New York City’s ‘CIA’: The inside story of the NYPD’s spying unit

Jonathan Karl, Richard Coolidge, and Jordyn Phelps
Power Players
New York City’s ‘CIA’: The inside story of the NYPD’s spying unit

Politics Confidential

In the aftermath of Sept. 11, New York City Police Commissioner Ray Kelly – determined to prevent another terrorist attack – initiated a series of sweeping counterterrorism measures that included the creation of New York’s very own CIA-like spying program. AP journalists Matt Apuzzo and Adam Goldman argue that extraordinary measures compromised civil liberties, but did little to make New Yorkers safer.

In their new book “Enemies Within: Inside the NYPD’s Secret Spying Unit and Bin Laden’s Final Plot Against America,” Apuzzo and Goldman explain how the NYPD created a secret spying unit led by David Cohen, a former high-ranking spy at the CIA.

Apuzzo tells “Politics Confidential” that the NYPD’s decision to bring in Cohen to run the department’s Intelligence Division an “unprecedented move in American policing.”

“The CIA is trained to subvert the laws of foreign government and operate where the constitution doesn't apply, and we put him inside a municipal police department,” said Apuzzo.

While the CIA is governed by a set of hard and fast rules that limit the agency from doing domestic spying and intelligence gathering, the NYPD had no such restrictions.

“The lines were blurred,” Goldman said. “The inspector general for the CIA did an investigation. And he found that the lines were crossed, but laws weren't broken. And the relationship was really screwed up between the CIA and NYPD, and there was really no oversight.”

What’s more, Apuzzo and Goldman argue, is that the NYPD’s Intelligence Division, in surveying the city’s Muslims communities, failed to provide an early warning of a planned terrorist strike by Afghan-American Najibullah Zazi and two co-conspirators to blow up the New York City subway system in 2009.

“These incredibly invasive programs the NYPD relied on to stop a plot like this,” Goldman said, offered no early warning sign.

“This is what Dave Cohen was brought into New York City to stop. This was it,” Goldman said. “They had been to the travel agency that they used to buy the tickets to go to Pakistan; they had been in the Muslim Student Association that one of the co-conspirators had belonged to; they had been to the restaurants in Zazi's neighborhood. I mean every single point they missed him.”

Instead, it was a collaborative effort between the British government and the U.S. federal government that led to the detection of the plot just days before it was to be carried out.

Kelly has aggressively pushed back against the book and defends the NYPD's tactics as legal and effective.

Kelly's chief spokesman, deputy commissioner John McCarthy, told ABC News that the "NYPD's efforts to gain an understanding of the communities in which a terrorist may hide" have aided the federal government in locating and prosecuting terrorists. As one example, McCarthy pointed to the case of Raees Alam Qaz, "who was arrested in November 2012 for plotting to attack high profile locations in New York City."

To hear more about Apuzzo and Goldman’s new book, including more details about the foiled plot on the New York City subway system, check out this episode of “Politics Confidential.”

ABC’s Alexandra Dukakis, Gary Westphalen, Hank Brown and Mary Quinn contributed to this episode.