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A short-lived homecoming

March 24, 2003

Frank Libutti, the NYPD's deputy commissioner for counterterrorism, is leaving the department after just 14 months.

The question is not whether he will be remembered but whether anyone, other than Police Commissioner Ray Kelly, can figure out what he was supposed to do.

Libutti's appointment on Jan. 15, 2002, together with that of former CIA operative David Cohen, bespoke Kelly's anti-terrorism priorities after Sept. 11.

At a City Hall news conference, Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced Libutti's job would be the "prevention, training, detection and response to terrorist threats directed towards the city." Libutti would report directly to Kelly. The native Long Islander was described as "coming home." Well, Libutti's homecoming didn't last very long.

He will soon join the Department of Homeland Security as undersecretary for information analysis and infrastructure protection.

Exactly what that job entails in English is not clear.

But then, it was not clear what Libutti's job entailed at the NYPD.

During his tenure, he refused all interviews requests, including one Friday.

Despite Kelly's anti-terrorism tactics, which include a revamped Intelligence Division headed by Cohen with an international intelligence-gathering network funded by private Wall Street donations, Libutti's responsibilities appear to have been less than meets the eye.

In fact, police sources say his role had been reduced to that of making training films.

In addition, the manner in which the departure was announced raises questions about how much of Kelly's terrorism-training talk is simply that - talk.

When rumors circulated for the past month that Libutti was leaving, Kelly and top police officials denied them.

In fact, Libutti's departure was announced not by Kelly but in a White House news release. Although the announcement was released Thursday, the department said nothing until Friday night - only after being asked about it.

Returning to his office at 6:30 p.m. Friday [after, it was believed, he spent the afternoon with Kelly, who was interviewed for "60 Minutes"], Deputy Commissioner for Public Information Michael O'Looney whipped out a statement in Kelly's name, congratulating Libutti:

"Earlier this week [Homeland] Secretary [Tom] Ridge said that no city in America has done a better job in preventing terrorism than the City of New York. That's true in large part because Frank Libutti has been an invaluable member of our team."

 

But the statement did not say if Libutti's counterterrorism efforts will continue. Nor did it say if he would be replaced.

More important, will someone in the department explain exactly what he did?

Talking the talk. When it comes to talking about anti-terrorism, few can say less while showing more than Kelly.

Take last week's news briefing in his 14th-floor command center.

Subject for the day: the department's new anti-terrorism protective kits - including masks - that are to be given to officers.

As Kelly described the kits, his four television screens were tuned to coverage of the war on Iraq. One screen displayed the Arabic station al-Jazeera, although so far as is known, Kelly has not yet learned Arabic. Another screen displayed Ridge's White House quote, saluting the department's anti-terrorism work.

It all looked pretty good until Kelly acknowledged only 3,000 kits had been dispensed. Another 12,000 sit in a warehouse, he said, because the NYPD has been unable to show a training film as it can't afford overtime for the training.

More talk. At the briefing, Kelly was asked if NYPD detectives were helping to question captured prisoners.

Kelly's answer: NYPD cops are part of the Joint Terrorist Task Force with the FBI.

Reporter's question: Is that a yes or a no?

Kelly's answer: It's neither a yes or a no.

A growing feud. So what's the position of the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association on the burgeoning feud between its counsel Steve Worth and ex-police lieutenant Patricia Feerick?

Feerick, a nurse, attorney and rising department star until her controversial 1994 conviction, claims in her motion for a new trial that Worth was incompetent by failing to cross-examine a key prosecution witness about the witness' prior drug-dealing. Feerick was convicted of leading illegal apartment raids in East Harlem in search of a stolen police radio.

PBA president Patrick Lynch didn't return a call and his spokesman, Joe Mancini, also declined to comment.

Mancini, who has been advising Worth on the matter "as a personal friend," as Mancini puts it, declined to say if his advice will continue. "I've heard no objection [from Lynch] so far," he said.

A year ago, a federal appeals court considered his defense of Charles Schwarz in the Abner Louima case so feeble it concluded Worth had to have had a conflict of interest.

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© 2003 Newsday, Inc. Reprinted with permission.