NEW YORK -- A non-profit government watchdog has sued the Central Intelligence Agency to uncover information about its controversial collaboration with the New York City Police Department's counter-terrorism surveillance program.
The suit, filed by the Electronic Privacy Information Center on Dec. 20, seeks to force the release of a report by the agency's inspector general into whether it violated legal prohibitions against spying on American soil. In 2011, the Associated Press revealed that the agency was deeply involved in training the NYPD's Intelligence Unit, which spied on Muslims in New York even when there was no evidence they had committed any crimes.
After those revelations, the agency's inspector general launched an investigation into its work with the NYPD. In December 2011, the agency said the inspector general had found "no evidence" that any laws were broken or that the agency was directly involved in domestic spying. But the report was apparently critical, and the next month the AP reported that an experienced CIA operative was being removed from his assignment with the NYPD.
In March, EPIC made a Freedom of Information Act request for the inspector general report, but the agency has thus far failed to release it, citing a "substantial backlog" of such requests.
"As a result of that investigation, they found that there was no wrongdoing, but they never made public the actual investigatory report," said Ginger McCall, director of EPIC's Open Government Program. "I can't see what's actually in the report unless I have it in my hand."
Only then, said McCall, can there be "an informed debate about whether or not the CIA should be participating in these activities."
CIA spokesman John Tomczyk declined to comment on the lawsuit, citing an agency rule against weighing in on pending legal matters. But McCall said she is hopeful that the prospect of a lawsuit, not unusual in FOIA cases, will force the release of the report in some form, since inspector general investigations are exempted from the otherwise extensive discretion the spy agency has in keeping its files secret.
The Associated Press' nearly year-long investigation found that the CIA was instrumental in advising the NYPD on its surveillance program, which spied on mosques, student groups and entire neighborhoods populated by Muslim Americans. The news organization won a Pulitzer Prize for its reporting, but so far the city has rebutted efforts to curtail the police department's powers.
In June a group of Muslims filed a separate lawsuit against the NYPD over its intelligence-gathering activities in northern New Jersey.