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Mr. Truth: Time To Go

January 30, 2012

Deputy Commissioner for Public Information Paul Browne, known to readers of this column as Mr. Truth, your expiration date is past due. It is time for you to depart the NYPD.

Since hooking up with Kelly two decades ago and becoming closer to him than any man on the planet, Browne has had a lofty goal. He has sought to portray Kelly as eclipsing his rival Bill Bratton in reducing crime, and as the lone man standing between New York City and another terrorist attack.

To that end, Browne’s lies to hide Kelly’s role in a controversial anti-terrorism film are merely the latest in a series of deliberate falsehoods to mislead reporters and the public.

It is preposterous to believe that his latest lie about The Third Jihad was “acted in good faith,” as Mayor Michael Bloomberg put it. Not even a cub reporter would fall for that.

Rather, lying has been part of Browne’s modus operandi since becoming the police department’s chief spokesman in 2004.

NYPD Confidential will go so far as to call him a “serial liar.” Not for nothing do readers of this column know him as “Mr. Truth.”

Let’s begin with his lies about the film, The Third Jihad, which apparently began a year ago when he told reporter/columnist Tom Robbins, then with the Village Voice, that the film had been shown just “a few times” to only a handful of officers.

It turns out the film has been shown on what the department now says was “a continual loop,” in a police facility, seen by approximately 1,500 officers over a period of three months to a year as part of their anti-terrorism training.

As late as last Monday, Browne told reporter/ columnist Michael Powell of the New York Times that Kelly had never been interviewed for the film.

But on Tuesday, after the film’s producer emailed the Times with the date and time of the Kelly interview — which had occurred at Police Plaza on Mar. 19, 2007 — Browne changed his story. He admitted that the filmmaker had interviewed Kelly for 90 minutes and that Browne himself had advised the police commissioner to grant the interview.

As Powell noted with the Times’s inimitable understatement, Browne “did not offer an explanation as to why he and the commissioner on Tuesday remembered so much of their decision.”

Is Browne telling the truth now? Or is that another lie? Because Browne is so expert, who can tell?

But this is not his first lie. In just the past year there have been numerous others.

Let’s start with the Demographics Unit. When the Associated Press first reported last August on the NYPD’s widespread spying on the city’s Muslims, their article cited the police unit tasked with this surveillance work: the Intelligence Division’s “Demographics Unit.”

This, the AP reported, was “a squad of 16 officers, fluent in at least five languages that was told to map ethnic communities in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut and identify where people socialize, shop and pray.”

Documents posted by both the AP and NYPD Confidential reveal that the NYPD’s secret Intelligence Division document, “The Current Threat: Islamic Extremism,” has three pages devoted to the Demographics Unit.

Browne, however, denied the unit’s existence. "There is no such unit," he told the AP before their story ran. "There is nothing called the Demographics Unit." Click here to see a page from the document, saying otherwise.

Then there’s his lie about the FBI’s Gregory Fowler. This followed the arrests last May of two alleged terrorists, Ahmed Ferhani and Mohamed Mamdouh, one of two terrorism cases last year that the FBI had refused to join because they did not trust the NYPD informant.

When Fowler, who headed the FBI’s part of the Joint [FBI and NYPD] Terrorism Task Force, was subsequently transferred to Portland Oregon, Browne told reporters — off the record, of course— that Fowler’s transfer was punishment for backing away from the terrorism case.

In fact, say FBI officials, Fowler’s transfer is a promotion as he has been given the command of an entire field unit.

Further discrediting Browne, say FBI sources, is that top Bureau officials in Washington — not Fowler — made the final decision to back away from the terrorism case. [See NYPD Confidential, May 23, 2011.]

Nor are Brown’s lies confined to terrorism.

After a deputy police inspector pepper-sprayed two women in the Occupy Wall Street protests last year, Browne said the women had tried to stop police officers from rolling a mesh net. Videotapes showed that he was again lying.

Ten days ago, the Daily News obtained a Kelly memo, ordering cops to stop using tricks and ruses to avoid taking crime reports, as critics have charged that the NYPD has done since at least 2004. [See NYPD Confidential, Jan. 23, 2012.]

Asked by the News what had prompted Kelly’s memo, Browne described it as “routine,” maintaining that it was unrelated to the escalating concerns throughout the city about the reliability of the NYPD’s crime reporting.

Browne isn’t the first NYPD spokesman to lie and get away with it, although he is the first to do so repeatedly.

Bratton’s spokesman, John Miller, was also caught lying. In his case, he provided information to the late Daily News columnist Mike McAlary concerning a woman’s rape in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park. McAlary wrote that the rape had not happened, which turned out to be untrue.

Miller was forced to apologize. Like Browne, he had been caught in a lie, actually a series of them. In so doing, he had compromised both his and the department’s credibility.

 
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Either Bratton or his boss, Mayor Rudy Giuliani, could have fired him. Neither did. At least not then. [Giuliani took his revenge on both Bratton and Miller a year later.]

Miller’s wise and low-keyed predecessor, Alice McGillion, offered some words of wisdom back then, which apply to Browne today and should presage his departure. “The spokesman’s voice reflects the credibility of the department,” she said. “Telling the truth or being perceived as telling the truth is elementary to the job.”


KELLY’S HALF-TRUTHS.
Browne’s serial lying has apparently rubbed off on his boss. Ray Kelly has recently been uttering his share of half-truths on the terrorism front.

After the first Muslim demonstration at Foley Square last November, Kelly “categorically denied” that the NYPD was spying on Muslims.

In light of the AP’s stories, he has also been saying that the department “only follows leads.”

Last week, he has said of an AP report that the CIA officer who worked as a special assistant to the NYPD’s top Intelligence offer was being pulled early after only nine months: “I don’t know where that ‘pulled early’ comes from. He was here for a period of time. It was determined in November that he was going to leave in April, which was in six months.”

Perhaps Kelly’s most blatant half-truths concern the 14 terrorist plots that he says the NYPD has prevented. Although Kelly doesn’t say it, all but one plot had been foiled with the FBI’s help.

Kelly talks most about the plot to topple the Brooklyn Bridge. He’s been saying that an Ohio trucker abandoned his plan after spotting a police presence at the bridge. What Kelly doesn’t say is that the FBI had tipped off the NYPD that the trucker was en route to the city. And that the reason he called off his attack had nothing to do with a police presence. He had planned to cut the bridge’s cables but realized he lacked the proper equipment.

Now let’s turn to the sergeant who, Kelly said, acted in “good faith” for mistakenly allowing some 1,500 police officers to view The Third Jihad. This, too, is Kelly’s modus operandi when something goes wrong on the terrorism front: scapegoat a lowly officer.

Recall the case of Najibullah Zazi, the Denver-based terrorist who planned to bomb the city subways. NYPD meddling nearly sank that case. Without informing the FBI, Deputy Commissioner for Intelligence David Cohen had detectives contact an informant — who tipped off Zazi’s father that the authorities were looking for his son. FBI agents had to scramble and arrest Zazi and his cohorts prematurely. When word of the police screw-up surfaced, Cohen ordered the transfer of Deputy Inspector Paul Ciora, who had nothing to do with launching the informant.

As for the good-faith sergeant whom Kelly blamed for The Third Jihad, the issue is this: Who has the responsibility to select terrorism training films? What is the procedure?

Once again, we come back to the unanswered question: Why is no one outside the NYPD monitoring the department in its fight against terrorism? Why does the mayor demand no accountability? What has all the hype and hysteria actually accomplished other than scapegoating an entire community?

Four years ago, a top NYPD intelligence official posed the following questions to this reporter for the book, “NYPD Confidential”: Who is monitoring the NYPD, a municipal agency that in its anti-terrorism measures has become a mini-CIA? What safeguards ensure that the NYPD doesn’t break the law? What mechanisms prevent the NYPD from becoming a rogue organization?

As I write this, I do not know.


YOU CAN’T MAKE THIS UP DEPARTMENT.
Howard Safir — yes, the former police commissioner under Rudy Giuliani — has just been given a radio show. Sirius XM Radio has announced that Safir will host a limited-run, six-week series called “The Badge with Howard Safir.” In it, Safir will offer “insights on the drama, heroism and challenges facing law enforcement today.”

His first interview, which aired Sunday, was with Giuliani who, showing off his political skills [he gained one presidential delegate in his 2008 race], said that of the current Republican candidates, his favorite was Rick Perry.

Future shows, says Sirius, will feature Safir interviewing former police chiefs, officers, and prosecutors.

Let’s see. Maybe Safir can start with Bill Bratton, who Safir once called “that airport cop from Boston.” Maybe he will interview Kelly, who demanded that Safir write a letter requesting an appointment before Kelly would see him. Maybe he’ll interview Deputy Commissioner for Intelligence David Cohen who, Safir lamented, wouldn’t return his phone calls. Or maybe he’ll travel to Cumberland, Maryland and interview his successor, Bernie Kerik, in federal prison.


RASHBAUM: REPORTER'S REPORTER.
It was the Times's Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter William Rashbaum who broke the news last week that a woman had accused Kelly's son Greg of rape. The same Rashbaum was part of the team that broke the news of the call-girl scandal that forced former governor Eliot Spitzer from office. And the same Rashbaum was part of the team that broke the news that Spitzer's gubernatorial successor, David Paterson, had tried to hide a top aide's sexual assault of a woman. That report appeared to cause Paterson not to run for another term.

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Copyright © 2012 Leonard Levitt