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Kelly and the Bureau: Inconvenient Truths

December 19, 2011

Police Commissioner Ray Kelly recently whined to FBI Director Robert Mueller after Mueller’s people told the media what appears to be the truth about the NYPD’s latest “lone wolf” terrorist case.

Federal sources — believed to be FBI agents — trashed the case against alleged bomber Joe Pimentel as weak. To put it mildly.

Last month, at a Sunday night City Hall news conference with Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance and Mayor Michael Bloomberg [who, in a sweater, looked like he’d rushed home from Bermuda], Kelly ballyhooed Pimentel’s arrest, gaining national headlines by citing “an imminent threat.”

Those anonymous federal sources disagreed. Strongly.

They pointed out to reporters that Pimentel was a sorry, broke, pot-smoking mental case — worlds away from the calculating terrorist Kelly claimed was plotting to detonate bombs at police and army targets in revenge for the slain American-born, radical Muslim cleric, Anwar Al-Awlaki.

These federal sources said Pimentel was so lame, he couldn’t have made a bomb without the help of a police informant, who smoked pot with him and helped Pimentel build the bomb in his own apartment.

So what happened after Kelly whined to Mueller?

Last week, U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley [R-Iowa], a longtime FBI antagonist, criticized Mueller before the Senate Judiciary Committee, saying, “FBI agents should not anonymously or publicly attack the New York City Police Department.”

The Daily News editorialized in a headline: “FBI should partner with the NYPD, not badmouth the police.”

Testifying before the committee, Mueller said he had assured Kelly those federal leaks would be plugged.

“He [Kelly] gave me a call, and we have discussed this. I gave directions that that should not happen and when I saw it happening again, went back to give directions to have it stopped.”

Then he added, “Ray Kelly has done a remarkable job in terms of protecting New York City from terrorist attacks…. These things [leaks] are unfortunate. I wish they didn’t happen. But our relationship remains solid. … We still have a very good relationship with the NYPD … particularly when it comes to addressing terrorism.”

But the criticisms of Pimentel’s arrest — as well as many of Kelly’s other terrorism policies — are on target. Mueller knows this.

And contrary to his assertion, the Bureau does not have a very good relationship with the NYPD. What some people in Washington may not know is that the situation is not of the FBI’s doing.

But because Kelly commands the police department of 9/11-scarred New York City, the country’s highest government and law enforcement officials, from Mueller to President Obama, seem afraid to level with the public about Kelly and his terrorism policies — and about the shaky relationship between the country’s two most powerful law enforcement agencies, a relationship that only weakens the nation.

So with FBI agents presumably muzzled, here are some inconvenient truths.

Since returning as police commissioner in 2002, Kelly has gone out of his way to denigrate the Bureau. He has done this both publicly and [like those federal officials], anonymously.

Back in July 2003, Kelly and Mueller held a secret meeting that sources said was prompted by a New York Post article in which the police commissioner criticized the Bureau for withholding terrorism information. The article quoted an anonymous source, stating that the FBI “couldn’t pick out a Yemeni from a Palestinian.” A Bureau official said, “The Director was aware of the article,” and added that the FBI assumed the anonymous source “was someone high in the NYPD.” He stopped short of stating the obvious: the Bureau believed the source was Kelly.

Kelly has also not hesitated to take credit for Bureau successes. Perhaps his best known claim is that an NYPD presence at the Brooklyn Bridge prevented a terrorist from destroying it. In fact, the FBI had alerted the NYPD to the terrorist, an Ohio trucker — hence its presence at the bridge.

The truth is that the police presence had nothing to do with stopping the attack. The terrorist, Iyman Faris, had planned to cut the bridge’s cables but realized he lacked the necessary equipment.

In 2004, Kelly held a news conference, praising an NYPD detective after a Joint [FBI-NYPD] Terrorist Task Force investigation led to the arrest of a radical Muslim cleric in London. Kelly divulged so much information about the detective that he was sent back to New York for safety. This led an exasperated Pat D’Amuro, head of the FBI’s New York office to say publicly, “This is not how we do business.”

So desperate was Mueller to get along with Kelly that a year later he sent the compliant Mark Mershon to replace D’Amuro, who now works for Kelly’s arch-enemy, Rudy Giuliani.

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“I got word of my appointment on a Monday,” Mershon said at the time. “My first business call was to Ray Kelly.”

Following a subway bombing threat, Mershon participated in a joint news conference with Kelly and Mayor Bloomberg. “I came back to the office and the phone was ringing. It was the Director’s secretary, Wanda. Before I could say a word he [Mueller] said, ‘Mark, thank you, thank, thank you…. Thank you for the manner in which you handled yourself.”

Mershon said that as he was driving home, the phone rang again. Again it was Mueller. “He said, ‘Mark, I hope you don’t mind. I just called Ray Kelly to thank him for working together.’” [See NYPD Confidential column of Jan. 9, 2006.]

Earlier this year, Kelly disbanded the Joint [FBI-NYPD] Bank Robbery Task Force, the first joint task force in the country and the model for others, which was established more than three decades ago. Kelly said there was no longer a need.

More recently, Kelly transferred Deputy Chief James Shea and Inspector John Nicholson, the two top police officials of the JTTF. Each was punished for refusing possibly unlawful orders from Deputy Commissioner of Counter Terrorism Richard Daddario and Deputy Commissioner of Intelligence David Cohen to remove classified documents from the Bureau’s New York headquarters.

Then, there is the most serious terrorist threat since 9/11, the subway bombing plot of Colorado-based Najibullah Zazi. The NYPD’s Intelligence Division almost blew the case by secretly contacting its own informant about Zazi without informing the FBI. The informant then tipped off Zazi’s father about the investigation. The FBI, which had been tracking Zazi as he drove to New York, fortunately learned of this snafu from a wiretap it had placed on the father. Agents were forced to scramble and arrest Zazi prematurely.

Despite the NYPD’s actions, President Obama telephoned Kelly at Police headquarters to congratulate him on Zazi’s capture.

But there is good news. The public is starting to get it.

Here are some comments from readers of the New York Daily News, the NYPD’s unofficial media apologist, who saw through the paper’s story of Pimentel’s arrest. The story, on Nov. 22, criticized the FBI’s misgivings under the sarcastic headline: “Thug wasn’t scary enough.”

“The FBI didn't close in because there was entrapment. The … informant set the stage for a radical to carry out his ideas by supplying the money and privacy to build the IED. Pimentel could hardly pay his phone bills let alone supplies for an IED.”

“As in the Bronx Synagogue case, the NYPD pays "informants" to set up unstable, gullible, down on their luck men. ... People better smarten up! Feds were right, this kid is one of perhaps thousands of loner Nutjobs with no capacity to blow up anything…”

“The terrorist movement is changing its tactics. They are recruiting more lone wolves." Who is recruiting the NYPD??? The informant was smoking pot with this guy and actually making the pipe bombs himself.... Maybe the FBI was scared of all the pot he and informant were smoking. They didn't know which one to arrest considering the informant was smoking pot and creating the plan..... “

“This supposed terror suspect arrest will have the very effect Bloomberg and Kelly are looking for. To have a good deal of the population scared out their wits for a supposed threat. Has anyone seen an analysis of the bomb composition? … This could turn out to be a mistake. Can't believe anything you are told without evidence... proof. But I'd bet a majority of the population would be willing to give up rights and freedoms based on Bloomberg's press conference and photo.”

“Why is it that Kelly looks like a serious man while Bloomberg looks like tutti frutti just home from a weekend of golfing at the sunshine state. And isn’t it strange how every time Bloomberg gets negative attention (as in this case the OWS mess),he pulls a 'local terrorist' out of his orange sweater.”

The fatal shooting of Officer Peter Figoski shines a harsh and tragic light on what it means to be an NYPD cop and the reality that cops face every day.

Here’s a father of four daughters who lived on Long Island, who could have retired with his pension but instead worked a midnight tour in Brooklyn and viewed his job as protecting the residents of the 75th precinct in East New York, perhaps the toughest precinct in the city.

Speaking at the funerals of police officers killed on 9/11, Rudy Giuliani often said that the greatest sacrifice a man can make is giving up his life to protect a stranger.

We all grieve for the Figoski family.

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Copyright © 2011 Leonard Levitt