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“Securing The City” Secures Kelly’s Reputation

February 9, 2009

A new book about the NYPD’s counter-terrorism efforts sounds like it was written by the police department’s Office of Public Information.

“Securing the City: Inside America’s Best Counterterror Force — the NYPD” by Christopher Dickey oohs and ahhs over Police Commissioner Ray Kelly and ex-CIA honcho, now Deputy Commissioner for Intelligence, David Cohen, without asking hard questions of either.

No question, Kelly and company deserve every New Yorker’s gratitude for their vigilance against the specter of a World Trade Center III. Kelly and Cohen have reshaped the NYPD into a multi-lingual, intelligence-gathering force that has developed informants and overseas law enforcement contacts and, at least by their count, thwarted innumerable plots against the city.

Bottom line: there’s been no attack since 9/11, although whether this is due to Kelly and Cohen, former President George Bush and Dick Cheney (who have also claimed credit), or just dumb luck remains uncertain.

At the same time, serious concerns have been raised about the NYPD’s terrorism-fighting methods: specifically its alleged abuses of authority.

In 2003, police arrested hundreds of Iraq war protestors and questioned them in prison about their friends and political affiliations, collecting their responses and entering them into a database.

In 2003 and 2004, Cohen’s Intelligence Division conducted a full-blown (and probably illegal) spying campaign on political protestors around the country who planned to demonstrate at the 2004 Republican National Convention. Cohen and Kelly, with the support of Mayor Michael Bloomberg (who is largely absent in Dickey’s account), have to this day refused to make public court-ordered police documents on the subject, citing national security concerns.

Last fall, Kelly complained to Attorney General Michael Mukasey that the federal government was too preoccupied with legal niceties in delaying the NYPD’s eavesdropping applications. Mukasey responded that Kelly was acting “contrary to the law.”

“Securing the City” author Christopher Dickey — described on the book jacket as Newsweek’s “Award-winning Paris Bureau Chief and Middle East Regional Editor” — seems well aware of governmental abuses in fighting terrorism — provided it’s the federal government. He cites such abuses, from the Palmer Raids of the 1920s to the brutality at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.

But when it comes to today’s NYPD, Dickey has little to say. Perhaps the “unparalleled access” his book jacket says he was granted to Kelly and other top NYPD officials has made him too comfortable with his sources, or too afraid to upset them.

He fails to ask what should be at the heart of his book: who is monitoring a municipal agency like the NYPD, which has become, as Dickey admiringly describes it, a mini-CIA? What safeguards are there to ensure the NYPD doesn’t break the law? What mechanisms are in place to ensure that the NYPD does not become a rogue organization?

You might also think that a writer who introduces J. Edgar Hoover as “viciously ambitious” might be concerned about the power-hungry tendencies among the NYPD’s leaders. Take Kelly, with his gratuitous slights towards the FBI, the Port Authority Police, and every other law enforcement agency that has gotten in his solipsistic way.

Instead, Dickey believes that the bad guys the NYPD is fighting are not merely the terrorists, but the FBI and other federal law enforcement agencies that failed to protect New York City before 9/11 and now resent the NYPD’s encroachment on their turf.

Dickey accepts that this NYPD muscle-flexing has the noble intention of protecting the city. He does not address the perception, shared by many law enforcement officials both inside and outside New York, that Kelly’s power grabs may actually endanger the city by turning potential allies in other agencies into antagonists.

 

Dickey neglects to mention, for example, the 2006 international terrorism conference on the fifth anniversary of 9/11, co-sponsored by the Manhattan Institute and the NYPD. When Kelly learned that William Bratton — Chief of the Los Angeles Police Department whom Kelly has resented ever since Bratton replaced him at the NYPD in 1994 — was speaking at the conference, Kelly canceled the NYPD’s involvement. Instead, he put together a rival terrorism conference at Police Plaza the same day.

Dickey also fails to mention the diplomatic incident at Kennedy Airport in September 2007, when Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his delegation arrived in New York to address the United Nations. To the chagrin of the State Department and the Secret Service, Cohen ordered the Intelligence Division’s Deputy Inspector Thomas Galati to conduct a weapons check, preventing the Iranians from leaving the airport for 40 minutes.

Nor does Dickey mention how Kelly singled out for public praise a NYPD detective on the joint NYPD/FBI terrorism task force who, with his FBI partner, apprehended a radical Muslim cleric in London in 2004. Kelly got so carried away he gave out enough information about the detective that reporters camped outside his home on Long Island. His terrified wife called Police Plaza, with the result that the detective was sent home prematurely from London.

A furious Pat D’Amuro, head of the FBI’s New York office, then issued a scathing memo, saying that Kelly had compromised security: “This is NOT the way we [the FBI] do business.”

Instead, Dickey credits the FBI’s Mark Mershon — who succeeded D’Amuro in New York — with changing Bureau policy to make cooperation with Kelly his first priority. Poor Mershon. He spent his next three years in New York trying to leave the Bureau, searching for a job in the private sector. In return for his cooperation, Kelly didn’t show up at his retirement party.

There is, however, an incident that Dickey does relate, but whose implications he chooses not to explore. It concerns retired FBI terrorism expert Dan Coleman, who joined the NYPD — for one day. At his first meeting with Cohen, Cohen spoke so derogatorily of the FBI and those Coleman knew and respected that he quit on the spot. In this case, Dickey quotes the New York Post, which broke the story, but omits any comment on the subject from Cohen or Kelly. Was Cohen apologetic about his remarks? Did Kelly support Cohen? Nor does Dickey offer any comment of his own.

To his credit, Dickey cites a number of these uncomfortable incidents, including the mass spying. To his detriment, he merely relates them, without questioning Kelly or Cohen, or commenting on what they may portend.

Take the NYPD’s widely disseminated report about the threat of “homegrown” terrorists, written in 2007. Citing a handful of incidents, the report broad-brushes the country’s Muslim population, implying that Muslims everywhere in America should be viewed as threats. Did Cohen agree with this assessment? More important, did Kelly? What does Dickey think? Alas, you won’t find answers in his book.

Then there is the Herald Square subway bombing plot, resulting in the conviction a hapless Pakistani immigrant Shahawar Matin Siraj, which Kelly has cited as emblematic of the NYPD’s terrorism-fighting success. Even Dickey seems bothered by this, although, again, he doesn’t voice an opinion. He mentions that Siraj has an IQ of 78 and that the police informant who egged him on was paid $100,000. But, again, he never directs these issues to Cohen or to Kelly.

A person who knows Dickey and who also knows something about terrorism says that, by merely mentioning these issues, Dickey is offering a “subtle criticism, in a nuanced way, even if Chris doesn’t announce his criticisms in a full-throated manner.” Dickey, he says, is no fool. “He is aware that asking those hard questions of Kelly could cost him his access.”

Maybe that’s considered acceptable reporting in the Paris bureau of Newsweek. It’s disingenuous, to say the least, when you’re writing about the NYPD and its fight against terrorism.

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