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“Counterterror NYC” Ignores Inconvenient Truths

February 7, 2011

“Counterterror NYC,” a National Geographic special that aired a week ago, blindly and uncritically endorsed Police Commissioner Ray Kelly’s 24/7, high-tech approach to fighting terrorism. It failed to address Kelly’s fatal flaw, which hampers the NYPD’s fight against terrorism: his out-of-control ego.

That ego, which dictates that Kelly, and Kelly alone, control all anti-terrorism operations regarding New York City, has not only created fissures between the NYPD and other law enforcement agencies that are fighting terrorism; it directly caused the NYPD to fumble the most serious terrorist plot against the city since 9/ll.

The Nat. Geo. special — which aired January 30th — begins at last year’s U.S. Tennis Open, with action scenes of a “Hercules” anti-terrorism team — those cops you see around the city carrying assault rifles at subway turnstiles, outside Grand Central Station and at God knows how many other high-profile locales. Kelly calls them “a heavily armed, intimidating force,” which indeed they are. How effective they are in fighting terrorism remains unclear.

At the Open, a sniper team patrols the rim of the stadium from on high, armed with long-range weapons. Peering down with binoculars, a counter-terrorism officer notices a disturbance below and says, “Something doesn’t look right.” Sure enough, he has spotted a fight among some spectators. The fight has nothing to do with terrorism.

Even though its television crew was embedded with the NYPD’s anti-terror units for the last four months of 2010, Nat. Geo. either missed or neglected to report on a sniper team’s potentially deadly mistake, which was recently revealed by the Daily News.

The News reported last week that a member of the sniper team guarding the tree-lighting ceremony at Rockefeller Center last November accidentally fired a rifle round. Deputy Commissioner Paul Browne explained that the unit had been “the front line of an NYPD [terror] response.” The round struck a building a block and a half away from the tree. No one was hurt. So far as we know, no terrorists were involved.

Back at “Counterterror NYC,” we turn to the subways. Kelly explains that transportation hubs are potential terrorist targets, as they were in London, Madrid and Moscow. There was a subway bombing in London in 2004, a train bombing in Madrid in 2005 and an airport bombing last month in Moscow. We are shown pictures of bomb-sniffing dogs and officers stopping and searching people at subway stations.

Author Christopher Dickey describes “a nightmare scenario” of gunmen entering the subways with explosives, going from car to car. Dickey, who was granted the same access as the Nat. Geo. crew, produced an equally blind and uncritical book, “Securing the City: Inside America’s Best Counterterror Force — the NYPD.”

Next, we move to the water. Manhattan, of course, is an island with a large waterfront. We are shown officers manning a patrol boat, equipped with a floating radiation detector capable of identifying a dirty bomb.

On to Times Square, which is described as a “jewel” of the city. We are shown pictures of New Year’s Eve with more sniper teams on guard.

But the special fails to point out the obvious when it mentions the would-be Times Square bomber, Faisal Shahzad. All the NYPD’s fire power didn’t prevent Shahzad from leaving his car parked in Times Square, packed with explosives last May. Two street vendors happened to see smoke coming from the vehicle and notified police. A bomb had been ignited but failed to detonate. It was dismantled and no one was injured. Shahzad, a Pakistani native who lived in Bridgeport, Conn., was arrested and sentenced to life imprisonment.

We next turn to the United Nations where Assistant Chief Thomas Galati of the Intelligence Division intones about the importance of protecting dignitaries. Back in 2007 when Galati joined Intel, he deliberately violated diplomatic protocol by ordering his officers to detain the arriving Iranian delegation at Kennedy airport and search them for weapons.

Apparently on instructions from Deputy Commissioner of Intelligence David Cohen, whom Kelly recruited after Cohen left the CIA, Galati held up the Iranians for 40 minutes while his counterparts from the Secret Service, State Department and Port Authority seethed.

He and/or Cohen only relented after the Chief of the Port Authority Police contacted the NYPD’s Chief of Department, Joe Esposito, who apparently talked some sense into them. The Nat Geo folks never mentioned this back story.

They did, however, mention the case of the Colorado-based terrorist Najibullah Zazi — the most serious terrorism threat to the city since 9/ll. But they misled viewers about what the NYPD actually did.

Zazi drove to New York City, planning to join local cohorts in detonating bombs in the subway — Dickey’s nightmare scenario come true. The Nat. Geo. folks interviewed Judith Miller, the enterprising but discredited former New York Times reporter, who appears to be a confidant of Cohen’s.

Miller made what was perhaps the most disingenuous statement of the program, saying that as Zazi drove from Colorado to New York, “he was monitored. The NYPD program worked,” she added.

Listening to her, one might conclude that it was the NYPD that had monitored him. In fact it was the FBI. What happened next is this: Learning of the FBI’s investigation, Cohen’s Intelligence Division, without informing the FBI, contacted one of its own informants and showed him a picture of Zazi. The informant then tipped off Zazi to the NYPD’s inquiries, prompting him to abort his subway plot and return to Colorado.

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The FBI only learned of the NYPD’s meddling because, thankfully, it had wiretapped the phones of Zazi’s father and heard the informant’s warning. The Bureau was forced to abandon its surveillance of Zazi and his cohorts, and arrested them prematurely.

Why did the NYPD, in contradiction of common sense and of every law enforcement protocol, contact its own informant in an FBI-run terrorism case without informing the Bureau? And why did the NYPD not inform the Bureau even after it had contacted the informant?

Kelly has never answered theses questions. But you don’t need to be a rocket scientist to understand it. His out-sized ego dictates that he must run the show.

His sole acknowledgement that the NYPD nearly blew the case was to transfer a mid-level Intelligence Division Deputy Inspector with an extensive terrorism background to a captain’s slot in the office of the Deputy Commissioner of Trials, an obvious demotion.

But the day after the New York Times suggested that he had been scapegoated for the mistakes of higher-ups, Kelly transferred him again — this time to the position of commanding officer of the Highway Unit — a full Inspector’s position, suggesting future promotion.

The Nat. Geo. special mentioned none of this.

Finally, the program interviews Intelligence Division Lieu. Eddie Maldonado, who heads the Threat Assessment and Dignitary Protection Unit.

Maldonado also has a side job. He provides private security for Marc Anthony and Jennifer Lopez and also works for Major League baseball and has a connection to the Yankees. He is said to provide top police officials with free tickets to Yankee games.

In the fall of 2009, fellow officers in the Intelligence Division told the NYPD’s Internal Affairs Bureau that, while Maldonado was supposed to be protecting visiting dignitaries, he was traveling across the country on baseball business. IAB has been investigating him since.

Is his appearance on the Nat. Geo. counter-terrorism special a signal from Kelly that Maldonado will not be disciplined?

If so, what message does that send to IAB? What message does it send to the Intel guys who risked their careers to come forward about him?

What about morale, which was so low at Intel a few years back that nobody signed up for its Christmas party, which had to be postponed until the following January. Can you dig it, a Christmas party in January?

Needless to say, the Nat Geo special made no mention of any of that.

. Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne has laced into Mayor Michael Bloomberg for failing to notify Arizona law enforcement about his latest gun-buying sting.

"Arizona law enforcement should have been made aware that people posing as criminal elements were in fact undercover officers,” Horne said. “The fact that no such notification was made indicates this so-called sting is nothing less than a public relations stunt."

Bloomberg used $100,000 of taxpayer money for retired detectives to buy weapons from a Phoenix gun show. His aim: to show how a loophole in the law allows people to obtain guns without undergoing background checks.

However, his sting has come back to bite him — not unlike past NYPD attempts to fight terrorism in out-of-state jurisdictions.

Back in 2003, the Intelligence Division sent undercovers to New Jersey to conduct a telephone sting on scuba shops along the Jersey shore. Their aim: to see whether the shops would contact the proper law enforcement authorities if callers, asking to buy scuba equipment, sounded like terrorists.

As in Arizona, the NYPD did not alert Jersey authorities, and when Jersey officials found out they were furious. The state’s then Director of Counter-Terrorism, Sidney J. Caspersen, summarized this foolishness in a letter to the NYPD: “On Wed., Oct. 15, 2003, it was brought to the attention of the Office of Counter-Terrorism that calls … regarding suspicious inquiries at four dive shops were part of a test that the NYPD’s Intelligence Division was conducting. OCT was not aware that the tests were being conducted and has since informed the NYPD Intelligence Division to cease and desist all such activity in the state of New Jersey.”

The Intelligence Division subsequently hired Caspersen as an Assistant Commissioner of Programs.

Around the same time, detectives from the Counter-Terrorism Bureau were sent to investigate a theft of explosives in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. Two NYPD detectives appeared 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.

North Middleton’s police chief Jeff Rudolph said that he and FBI agent Rick Etzler “resolved” the situation and that the detectives returned to New York. “We mainly instructed them that the investigation was being handled by us and the FBI and if we need their help, we will give them a call.”

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Copyright © 2011 Leonard Levitt