WASHINGTON (AP) - The CIA's top lawyer never approved sending a veteran agency officer to New York, where he helped set up police spying programs, The Associated Press has learned. Such approval would have been required under the presidential order that Police Commissioner Ray Kelly said authorized the unusual assignment.
Normally, when the CIA dispatches one of its officers to work in another government agency, rules are spelled out in advance in writing to ensure the CIA doesn't cross the line into domestic spying. Under a 1981 presidential order, the CIA is permitted to provide "specialized equipment, technical knowledge or assistance of expert personnel" to local law enforcement agencies but only when the CIA's general counsel approves in each case.
Neither of those things happened in 2002, when CIA Director George Tenet sent veteran agency officer Lawrence Sanchez to New York, former U.S. intelligence officials told the AP.
While on the CIA's payroll, Sanchez was the architect of spying programs that transformed the NYPD into one of the nation's most aggressive domestic intelligence agencies.
The CIA's inspector general cleared the agency of any wrongdoing in its partnership with New York, but the absence of documentation and legal review shows how murky the rules were as the CIA and NYPD formed their unprecedented collaboration in the frenzied months after the 2001 terrorist attacks.
In a series of investigative reports since August, the AP has revealed that, with the CIA's help, the NYPD developed spying programs that monitored every aspect of Muslim life and built databases on where innocent Muslims eat, shop, work and pray. Plainclothes officers monitored conversations in Muslim neighborhoods and wrote daily reports about what they heard.
Kelly, the police commissioner, has vigorously defended the NYPD's relationship with the CIA. Testifying before the City Council in October, Kelly said the collaboration was authorized under the 1981 presidential order, known as No. 12333.
"Operating under this legal basis, the CIA has advised the police department on key aspects of intelligence gathering and analysis," Kelly said.
Kelly cited the section of the presidential order, 2.6c, that also requires the CIA's top lawyer to approve such arrangements, but he did not tell the city council that approval by the CIA's top lawyer was required.
The CIA's general counsel at the time, Scott Muller, did not approve the arrangement, former intelligence officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter. CIA lawyers, particularly those in New York, were aware Sanchez was working out of the NYPD offices but the rules of the arrangement were not documented in advance, the officials said.
Muller, now in private practice in New York, said he had not been following the issue and declined to comment. The CIA did not respond when repeatedly asked to explain the justification for Sanchez's assignment and why Muller did not sign off.
Sanchez, a CIA veteran who spent 15 years overseas in the former Soviet Union, South Asia and the Middle East, instructed officers on the art of collecting information without attracting attention. He directed officers and reviewed case files. Sometimes intelligence collected from NYPD's operations was passed informally to the CIA, former NYPD officials said.
The CIA's internal watchdog found nothing wrong with the partnership and concluded that the agency did not violate the executive order. U.S. officials have said that's in part because the CIA never instructed Sanchez to set up the NYPD spying programs.
U.S. officials have acknowledged that the rules were murky. They attributed that to the desperate push for better intelligence following the attacks.
Sanchez left the department in late 2010 but was followed last summer by a senior clandestine operative who holds the title of special assistant to David Cohen, a former CIA officer who runs the intelligence division. The CIA has asked the AP not to publish the operative's name. The CIA would not say whether its current general counsel approved his being sent to the NYPD.
The clandestine CIA operative's role at the NYPD remains unclear. Officially, he is there on a sabbatical to observe the NYPD's management. Kelly said the operative provides the NYPD with foreign intelligence. CIA Director David Petraeus described him as an adviser. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper described him to Congress as an analyst, then Clapper's office acknowledged that was incorrect.
The CIA's relationship with the NYPD has troubled lawmakers and top intelligence officials.
Sen. Diane Feinstein, D-Calif., chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, has said the CIA has "no business or authority in domestic spying, or in advising the NYPD how to conduct local surveillance."
Clapper also said it did not look good for the CIA to be involved in any city police department.