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FBI to Ray Kelly: We Fight Terrorism Too

July 10, 2006

So the FBI does have Arabic speakers who monitor jihadi chat rooms and web sites.

Of course, you’d never know this from the bureau’s public relations department, which until last week never breathed a word of it.

Nor would you know it from the New York City Police Department’s Office of Public Information, which for the past four and a half years under Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly has touted its own monitoring of jihadi chat rooms and web sites as well as its other anti-terrorism efforts — while disparaging those of the FBI.

“The FBI doesn’t talk about it,” says an FBI official, “but the jihadi chat room and web site monitoring is actually conducted in a facility right here in New York City.”

It was from that FBI facility that the bureau learned of an alleged Al Qaeda plot to blow up a PATH train tunnel. The plot was apparently hatched in Beirut, Lebanon by Assem Hammoud, a Westernized college professor. Alerted by the FBI, Lebanese intelligence arrested Hammoud last April.

On Friday, after the Daily News revealed the plot, the FBI hosted a news conference. Unlike last October’s subway bomb plot news conference at One Police Plaza that was hosted by Kelly and at which the head of the FBI’s New York office Mark Mershon attended as a junior partner, this news conference was held at FBI headquarters in Lower Manhattan. This time Mershon served as host, with Kelly on the periphery.

Actually, the operation that led to Hammoud’s capture was a joint FBI-NYPD one. That is to say, the group that spotted Hammoud in the chat rooms was the Joint Terrorist Task Force, the agency put in place some 25 ago to coordinate efforts by those two law enforcement agencies. The memorandum of understanding between them stated that crimes it uncovered would be prosecuted federally, meaning the FBI was the lead agency.

After the bombing of the World Trade Center in 1993, the NYPD under Kelly, in his first spin as commissioner, worked closely with the bureau through the JTTF. But since returning as commissioner in 2002, Kelly has undermined it.

First, he flooded the JTTF with increased numbers of detectives, spurring Bureau fears that the NYPD was trying to take it over.

Next, his revamped Intelligence Division under former CIA official David Cohen established a parallel and rival entity to the JTTF. Under Cohen, Intel detectives began conducting undercover anti-terrorism operations in neighboring states without informing the bureau or local authorities. In one bizarre episode, NYPD detectives attempted to bribe the owners of scuba diving shops on the Jersey shore to determine whether they might accept bribes by terrorists. When the diving shop owners alerted the New Jersey authorities, they ordered the NYPD detectives out of the state.

Kelly also based Intel detectives overseas, including the Middle East, where they paralleled — and rivaled — the FBI, which for years has had dozens of agents stationed around the world.

When radical Muslim cleric Abu Hamza Al Masri was arrested in London in 2004 based on evidence developed by the JTTF, Kelly held a news conference without the FBI. After terming Al Masri “the real deal,” he singled out for praise NYPD detective George Corey and released his picture to the media. This prompted Mershon’s predecessor Pat D’Amuro to criticize Kelly’s actions as harmful to the task force.

More recently, the Intelligence Division did not inform the FBI of its year-long investigation into Pakistani immigrant Shahawar Matin Siraj — convicted in May in federal court of planning to blow up the Herald Square subway station — until but a month before his arrest.

In the past, local law enforcement, the NYPD included, have felt dissed and worse by the FBI. Since 9/11, however, the FBI has done cartwheels to accommodate Kelly.

Earlier this year, Mershon said that his marching orders from FBI Director Robert Mueller upon arriving in New York City were to get along with Kelly. He and Mueller have even praised Kelly’s overseas detectives as Kelly’s “signature accomplishment.”

At last week’s news conference, announcing Hammoud’s arrest, the tables were turned. The show was the Bureau’s with Mershon even using Kelly’s favorite line in his preamble, “This is the real deal.”

What Did Rudy Know? And when did he know it? Those Watergate-like questions hang over our floundering former police commissioner Bernard Kerik.

Kerik has pleaded guilty to two misdemeanors, one of which involved accepting $165, 000 in free renovations to his Bronx apartment from an alleged mob-connected contractor.

Specifically, did city investigators -- who knew of Kerik’s relationship with the contractor -- raise it as an issue before Giuliani appointed him police commissioner in 2000?

More specifically, what did then Department of Investigations commissioner Edward Kuriansky – whose successor Rose Gill Hearn says attended regular meetings on the matter at city hall -- tell Giuliani?

Neither Kuriansky, Gill Hearn nor Bronx District Attorney Robert Johnson has shed light on this. Johnson, who in accepting Kerik’s guilty plea, declined to address the issue as he could have done through a grand report. Kuriansky has been incommunicado. Gill Hearn, who appears to have been the catalyst in pushing the investigation, has played coy, saying only at her post-plea news conference that Kuriansky didn’t know everything that is known today.

Though not in its formal job description, the real job of DOI’s commissioner is to protect the mayor. Perhaps that explains Kuriansky’s silence. Perhaps that explains Gill Hearn’s. Perhaps she is under orders from her mayor Mike to zip it.

Perhaps she might have done better to take Kerik’s case to Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau, whose office has a history of white collar crime successes. Let no one cry Morgenthau lacks jurisdiction. Twenty years ago, he indicted the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association’s private eye, who was bribing witnesses not to testify against cops, for attempting to bribe a witness in Florida.

Boob of the Month Award: To the headline writer of the Daily News’ July 7th editorial on the freeing of Alan Newton, who spent 22 years in jail for a rape he did not commit: “Justice Delayed, not Denied.”

Memo to the headline writer: Justice delayed for 22 years is justice denied.

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Copyright © 2006 Leonard Levitt