WASHINGTON - The CIA is investigating whether it broke the law by helping the New York Police Department create an intelligence operation to monitor Muslim Americans, CIA Director David Petraeus told Congress Tuesday.
Petraeus, sworn in last week, said acting CIA Director Michael Morrell had ordered the inspector general to investigate the unusual cooperation between the CIA and the NYPD.
"There is an IG investigation that was requested by the acting director before I assumed the position of director," Petraeus told a joint Senate-House intelligence hearing. "I will continue to follow up on [it] and just ensure that we are doing the right thing."
By its founding charter and presidential executive order, the CIA is barred from assuming or performing any "internal security functions," which effectively includes domestic surveillance, and was created to collect foreign intelligence overseas. But the president can authorize the CIA to engage in covert action.
CIA spokesman Preston Golson called the probe "a preliminary review."
An aid to Mayor Michael Bloomberg referred queries to the police department. NYPD spokesman Paul Browne said, "We welcome it."
At the hearing, James Clapper, director of national intelligence, raised questions about the CIA having an analyst at the NYPD.
"It's my own personal view that that's not a good optic, to have CIA involved in any city-level police department," he said.
But he said the inspector general was asked "to look into specifically the propriety of that."
The probe arises from an Associated Press story in August that said the CIA helped create and guide NYPD programs to monitor and infiltrate mosques and student groups, eavesdrop in cafes and restaurants, and track American Black Muslims and people from 28 countries.
Muslim-American groups and civil liberties advocates have asked for an investigation.
Golson said the AP story "mischaracterized" the CIA's support to the NYPD, which he said should come as no surprise after 9/11. Golson said any suggestion that it had conducted domestic spying in working with the NYPD "is simply wrong."
Petraeus said the CIA is still working with the NYPD.
"There is an adviser there who . . . tries to ensure that there is sharing of information, as that is essential and advisable," Petraeus said. "We are very sensitive to the law and to civil liberties and privacy."