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The Era of Good Feeling

May 25, 2009

For one of the few times in recent years, the FBI and the NYPD appear to have worked seamlessly in arresting four would-be terrorists, caught planting what they thought were real bombs outside a Riverdale synagogue, while also preparing to attack an upstate military base with a Stinger missile, which they also thought was real.

The FBI provided the fake bombs and the fake Stinger. The NYPD joined in as part of the Joint Terrorist Task Force. Best of all, there was no behind-the-scenes bad-mouthing of the Bureau by NYPD Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly.

Joseph Demarest, the newly appointed head of the FBI’s New York office who in an unprecedented Bureau move was brought out of retirement to take the job, gets on well with Kelly —well enough that Demarest allowed Kelly and Mayor Michael Bloomberg to take center stage in the taking-credit department, although the foiling of this plot was a uniquely FBI-managed affair.

In return, at a synagogue meeting with congregants after the arrests, Kelly was described as “gracious” in praising the FBI. According to a person present, Kelly actually acknowledged the FBI’s pre-eminent role in the case.

And in further goodness of spirit, Demarest —who was part of the 110-man law enforcement contingent photographed two days after the arrests on the steps of City Hall — stood directly to Kelly’s left but a step below so that it appeared as though Kelly, at a generous 5-foot-8 inches tall, was the same height as the over-six-foot Demarest. [See photo in Saturday’s N.Y Post, P9.]

Contrast this good feeling to what this column has documented for much of the past seven years ever since Kelly returned as the NYPD’s 41st commissioner.

Consider the NYPD’s subway terror arrests in 2004 of Pakistani immigrant Shahawar Matin Siraj and U.S. citizen James Elshafay. Both were accused of plotting to blow up the Herald Square subway station on the eve of the Republican National Convention at nearby Madison Square Garden.

Back then relations between the two agencies were so frosty that, depending on which version you accept, the NYPD did not inform the FBI for months of its investigation or the FBI believed the case too flimsy to prosecute. At any rate, largely through the work of an informant on the NYPD’s payroll who was paid $100,000, Elshafay flipped and testified against Siraj, who was convicted in Brooklyn federal court and sentenced to 30 years in prison.

Now go back a year to October, 2003, when Commissioner of Intelligence David Cohen devised the bright idea of sending NYPD detectives on out-of-state, anti-terror forays without notifying local authorities or the FBI.

In New Jersey, the NYPD detectives conducted a telephone sting to determine whether scuba shops along the shore would notify law enforcement after receiving suspicious queries from strangers. When Jersey officials learned of the sting, they were furious, writing in a memo to the FBI that they “informed the NYPD Intelligence Division to cease and desist all such activity in the state of New Jersey.”

In Pennsylvania, Cohen sent NYPD detectives from the Counter Terrorism Bureau to investigate stolen explosives in Carlisle in the western part of the state. When the detectives arrived at the crime scene, which was controlled by the FBI, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and Pennsylvania’s North Middleton Township Police Department, the feds and the locals asked them to leave and return to New York.

“We mainly instructed them that the investigation was being handled by us and the FBI,” said Jeff Rudolph, the North Middletown Township police chief, “and that if we need their help we will give them a call.”

A continuing flashpoint between the NYPD and the FBI concerns the NYPD’s dozen or so detectives that Kelly and Cohen based in terrorism hotspots around the world [including for no explicable reason, the Dominican Republic.]

Demarest’s predecessor, Mark Mershon, called this Kelly’s “signature” anti-terrorism program. In fact, the NYPD detectives literally compete for access and information with the FBI agents who are stationed in those same countries.

When in March, 2004, terrorists bombed a commuter train in Madrid, Spain, the NYPD and the Bureau squared off. Cohen dispatched two detectives from London to Madrid to interview the Spanish National Police (SNP), ignoring the FBI agent assigned to the U.S. Embassy.

An FBI official later maintained that the SNP had refused to meet with the detectives and called the American Embassy’s legal attaché to say the SNP had no time for them. An NYPD official insisted that the detectives had met with the SNP and that it was the FBI that had been shut out.

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That summer, Kelly sparked another flap with the Bureau. After the JTTF — which is comprised of FBI agents and NYPD detectives — arrested a radical Muslim cleric in London, Kelly publicly praised the NYPD detective with the JTTF who had helped arrest him.

At a news conference with U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft, Kelly identified the detective by name. The department then e-mailed reporters a text of Kelly’s remarks with a picture of the detective and details about him, including his age, college background and the fact that he lived on Long Island.

The FBI appeared stunned —not just by Kelly’s grab for credit but by his public identification of the detective. Such information made it easy, with today’s technology, to locate his unlisted phone number and his home on Long Island. Teams of reporters and photographers camped out there, terrifying his wife, who contacted her husband’s bosses at Police Plaza. The detective, who had been sent to London with his FBI counterpart to testify at al Masri’s pre-trial hearing, was whisked home.

Pasquale D’Amuro, the head of the FBI’s New York office at the time, then took the extraordinary step of chastising Kelly in an internal memo, which was given to the media. Kelly’s identification of the detective, the memo said, had led to “security concerns,” prompting his premature return from London.

Kelly’s remarks, D’Amuro added, had also upset Scotland Yard, prompting a call of complaint from the commander of Britain’s Anti-Terrorist Branch.

The memo concluded: “This is NOT the way we do business.”

As to the present and the Riverdale Four, it seems that three of them were prison converts to Islam. This has prompted fears that U.S. prisons are breeding grounds for violent Muslim radicals.

If this danger is real, perhaps some of the NYPD’s overseas detectives — perhaps the one in the Dominican Republic — might be better utilized stateside — say, going undercover inside our prisons.

Even in the new era of good feeling between the NYPD and the FBI, don’t count on Kelly’s doing any such thing.

Your Humble Servant caught up with Howard Koeppel, the openly gay Queens Volkswagon dealer who, with his roommate Mark A. Hsiao, fed and housed Mayor Rudy Giuliani for some six months or so after Rudy split from his wife, Donna Hanover.

Giuliani had turned up at Koeppel’s 57th Street apartment door with just a suitcase after Hanover had cleaned out their bank account and canceled his credit cards.

In an interview in New York Magazine in 2004, Koeppel described how Giuliani made his own bed and shared Koeppel’s toothpaste; how Koeppel selected Rudy’s ties; how Koeppel’s dog Bonnie would grab the cuff of Giuliani’s trousers and tug at them; and how Koeppel and Hsiao insisted Giuliani have breakfast before he rushed out of the house each morning at 7:30 to staff meetings.

Koeppel, a longtime Giuliani fundraiser and crony of Giuliani’s favorite police commissioner Howard Safir, told New York magazine he would vote for Giuliani for president in 2008. “Aside from being so bright and so worldly, he’s so honest. I’ve never met a person more upright.”

But Rudy didn’t get too far in 2008. Now he’s thinking of running for governor in 2010. To do so as a Republican, he has to take an anti-gay line.

So Rudy distanced himself from his old friends. When Koeppel and Hsiao were married in a civil ceremony in Connecticut three weeks ago, Koeppel said that only 11 people were invited: ten family members, plus Giuliani.

“All ten showed up,” said Koeppel. Giuliani did not. “I didn’t expect him to,” Koeppel said. “I expected a card but I didn’t get that.”

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