With cameras, informants, NYPD eyed mosques
August 30, 2013
NEW YORK (AP) — When a Danish newspaper published inflammatory cartoons of Prophet Muhammad in September 2005, Muslim communities around the world erupted in outrage. Violent mobs took to the streets in the Middle East. A Somali man even broke into the cartoonist’s house in Denmark with an ax.
In New York, thousands of miles away, it was a different story. At the Masjid Al-Falah in Queens, one leader condemned the cartoons but said Muslims should not resort to violence. Speaking at the Masjid Dawudi mosque in Brooklyn, another called on Muslims to speak out against the cartoons, but peacefully.
The sermons, all protected under the First Amendment to the Constitution, were reported back to the NYPD by the department’s network of mosque informants. They were compiled in police intelligence reports and summarized for Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly.
Those documents offer the first glimpse of what the NYPD’s informants — known informally as “mosque crawlers” — gleaned from inside the houses of worship. And, along with hundreds of pages of other secret NYPD documents obtained by The Associated Press, they show police targeting mosques and their congregations with tactics normally reserved for criminal organizations.
They did so in ways that brushed against — and civil rights lawyers say at times violated — a federal court order restricting how police can gather intelligence.
The NYPD Intelligence Division snapped pictures and collected license plate numbers of congregants as they arrived to pray. Police mounted cameras on light poles and aimed them at mosques. Plainclothes detectives mapped and photographed mosques and listed the ethnic makeup of those who prayed there.
“It seems horrible to me that the NYPD is treating an entire religious community as potential terrorists,” said civil rights lawyer Jethro Eisenstein, who reviewed some of the documents and is involved in a decades-old, class-action lawsuit against the police department for spying on protesters and political dissidents. The lawsuit is known as the Handschu case.
The documents provide a fuller picture of the NYPD’s unapologetic approach to protecting the city from terrorism. Eisenstein said he believes that at least one document, the summary of statements about the Danish cartoons, showed that the NYPD is not following a court order that prohibits police from compiling records on people who are simply exercising their First Amendment rights.
“This is a flat-out violation,” Eisenstein said. “This is a smoking gun.”
Kelly, the police commissioner, has said the NYPD complies with its legal obligations: “We’re following the Handschu guidelines,” Kelly said in October during a rare City Council oversight hearing about the NYPD surveillance of Muslims.
The AP has reported for months that the NYPD infiltrated mosques, eavesdropped in cafes and monitored Muslim neighborhoods. New Muslim converts who took Arabic names were compiled in police databases.
Recently, the NYPD has come under fire for its tactics. Universities including Yale and Columbia have criticized the department for infiltrating Muslim student groups and trawling their websites. Police put the names of students and academics in reports even when they were not suspected of wrongdoing. And in Newark, N.J., Mayor Cory Booker said he was offended by the NYPD’s secret surveillance of his city’s Muslims.
After the AP revelations, U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) called on U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to look into the NYPD operation in Newark. U.S. Rep. Bill Pascrell, Jr. (D-NJ), said the NYPD shouldn’t be operating in New Jersey without notifying local and federal authorities.
In a statement, Pascrell said profiling was wrong: “We must focus on behavioral profiling rather ethnic or religious profiling.”
NYPD spokesman Paul Browne did not respond to an email seeking comment. Browne has previously denied the NYPD used mosque crawlers or that there was a secret Demographics Unit that monitored daily life in Muslim communities.
At a press event on Thursday, Mayor Michael Bloomberg refused to answer questions about the NYPD’s activities.
The NYPD spying operations began after the 2001 terror attacks with unusual help from a CIA officer. The agency’s inspector general recently found that relationship problematic but said no laws were broken. Shortly after that report, the CIA decided to cut short the yearlong tour of an operative who was recently assigned to the NYPD.
Kelly, the police commissioner, and Bloomberg have been emphatic that police only follow legitimate leads of criminal activity and do not conduct preventive surveillance in ethnic communities.
“If there are threats or leads to follow, then the NYPD’s job is to do it,” Bloomberg said last year. “The law is pretty clear about what’s the requirement, and I think they follow the law. We don’t stop to think about the religion. We stop to think about the threats and focus our efforts there.”
But former and current law enforcement officials either involved in or with direct knowledge of these programs say they did not follow leads. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the secret programs. But the documents support their claims.
Officials say that David Cohen, the deputy commissioner for intelligence, was at the center of the efforts to spy on the mosques.
“Take a big net, throw it out, catch as many fish as you can and see what we get,” one investigator recalled Cohen saying.
The effort highlights one of the most difficult aspects of policing in the age of terrorism. Solving crimes isn’t enough. Police are expected to identify would-be terrorists and move in before they can attack.
There are no universally agreed upon warning signs for terrorism. Terrorists have used Internet cafes, stayed in hostels, worked out at gyms, visited travel agencies, attended student groups and prayed at mosques. So, the NYPD monitored those areas. In doing so, they monitored many innocent people as they went about their daily lives.
Using plainclothes officers from the Demographics Unit, police swept Muslim neighborhoods and catalogued the location of mosques, identifying them on maps with crescent moon icons, the well-known symbol of Islam. The ethnic makeup of each congregation was logged as police fanned out across the city and outside their jurisdiction, into suburban Long Island and areas of New Jersey.
“African American, Arab, Pakistani,” police wrote beneath the photo of one mosque in Newark.
“Mosque in private house without any signs. Observed 25 to 30 worshipers exiting after Jumma prayers,” police wrote beneath another Newark mosque photo.
As the Demographics Unit catalogued Internet cafes, hostels, grocers and travel agencies, officers noted how close the businesses were to mosques.
Investigators looked at mosques as the center of Muslim life. All their connections had to be known.
Cohen wanted a source inside every mosque within a 250-mile radius of New York, current and former officials said. Though the officials said they never managed to reach that goal, documents show the NYPD successfully placed informants or undercovers — sometimes both — into mosques from Westchester County, N.Y., to New Jersey.
The NYPD used these sources to get a sense of the sentiment of worshippers whenever an event generated headlines. The goal, former officials said, was to alert police to potential problems before they bubbled up.
After the fallout from the Danish cartoons, for instance, the informants reported on more than a dozen conversations inside mosques.
Some suggested boycotting Danish products, burning flags, contacting politicians and holding rallies — all permissible under the law.
“Imam Shamsi Ali brought up the topic of the cartoon, condemning them. He announced a rally that was to take place on Sunday (02/05/06) near the United Nations. He asked that everyone to attend if possible and reminded everyone to keep their poise if they can make it,” according to a report prepared for Kelly.
At the Muslim Center Of New York in Queens, the report said, “Mohammad Tariq Sherwani led the prayer service and urged those in attendance to participate in a demonstration at the United Nations on Sunday.”
When one Muslim leader suggested they plan a demonstration, a person involved in the discussion to obtain a sound permit was, in fact, working for the NYPD.
All that was recorded in secret NYPD files.
The closest anyone in the report came to espousing violence was one man who, in a conversation with an NYPD informant, said the cartoons showed the West was at war with Islam. Asked what Muslims should do, he replied, “inqilab,” an Arabic word that means changing the political system. Depending on the context, that can mean peacefully or through an upheaval like a coup. The report, which spelled the word “Inqlab,” said the informant translated it as “fight” but the report does not elaborate further.
Even when it was clear there were no links to terrorism, the mosque informants gave the NYPD the ability to “take the pulse” of the community, as Cohen and other managers called it.
When New York Yankees pitcher Cory Lidle and his flight instructor were killed Oct. 11, 2006, when their small plane crashed into a Manhattan high-rise apartment, fighter planes were scrambled. Within hours the FBI and Department of Homeland Security said it was an accident. Terrorism was ruled out.
Yet for days after the event, the NYPD’s mosque crawlers reported to police about what they heard at sermons and among worshippers.
At the Brooklyn Islamic Center, a confidential informant “noted chatter among the regulars expressing relief and thanks to God that the crash was only an accident and not an act of terrorism, which they stated would not be good either for the U.S. or for any of their home countries.”
Across the Hudson River in Jersey City, an undercover officer reported a pair of worshippers at the Al-Tawheed Islamic Center reacted with “sorrow.”
“The worshippers made remarks to the effect that ‘it better be an accident; we don’t need any more heat,'” the officer reported.
Another informant told his handler about a man who became agitated after learning about the crash. The man urged the informant not to go into Manhattan until it was clear what was going on, the informant said.
Five days after the crash, long after concerns that it was terrorism had passed, the NYPD compiled these reports into a memo for Kelly. The report promised to investigate the man who had appeared agitated.
“A phone dump will be conducted on subject’s phone for that day and time period,” the memo said.
In some instances, the NYPD put cameras on light poles and trained them on mosques, documents show. Investigators could control the cameras with their computers and use the footage to help identify worshippers. Because the cameras were in public space, police didn’t need a warrant to conduct the surveillance.
If the NYPD badly wanted to know who was attending the mosque, they could write down the license plates of cars in the mosque parking lots, documents show. In some instances, police in unmarked cars outfitted with electronic license plate readers would drive down the street and record the plates of everyone parked near the mosque.
Abdul Akbar Mohammed, the imam for the past eight years at the Masjid Imam Ali K. Muslim, a mosque in Newark that was cataloged in NYPD’s files, said of the program: “They’re viewing Muslims like they’re crazy. They’re terrorists. They all must be fanatics.”
“That’s not right,” he said.
In 2006, the NYPD ordered surveillance at the Masjid Omar, a mosque in Paterson, N.J., a document shows. There’s no indication that the surveillance team was looking for anyone in particular. The mosque itself was the target.
“This is reportedly to be a mosque that is attended by both Palestinian and Chechen worshipers,” the document reads. “This mosque has a long history in the community and is believed to have been the subject of federal Investigations.” Federal law enforcement officials told the AP that the mosque itself was never under federal investigation and they were unaware the NYPD was monitoring it so closely.
Police were instructed to watch the mosque and, as people came and went from the Friday prayer service, investigators were to record license plates and photograph and videotape those attending.
“Pay special attention to all NY State license plates,” the document said.
The brief file offered no evidence of criminal activity.
To conduct such broad surveillance as the NYPD did at Masjid Omar, FBI agents would need to believe that the mosque itself was part of a criminal enterprise. Even then, federal agents would need approval from senior FBI and Justice Department officials.
At the NYPD, however, such monitoring was common, former police officials said.
The Omar mosque sits in central Paterson in a neighborhood heavily populated by Palestinians, Egyptians and other Arabs. It’s about 20 miles west of Manhattan. About 2,000 worshippers meet regularly at the Sunni mosque, which was once a church.
On a recent Friday, the three-story high, cream-colored mosque bustled with activity.
About 200 men crowded the crimson carpet in the main hall as Imam Abdelkhaliq El-Nerib led prayers from a gold-painted pulpit at the front of the room. Wall hangings with Arabic script and geometric patterns hung on either side of the pulpit. Dozens more worshippers knelt on a blue tarp spread outside. The mosque has two services on Fridays to accommodate the large congregation.
“We’re not committing a crime, so of course we take issue with them spying on our people just because they’re praying in the mosque,” El Nerib said through a translator. “To track people who are frequent visitors to the mosque simply because they are coming to the mosque negates the freedom of religion that is a fundamental right enshrined in this country’s Constitution.”
Members of the mosque pointed out errors in the police document. The address, for instance, is wrong. And though the document says Chechens attended the mosque, worshippers said they had never heard of any. Most attendees are Palestinian, said El-Nerib, who’s Egyptian.
El-Nerib said he has a good relationship with local police. He, like others interviewed at the mosque, said they have nothing to hide.
“Whether it’s in public or private, we say the same thing: We are loyal American citizens,” El-Nerib said. “We are part and parcel of this society. We have lived here, we have found nothing but safety and security and protection of our rights.”
Associated Press writers Chris Hawley and Eileen Sullivan contributed to this report.
View the NYPD documents: www.ap.org/nypd
NYPD cartoons: http://apne.ws/zVwtCt
NYPD Omar: http://apne.ws/wsrSvN
NYPD crash: http://apne.ws/xB9kVM
ADAM GOLDMAN and MATT APUZZO
Feb. 23, 2012
Find this story at 23 Februari 2012
Contact the Washington investigative team at DCinvestigations (at) ap.org
Follow Apuzzo and Goldman at http://twitter.com/mattapuzzo and http://twitter.com/goldmandc
© 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. Terms and conditions apply. See AP.org for details.
Inside the spy unit that NYPD says doesn’t exist
August 30, 2013
NEW YORK (AP) — From an office on the Brooklyn waterfront in the months after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, New York Police Department officials and a veteran CIA officer built an intelligence-gathering program with an ambitious goal: to map the region’s ethnic communities and dispatch teams of undercover officers to keep tabs on where Muslims shopped, ate and prayed.
The program was known as the Demographics Unit and, though the NYPD denies its existence, the squad maintained a long list of “ancestries of interest” and received daily reports on life in Muslim neighborhoods, according to documents obtained by The Associated Press.
The documents offer a rare glimpse into an intelligence program shaped and steered by a CIA officer. It was an unusual partnership, one that occasionally blurred the line between domestic and foreign spying. The CIA is prohibited from gathering intelligence inside the U.S.
Undercover police officers, known as rakers, visited Islamic bookstores and cafes, businesses and clubs. Police looked for businesses that attracted certain minorities, such as taxi companies hiring Pakistanis. They were told to monitor current events, keep an eye on community bulletin boards inside houses of worship and look for “hot spots” of trouble.
The Demographics Unit, a team of 16 officers speaking at least five languages, is the only squad of its kind known to be operating in the country.
Using census information and government databases, the NYPD mapped ethnic neighborhoods in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut. Rakers then visited local businesses, chatting up store owners to determine their ethnicity and gauge their sentiment, the documents show. They played cricket and eavesdropped in the city’s ethnic cafes and clubs.
When the CIA would launch drone attacks in Pakistan, the NYPD would dispatch rakers to Pakistani neighborhoods to listen for angry rhetoric and anti-American comments, current and former officials involved in the program said.
The rakers were looking for indicators of terrorism and criminal activity, the documents show, but they also kept their eyes peeled for other common neighborhood sites such as religious schools and community centers.
The focus was on a list of 28 countries that, along with “American Black Muslim,” were considered “ancestries of interest.” Nearly all were Muslim countries.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg said last week that the NYPD does not take religion into account in its policing. The inclusion of American black Muslims on the list of ancestries of interest suggests that religion was at least a consideration. On Wednesday, Bloomberg’s office referred questions to the police department.
How law enforcement agencies, both local and federal, can stay ahead of Islamic terrorists without using racial profiling techniques has been hotly debated since 9/11. Singling out minorities for extra scrutiny without evidence of wrongdoing has been criticized as discriminatory. Not focusing on Muslim neighborhoods has been equally criticized as political correctness run amok. The documents describe how the nation’s largest police force has come down on that issue.
NYPD spokesman Paul Browne said the department only follows leads and does not simply trawl communities.
“We do not employ undercovers or confidential informants unless there is information indicating the possibility of unlawful activity,” Browne wrote in an email to the AP.
That issue has legal significance. The NYPD says it follows the same guidelines as the FBI, which cannot use undercover agents to monitor communities without first receiving an allegation or indication of criminal activity.
Before The Associated Press revealed the existence of the Demographics Unit last week, Browne said neither the Demographics Unit nor the term “rakers” exist. Both are contained in the documents obtained by the AP.
An NYPD presentation, delivered inside the department, described the mission and makeup of the Demographics Unit. And a police memorandum from 2006 described an NYPD supervisor rebuking an undercover detective for not doing a good enough job reporting on community events and “rhetoric heard in cafes and hotspot locations.”
At least one lawyer inside the police department has raised concerns about the Demographics Unit, current and former officials told the AP. Because of those concerns, the officials said, the information gathered from the unit is kept on a computer at the Brooklyn Army Terminal, not in the department’s normal intelligence database. The officials spoke on condition of because they were not authorized to discuss the intelligence programs.
The AP independently authenticated the NYPD presentation through an interview with an official who sat through it and by reviewing electronic data embedded in the file. A former official who had not seen the presentation said the content of the presentation was correct. For the internal memo, the AP verified the names and locations mentioned in the document, and the content is consistent with a program described by numerous current and former officials.
In the two years following the 9/11 attacks, the NYPD Intelligence Division had an unusual partnership with Lawrence Sanchez, a respected veteran CIA officer who was dispatched to New York. Officials said he was instrumental in creating programs such as the Demographics Unit and met regularly with unit supervisors to guide the effort, all while on the CIA’s payroll.
Both the NYPD and CIA have said the agency is not involved in domestic spying. A U.S. official familiar with the NYPD-CIA partnership described Sanchez’s time in New York as a unique assignment created in the wake of the 9/11 attacks.
After a two-year CIA rotation in New York, Sanchez took a leave of absence, came off the agency’s payroll and became the NYPD’s second-ranking intelligence official. He formally left the agency in 2007 and stayed with the NYPD until last year.
Recently, the CIA dispatched another officer to work in the Intelligence Division as an assistant to Deputy Commissioner David Cohen. Officials described the assignment as a management sabbatical and said the officer’s job is much different from what Sanchez was doing. Police and the CIA said it’s the kind of counterterrorism collaboration Americans expect.
The NYPD Intelligence Division has unquestionably been essential to the city’s best counterterrorism successes, including the thwarted plot to bomb the subway system in 2004. Undercover officers also helped lead to the guilty plea of two men arrested on their way to receive terrorism training in Somalia.
“We throw 1,200 police officers into the fight every day to make sure the same people or similarly inspired people who killed 3,000 New Yorkers a decade ago don’t come back and do it again,” Browne said earlier this month when asked about the NYPD’s intelligence tactics.
Rep. Yvette Clarke, a Democrat who represents much of Brooklyn and sits on the House Homeland Security Committee, said the NYPD can protect the city without singling out specific ethnic and religious groups. She joined Muslim organizations in calling for a Justice Department investigation into the NYPD Intelligence Division. The department said it would review the request for an investigation.
Clarke acknowledged that the 2001 terrorist attacks made Americans more willing to accept aggressive tactics, particularly involving Muslims. But she said Americans would be outraged if police infiltrated Baptist churches looking for evangelical Christian extremists.
“There were those who, during World War II, said, `Good, I’m glad they’re interning all the Japanese-Americans who are living here,'” Clarke said. “But we look back on that period with disdain.”
View the NYPD documents: http://bit.ly/q5iIXL and http://bit.ly/mVNdD
MATT APUZZO and ADAM GOLDMAN
Aug. 31, 2011
Find this story at 31 August 2011
_Goldman contributed from Islamabad, Pakistan. Apuzzo and Goldman can be reached at dcinvestigations(at)ap.org or at http://twitter.com/mattapuzzo and http://twitter.com/goldmandc
© 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. Terms and conditions apply. See AP.org for details.
With CIA help, NYPD moves covertly in Muslim areas
August 30, 2013
NEW YORK (AP) _ In New Brunswick, N.J., a building superintendent opened the door to apartment No. 1076 one balmy Tuesday and discovered an alarming scene: terrorist literature strewn about the table and computer and surveillance equipment set up in the next room.
The panicked superintendent dialed 911, sending police and the FBI rushing to the building near Rutgers University on the afternoon of June 2, 2009. What they found in that first-floor apartment, however, was not a terrorist hideout but a command center set up by a secret team of New York Police Department intelligence officers.
From that apartment, about an hour outside the department’s jurisdiction, the NYPD had been staging undercover operations and conducting surveillance throughout New Jersey. Neither the FBI nor the local police had any idea.
Since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the NYPD has become one of the country’s most aggressive domestic intelligence agencies. A months-long investigation by The Associated Press has revealed that the NYPD operates far outside its borders and targets ethnic communities in ways that would run afoul of civil liberties rules if practiced by the federal government. And it does so with unprecedented help from the CIA in a partnership that has blurred the bright line between foreign and domestic spying.
Neither the city council, which finances the department, nor the federal government, which contributes hundreds of millions of dollars each year, is told exactly what’s going on.
The department has dispatched teams of undercover officers, known as “rakers,” into minority neighborhoods as part of a human mapping program, according to officials directly involved in the program. They’ve monitored daily life in bookstores, bars, cafes and nightclubs. Police have also used informants, known as “mosque crawlers,” to monitor sermons, even when there’s no evidence of wrongdoing. NYPD officials have scrutinized imams and gathered intelligence on cab drivers and food cart vendors, jobs often done by Muslims.
Many of these operations were built with help from the CIA, which is prohibited from spying on Americans but was instrumental in transforming the NYPD’s intelligence unit.
A veteran CIA officer, while still on the agency’s payroll, was the architect of the NYPD’s intelligence programs. The CIA trained a police detective at the Farm, the agency’s spy school in Virginia, then returned him to New York, where he put his new espionage skills to work inside the United States.
And just last month, the CIA sent a senior officer to work as a clandestine operative inside police headquarters.
While the expansion of the NYPD’s intelligence unit has been well known, many details about its clandestine operations, including the depth of its CIA ties, have not previously been reported.
The NYPD denied that it trolls ethnic neighborhoods and said it only follows leads. In a city that has repeatedly been targeted by terrorists, police make no apologies for pushing the envelope. NYPD intelligence operations have disrupted terrorist plots and put several would-be killers in prison.
“The New York Police Department is doing everything it can to make sure there’s not another 9/11 here and that more innocent New Yorkers are not killed by terrorists,” NYPD spokesman Paul Browne said. “And we have nothing to apologize for in that regard.”
But officials said they’ve also been careful to keep information about some programs out of court, where a judge might take a different view. The NYPD considers even basic details, such as the intelligence division’s organization chart, to be too sensitive to reveal in court.
One of the enduring questions of the past decade is whether being safe requires giving up some liberty and privacy. The focus of that debate has primarily been federal programs like wiretapping and indefinite detention. The question has received less attention in New York, where residents do not know for sure what, if anything, they have given up.
The story of how the NYPD Intelligence Division developed such aggressive programs was pieced together by the AP in interviews with more than 40 current and former New York Police Department and federal officials. Many were directly involved in planning and carrying out these secret operations for the department. Though most said the tactics were appropriate and made the city safer, many insisted on anonymity, because they were not authorized to speak with reporters about security matters.
The story begins with one man.
David Cohen arrived at the New York Police Department in January 2002, just weeks after the last fires had been extinguished at the debris field that had been the twin towers. A retired 35-year veteran of the CIA, Cohen became the police department’s first civilian intelligence chief.
Cohen had an exceptional career at the CIA, rising to lead both the agency’s analytical and operational divisions. He also was an extraordinarily divisive figure, a man whose sharp tongue and supreme confidence in his own abilities gave him a reputation as arrogant. Cohen’s tenure as head of CIA operations, the nation’s top spy, was so contentious that in 1997, The New York Times editorial page took the unusual step of calling for his ouster.
He had no police experience. He had never defended a city from an attack. But New York wasn’t looking for a cop.
“Post-9/11, we needed someone in there who knew how to really gather intelligence,” said John Cutter, a retired NYPD official who served as one of Cohen’s top uniformed officers.
At the time, the intelligence division was best known for driving dignitaries around the city. Cohen envisioned a unit that would analyze intelligence, run undercover operations and cultivate a network of informants. In short, he wanted New York to have its own version of the CIA.
Cohen shared Commissioner Ray Kelly’s belief that 9/11 had proved that the police department could not simply rely on the federal government to prevent terrorism in New York.
“If anything goes on in New York,” one former officer recalls Cohen telling his staff in the early days, “it’s your fault.”
Among Cohen’s earliest moves at the NYPD was making a request of his old colleagues at CIA headquarters in Langley, Va. He needed someone to help build this new operation, someone with experience and clout and, most important, someone who had access to the latest intelligence so the NYPD wouldn’t have to rely on the FBI to dole out information.
CIA Director George Tenet responded by tapping Larry Sanchez, a respected veteran who had served as a CIA official inside the United Nations. Often, when the CIA places someone on temporary assignment, the other agency picks up the tab. In this case, three former intelligence officials said, Tenet kept Sanchez on the CIA payroll.
When he arrived in New York in March 2002, Sanchez had offices at both the NYPD and the CIA’s station in New York, one former official said. Sanchez interviewed police officers for newly defined intelligence jobs. He guided and mentored officers, schooling them in the art of gathering information. He also directed their efforts, another said.
There had never been an arrangement like it, and some senior CIA officials soon began questioning whether Tenet was allowing Sanchez to operate on both sides of the wall that’s supposed to keep the CIA out of the domestic intelligence business.
“It should not be a surprise to anyone that, after 9/11, the Central Intelligence Agency stepped up its cooperation with law enforcement on counterterrorism issues or that some of that increased cooperation was in New York, the site of ground zero,” CIA spokeswoman Jennifer Youngblood said.
Just as at the CIA, Cohen and Sanchez knew that informants would have to become the backbone of their operation. But with threats coming in from around the globe, they couldn’t wait months for the perfect plan.
They came up with a makeshift solution. They dispatched more officers to Pakistani neighborhoods and, according to one former police official directly involved in the effort, instructed them to look for reasons to stop cars: speeding, broken tail lights, running stop signs, whatever. The traffic stop gave police an opportunity to search for outstanding warrants or look for suspicious behavior. An arrest could be the leverage the police needed to persuade someone to become an informant.
For Cohen, the transition from spying to policing didn’t come naturally, former colleagues said. When faced with a decision, especially early in his tenure, he’d fall back on his CIA background. Cutter said he and other uniformed officers had to tell Cohen, no, we can’t just slip into someone’s apartment without a warrant. No, we can’t just conduct a search. The rules for policing are different.
While Cohen was being shaped by the police department, his CIA background was remaking the department. But one significant barrier stood in the way of Cohen’s vision.
Since 1985, the NYPD had operated under a federal court order limiting the tactics it could use to gather intelligence. During the 1960s and 1970s, the department had used informants and undercover officers to infiltrate anti-war protest groups and other activists without any reason to suspect criminal behavior.
To settle a lawsuit, the department agreed to follow guidelines that required “specific information” of criminal activity before police could monitor political activity.
In September 2002, Cohen told a federal judge that those guidelines made it “virtually impossible” to detect terrorist plots. The FBI was changing its rules to respond to 9/11, and Cohen argued that the NYPD must do so, too.
“In the case of terrorism, to wait for an indication of crime before investigating is to wait far too long,” Cohen wrote.
U.S. District Judge Charles S. Haight Jr. agreed, saying the old guidelines “addressed different perils in a different time.” He scrapped the old rules and replaced them with more lenient ones.
It was a turning point for the NYPD.
With his newfound authority, Cohen created a secret squad that would soon infiltrate Muslim neighborhoods, according to several current and former officials directly involved in the program.
The NYPD carved up the city into more than a dozen zones and assigned undercover officers to monitor them, looking for potential trouble.
At the CIA, one of the biggest obstacles has always been that U.S. intelligence officials are overwhelmingly white, their mannerisms clearly American. The NYPD didn’t have that problem, thanks to its diverse pool of officers.
Using census data, the department matched undercover officers to ethnic communities and instructed them to blend in, the officials said. Pakistani-American officers infiltrated Pakistani neighborhoods, Palestinians focused on Palestinian neighborhoods. They hung out in hookah bars and cafes, quietly observing the community around them.
The unit, which has been undisclosed until now, became known inside the department as the Demographic Unit, former police officials said.
“It’s not a question of profiling. It’s a question of going where the problem could arise,” said Mordecai Dzikansky, a retired NYPD intelligence officer who said he was aware of the Demographic Unit. “And thank God we have the capability. We have the language capability and the ethnic officers. That’s our hidden weapon.”
The officers did not work out of headquarters, officials said. Instead, they passed their intelligence to police handlers who knew their identities.
Cohen said he wanted the squad to “rake the coals, looking for hot spots,” former officials recalled. The undercover officers soon became known inside the department as rakers.
A hot spot might be a beauty supply store selling chemicals used for making bombs. Or it might be a hawala, a broker that transfers money around the world with little documentation. Undercover officers might visit an Internet cafe and look at the browsing history on a computer, a former police official involved in the program said. If it revealed visits to radical websites, the cafe might be deemed a hot spot.
Ethnic bookstores, too, were on the list. If a raker noticed a customer looking at radical literature, he might chat up the store owner and see what he could learn. The bookstore, or even the customer, might get further scrutiny. If a restaurant patron applauds a news report about the death of U.S. troops, the patron or the restaurant could be labeled a hot spot.
The goal was to “map the city’s human terrain,” one law enforcement official said. The program was modeled in part on how Israeli authorities operate in the West Bank, a former police official said.
Mapping crimes has been a successful police strategy nationwide. But mapping robberies and shootings is one thing. Mapping ethnic neighborhoods is different, something that at least brushes against what the federal government considers racial profiling.
Browne, the NYPD spokesman, said the Demographic Unit does not exist. He said the department has a Zone Assessment Unit that looks for locations that could attract terrorists. But he said undercover officers only followed leads, disputing the account of several current and former police and federal officials. They do not just hang out in neighborhoods, he said.
“We will go into a location, whether it’s a mosque or a bookstore, if the lead warrants it, and at least establish whether there’s something that requires more attention,” Browne said.
That conflicts with testimony from an undercover officer in the 2006 trial of Shahawar Matin Siraj, who was convicted of planning an attack on New York’s subway system. The officer said he was instructed to live in Brooklyn and act as a “walking camera” for police.
“I was told to act like a civilian _ hang out in the neighborhood, gather information,” the Bangladeshi officer testified, under a false name, in what offered the first narrow glimpse at the NYPD’s infiltration of ethnic neighborhoods.
Officials said such operations just made sense. Islamic terrorists had attacked the city on 9/11, so police needed people inside the city’s Muslim neighborhoods. Officials say it does not conflict with a 2004 city law prohibiting the NYPD from using religion or ethnicity “as the determinative factor for initiating law enforcement action.”
“It’s not profiling,” Cutter said. “It’s like, after a shooting, do you go 20 blocks away and interview guys or do you go to the neighborhood where it happened?”
In 2007, the Los Angeles Police Department was criticized for even considering a similar program. The police announced plans to map Islamic neighborhoods to look for pockets of radicalization among the region’s roughly 500,000 Muslims. Criticism was swift, and chief William Bratton scrapped the plan.
“A lot of these people came from countries where the police were the terrorists,” Bratton said at a news conference, according to the Los Angeles Daily News. “We don’t do that here. We do not want to spread fear.”
In New York, current and former officials said, the lesson of that controversy was that such programs should be kept secret.
Some in the department, including lawyers, have privately expressed concerns about the raking program and how police use the information, current and former officials said. Part of the concern was that it might appear that police were building dossiers on innocent people, officials said. Another concern was that, if a case went to court, the department could be forced to reveal details about the program, putting the entire operation in jeopardy.
That’s why, former officials said, police regularly shredded documents discussing rakers.
When Cohen made his case in court that he needed broader authority to investigate terrorism, he had promised to abide by the FBI’s investigative guidelines. But the FBI is prohibited from using undercover agents unless there’s specific evidence of criminal activity, meaning a federal raking program like the one officials described to the AP would violate FBI guidelines.
The NYPD declined to make Cohen available for comment. In an earlier interview with the AP on a variety of topics, Police Commissioner Kelly said the intelligence unit does not infringe on civil rights.
“We’re doing what we believe we have to do to protect the city,” he said. “We have many, many lawyers in our employ. We see ourselves as very conscious and aware of civil liberties. And we know there’s always going to be some tension between the police department and so-called civil liberties groups because of the nature of what we do.”
The department clashed with civil rights groups most publicly after Cohen’s undercover officers infiltrated anti-war groups before the 2004 Republican National Convention in New York. A lawsuit over that program continues today.
During the convention, when protesters were arrested, police asked a list of questions which, according to court documents, included: “What are your political affiliations?” “Do you do any kind of political work?” and “Do you hate George W. Bush?”
“At the end of the day, it’s pure and simple a rogue domestic surveillance operation,” said Christopher Dunn, a New York Civil Liberties Union lawyer involved in the convention lawsuit.
Undercover agents like the rakers were valuable, but what Cohen and Sanchez wanted most were informants.
The NYPD dedicated an entire squad, the Terrorist Interdiction Unit, to developing and handling informants. Current and former officials said Sanchez was instrumental in teaching them how to develop sources.
For years, detectives used informants known as mosque crawlers to monitor weekly sermons and report what was said, several current and former officials directly involved in the informant program said. If FBI agents were to do that, they would be in violation of the Privacy Act, which prohibits the federal government from collecting intelligence on purely First Amendment activities.
The FBI has generated its own share of controversy for putting informants inside mosques, but unlike the program described to the AP, the FBI requires evidence of a crime before an informant can be used inside a mosque.
Valerie Caproni, the FBI’s general counsel, would not discuss the NYPD’s programs but said FBI informants can’t troll mosques looking for leads. Such operations are reviewed for civil liberties concerns, she said.
“If you’re sending an informant into a mosque when there is no evidence of wrongdoing, that’s a very high-risk thing to do,” Caproni said. “You’re running right up against core constitutional rights. You’re talking about freedom of religion.”
That’s why senior FBI officials in New York ordered their own agents not to accept any reports from the NYPD’s mosque crawlers, two retired agents said.
It’s unclear whether the police department still uses mosque crawlers. Officials said that, as Muslims figured out what was going on, the mosque crawlers became cafe crawlers, fanning out into the city’s ethnic hangouts.
“Someone has a great imagination,” Browne, the NYPD spokesman, said. “There is no such thing as mosque crawlers.”
Following the foiled subway plot, however, the key informant in the case, Osama Eldawoody, said he attended hundreds of prayer services and collected information even on people who showed no signs of radicalization.
NYPD detectives have recruited shopkeepers and nosy neighbors to become “seeded” informants who keep police up to date on the latest happenings in ethnic neighborhoods, one official directly involved in the informant program said.
The department also has a roster of “directed” informants it can tap for assignments. For instance, if a raker identifies a bookstore as a hot spot, police might assign an informant to gather information, long before there’s concrete evidence of anything criminal.
To identify possible informants, the department created what became known as the “debriefing program.” When someone is arrested who might be useful to the intelligence unit _ whether because he said something suspicious or because he is simply a young Middle Eastern man _ he is singled out for extra questioning. Intelligence officials don’t care about the underlying charges; they want to know more about his community and, ideally, they want to put him to work.
Police are in prisons, too, promising better living conditions and help or money on the outside for Muslim prisoners who will work with them.
Early in the intelligence division’s transformation, police asked the taxi commission to run a report on all the city’s Pakistani cab drivers, looking for those who got licenses fraudulently and might be susceptible to pressure to cooperate, according to former officials who were involved in or briefed on the effort.
That strategy has been rejected in other cities.
Boston police once asked neighboring Cambridge for a list of Somali cab drivers, Cambridge Police Chief Robert Haas said. Haas refused, saying that without a specific reason, the search was inappropriate.
“It really has a chilling effect in terms of the relationship between the local police department and those cultural groups, if they think that’s going to take place,” Haas said.
The informant division was so important to the NYPD that Cohen persuaded his former colleagues to train a detective, Steve Pinkall, at the CIA’s training center at the Farm. Pinkall, who had an intelligence background as a Marine, was given an unusual temporary assignment at CIA headquarters, officials said. He took the field tradecraft course alongside future CIA spies then returned to New York to run investigations.
“We found that helpful, for NYPD personnel to be exposed to the tradecraft,” Browne said.
The idea troubled senior FBI officials, who saw it as the NYPD and CIA blurring the lines between police work and spying, in which undercover officers regularly break the laws of foreign governments. The arrangement even made its way to FBI Director Robert Mueller, two former senior FBI officials said, but the training was already under way and Mueller did not press the issue.
NYPD’s intelligence operations do not stop at the city line, as the undercover operation in New Jersey made clear.
The department has gotten some of its officers deputized as federal marshals, allowing them to work out of state. But often, there’s no specific jurisdiction at all. Cohen’s undercover squad, the Special Services Unit, operates in places such as New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Massachusetts, officials said. They can’t make arrests and, if something goes wrong _ a shooting or a car accident, for instance _ the officers could be personally liable. But the NYPD has decided it’s worth the risk, a former police official said.
With Police Commissioner Kelly’s backing, Cohen’s policy is that any potential threat to New York City is the NYPD’s business, regardless of where it occurs, officials said.
That aggressiveness has sometimes put the NYPD at odds with local police departments and, more frequently, with the FBI. The FBI didn’t like the rules Cohen played by and said his operations encroached on their responsibilities.
Once, undercover officers were stopped by police in Massachusetts while conducting surveillance on a house, one former New York official recalled. In another instance, the NYPD sparked concern among federal officials by expanding its intelligence-gathering efforts related to the United Nations, where the FBI is in charge, current and former federal officials said.
The AP has agreed not to disclose details of either the FBI or NYPD operations because they involve foreign counterintelligence.
Both Mueller and Kelly have said their agencies have strong working relationships and said reports of rivalry and disagreements are overblown. And the NYPD’s out-of-state operations have had success.
A young Egyptian NYPD officer living undercover in New Jersey, for example, was key to building a case against Mohamed Mahmood Alessa and Carlos Eduardo Almonte. The pair was arrested last year at John F. Kennedy Airport en route to Somalia to join the terrorist group al-Shabab. Both pleaded guilty to conspiracy.
Cohen has also sent officers abroad, stationing them in 11 foreign cities. If a bomber blows himself up in Jerusalem, the NYPD rushes to the scene, said Dzikansky, who served in Israel and is the co-author of the forthcoming book “Terrorist Suicide Bombings: Attack Interdiction, Mitigation, and Response.”
“I was there to ask the New York question,” Dzikansky said. “Why this location? Was there something unique that the bomber had done? Was there any pre-notification. Was there a security lapse?”
All of this intelligence _ from the rakers, the undercovers, the overseas liaisons and the informants _ is passed to a team of analysts hired from some of the nation’s most prestigious universities. Analysts have spotted emerging trends and summarized topics such as Hezbollah’s activities in New York and the threat of South Asian terrorist groups.
They also have tackled more contentious topics, including drafting an analytical report on every mosque within 100 miles of New York, one former police official said. The report drew on information from mosque crawlers, undercover officers and public information. It mapped hundreds of mosques and discussed the likelihood of them being infiltrated by al-Qaida, Hezbollah and other terrorist groups.
For Cohen, there was only one way to measure success: “They haven’t attacked us,” he said in a 2005 deposition. He said anything that was bad for terrorists was good for NYPD.
Though the CIA is prohibited from collecting intelligence domestically, the wall between domestic and foreign operations became more porous. Intelligence gathered by the NYPD, with CIA officer Sanchez overseeing collection, was often passed to the CIA in informal conversations and through unofficial channels, a former official involved in that process said.
By design, the NYPD was looking more and more like a domestic CIA.
“It’s like starting the CIA over in the post-9/11 world,” Cohen said in “Protecting the City,” a laudatory 2009 book about the NYPD. “What would you do if you could begin it all over again? Hah. This is what you would do.”
Sanchez’s assignment in New York ended in 2004, but he received permission to take a leave of absence from the agency and become Cohen’s deputy, former officials said.
Though Sanchez’s assignments were blessed by CIA management, some in the agency’s New York station saw the presence of such a senior officer in the city as a turf encroachment. Finally, the New York station chief, Tom Higgins, called headquarters, one former senior intelligence official said. Higgins complained, the official said, that Sanchez was wearing both hats, sometimes acting as a CIA officer, sometimes as an NYPD official.
The CIA finally forced him to choose: Stay with the agency or stay with the NYPD.
Sanchez declined to comment to the AP about the arrangement, but he picked the NYPD. He retired last year and is now a consultant in the Middle East.
Last month, the CIA deepened its NYPD ties even further. It sent one of its most experienced operatives, a former station chief in two Middle Eastern countries, to work out of police headquarters as Cohen’s special assistant while on the CIA payroll. Current and former U.S. officials acknowledge it’s unusual but said it’s the kind of collaboration Americans expect after 9/11.
Officials said revealing the CIA officer’s name would jeopardize national security. The arrangement was described as a sabbatical. He is a member of the agency’s senior management, but officials said he was sent to the municipal police department to get management experience.
At the NYPD, he works undercover in the senior ranks of the intelligence division. Officials are adamant that he is not involved in actual intelligence-gathering.
The NYPD has faced little scrutiny over the past decade as it has taken on broad new intelligence missions, targeted ethnic neighborhoods and partnered with the CIA in extraordinary ways.
The department’s primary watchdog, the New York City Council, has not held hearings on the intelligence division’s operations and former NYPD officials said council members typically do not ask for details.
“Ray Kelly briefs me privately on certain subjects that should not be discussed in public,” said City Councilman Peter Vallone. “We’ve discussed in person how they investigate certain groups they suspect have terrorist sympathizers or have terrorist suspects.”
The city comptroller’s office has audited several NYPD components since 9/11 but not the intelligence unit, which had a $62 million budget last year.
The federal government, too, has done little to scrutinize the nation’s largest police force, despite the massive federal aid. Homeland Security officials review NYPD grants but not its underlying programs.
A report in January by the Homeland Security inspector general, for instance, found that the NYPD violated state and federal contracting rules between 2006 and 2008 by buying more than $4 million in equipment through a no-bid process. NYPD said public bidding would have revealed sensitive information to terrorists, but police never got approval from state or federal officials to adopt their own rules, the inspector general said.
On Capitol Hill, where FBI tactics have frequently been criticized for their effect on civil liberties, the NYPD faces no such opposition.
In 2007, Sanchez testified before the Senate Homeland Security Committee and was asked how the NYPD spots signs of radicalization. He said the key was viewing innocuous activity, including behavior that might be protected by the First Amendment, as a potential precursor to terrorism.
That triggered no questions from the committee, which Sanchez said had been “briefed in the past on how we do business.”
The Justice Department has the authority to investigate civil rights violations. It issued detailed rules in 2003 against racial profiling, including prohibiting agencies from considering race when making traffic stops or assigning patrols.
But those rules apply only to the federal government and contain a murky exemption for terrorism investigations. The Justice Department has not investigated a police department for civil rights violations during a national security investigation.
“One of the hallmarks of the intelligence division over the last 10 years is that, not only has it gotten extremely aggressive and sophisticated, but it’s operating completely on its own,” said Dunn, the civil liberties lawyer. “There are no checks. There is no oversight.”
The NYPD has been mentioned as a model for policing in the post-9/11 era. But it’s a model that seems custom-made for New York. No other city has the Big Apple’s combination of a low crime rate, a $4.5 billion police budget and a diverse 34,000-person police force. Certainly no other police department has such deep CIA ties.
Perhaps most important, nobody else had 9/11 the way New York did. No other city lost nearly 3,000 people in a single morning. A decade later, police say New Yorkers still expect the department to do whatever it can to prevent another attack. The NYPD has embraced that expectation.
As Sanchez testified on Capitol Hill: “We’ve been given the public tolerance and the luxury to be very aggressive on this topic.”
MATT APUZZO AND ADAM GOLDMAN
Aug. 23, 2011
Find this story at 23 August 2011
Associated Press writers Tom Hays and Eileen Sullivan in Washington contributed to this report.
© 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. Terms and conditions apply. See AP.org for details.
What’s the CIA doing at NYPD? Depends whom you ask
August 30, 2013
WASHINGTON (AP) — Three months ago, one of the CIA’s most experienced clandestine operatives started work inside the New York Police Department. His title is special assistant to the deputy commissioner of intelligence. On that much, everyone agrees.
Exactly what he’s doing there, however, is much less clear.
Since The Associated Press revealed the assignment in August, federal and city officials have offered differing explanations for why this CIA officer — a seasoned operative who handled foreign agents and ran complex operations in Jordan and Pakistan — was assigned to a municipal police department. The CIA is prohibited from spying domestically, and its unusual partnership with the NYPD has troubled top lawmakers and prompted an internal investigation.
His role is important because 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 programs that monitored Muslim neighborhoods. With the earlier help from this CIA official, the police put entire communities under the microscope based on ethnicity rather 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 legally allowed to operate in the United States.
The arrangement surrounding the newly arrived CIA officer has been portrayed differently than that of his predecessor. When first asked by the AP, a senior U.S. official described the posting as a sabbatical, a program aimed at giving the man in New York more management training.
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.”
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 officer doesn’t have access to NYPD files, he is getting management experience in a division built entirely around collecting domestic intelligence.
James Clapper, the director of national intelligence, mischaracterized 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.
All of this has troubled lawmakers, including Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., the chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, who has said the CIA has “no business or authority in domestic spying, or in advising the NYPD how to conduct local surveillance.”
“It’s really important to fully understand what the nature of the investigations into the Muslim community are all about, and also the partnership between the local police and the CIA,” said Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., a member of the House Intelligence Committee.
Still, the undercover operative remains in New York while the agency’s inspector general investigates the CIA’s decade-long relationship with the NYPD. The CIA has asked the AP not to identify him because he remains a member of the clandestine service and his identity is classified.
The CIA’s deep ties to the NYPD began after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, when CIA Director George Tenet dispatched a veteran officer, Larry Sanchez, to New York, where he became the architect of the police department’s secret spying programs.
While still on the agency payroll, 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, officials said, intelligence collected from NYPD’s operations was passed informally to the CIA.
Sanchez also hand-picked an NYPD detective to attend the “Farm,” the CIA’s training facility where its officers are turned into operatives. The detective, who completed the course but failed to graduate, returned to the police department where he works today armed with the agency’s famed espionage skills.
Also while under Sanchez’s direction, documents show that the NYPD’s Cyber Intelligence Unit, which monitors domestic and foreign websites, also conducted training sessions for the CIA.
Sanchez was on the CIA payroll from 2002 to 2004 then took a temporary leave of absence from the CIA to become deputy to David Cohen, a former senior CIA officer who became head of the NYPD intelligence division just months after the 9/11 attacks.
In 2007, the CIA’s top official in New York complained to headquarters that Sanchez was wearing two hats, sometimes operating as an NYPD official, sometimes as a CIA officer. At headquarters, senior officials agreed and told Sanchez he had to choose.
He formally left the CIA, staying on at the NYPD until late 2010. He now works as a security consultant in the Persian Gulf region.
Sanchez’s departure left Cohen scrambling to find someone with operational experience who could replace him. He approached several former CIA colleagues about taking the job but they turned him down, according to people familiar with the situation who, like others interviewed for this story, spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the department’s inner workings.
When they refused, Cohen persuaded the CIA to send the current operative to be his assistant.
He arrived with an impressive post-9/11 resume. He had been the station chief in Pakistan and then Jordan, two stations that served as focal points in the war on terror, according to current and former officials who worked with him. He also was in charge of the agency’s Counter Proliferation Division.
But he is no stranger to controversy. Former U.S. intelligence officials said he was nearly expelled from Pakistan after an incident during President George W. Bush’s first term. Pakistan became enraged after sharing intelligence with the U.S., only to learn that the CIA station chief passed that information to the British.
Then, while serving in Amman, the station chief was directly involved in an operation to kill al-Qaida’s then-No. 2, Ayman al-Zawahri. But the plan backfired badly. The key informant who promised to lead the CIA to al-Zawahiri was in fact a double agent working for al-Qaida.
At least one CIA officer saw problems in the case and warned the station chief but, as recounted in a new book “The Triple Agent” by Washington Post reporter Joby Warrick, the station chief decided to push ahead anyway.
The informant blew himself up at remote CIA base in Khost, Afghanistan, in December 2009. He managed to kill seven CIA employees, including the officer who had warned the station chief, and wound six others. Leon Panetta, the CIA director at the time, called it a systemic failure and decided no one person was at fault.
ADAM GOLDMAN AND MATT APUZZO
ct. 17, 2011
Find this story at 17 August 2011
Contact the Washington investigative team at DCInvestigations(at)ap.org
Read AP’s previous stories and documents about the NYPD at: http://www.ap.org/nypd
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© 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. Terms and conditions apply. See AP.org for details.