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Intelligence Division: Yet Again, Bending the Rules

May 7, 2012

Detectives from the NYPD’s Intelligence Division were at it again last week.

According to National Public Radio’s WNYC, Intel detectives arrested half-dozen Occupy Wall Street protestors on old warrants for minor violations to question them about their proposed May Day demonstrations, which were expected to shut down key areas of the city.

Shawn Carrie, who coordinated internal communications for the May Day demonstration, told WNYC that Intel officers arrested him on two 2007 warrants for public urination, questioned him about his activities, then kept him alone in a jail cell for the next 13 hours.

Zach Dempster said he was woken up the day the before the demonstration when police arrested his roommate on an open container warrant. Dempster said the police then took him into a bedroom, where they questioned him about his plans for next day’s OWS demonstration.

Arresting people for open warrants is legal. Arresting them to investigate their political activity is unconstitutional.

Yet the Intelligence Division appears to have flirted with violating the Constitution for the past decade — with a force expanded ten-fold after former top CIA official David Cohen became Intel’s Deputy Commissioner.

It all began in early 2003 when, citing Cohen’s threat of terrorism, U.S. District Court Judge Charles S. Haight III eliminated virtually all of the NYPD’s longstanding and tortuous Handschu restrictions, including the requirement of a criminal predicate — the suspicion of unlawful activity by a political group — before the police can monitor or infiltrate them.

That February, police arrested anti-Iraq war demonstrators, then questioned them in their jail cells about their friends and colleagues, political affiliations, views on the Arab- Israeli conflict, and where they had been on 9/11. The police then recorded their answers on a “demonstration debriefing” form, entered later in a data bank.

In May, Cohen and Police Commissioner Ray Kelly claimed they knew nothing about the questioning or the demonstration debriefing forms. Haight, in effect, said they were lying.

That August, saying he had lost faith in the police department, he restored the Handschu restrictions he had eliminated six months before.

But nobody in the NYPD seems to have followed Haight’s ruling or even understood the Handschu guidelines in the first place.

The day after his ruling, Kelly said: “For me the important thing is that modification … continues to stand.”

Since then, the Intelligence Division has run free, ignoring whatever restrictions Haight might have intended to restore.

It has ignored other law enforcement agencies, and operated as a mini-CIA, without independent oversight.

In October 2003, Intel detectives ran an anti-terrorism sting operation in New Jersey on scuba shops, without informing state officials or the FBI, the country’s premier law enforcement organization mandated to fight terrorism. When state officials learned of the sting, they ordered the Intel detectives out of the state.

Again without informing the FBI, Intel detectives traveled across the country and beyond in 2004 to spy on groups planning to protest at the Republican National Convention, held at Madison Square Garden.

In 2007, apparently on Cohen’s order, Intel’s newly appointed Deputy Chief Thomas Galati prevented Iran’s president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his diplomatic delegation from leaving Kennedy Airport.

Galati’s actions violated diplomatic protocol and upset the Secret Service, the State Department’s Diplomatic Security Service and the Port Authority, who were with Intel at Kennedy to meet the delegation.

Last fall, the Associated Press launched a Pulitzer Prize-winning series that detailed Intel’s systemic spying on area Muslims, raising questions about the legality of such a widespread operation.

The AP reported that Intel spied on Muslim communities in New York City, on Muslim student associations at private colleges throughout the northeast and on Muslims communities in Newark, N.J. The NYPD has not said publicly whether any of these groups engaged in prior criminal behavior.

NYPD Confidential also reported that Intel spied on Al Sharpton’s National Action Network, infiltrated Muslim student associations at the City University and New York City mosques with undercover detectives or confidential informants, and spied on Buffalo’s Somali community. Again, the NYPD has not said publicly whether any of these groups engaged in prior criminal behavior.

What has been the result of all this unmonitored spying?

BulletThe conviction of a Pakistani immigrant, Matin Siraj, for planning to bomb the Herald Square subway station. It’s doubtful, however, that Siraj, whose IQ of 78 is a step above mental retardation, could have plotted this without being egged on by the case’s confidential informant who was paid $100,000, and by a co-defendant with a history of psychiatric hospitalizations who described himself as schizophrenic.

BulletThe indictment last year of Jose Pimentel, charged with making a bomb intended for police and army targets. The FBI refused to join this prosecution, judging that Pimentel lacked the mental capacity to make the bomb on his own and questioning the actions of the police informant, who helped build the device in his own apartment.

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.

BulletThe indictments of 27-year-old Ahmed Ferhani, a troubled Algerian-born man with a history of mental problems and 21-year-old Moroccan-born Mohamed Mamdouh who stand accused of plotting to bomb a Manhattan synagogue.

Ferhani’s trial begins next week. A Manhattan grand jury has already rejected the top terrorism charge.

Last week, a jury in Brooklyn federal court convicted Adis Medunjanin of participating in a subway bombing plot with two friends from Queens. One of those friends, Najibullah Zazi, who previously pleaded guilty, drove to New York from Denver to plant the bombs while the FBI tracked him. Federal officials have called the plot one of the most serious threats to New York since the 9/11 attacks.

Zazi, who was the plot's ringleader, testified that he regarded non-Muslims as “kaffirs,” or infidels, and that he hated them. If you hate someone, he said, it makes it easier to kill them.

Prosecutors did not mention that, at Cohen’s order, Intel detectives reached out to an NYPD informant without informing the FBI. The informant tipped off Zazi’s father, who in turn, tipped off Zazi, who cut the plot short and returned to Denver, nearly short-circuiting the investigation.

The British Parliament’s damning report on Rupert Murdoch’s London-based phone hacking scandal has had echoes here in little old New York.

The report blasted Colin Myler, the Daily News’s latesteditor, for misleading Parliament about the phone hacking at his previous newspaper, Murdoch’s defunct News of the World, which was at the center of the scandal.

While Myler may have been a tabloid prince in England, his appointment to the News furthers the downward spiral of what was once referred to as New York’s “hometown newspaper.”

The News’s owner, Mortimer Zuckerman, has also been known to mislead people. In 1999, he suckered executives at the Times, Newsday and the Associated Press into joining him in a federal law suit against Rudy Giuliani for forcing reporters into pens. He then blinded-sided his media allies by coming to a separate agreement with Giuliani. [See NYPD Confidential column of May 24, 1999.]

While continuing to bleed the News of reporters, Zuckerman has professed “total confidence” in Myler.

Except perhaps for Murdoch’s New York Post, no organization has slobbered more over Commissioner Kelly and the police department’s spying than the News.

The News even praised Chief Galati’s Kennedy Airport adventure with the Iranians. “The NYPD stood tall against the … entourage of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Led by a chief by the name of Thomas Galati, the cops put the Iranians in their place until the feds insisted New York had to abide by diplomatic niceties.… For which we salute them.”

If anyone still believes that the News still practices journalism, consider its April 24 editorial headlined: “Go for it Ray.” It begins: “A Daily News poll says millions of New Yorkers want Police Commissioner Ray Kelly to run for mayor in 2012 — and we second the motion.”

It then says that “46 per cent of the voters polled said he should run for the city’s highest office.”

Only in the 12th paragraph does the reader come across the following: that “in head-to-head matchups, Council Speaker Christine Quinn, at the head of the Dem pack, bested Kelly, 49 per cent to 36 per cent in the poll.”

As for Mr. Murdoch, what more is there to say of the British Parliament’s assessment of him as “unfit” to run a media conglomerate?

In January 2010, Commissioner Kelly, with great fanfare, announced the formation of a three-man commission to examine whether the downgrading of crime statistics is a city-wide problem.

The omission came about after whistle-blower cop Adrian Schoolcraft detailed how commanders at the 81st precinct in Brooklyn, where he worked, manipulated crime statistics to make the area appear safer.

Kelly’s spokesman Paul Browne — known to reads of this column as Mr. Truth — said at the time it would take about six months to complete the report. Giving Browne the benefit of the doubt, let’s put that scheduled date as June 30, 2010.

According to Your Humble Servant’s arithmetical calculations, that means the report is now 311 days late.

Kelly has now exceeded the 270-odd days it took former police commissioner Howard Safir to repay the $7,000 that the Conflicts of Interest Committee dunned him for his free weekend excursion to the Oscars in Hollywood in 1999, on the Revlon Corporation’s dime.

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Copyright © 2012 Leonard Levitt