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New York City’s Topsy-Turvy Terrorism War [Cont.]

May 23, 2011

The NYPD refused to allow the FBI to interview the undercover officer who developed the evidence against the two alleged terrorists indicted in state court for a synagogue bomb plot, sources told NYPD Confidential.

That’s the key reason the Bureau wanted nothing to do with what local officials have described as a major terrorism case, prompting a public split between the Bureau and the NYPD.

The FBI also backed away from the case because of their concerns about the undercover’s credibility, said a law enforcement source.

“They knew who the undercover was. They had doubts about him. He didn’t have a good track record,” the source said.

Police have described the undercover as foreign-born, trained outside the Police Academy and seconded to a secret anti-terrorism unit inside the Intelligence Division.

That’s probably the group known as Security Service Unit or SSU — which infiltrates Muslim groups to uncover potential terrorism plots.

Police Spokesman Paul Browne told the Associated Press that this undercover is respected within the department for “his ability to handle the often stressful and demanding environment of Intelligence operations.”

Despite his stellar reputation, the NYPD prevented him from talking to the feds.

Asked how many times the Joint Terrorist Task Force — FBI agents and NYPD detectives that investigate all terrorism cases — had asked the NYPD to interview this undercover, a law enforcement source said, “Isn’t once enough?”

The public split with the FBI apparently so unnerved the NYPD that Browne deliberately misled reporters covering the story to spin it his way.

Sources say Browne hinted to them — on a non attribution basis — that JTTF head Gregory Fowler’s transfer to Portland, Oregon was punishment for backing away from the terrorism case.

In fact, say law enforcement sources, Fowler’s transfer is regarded as a promotion as he has been given the command of an entire field office.

Further discrediting Browne, sources said it appears that top FBI officials in Washington made the final decision to reject the case.

Browne did not respond to an email, seeking comment.

Instead, the NYPD handled the case alone. Police Commissioner Ray Kelly, Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance announced that Algerian immigrant Ahmed Ferhani, 26, and Moroccan-born Mohamed Mamdouh, 20, would be charged with plotting to attack New York City synagogues in state court under a never-before-attempted state terrorism law, which went into effect six days after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.

This recent disagreement between the NYPD and the FBI reflects a level of distrust that has only deepened over the past decade since Kelly became police commissioner and Robert Mueller became FBI Director.

Yet distrust is only part of the problem dividing these two leading terrorism-fighting agencies.

It appears that, when dealing with the Bureau, the NYPD has been encouraging its top officers to flout the law.

Two weeks ago, the Post reported that the NYPD’s Number Two in the JTTF, Inspector John Nicholson, was transferred after refusing NYPD Deputy Commissioner for Intelligence David Cohen’s order to remove classified FBI documents concerning the killing of Osama bin Laden.

Two months ago, the NYPD’s top gun on the JTTF, Deputy Chief James Shea, refused a similar order from NYPD Counter Terrorism Deputy Commissioner Richard D’Addario. Shea, too, was ordered transferred but Kelly changed his mind, apparently fearing a media backlash.

Such actions give credence to those who say that the NYPD’s Intelligence operations lack accountability and outside oversight.

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As a former top Intelligence Division official told this reporter in 2009, “Is anyone monitoring the NYPD, a municipal agency, which in its anti-terrorism measures has become a mini-CIA? What safeguards are there to ensure that the NYPD doesn’t break the law? What mechanisms are in place so that the NYPD does not become a rogue organization?”

This column has documented numerous instances where the NYPD has indeed acted as though it is above the law.

Before the 2004 Republican convention, it sent detectives across the country to spy, possibly illegally, on non-violent protest groups. They did so without informing the FBI, which has legal law enforcement jurisdiction outside New York.

In 2009, again without informing the Bureau, the NYPD contacted its own informant about terrorist Najibullah Zazi. The FBI had tracked Zazi from Denver to New York, where he and two cohorts were allegedly plotting to plant bombs in the subway. The informant tipped off Zazi in a telephone conversation, which, fortunately, the FBI intercepted. Zazi cut short his plans and returned to Denver, forcing the FBI to scramble and arrest him prematurely.

One can only speculate as to what is actually going on today in the Security Service Unit with its undercovers.

As this column reported last week, former SSU undercover, Kelvin Jones — literally recruited off the street and never trained at the Police Academy — was subsequently declared “untrustworthy” and transferred out of the Intelligence Division.

He ended up masterminding a million-dollar armed robbery heist at a Carlstadt, New Jersey perfume factory with three other NYPD cops.

Yet, despite the NYPD allegedly flouting the law and undermining the Bureau, the FBI hierarchy has remained silent.

Janice Fedarcyk, the head of the FBI’s New York office, has said nothing publicly over the NYPD’s alleged attempts to pilfer classified FBI documents.

She has also remained silent over Mayor Bloomberg’s preposterous claim following the synagogue plot indictments that it was not unusual for the Bureau to turn down terrorism cases.

Fedarcyk declined this reporter’s request for an interview last week to, among things, explain her silence.

Mueller, who has also remained silent, seems to have taken the turn-the-other-cheek approach to Kelly and the NYPD that President Obama has used towards the Republicans.

While perhaps noble, Obama has been criticized for a lack of leadership and inability to convey his message.

Although the NYPD nearly blew the Zazi case, after his arrest, Obama called Kelly at Police Plaza to congratulate him and the NYPD.

Neither the President nor Mueller has issued one public peep, decrying the NYPD’s attempt to preempt the Bureau in the Zazi case, which nearly blew the investigation.

Obama’s announcement that he will retain Mueller as FBI Director for another two years appears to be an endorsement of the silent approach — as well as a rejection of Kelly, whose supporters had pushed him for the FBI job.

But it may also allow Kelly, Cohen and Browne to further ride roughshod over the FBI, the law and the truth.

Check out Mayor Mike when he takes the subway these days. Sources say police have beefed up security around him since the death of Osama Bin Laden. Besides his regular detail of plainclothes officers, another 15 uniformed guys from Manhattan South are now said to be keeping an eye on him.

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Copyright © 2011 Leonard Levitt