WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The CIA inspector general is reviewing the spy agency's ties with the New York Police Department after critics questioned whether the relationship amounted to "domestic spying" that infringed civil liberties.
A U.S. Muslim civil liberties organization last month called for a federal investigation into a report the Central Intelligence Agency was helping New York City police gather information from mosques and minority neighborhoods.
A CIA analyst is embedded with the New York Police Department but no one from the agency was "out on the street collecting" intelligence, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper told a congressional hearing on Tuesday.
"It's my personal view that that's not a good optic to have CIA involved in any city-level police department," Clapper said, adding the inspector general's investigation would "look into specifically the propriety of that."
One mission of the CIA adviser attached to New York's police department is to ensure sharing of information, new CIA Director David Petraeus told the same joint hearing of the House and Senate intelligence committees.
"We are very sensitive to the law and to civil liberties and privacy," Petraeus said.
"We welcome it," Paul Browne, deputy commissioner of the New York Police Department, said of the CIA investigation.
Information-sharing among intelligence and law enforcement agencies became a priority for the U.S. government after the September 11 attacks in 2001. New York bore the brunt of the attacks by al Qaeda militants.
"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," CIA spokeswoman Marie Harf said.
"The agency's operational focus, however, is overseas and none of the support we have provided to NYPD can be rightly characterized as 'domestic spying' by the CIA. Any suggestion along those lines is simply wrong."
(Reporting by Tabassum Zakaria and Mark Hosenball; Editing by John O'Callaghan)