New York Council members Daniel Drumm and Robert Jackson listen as NYPD Commissioner Raymond Kelly testifies before the public safety committee. Image Credit: AP

Washington: Working inside the New York Police Department is one of the CIA's most experienced clandestine operatives. He arrived in July as the special assistant to the deputy commissioner of intelligence. While his title is clear, his job responsibilities are not.

Federal and city officials have offered differing explanations for why this top CIA officer was assigned to a municipal police department since AP revealed the assignment in August.

The CIA is prohibited from spying domestically, and its unusual partnership with the New York Police Department (NYPD) has troubled top lawmakers and prompted an internal investigation.

The last time a CIA officer worked so closely with the NYPD, beginning in the months after the 9/11 attacks, he became the architect of aggressive police programmes that monitored Muslim neighbourhoods.

With that earlier help from this CIA official, the police put entire communities under a microscope based on ethnicity rather than allegations of wrongdoing, according to the AP investigation.

It was an extraordinary collaboration that at times troubled some senior CIA officials and may have stretched the bounds of how the CIA is allowed to operate in the United States.

The arrangement surrounding the newly arrived CIA officer, who was at the centre of one of the worst US intelligence fiascos in recent history, has been portrayed differently from that of his predecessor.

When first asked by the AP, a senior US official described the posting as a sabbatical, a programme aimed at giving the man in New York more management training.

Technical information

Testifying at City Hall recently, New York Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said the CIA operative provides his officers "with information, usually coming from perhaps overseas". He said the CIA operative provides "technical information" to the NYPD but "doesn't have access to any of our investigative files".

Citing a presidential order authorising the CIA to assist local law enforcement, Kelly said: "Operating under this legal basis, the CIA has advised the police department on key aspects of intelligence gathering and analysis that have greatly benefitted our counter-terrorism mission and protected lives in New York City."

CIA Director David Petraeus has described him as an adviser, someone who could ensure that information was being shared.

But the CIA already has someone with that job. At its large station in New York, a CIA liaison shares intelligence with the Joint Terrorism Task Force in New York, which has hundreds of NYPD detectives assigned to it. And the CIA did not explain how, if the adviser doesn't have access to NYPD files, he's getting management experience in a division built entirely around collecting domestic intelligence.

James Clapper, the director of National Intelligence, mischaracterised him to Congress as an "embedded analyst" — his office later quietly said that was a mistake — and acknowledged it looked bad to have the CIA working so closely with a police department.