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Counter Terrorism’s Revolving Door

April 12, 2010

And so another NYPD Counter Terrorism Commissioner is leaving, the third since Police Commissioner Ray Kelly created the job in 2002.

The latest, Richard Falkenrath, departs to the usual chorus of hosanna s from city officials.

Yet it has never been clear, at least to this reporter, what any of these counter-terrorism poobahs has accomplished, or why each left the NYPD after relatively short stays.

Kelly told the Times that Falkenrath “made outstanding, important contributions to the NYPD and the safety of the city” and “forged an effective partnership between the NYPD and the FBI through the Joint Terrorist Task Force [JTTF].”

The Daily News chimed in that Falkenrath prided himself “in the NYPD’s ability to thwart terror plots during his tenure,” citing Najibullah Zazi’s foiled plan to detonate explosives in the subway and an alleged conspiracy by three losers to bomb two synagogues in Riverdale, the Bronx.

Are you kidding?

Remarks like those make one wonder whether the NYPD’s anti-terrorism commissioners serve a legitimate purpose, or are merely self-serving.

Remember that the NYPD nearly blew the Zazi investigation when its Intelligence Division went behind the back of the JTTF and the FBI to secretly contact its own informant, who tipped off Zazi.

FBI agents were furious about the NYPD’s meddling although its top officials remained silent on the subject.

Where was Falkenrath in all this? At best, he was out of the loop.

As for the synagogue plot, it remains to be seen whether this was a legitimate terrorist threat or entrapment by an FBI informant, egging on three local mutts with promises of big money and heavy weaponry.

Raising such questions about a counter-terrorism commissioner has proven dangerous for a reporter in the past.

It apparently upset Kelly that his first Counter-Terrorism Commissioner, retired Marine General Francis Libutti, quit in 2003 after just a year at the NYPD.

When this column reported that the department offered no credible explanation for Libutti’s exit, Kelly went into media overdrive.

In a letter to Newsday, then home to this column, Kelly blasted Your Humble Servant as “at best profoundly ignorant, at worst mendaciously vindictive.”

He then took a day off from fighting crime and terrorism to brave the Long Island Expressway and drive all the way out to Melville to personally complain to Newsday’s editors.

[Sources today say that Libutti had become somewhat, shall we day, disenchanted with Kelly, who refused to allow the former general to obtain a pistol permit.]

Next up as Counter Terrorism honcho was Michael Sheehan, whose accomplishments — and departure in 2006 — seemed as mysterious as Libutti’s.

Sheehan was perhaps best known for instituting unannounced, and ineffectual, searches of subway riders’ bags, and for objecting to the Freedom Tower’s proximity to West Street, a major thoroughfare, arguing that its location made the new building vulnerable to a truck bomb.

Although Sheehan was a professional military man and, so far as is known, lacked an engineering or architectural degree, his complaints forced the Port Authority to reset the building back 90 feet from the street and to reinforce its 200-foot base with a concrete wall covered in steel and titanium.

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As for Falkenrath, he may best be remembered for the two $20,000-a-year, top-of-the-line luxury cars that the department leased for him upon arrival. Taxpayers footed the bill for his luxury wheels, which included two police department chauffeurs as well as leather upholstery, a GPS navigational system, and the full lights and sirens package.

There was also his $12,000 “Distinguished Dinner Lecture” Singapore junket, where Falkenrath, who had been in the city only four months, gave a speech about “Protecting the City: Observations and Lessons from New York.” Again, he traveled in style — first-class air ticket and luxury hotel.

And let’s not forget the homeless man who walked up to Falkenrath’s home in Riverdale and asked for a glass of water. Next thing we learned, cops arrested him for jumping a subway turnstile in Brooklyn and placed him in a psych ward for five weeks, then escorted him to a relative’s home in Chicago.

And what of another anti-terrorism program that began on his watch and went nowhere, the much-ballyhooed “Scholar in Residence.”

The so-called scholar was actually someone who lives in Baltimore and who was paid $180,000. How many times he appeared at the NYPD and for how long is not known.

The program was apparently discontinued after a year. At least, no one has mentioned it since then. Perhaps someday Kelly or Falkenrath will explain.

The most depressing part of Easter Sunday’s midtown “wilding,” which left four people shot and 33 arrested, was that the media ignored earlier outbreaks of similar, albeit less violent, mayhem that had occurred every year since 2003.

Is this the Bloomberg/Kelly variation of a tree falling in the forest: if the media doesn’t headline it, it didn’t happen?

Maybe that explains why the problem wasn’t nipped in the bud.

Kelly has called for a panel of gang cops to investigate what went wrong. If that doesn’t work, maybe he’ll turn for advice to his old fallback — the Rand Corporation.

That’s the rampage Captain Ronald Haas of the NYPD’s Manhattan DA’s Squad is promising [despite his speaking sweetly to Your Humble Servant] if he discovers who told NYPD Confidential about some of his alleged bad behavior.

This column reported last month that Haas has had a history of trouble with subordinates, especially women and blacks, [he denies it], and that he was placed on modified assignment following a domestic incident in 2007.

Sources say one-third of the 20 detectives or so in the DA’s squad have either retired or requested a transfer since he took over the unit about a year ago.

But some wonder whether he is angling for a bigger job — that of chief investigator of the DA’s larger squad of retired cops and civilians. Following the recent dismissal of that unit’s two heads, that job is open.

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