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Top intelligence cop doesn't have to testify

January 10, 2003

The Police Department's top intelligence official will not have to testify in a court hearing in which the department is seeking to increase its surveillance power, a federal judge has ruled.

In a decision written Jan. 2, U.S. District Judge Charles Haight cited "the changed circumstances arising out of terrorist acts in New York City and elsewhere" in exempting Deputy Commissioner for Intelligence David Cohen from testifying.

The department has moved to abolish many of the restrictions and limitations of what are known as the "Handschu guidelines" in its intelligence-gathering activities.

As part of its motion, the department included a 23-page declaration from Cohen, who joined the department last year after 35 years with the Central Intelligence Agency. In his declaration, Cohen stated that the Handschu guidelines hamper the department's surveillance of various mosques that he said are frequented by terrorists.

 

Cohen, in the declaration, also cited the Alavi Foundation, a nonprofit charity with headquarters in midtown Manhattan that Cohen maintains is "totally controlled by the government of Iran."

Haight, in his decision, said that Cohen's allegation against Alavi had "generated a lively and ongoing peripheral controversy."

The charity, the judge said, has hired the prominent New York law firm Patterson, Belknap, Webb & Tyler, "which wrote a detailed 11-page letter of factual assertions and denials, accompanied by attachments to the court 'to correct the record.' "

The Handschu guidelines, in effect since the mid-1980s, grew out of a court case in which the department was criticized for overstepping its bounds in seeking to spy on individuals. The rules stemmed from a consent decree - which Haight signed in 1985 - that required the Police Department to get approval from a three-member commission before investigating a group's or person's political activity.

More recently, Police Commissioner Ray Kelly has said that no other police department in the country labors under such restraints as those in the Handschu guidelines.

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© 2003 Newsday, Inc. Reprinted with permission.