

1. Air Force Intelligence, Army Intelligence, CIA, Coast Guard Intelligence, Defense Intelligence Agency, DoE, DHS, State Department, Treasury, DEA, FBI, Marine Corps Intelligence, National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, National Reconnaissance Office, NSA, Navy Intelligence

Headline is misleading. From the article:

"That officer believed there were 'no limitations' on his activities, the report said, because he was on an unpaid leave of absence, and thus exempt from the prohibition against domestic spying by members of the C.I.A."

It's not misleading. If the CIA agent believed that he had no limits, then there were no limits.

Not to mention that's probably a tactic they use to skirt the law, so if they assassinate someone, and it gets found out later, the agency is not responsible.

I don't think either CIA or NSA have any respect left for the spirit of the law. They "just do what they have to do", and figure out the legal issues later through whatever loopholes they can find.

I'm not entirely clear whether it meant "he believed he did not have the usual limits regarding being involved in domestic police work," as opposed to "he believed he had no limits - he could assassinate people, spy on anyone, &c." I think it was the former, but am not positive; the headline seems to lead to the latter. If it was in fact the former, then the headline is misleading.

If we're pretending to be severely brain-damaged to the point where we can't see the difference between different things, then yes, the title is totally accurate.

When someone acting under color of law "believes" himself to be without limits, there's no difference.

The brain damage is displayed by those who keep giving authoritarians the benefit of the doubt.

Are you somehow suggesting that if I jump off this building and flap my wings that I won't actually be flying?

If you are seconded to another organization are you not part of that organization for the duration - any limits would be the same as a NYPD detective surely.

This is similar to the American flying tigers who resigned their commissions with the US army to become mercenarys - which is presumably the precedent that the lawyers woudl have used.

If he was on a leave of absence, and that changes his status, how does he have the authority to be there at all? Surely the exemption exists because while on a leave of absence his is basically not a CIA officer. He is not bound by CIA rules. With out such cover or authority, he must have been there illegally. Either he is CIA, or not.

The NYPD asked to hire him temporarily and the CIA granted him a leave of absence. See page 6, section 4 of the IG report: https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/717864-cia-nypd-ig.h...

EDIT: I forgot to mention that he had worked with the NYPD on behalf of the CIA as a counter-terrorism adviser from late 2001-2004. Then he want back to working with the CIA, but the NYPD asked if they could hire him onto staff and he stayed with the NYPD after that, retiring from the CIA in 2009.

I think people have been getting confused by the NYT's use of the word 'embedded' which implies he was working for the CIA while spending his days with the NYPD, much as a journalist files reports to his TV or print media employer while embedded with the military. It's an odd choice of words, as nothing in the report suggests that this was the case.


Ok. Not sure if that is better or worse, but it does explain my point!! Ta.

Probably helps get him his CIA pension, as he's still "technically" a fed for these years but working for NYPD.

I should hope not. If the NYPD has been federalized then there are a whole lot of other problems. Although, given how the NYPD has been sending agents to other states, maybe they THINK they are a federal agency.

What I mean is, Federal pensions generally require some * number of years, and if he were to quit the CIA to work for the NYPD then he might lose out on that. So taking an "extended leave of absence" avoids that.

Plus he probably gets to maintain all his contacts at the CIA and leverage them for whatever messed-up stuff the NYPD is up to, like their surveillance of innocent muslims, mosques, etc.

Not misleading at all. Just a lame excuse he used.

What's incredible is that people will take the excuse at face value --or even believe he really was on "unpaid leave" and still allowed to be there.

I actually felt the same way, but I think it was used as quoting his justification for the NSA law forbidding him to be involved in domestic surveillance.

What you see here is a blatant disregard for the CIA's Direct Guidelines.

Whats gonna happen next? Well thats up to you. How many more times are you going to let government entities operate outside their defined jurisdictions and boundaries?


According to the recently declassified IG's report (on which this story is based), that doesn't seem to be the case. Could you explain specifically what you're referring to?


The guidelines that the CIA operates outside of the USA. Not within.

Even if a document was declassified, when will you believe things and not believe things.

Do you think this could just be a document the government is feeding us compared to actual witnesses? Cops are expected to tell the truth even in court. So I guess this begs the question who is really telling the truth.

Point is, the government overall just can't be trusted to keep a straight answer.


Revealed: how the FBI coordinated the crackdown on Occupy


Ever since the publication of the NSA leaks I've been wondering if any of the NSA intel has been used to disrupt Occupy. With the well established lack of actual terrorists, it doesn't take much to imagine a bit of scope creep / budget justification for Occupy to have been classified as potential terrorists and thus in need of monitoring.

Once they started going over the collected data, how much further to specifically target key organizers? It could have been through blackmail (ala FBI's threatening letter to MLK) or just simply hyper-vigilant enforcement of all laws made so much easier thanks to the constant surveillance the NSA can provide.

This discussion on the NSA/CIA/DOJ/etc is teetering on the edge of respectability. Now every Tom, Dick, and Harry with an axe to grind is out running around yelling about some new abuse -- even if the story is a bit thin.

As tptacek says, this isn't a new thing. It's not even something that's all that interesting, frankly. People from various agencies cross-pollinate all of the time. If worked a boring analyst job at CIA, I might love taking a leave of absence and helping the cops out some. Sounds like fun.

Sure, it would be news if the CIA actually ran operations in NYC, but this story is about employees of the CIA being embedded in the NYC police, not about secret CIA operations inside the country. That's a different can of worms. Perhaps something bad happened. Don't know. This story doesn't inform us of it. Instead we just get vague allegations without proof. As the report states, this is an unusual personnel situation, not some massive policy disaster. The rest of it is just blown out of proportion by this author.

I've said this before, and I'm sure I'll say it again: the biggest problem with these freedom or safety stories is that people get way too passionate, try to interject their own narrative about how things work, lay on the paranoia thickly, and have a good old Donnybrook. Might get a lot of page views like that, but it's not useful.

People should be really concerned about what's going on in the US with regards to the security state. This is a serious problem and it deserves our passion. But "being concerned" and "having your chain yanked" are two different things. Smart folks know the difference. I'm not pointing a finger at this author precisely, but I'm starting to see a lot of overly-emotional, hand-waving tripe coming across the wires in the guise of various kinds of "breaking stories"

National Security Act of 1947 explicitly forbid the CIA from conducting domestic surveillance

To me, this is actually a little confusing. My assumption has always been that the CIA was the intelligence agency which...gathers intelligence. If the government itself is forbidding them from domestic surveillance, it makes me question their tactics and methods that would be unconstitutional...I guess it could be that this is suppose to be the work of the DHS and NSA.

FBI handles that internally in the US, CIA externally to the US. NSA handles both in terms of gathering and intelligence mainly for both. DHS is primarily Coast Guard, Border Patrol, specific police/fire personnel etc.

It is smart to divide them up really, the idea is they communicate with one another and provide some checks on each other. There is also the DIA primarily intelligence for the military. There have been some CIA and DIA butting heads after 9/11.

I was actually guessing that it had to be a way to better allocate government resources.

CIA uses contractors domestically.

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