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To Fight Terrorism: Collaborate — Up To a Point

July 14, 2014

Shortly after his appointment as Deputy Commissioner for Intelligence and Counter-Terrorism, John Miller addressed the Joint Terrorism Task Force, which includes over 100 detectives and nearly 170 FBI agents who are based at a secret, off-site location on Manhattan's West Side.

“You guys may not believe this,” Miller said, “but we [the NYPD] don’t care about credit. We don’t care about control.”

Miller’s statement reflects the “collaborative” anti-terrorism policy that is the current buzzword of Police Commissioner Bill Bratton. This policy is markedly different from the go-it-alone approach of his predecessor, Ray Kelly, and Kelly’s Deputy Commissioner for Intelligence, David Cohen.

Whether this collaboration translates into better law enforcement remains to be seen. But already tensions have eased between the NYPD and its law enforcement partners.

“Things are different,” says George Venizelos, the Assistant FBI Director who heads the Bureau’s New York office. “Bratton is pushing collaboration and it’s helping us not just in terrorism but in the criminal area — from bank robberies to kidnappings to cyber threats.”

Said another FBI official: “It was symbolic that, when Bratton was interviewed about Super Bowl security, he did it at FBI headquarters. No one could remember when the P.C. was last in the FBI space. And he said hello to everybody.”

It’s not just the FBI that has experienced the difference.

Take the Port Authority, with whom Kelly feuded since he returned as commissioner in 2002.

Late last fall, literally in the middle of the night and with no explanation or consultation, Kelly placed a large command vehicle on Port Authority property at the World Trade Center.

In the game of law enforcement one-upmanship, Port Authority Police Chief Joe Dunne, who had served as the NYPD’s Chief of Department and First Deputy Commissioner, placed a Port Authority police van of equal size right behind it. There the two vans sat for the next six weeks. 

Within days of Bratton’s swearing in, the NYPD removed its command vehicle. The next day, Dunne removed his.

Yet, while Miller’s and Bratton’s style may be different from Kelly’s and Cohen’s, their policies remain the same.

And “collaboration” goes only so far.

Take Kelly’s controversial overseas spy service, in which he and Cohen based NYPD detectives in terrorism hot spots around the world, each of their $75,000 annual expenses paid for by the non-profit Police Foundation.

The FBI has bristled at those postings, seeing the detectives as rivals to their own legal attachés, or “legates,” who are based at U.S. embassies.

Under Kelly and Cohen, detectives avoided the legates, fearing they would be placed under the FBI’s auspices. A former NYPD terrorism official said the FBI kept the first detective based in Israel off the embassy guest list for receptions with Israeli law enforcement officials. He said that the Israelis had him put back on. 

Miller, who served as the FBI’s chief spokesman in Washington from 2006 to 2011, is aware of the FBI’s concerns about the overseas detectives. Nonetheless, he says detectives will remain overseas, although the department might scale back the number of postings. He adds that the detectives are now instructed to introduce themselves to the legates.

Venizelos — who is a fan both of Bratton and Kelly as well as of NYPD — says of the program: “It hasn’t helped or hurt to my knowledge. The detectives give a perception that the NYPD is protecting the city. It gives the city confidence that the NYPD has connections in other [places.]”

Like Cohen and Kelly, Miller and Bratton view the greatest security threat to the city to be that of “home-grown terrorists.”

That term was coined by Marc Sageman, a former CIA officer with a medical degree who is the author of two books about terrorism. Kelly brought Sageman to New York in 2008 as the NYPD’s “Scholar in Residence,” and paid Sageman’s $180,000 salary through a secret non-profit organization with unknown donors called the NYPD Counter-Terrorism Foundation. The NYPD’s former Deputy Commissioner of Legal Affairs, Stephen Hammerman, served as president, and Kelly’s chief of staff, Joe Wuensch, as treasurer. [See NYPD Confidential, Nov 7, 2011.]

Miller told this reporter that his biggest concern with New York’s Muslim communities was their refusal to speak out against home-grown threats.

“We have groups that have developed a narrative asking young Muslim men to become terrorists,” he said. But he said no Muslim voices had opposed this.

Bratton told the Daily News editorial board last month that the department needed the kind of information provided by the infamous Demographics Unit, which he disbanded last April because of criticism, following Pulitzer prize-winning articles by the Associated Press. The unit, which at one time had 16 officers, mapped Muslim neighborhoods throughout the city, listing such things as restaurants where Muslims ate and places where they got their hair cut.

Bratton also said the department would continue to use arrestees as future informants, a policy that Bratton said he had instituted in 1994 during his first term as police commissioner but one that angered some Muslim groups.  

Both Bratton and Miller told the Daily News editorial board they are seeking Muslim support for their anti-terrorist investigations by bringing local Muslim groups “into the process.”

That may prove difficult.  

Muslim activist Faiza Patel, co-director of the Brennan Center’s Liberty and National Security Program, who helped develop legislation that defined the role of an independent Inspector General for the NYPD, said, ”Because of terrorist acts committed in the name of Islam, there is a tendency to treat all Muslims as anti-American and anti-Western.  But every mainstream Muslim organization has denounced terrorism. You are willfully not looking at the record if you don’t believe that.”

Meanwhile, key players under Cohen and Kelly remain key players under Miller and Bratton. James Waters remains the three-star chief commanding the Counter-Terrorism division. Thomas Galati is the three-star chief who commands the Intelligence Division.

In 2007 under Cohen’s orders, Galati prevented an arriving Iranian delegation to the United Nations from leaving Kennedy Airport for 40 minutes, infuriating the Port Authority Police, the Secret Service and the State Department’s Security Service, which were to have escorted them to the U.N. 

Cohen’s approach exacerbated tensions between the NYPD and the FBI that culminated in 2009 with the nearly botched investigation of Colorado-based Najibullah Zazi, who plotted with three friends from Queens to plant bombs in the subways on the anniversary of 9/11.

The joint FBI-NYPD-Port Authority Police investigation went awry after Cohen ordered an NYPD detective to contact an informant without informing the Bureau. The informant tipped off Zazi’s father, who alerted his son. The FBI only learned of this from a wiretap placed on the father’s phone. Zazi was ultimately arrested but the FBI had to scramble.

Venizelos said that the Zazi operation was largely successful and that “one isolated, unfortunate instance has been overblown. Someone made a mistake in judgment,” he said

 Yet that mistake reflected a mindset with potentially catastrophic consequences.

Ever the diplomat, Venizelos said he understood Kelly’s and Cohen’s go-it-alone approach. “He and Cohen deserve a lot of credit for building an aggressive Intelligence unit within the NYPD. Kelly was trying to keep New York City safe, to install as many trip wires as possible. He was aggressive because he was seeking credibility.”

Referring to Bratton’s collaborative approach with the Bureau five years after Zazi, he says, “The relationship has matured.”

Whether it will provide more successful law enforcement, he said, time will tell.

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