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John Miller: The Daily News Hatchet Job

January 6, 2014

The Daily News, which once called itself “the honest voice of New York,” or some such nonsense, took a day off last Friday from its first-snowfall-of-the-year coverage to publish a front page hit, as well as a lead editorial and a separate news story, bashing the NYPD’s incoming terrorism head, John Miller.

The full front page read: “TV GUY IS NEW TERROR CHIEF,” with a box at the bottom, saying: “In a surprising move, Bratton [Police Commissioner Bill Bratton] has named former TV news star John Miller as the city’s anti-terror honcho — a massive role for which he has minimal experience.”

The paper’s two-column lead editorial the same day stated that “Miller’s government service pales in comparison with that of those who served on [outgoing police commissioner] Ray Kelly’s team,” and described Miller as “a cub” when compared to outgoing Intelligence Division head David Cohen.

The editorial also stated that the four men who served as deputy commissioner for counter-terrorism under Kelly each had “a resumé far more impressive than Miller’s.”

The editorial omitted the fact that none of them stayed for more than a couple of years, and that the first of them, three-star marine general Frank Libutti, left after 14 months with no credible public explanation.

Or that another of them, Richard Falkenrath, insisted on having two police department drivers and two top-of-the-line luxury vehicles that the department leased for him at a cost to taxpayers of $20,000 a year.

Or that, after a homeless man made the mistake of stopping at Falkenrath’s Riverdale home to ask for a glass of water, police held him in a psychiatric ward for five weeks, then escorted him aboard an airplane to relatives in Chicago.

The Friday news story on Miller, with the bylines of no less than five reporters, included the statement: “The gap in experience between Miller and Cohen is staggering, leading some to question whether Bratton made the right choice.”

Make no mistake, readers: this was an attack not just on Miller but on Bratton.

It was a shot across Bratton’s bow that reads as though it may have been hatched by Kelly, Cohen and Daily News owner, Mortimer Zuckerman. Back in 2004, Zuckerman was the beneficiary of the work of three Intelligence Division detectives, assigned by Cohen to conduct a private investigation for Zuckerman.

But the News’s attack on Miller could have an unintended consequence.

It could open the first public debate about the terrorism-fighting methods and legacy of both Cohen and Kelly — methods and legacy that Miller, with his three years as an Assistant Director of the FBI and two years as Assistant Deputy Director of National Intelligence, is in a position to impugn.

O.K., readers, you well might ask, What’s to debate?

Well, let’s start with the so-called 16 plots against the city, which Kelly and Cohen have claimed that the NYPD alone prevented — a canard that the News perpetuates to this day.

Check out this sentence — [if you can get through it] — from the Miller-denigrating editorial: “Independently cultivating terror watchfulness globally and on the streets of New York the [Intelligence] division headed off 16 plots against the city.”

We might also debate how and why the Intelligence Division is currently the subject of two civil rights lawsuits for spying on constitutionally protected activities of Muslims.

And because of Kelly’s and Cohen’s belittling of the NYPD's law enforcement partners, we might debate why its Intelligence Division has no meaningful collaborative relationship with any other law enforcement agencies, save perhaps the police in Abu Dhabi.

This is no exaggeration. Recall the urban Mexican standoff between the NYPD and the Port Authority Police back in 2006 at the barriers of Ground Zero — NYPD patrol cars on the outside, Port Authority police just inside the gate. The stare-down was a turf war. That’s how you fight terrorism?

Or the bizarre diplomatic imbroglio at Kennedy Airport in 2007 when, on Cohen’s orders, Intelligence Division Chief Tom Galati held up the arriving Iranian delegation to the U.N. for 40 minutes, to the chagrin of the Port Authority Police, the Secret Service and the State Department’s Diplomatic Security Service — not to mention the State Department itself.

[And, we might add, a chortling News editorial read: “The NYPD stood tall … Led by a chief named Thomas Galati, the cops put the Iranians in their place until the feds insisted New York had to abide by diplomatic niceties.”]

Most important, recall the 2009 subway bombing threat from Colorado-based Najibullah Zazi, the most serious threat against the city since 9/11, when Cohen short-circuited the FBI-led investigation by contacting an NYPD informant without informing the Bureau. The informant then tipped off Zazi’s father.

Whether such a debate will occur is uncertain. What is more likely is that Bratton and Miller will unwind some of the Intelligence Division’s more bizarre strategies and far-flung enterprises.

No doubt Bratton has his own version of Winston Churchill’s remark when he became Prime Minister in 1940: “If the present tries to sit in judgment of the past, it will lose the future.”

The News’s attack — odd not only for its tone and intensity but also for its front-page play — might also open a debate over its current journalistic standards and credibility.

Included in the news story on Miller was an unattributed statement from a “high-ranking counter-terrorism official” — [David, could that be you?] — who maintained that, as the News put it: “The pick [of Miller] will be ridiculed around the globe by terrorists.”

That statement is so inane that it is no wonder the official — [and Your Benevolent Humble Servant is prepared to grant the News that some official somewhere did actually make such a comment] — didn’t want his name used.

That same news story had a bewildering ending: a quote from a 32-year-old Brooklyn woman named Jessica Rodriquez, who said of Miller: “I’m not comfortable with him. He’s really a journalist He’s only reported on terrorism. How do we know he’s lived it?”

If the News finds Miller’s experience lacking, why would they believe that Jessica Rodriquez — while no doubt an intelligent young woman — has the credentials to pass such a judgment on Miller?

Finally, one might debate the relationship between billionaire News owner Zuckerman and the NYPD.

One might begin in 2004, when Zuckerman feared he was being tailed by some unknown people. Instead of calling his local precinct or detective squad like any citizen, he called his friend Cohen.

While the city trembled over terrorism, Cohen assigned three Intelligence detectives to tail Zuckerman’s tail.

Zuckerman’s spokeswoman at the time tried to justify the NYPD’s involvement by suggesting that, because of Zuckerman’s support for Israel, the men tailing him might be — you guessed it — terrorists!!!

Of course, they weren’t. Zuckerman’s pursuers had no connection whatsoever 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, then in the process of divorcing him.

There’s a third theory, which involves another aspect of Zuckerman’s private life that NYPD Confidential chooses not to address here.


Happiest guy in the room: Bratton. Couldn’t keep himself from smiling throughout the ceremony.

Second happiest: His wife Rikki Klieman. And not just because Bratton called her, “Beautiful Rikki.”

Best looking: Retired Chief Joe Esposito, who has grown his hair long in the back [although he cut off his pony tail.] Just think, had he worn it when he testified in the Stop and Frisk trial, he might have gained some street cred.

Most surprising [and perhaps classiest] appearance: That of former police commissioner Howard Safir. All the more so because, back in the day, Safir had called Bratton “some airport cop from Boston.” Bratton retaliated by calling Safir “The Rodney Dangerfield of law enforcement.”

Kelly’s welcome gift to Bratton: a bottle of champagne and a note, reading: “Good luck.” Translation: “F… you.”


Don Forst, who edited this column for the past year, died last Saturday. He was a terrific editor and a terrific friend.

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