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New York City’s Topsy-Turvy Terrorism War

May 16, 2011

What in heaven’s name is happening in the fight against terrorism in New York City?

The spectacle of Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Ray Kelly declaring publicly last week that the FBI was not interested in pursuing a major terrorism case developed by the NYPD suggests that the relationship between the two law enforcement agencies has sunk to an all-time low.

Standing beside Bloomberg and Kelly was the fledgling Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance, who is prosecuting this case — but in state, not federal court, a move never before attempted.

The two suspects, Algerian immigrant Ahmed Ferhani, 26, and Moroccan-born Mohamed Mamdouh, 20, are charged with state terrorism and hate crimes for allegedly plotting to attack New York City synagogues.

Although perhaps trying reassure the public that nothing was amiss, Bloomberg defied both the truth and common sense in adding that it was not unusual for the FBI to turn down terrorism cases.

On the contrary, it is highly unusual.

It is as unusual as the mayor and police commissioner asserting that the FBI had refused to investigate a major terrorism case.

Of course, everyone in the New York law enforcement universe knows why the FBI backed away from this case.

But because of the “We Must Get Along with Ray Kelly No Matter What” philosophy of FBI Director Robert Mueller, no one is willing to say it publicly.

So NYPD Confidential will say it for them: The Joint Terrorist Task Force [JTTF] — the group of FBI agents and NYPD detectives that together investigates terrorism threats — thinks the synagogue bombing case stinks.

“The JTTF works all terrorism cases, no matter how small,” said a law enforcement official.

The official said that what began as a gun-buying case turned into a terrorism case after an undercover police officer egged on the suspects.

Specifically, sources say that the JTTF questioned the credibility of the threat and the credibility of the NYPD undercover — whom the Daily News described as “a foreign-born officer trained outside the Police Academy.”

That description sounds like this officer belongs to one of the department’s super-secret undercover groups that the public is not supposed to know about — the Security Service Unit or SSU — which spies on terrorists by infiltrating Muslim groups, including congregants at mosques.

So secret is the SSU in the black hole of NYPD spying that its only previous mention in this column pertained to the arrest of police officer Kelvin Jones, who belonged to the unit for a short time. Remember Kelvin Jones? He’s the Footlocker shoe salesman-turned-undercover-terrorism-spy, who sources say was recruited literally off the street and never trained at the Police Academy.

Nor did he undergo a serious background check. The sources say the background check was hurried because of pressure from Deputy Commissioner for Intelligence David Cohen to find an African-American to infiltrate a suspected terrorist group.

Jones was bounced from SSU a few months later as “untrustworthy,” and transferred to the 46th precinct, where he spent the next few years. Last year he was convicted of masterminding a million-dollar armed robbery heist at a Carlstadt, New Jersey perfume factory with three other NYPD cops.

The FBI’s distrust of the NYPD’s judgment in this latest terrorism case reflects more than the systemic misgivings between competing law enforcement agencies with different cultures.

That distrust has become personal. It was underscored last week with the disclosure that the NYPD’s Number Two in the JTTF, Inspector John Nicholson, was transferred by Cohen after refusing Cohen’s order to remove classified FBI documents about the killing of Osama bin Laden.

Last March, the NYPD’s Number One guy on the JTTF, Deputy Chief James Shea, refused a similar order from the NYPD’s Counter Terrorism Deputy Commissioner Richard D’Addario. Shea, too, was ordered transferred but Kelly rescinded the order after the media reported it.

It is unclear whether Janice Fedarcyk, the head of the FBI’s New York office, or anyone else in the federal government, is pushing back against Kelly’s and Cohen’s bullying.

Since becoming FBI Director in 2001, Mueller has given little support to heads of the FBI’s New York office in standing up to Kelly.

Leonard Levitt's new book, NYPD Confidential: Power and Corruption in the Country's Greatest Police Force, will be out in stores July 21. Preorder it today by clicking on the book at right.

One of Fedarcyk’s predecessors, Mark Mershon, told this reporter in January 2006, shortly after he took over the office that Mueller’s — and therefore his — first priority was to get along with Kelly. When Mershon paid Kelly a courtesy visit, Mershon said Mueller was so pleased that he telephoned Mershon later in the day to thank him.

Unfortunately for the FBI, bullying that goes unopposed only creates more bullying.

For years now, many in the federal government suspect that in the NYPD’s world of spying, which occurs with no accountability or outside oversight, Kelly and Cohen have been bending, if not breaking, the law.

Back in 2008, Kelly accused senior Justice Department officials of hindering investigations of “high priority suspects of international terrorism investigations in the New York area” by denying his requests for wiretap warrants from the special Foreign Surveillance Court.

Then Attorney General Michael Mukasey told Kelly in a letter that his “views are contrary to law.”

“In effect what you ask is that we disregard FISA’s legal requirements, which are rooted in the Constitution,” Mukasey wrote.

Interestingly, the more Kelly bullies about terrorism, the higher his approval rating among the public.

Ironically, the more Mueller conciliates, the higher his approval ratings with President Obama.

Despite the yammering of Senator Chuck Schumer and Congressman Peter King that Kelly should succeed Mueller as FBI Director; and despite an authoritative-sounding columnist who wrote that Attorney General Eric Holder had told Kelly that the job was his for the asking, President Obama apparently had other ideas.

After two other candidates said they were uninterested, Obama has reportedly asked Mueller to remain for another two years.

. Friends of former sergeant Manny Lopez, the longtime head of Kelly’s protective detail, blame post-traumatic stress disorder stemming from 9/ll for the 42 misdemeanor charges he now faces: for allegedly making two dozen crank calls, using the name of Kelly’s top aide, Assistant Chief Michael Shea.

The diagnosis may be correct but not the cause. The relevant date is Jan. 24, 2004, the night that a housing cop in Brooklyn fatally shot a black teenager, Timothy Stansbury.

Although Lopez thought he was giving his overworked boss a rest by letting him sleep until dawn, Kelly was incensed.

For reasons that remain unclear, Kelly never forgave Lopez for not immediately awakening him when Stansbury was shot around 1 A.M.

In retaliation, Kelly created a rival for Lopez’s job by recalling a sergeant he had dismissed from the detail a few months earlier. When Lopez then filed for retirement, Kelly had him investigated for overtime abuse. None was found.

Until then, Kelly had been the center of Lopez’s professional life. When Kelly became a civilian and worked for Bear Stearns, Lopez, then working for the First Deputy, arranged for Kelly to visit Ground Zero after 9/ll. He also helped set up Kelly’s transition detail.

Even in retirement, Lopez never forgot Kelly and the detail. A few months ago he bumped into Shea at a police function, sources said, but Shea refused to acknowledge him. That’s when the crank calls began — to Rudy Giuliani, members of the Police Foundation and a dozen or so NYPD officers.

In each call, Lopez identified himself as Shea and asked the people to call Shea back. Although Lopez made no threats, Kelly regarded this as a big deal and brought in the Major Case squad to investigate. Lopez was charged with 21 counts of criminal impersonation and 21 counts of aggravated harassment.

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Copyright © 2011 Leonard Levitt