One Police Plaza

Publicity cop didn't need

June 4, 2004

The head of the FBI's New York office has said the Police Department's identification of an anti-terrorism detective has led to "security concerns" for the detective and his family, resulting in his premature return from London.

The detective was to appear at a court hearing in London involving recently arrested radical Muslim cleric Abu Hamsa al Masri.

Assistant FBI Director Pasquale D'Amuro made his comments in an interoffice e-mail Wednesday. He was responding to Police Commissioner Ray Kelly's singling out of Det. George Corey at a joint news conference last week with Attorney General John Ashcroft and Manhattan U.S. Attorney David Kelley.

The news conference had been held to announce the arrest of al Masri in London. At the news conference Kelly identified Corey, one of the 130 cops on the FBI/NYPD Joint Terrorist Task Force, as "the real deal [CORRECTION: Police Commissioner Ray Kelly described radical Muslim cleric Abu Hamsa al Masri as "the real deal" at a news conference last week. Yesterday's One Police Plaza Confidential column misidentified the person to whom Kelly was referring. pg. A08 C 6/5/04]."

Reporters at One Police Plaza were alerted to the news conference by police brass, who said a detective played a key role in the arrest.

During the news conference, the department e-mailed copies of Kelly's remarks and a picture of Corey to reporters. Kelly also made himself available to reporters. Meanwhile, the department provided details about Corey, including his age, college background and the fact he lived on Long Island.

Referring to Corey, NYPD counterterrorism chief James Waters, who supervises the detectives on the task force, said: "Nobody is better than the New York City cops at this kind of thing."

The FBI appeared to have been taken aback by Kelly's identification of Corey and his subsequent flackery.

"What we didn't find out until later was that simultaneous with the press conference, the NYPD was e-mailing the media a text of Kelly's remarks about Corey with an attachment picture," said FBI spokesman Joe Valiquette. "In 24 years of the JTTF, I can't recall a JTTF investigator having his photo published in the midst of a prosecution."

In his e-mail to FBI employees, including task force members, D'Amuro wrote: "The newspaper articles Friday credited the NYPD with 'breaking the case.' The NYPD proactively and unilaterally highlighted the work of Det. George Corey. There were quotes attributed to an NYPD official, on the record, that 'Nobody is better than the New York City cops at this kind of thing.'

"This is NOT the way we do business," D'Amuro wrote.

He said his beef was not with Corey, who he called a "great asset" to the task force, and added the media attention was orchestrated by others at risk to Corey's family.

D'Amuro said Kelly's remarks also upset investigators from New Scotland Yard, prompting a call from John Bunn, commander of the Anti-Terrorist Branch, who voiced concerns about what had been fed to the media.

D'Amuro wrote that Kelly "acknowledged that such attention given to one member of an investigative team comprising very experienced FBI agents and others could have a detrimental effect on morale."

The information that Police Department officials released made it easy, with today's information technology, to find exactly where Corey lives and what his unlisted phone number is. The night of his outing, teams of reporters and photographers turned up at his door, upsetting his wife, Jeanette, who contacted police headquarters.

And Corey, who had been sent to London to testify at al Masri's hearing, was whisked home. Corey and his FBI partner, Michael Butsch, were to have appeared at a court hearing yesterday in London.

No comment from Kelly's spokesman, Deputy Commissioner for Public Information Paul Browne.

Hitting the highway. Capt. Christopher Acerbo, the commanding officer of the Mounted Unit, was transferred last month to the Highway Unit.

For the past six months this column has documented problems within the Mounted Unit: the deaths of six horses last year; improper deworming schedules; double-touring of horses; the doctoring of records; and alleged drinking on duty. The department has refused to acknowledge these problems, and a top official last week portrayed Acerbo's transfer as routine. Last week, Acerbo filed for retirement.

©2004 Newsday, Inc.Reprinted with permission.