One Police Plaza

Web Used to Trace Rally's Organizers

May 5, 2003

Why was the NYPD willing to skate so close to the edge of the law in questioning anti-war protesters about their political beliefs and affiliations, a policy Police Commissioner Ray Kelly abandoned when it became public?

Here is the reason from a source close to highly-placed department officials: Stunned by its failure to predict the large turnout on Feb. 15, the source said, the department sought to trace the event's organizers through at least one anti-war Web site.

"They wanted to know who is putting out this information about the march but they can't find out who is feeding it," the source said. "They think it is some higher education institution but they can't find it. So they begin working backwards. That's why at the March 22 demonstration, they take the arrestees and debrief them."

Some of the questions the detectives asked were where the arrestees went to school and who their friends were. The information was then written on what is known as a Demonstration Debriefing form, then entered into a database.

Although he abandoned the practice when the New York Civil Liberties Union disclosed it, calling it "unnecessary," Kelly - a graduate of St. John's law school - has defended both the legality of the debriefing forms and the questioning of the arrestees.

He described the questioning as having occurred during the arrest process and noted that the arrestees were not forced to answer.

Kelly has also said that neither he nor David Cohen, the former CIA official now deputy commissioner of the Intelligence Division, knew of the form.

According to the source, Cohen, together with another top department official, approved the investigation into the Web site, which culminated in the debriefing forms.

Deputy Commissioner Michael O'Looney did not return a call from Newsday seeking comment.

Last week, Kelly publicly and officially absolved himself and top commanders of blame in its handling of the Feb. 15 march after a Civil Liberties Union report contended that New York, alone among the world's great cities where other demonstrations occurred, failed to properly police the marchers.

A statement last week by O'Looney said that any problems at the march were caused by the marchers themselves.

"The police acted professionally," O'Looney's statement read. "There were limited arrests and no serious injuries."

The organizers, the statement continued, "did an inadequate job of informing on the details of the event. There were far too few marshals on hand to explain to people how to enter the agreed-upon demonstration area."

Finally, said the statement, the marchers failed to recognize "a small group of hard-core protesters who were intent on causing a confrontation with the police. These groups carry out that agenda at similar events across the country and they did it here in New York on Feb. 15."

A former deputy commissioner said of the department's position: "They're not admitting anything. They made it as difficult as possible. It is emblematic of an attitude towards protest that is not the history of this city. It is a recipe for trouble."

Found. Joint Terrorist Task Force Sgt. John Galasso, under investigation by the feds for allegedly leaking top secret information to a WB11 reporter, has turned up at the Fleet Services Division in Queens.

Kelly refused to discuss Galasso's whereabouts or status with Newsday when asked at a news conference last week, though he told the New York Post last month that Galasso had been suspended.

Under New York State law, a cop can be suspended for only 30 days unless he is tried and fired within that time. The supposedly top secret information: Counter-terrorism cops had been assigned outside high-end restaurants on the eve of the Gulf War for fear of suicide bombers.

You Figure Out What It Means Department. Asked the status of Rudolph Giuliani's police bodyguard - an unknown number of whom continue to provide protection for the ex-mayor because of so-called threats upon his life - Kelly said a review of the bodyguard situation was ongoing.

Asked what that meant, Kelly said, "It means it is ongoing."

The Who Do You Believe Department. Former Police Commissioner Howard Safir says in his book "Security" that in 1997 he reduced the number of guns on the street by 40 percent by tripling the size of the Street Crime Unit. He notes Kelly disbanded the unit in 2002 and says, "It cannot be a coincidence that in the first four months of 2002 there was a 22 percent surge in shootings."

A review of Safir's entire book could find no mention of his pursuit of the Asian drug lord, the Khun Sa, a staple of Safir's earlier book proposals.

©2003 Newsday, Inc.Reprinted with permission.