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Unintelligent Division

May 26, 2008

An Intelligence Division detective who wanted to spy on a woman for private reasons had her phone records subpoenaed by pretending the information was vital to a terrorism investigation.

When his ruse was exposed, the NYPD bounced him from his job in the Intelligence Division but did so secretly, apparently to cover up the latest embarrassment in the NYPD’s counter-terrorism ranks.

The detective convinced two prosecutors in the Queens DA’s counter-terrorism unit to subpoena the woman’s phone records, using the pretext of a terrorism investigation.

Prosecutors can subpoena the records of terrorism suspects without a judge’s approval.

But, after obtaining the records, one of the assistant district attorneys saw something bizarre. As a law enforcement source put it, “When they got the material back, they noticed the detective’s phone number was part of it. They said, ‘What’s going on?’”

According to law enforcement sources, when questioned by the prosecutors, the third-grade detective and 21-year veteran admitted he knew the woman but maintained he was investigating because another unit had been dragging its feet.

Said an official involved in the investigation: “They got enough to know this was not a counter-terrorism investigation and notified up the line.”

That line included the NYPD’s Internal Affairs Bureau, which began its own investigation.

The detective was transferred to a VIPER unit, a dumping ground for cops in trouble, where they monitor security cameras in housing projects and other places.

While the Intelligence Division under David Cohen has drawn favorable publicity for such innovative counter-terrorism measures as stationing detectives overseas and hiring foreign speakers to monitor jihadi webs-sites, Intel is rife with abuses.

This column has documented some of its keystone-cops antics, from sending undercovers to New Jersey on a secret scuba investigation; to traveling to Carlisle, Pennsylvania to investigate a theft of explosives; to secretly monitoring a legitimate political protest group in a Boston church. In the first two instances, local authorities demanded the NYPD detectives leave the state. In the latter, the Intel detectives were nearly arrested by Massachusetts State Police.

Last year, Intel detectives under Deputy Chief Thomas Galati infuriated the FBI, Secret Service, and State Department by nearly creating an international incident at Kennedy airport when Galati ordered the detectives to detain the Iranian delegation to the United Nations for forty minutes.

A few months later, Intel Deputy Inspector Vincent Marra was forced to retire after this column documented his using a firemen’s fund for 9/11 victims and forcing subordinates to help pay for his cosmetic surgery.

This column has also detailed how Cohen used department resources to help his rich buddy, Daily News publisher Mortimer Zuckerman, who in 2004 reported being followed.

His pursuers turned out to be retired NYPD detectives, including one from Intel. Although Zuckerman acknowledged that the pursuit concerned a “business matter,” Cohen assigned Intel detectives to pursue the publisher’s pursuers. He reportedly whaled on a supervisor who cut off the pursuit because it was headed into New Jersey, where the NYPD can only legally enter on official business. Apparently, the supervisor recognized the Zuckerman escapade was a phony.

In addition, the Civil Liberties Union is suing the NYPD for internal reports documenting Intel’s spying on legitimate protest groups before the Republican National Convention. The Times has reported that the spying occurred all across the country and abroad.

Now we have the Intel detective and his phony counter-terrorism investigation.

Queens officials believed that after informing IAB, the department would at least place him on modified assignment. Not true. The big boys are apparently protecting him — or the image of Intel.

The detective’s job status remains unchanged. He retains his badge and gun.

He declined comment. The police department’s public information office did not return a call.

Misdirection. Don’t think for a moment that police Commissioner Ray Kelly’s departmental charges against seven officers in the Sean Bell shooting is getting anywhere near explaining why the tragedy occurred. We’ve heard all we need to about the Rand Corporation’s investigation into “contagious shootings.” You can breathalize cops until they drop but please explain how that is even relevant since the detectives involved in the shooting were permitted to drink inside the Club Kalua as part of their undercover role.

Remember when Kelly hired McKinsey and Co to examine the decision-making process on the day of the World Trade Center attack? It would be interesting to learn what McKinsey might discover if it asked such questions in the Bell case as:

bulletWhy were the police offices sent into the club in the first place?
bulletWhy not let the State Liquor Authority deal with the Club Kalua?
bulletWhy is there no protocol for such undercover operations?
bulletWhy were undercovers from Manhattan sent into this Queens club?
bulletWhy weren’t Queens detectives who were more familiar with the neighborhood sent to do this job?
bulletWhat boneheaded boss or bosses made these decisions?

Rather, in bringing charges against the seven officers, Kelly seems to be playing both to his mayoral bid as well as to Al Sharpton. The Rev. praised Kelly’s move, then urged him to fire the detectives involved in the shooting. Kelly and the Rev. have apparently come to an understanding. Have you heard Rev. Al utter a disparaging word about Ray? Not even over Crown Heights, where black-Jewish tensions are heating up and where they both have a history.

In return, just think: If Kelly does fire the detectives involved in the Bell shooting, Sharpton can claim he was responsible.

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Copyright © 2008 Leonard Levitt