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Terrorism’s Los Angeles Connection

January 29, 2007

The Manhattan Institute, the alleged think-tank of right-wing intellectuals, has found a new police department to adore.

In the past, its chocolate and candy all went to the NYPD.

But now it’s flirting with another police department whose chief is viewed by the NYPD’s commissioner Ray Kelly as a serious rival.

Specifically, the “MI,” as it refers to itself, is cozying up to former NYPD Commissioner William Bratton, who now heads the Los Angeles Police Department — and who Kelly has gone out of his way to avoid, if not insult.

Ironically, the issue that has pulled the MI away from the NYPD is the one dearest to Kelly’s heart, if not his reputation — counter-terrorism.

A letter to potential donors, describing the Institute’s 2006-07 program priorities, provides a hint of what’s afoot.

“Our old friend Chief William Bratton has asked MI to lend its counter-terrorism expertise to the LAPD,” the letter says. Bratton “has even agreed to become a national spokesman” for the Institute’s Center for Tactical Counter-Terrorism, “putting his extensive professional network and broad media exposure in the service of turning the [Center’s] Los Angeles office into a model for nation-wide reform.”

Out in L.A., Bratton gushes about the Institute’s Counter-Terrorism Center. “It’s a very impressive group, a dial-up service for experts,” he says. “They network with some of the smartest people in the world. They have academics and hands-on people coming in, and match the two.”

O.K., so what’s up here? The Manhattan Institute is a New York-based organization. It has a history with the NYPD, which is the model of nation-wide counter-terrorism reform. Why would the Institute choose to ally itself with Bratton and Los Angeles instead of with Kelly and the NYPD? Especially when its Center for Tactical Counter-Terrorism was created exclusively for the NYPD?

No one has offered a satisfactory explanation.

Far-fetched as it sounds, the Center’s director, Tim Connors, says a catalyst for the split was former NYPD commissioner Bernard Kerik, an Institute favorite.

In October 2003, for example, the MI sponsored a talk by Kerik at the Harvard Club. Fresh from his three months in Iraq, where he had supposedly trained Iraqi police officers, Kerik told the MI: “I don’t care if they find them [weapons of mass destruction] or not. Saddam tortured and killed one million people. Somebody had to go there.”

And: “Saddam didn’t do 9/11. But did Saddam fund and train al-Qaeda? The answer is yes. Then ask yourself, who hit the towers?”

For these insights, the Institute’s intellectuals gave him a prolonged ovation.

Connors adds, “There was a bit of caution” after what he termed “the Kerik incident,” which Connors described as “misusing things that were donated to the city, like his apartment.”

He referred, of course, to the penthouse apartment overlooking Ground Zero that was loaned to Kerik by the Milstein brothers. Kerik was supposed to use the apartment to recover from his supposed 18-hour work days after 9/11. Instead, he brought his girlfriends there.

“The NYPD said they didn’t want anyone to be able to question their relationship with a private concern,” said Connors. “They said we need to be careful about this relationship. They said it wasn’t a trust issue but a perception issue. They asked us to go through an audit to give them a level of comfort.”

Then came last September’s terrorism conference at the Roosevelt Hotel to commemorate the fifth anniversary of 9/11, which the Institute co-sponsored with the NYPD.

Included were Bratton and such Brattonites as John Timoney, the NYPD’s former first deputy, and currently chief of the Miami PD; John Miller, Bratton’s spokesman in New York and Los Angeles, currently the chief spokesman for the FBI; and Dean Esserman, currently police chief of Providence, R.I.

All that was apparently too much for Kelly, who at the last minute pulled out. On the day of the Institute’s conference at the Roosevelt, Kelly held a separate terrorism conference at One Police Plaza.

Connors said, “It was their decision. I can’t speculate on why they decided to do what they did.”

Neither Kelly nor his spokesman Paul Browne has offered a credible explanation for Kelly’s bailout.

Meanwhile from Los Angeles, Bratton says, “I am looking to replicate much of what the NYPD has done here and to export it to other major cities. My style is to share everything. I am helping myself by helping all others.”

Asked about Kelly’s boycott of the September conference he said, “I have no intention of getting into that issue. They do their thing, I do mine.”

Who's Number One?
Mayor Bloomberg’s recent characterization of Kelly as “the best police commissioner this city’s ever had” is reminiscent of a similar superlative by Mayor Mike’s predecessor, Rudy Giuliani.

Rudy used virtually the same words to describe Howard Safir, calling him “the greatest police commissioner in New York City’s history.”

Naturally, when it comes to two such police giants, each despises the other.

Safir picked Kelly’s brain when he became police commissioner in 1996, then criticized him in his book “Security: Policing Your Homeland, Your City” for shutting down the vaunted but troubled Street Crime Unit, four of whose members fired the 41 shots that killed the unarmed African immigrant Amadou Diallo. [Numbers of copies of Safir’s book sold: about 17.]

Kelly, who attended Safir’s swearing-in ceremony in 1996, now disses Safir whenever possible.

In an episode straight out of Bizarro-land, which was related to this reporter by a former top NYPD official, Kelly sent out feelers when he returned as commissioner in 2002 that he wanted to see Safir about the Police Museum, whose chairwoman is Safir’s wife Carol. Safir was delighted. Then, one of Kelly’s minions said Kelly wanted Safir to write a letter requesting the meeting. Safir refused and the two never met.

Believe it or not, there are similarities between the two. Both have led the department during racially charged shootings, from Diallo in 1999 to the current Sean Bell. Both have closed the department to public scrutiny. Both are surly and unapproachable.

There are also differences. Big ones. First, Kelly has a brain. Second, Safir despises the media. Kelly may also, but he is smart enough not to reveal it. In contrast to Safir’s spokeswoman Marilyn Mode, Kelly has created a propaganda machine that is second to none.

In calling Safir “the greatest police commissioner in New York City’s history,” Giuliani cited continuing declines in homicides — the bellwether crime that cannot be covered up or dumbed down. Those declines had actually begun under Kelly in his first term as commissioner, but had accelerated during the tenure of his successor and Safir’s predecessor, Bratton.

As murders continued to fall during the first four years of his return, Kelly also heralded the homicide declines. But with a ten per cent rise last year, Kelly downplayed their importance, citing other statistics like robberies and grand larceny to claim that New York remained the Nation’s Safest Large City.

Lastly, when it comes to Number One, let’s not forget the description of Bratton in 1995 by his over-the-top attorney Ed Hayes as “the most significant law enforcement leader of our time and perhaps the 20th century.”

Last week’s column misspelled the name Lieut. Gene Whyte of the Public Information office. I apologize for the error.

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Copyright © 2007 Leonard Levitt