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The NYPD: Indulging Mort and Roger

April 9, 2012

Ever wonder why the Daily News runs all those editorials deifying the NYPD, even as the department arrested the paper’s own reporters during the Occupy Wall Street protests?

Or why these editorials praise the NYPD’s fight against terrorism in such slavish terms that not even the News’s own readers believe them? [See NYPD Confidential, Dec. 19, 2011.]

Or why Rupert Murdoch-owned media outlets like the New York Post and Fox TV are relentless NYPD cheerleaders?

The answer may lie in documents provided to NYPD Confidential that show the lengths the NYPD has gone to cultivate and indulge powerful media figures such as the Daily News’s owner and Fox News’s president.

In late 2004, as this column has reported, Daily News owner Mortimer Zuckerman notified his friend, the NYPD Intelligence Division’s Deputy Commissioner David Cohen, that people were following him.

So Cohen had Intelligence Division detectives tail the folks tailing Zuckerman.

Recently, NYPD Confidential obtained a document confirming this police favor to the billionaire publisher.

Undated and unsigned, the document comes from an Intelligence Division counter-surveillance unit and begins, “We are assigned to follow the targeted subjects who are following;

“Mortimer Zuckerman. …”

“The subject,” it says, “is the editor-in-chief of U.S. News and World Report. He is also Chairman and co-publisher of the New York Daily News.”

When NYPD Confidential in early 2005 revealed this police surveillance given to Zuckerman, Police Commissioner Ray Kelly had changed the focus of the NYPD’s Intelligence Division from VIP-protection to fighting terrorism.

Zuckerman’s spokeswoman at the time justified the NYPD surveillance by suggesting that terrorists may have been following Mort, given his outspoken support for Israel.

Whether or not that was true, Zuckerman was apparently considered important enough for Cohen to assign a captain, lieutenant, sergeant and a detective from the Threat Assessment Unit to Zuckerman’s case.

The document described his car [a black Cadillac limousine], listed the name [Nick] and cell phone number of his driver, as well as Zuckerman’s Fifth Avenue address and the Cadillac’s NYP plate number.

The document added: “Report all movement to Sgt. … [name deleted by NYPD Confidential] who will forward the information through the chain of command.

“We will record the plate numbers and general description of anyone who is following our subject.”

Then the document says something interesting, in light of the Intelligence Division’s recent spying campaign on Muslims in New Jersey:

“We are not to confront the individuals, who are following our subject. Use common sense. Call me immediately if you are unsure.”

Sources said that when, at the NYPD’s captain’s order, the Zuckerman counter-surveillance team stopped pursuing the targeted subjects after they crossed into New Jersey, Cohen criticized them as “wusses.”

As it turned out, Zuckerman’s pursuers had no connection to terrorism. They were two retired NYPD detectives, working for a local interest that has never been disclosed.

Police sources at the time offered two theories as to the identity of that interest: either a rival businessman or Zuckerman’s ex-wife, who was in the midst of her divorce from him.

Zuckerman did not return a call to his home, seeking comment.

Zuckerman was not the only police-friendly media big shot given VIP treatment by the Intelligence Division.

Another was Roger Ailes, the head of Fox News, which employs Commissioner Kelly’s son, Greg, as co-host of “Good Day New York” on Fox Five.

Fox News is currently given police protection not extended to other television stations, according to The Daily Beast.

Another undated and unsigned Intelligence Division document made available to NYPD Confidential confirms the special treatment afforded Ailes.

“Request for counter surveillance from Threats Desk,” says the document.

“Mr. Ailes employs a retired Detective NYPD as a personal escort. He arrives via private Car and is dropped off in front of 1211 Avenue of the Americas [Fox News headquarters] daily. … He is Escorted into the building by his security and is met by building security.”

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For reasons that are unclear, the document also says: “At the request of Mr. Ailes, his security is not to be notified,” [apparently about the NYPD surveillance]. … Lieu. [name and cell phone number deleted by NYPD Confidential] will be notified of the times and dates before conducting counter surveillance.”

Ailes did not return an email message.

. Well, guess what, readers? After years of delay, rejection and bureaucratic runarounds, Your Humble Servant has finally been allowed to renew his NYPD press card, which he has had for some 25 years before the NYPD — i.e. Deputy Commissioner for Public Information Paul Browne — started playing games.

Detective Gina Sarubbi issued the press card last Tuesday in the Public Information office on the 13th floor of Police Plaza. She and her boss, Deputy Inspector Kin Royster, were actually helpful, explaining why my latest application, filed last November, had been turned down. [Let’s hope they won’t be fired for being pleasant.]

It turns out that the rules have changed. The reason: a successful so-called blogger lawsuit filed in 2009 by Rafael Martinez, the longtime City Hall reporter and fixture. He, too, was turned down, then sued.

The result: the department has removed the job of issuing of press cards from the multi-faceted portfolio of Browne, who was, shall we say, selective in his approvals. [You don’t write nicely about Commissioner Ray Kelly: You don’t get a press card.]

Instead, qualification is now determined by department lawyers.

This is not to say that our return to Police Plaza was greeted with hosannas [at least not publicly] although DCPI’s Lieutenant Gene Whyte, who is a weathervane of who is in or out of favor, did offer what appeared to be a smile. [It was Whyte who on Feb. 17 had written my last my letter of rejection.]

Chief of Department Joe Esposito also smiled after spotting this reporter at a pre-Passover event in Police Plaza’s first-floor auditorium and saying. “How did you get into the building?”

At the auditorium’s podium was Mitchell Silber, the civilian Director of “Intel. Analysis,” doing his usually excellent job of frightening the audience, a mix of Orthodox rabbis and other Orthodox Jewish notables.

Discussing Iran and Hezbollah, Iran’s terrorist-supported organization, Silber said it was responsible for two unsolved bombings of Jewish sites in Buenos Aires — the Israeli embassy and a Jewish community Center — which killed more than 100 people and wounded over 500.

Although these attacks occurred in 1992 and 1994, Silber said that detectives from the Intelligence Division had recently visited Argentina.

Silber’s spiel came a day after the Daily News ran a front-page story about an Arabic-language web site that contained a composite of city landmarks with the graphic: “Al Qaeda Coming Soon Again in New York.”

Silber told the Times that the site is considered “one where serious Al Qaeda people communicate and exchange information about techniques, about explosive devices.”

The Times quoted an FBI spokesman saying that the Bureau had investigated and, “There continues to be no specific or credible threat to New York at this time.”

The Times also reported that several terrorism experts seemed skeptical about the graphic, and quoted a Brandeis University researcher, Aaron Y. Zelin, saying, “’it appears dubious that the post was a real threat.”

Silber’s remarks prompted a response from a Queens rabbi in the audience. “We appreciate the Intelligence Division efforts, even if it takes you to Newark,” he said.

The rabbi was apparently referring to the NYPD’s spying operation of Muslims in that city, as revealed by the Associated Press .

Still, the more things change, the more they remain the same.

After the Passover event, I tried to see my old reporter colleagues, whose offices are on Police Plaza’s second floor. Building Security stopped me, saying that my pass was good only for the 13th floor.

Ever since this reporter has been covering the department, credentialed reporters were able to circulate throughout Police Plaza. Not under Ray Kelly.

Kelly has maintained that the tightened security at Police Plaza stems from the threat of terrorism. Restricting press access inside the building stems from Kelly’s desire to keep the public from knowing what is actually going on inside the police department.

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Copyright © 2012 Leonard Levitt