CIA Spying: Think the CIA Doesn't Spy on Americans? Think Again

Think the CIA only spies abroad? Think again.

According to a New York Times article published yesterday, a recently disclosed CIA report found that "four Central Intelligence Agency officers were embedded with the New York Police Department in the decade after Sept. 11, 2001, including one official who helped conduct surveillance operations in the United States."

Apparently, the CIA officer who worked with the NYPD thought there were "no limitations" on his behavior because he was on a leave of absence and therefore somehow exempt from the agency's strict prohibition against domestic spying.

CIA Inspector General David B. Buckley cited numerous breaches of protocol and areas of concern in the report chiefly, that the collaboration was fraught with "irregular personnel practices," that it lacked "formal documentation in some important instances," and that "there was inadequate direction and control" by supervisors.         

The executive summary's declassification was made in response to a Freedom of Information Act suit and, coming in the wake of Edward Snowden's NSA leaks, it will no doubt increase concerns about privacy and domestic spying.

While I don't think the CIA intentionally spies on Americans, combined with the NSA leaks these revelations are disconcerting. I've always thought that the mark of a repressive regime could be found when its armies and intelligence agencies were geared more against internal dissent rather than external threats. Such governments can be found in Iran, China, and North Korea.

But we are different, right? I mean, surely our intelligence agencies were set up to protect, rather than spy on, our own citizens at least, that's what I used to believe. Now I'm not so sure. It seems to me like our government is using its supposed purpose our protection in order to justify domestic spying.

Of course, in the "What We Do" section of its website, the CIA's purpose seems clear: "to collect, analyze, evaluate, and disseminate foreign intelligence." (Emphasis my own.)

Ah, its purpose is to "disseminate foreign intelligence"! So unlike with the NSA, we are definitely in the clear, because a government agency would never lie to us. Phew. Oh, what's that? The NSA website also says it exclusively produces "foreign signals intelligence information"?

It is cliche, but I'll leave you with a quote from George Orwell's dystopian novel 1984, and I ask you to consider whether you would like to live in the type of environment described by the protagonist:

"There was of course no way of knowing whether you were being watched at any given moment. How often, or on what system, the Thought Police plugged in on any individual wire was guesswork. It was even conceivable that they watched everybody all the time. But at any rate they could plug in your wire whenever they wanted to. You had to live — did live, from habit that became instinct — in the assumption that every sound you made was overheard, and, except in darkness, every movement scrutinized."

Our intelligence agencies are out of control, and it is time for them to return to the well-thought-out boundaries set by the Constitution.

How likely are you to make Mic your go-to news source?

Michael Shammas

Second-year Harvard Law student, politico, Breaking Bad fan, cynical idealist, coffee addict, & Duke sports fanatic. Contact me at mshammas@jd16.law.harvard.edu.

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