One Police Plaza

Homeland Security: From Nanny to Sandbox

July 15, 2013

If Bernie Kerik had a “nanny problem,’ when he was nominated for Homeland Security Director in 2004, Police Commissioner Ray Kelly may have a sandbox problem.

Kelly — whom U.S. Senator Charles Schumer is now pitching for Homeland Security Director [Schumer pitched him, unsuccessfully, two years ago for FBI Director] — doesn’t play well in the sandbox.

He doesn’t play well with others — especially with those of equal rank or stature.

Most importantly as it pertains to Homeland Security, he doesn’t play well with the feds.

The whole world now knows of Kelly’s long-running feud with the FBI over fighting terrorism, which this column has documented over the past decade. It culminated in the Najibullah Zazi subway plot when the NYPD’s Intelligence Division tried an end run around the FBI and nearly blew the case.

The on-going conflict was officially acknowledged last month in a CIA report that criticized the Agency’s clandestine involvement with the NYPD.

“The OIG [Office of Inspector General] determined that the assignment of ••••• to NYPD … placed the Agency more prominently in the middle of a contentious relationship between the FBI and the NYPD regarding NYPD’s efforts to combat terrorism,” the report stated.

Kelly also doesn’t play so well with the Secret Service and the State Department’s Security Service, as well as with local Port Authority police, who have law enforcement jurisdiction at the city’s airports.

This was evidenced by the Intelligence Division’s demanding a weapons check at Kennedy Airport of an arriving Iranian delegation to the United Nations in September 2007. That action infuriated officers from those three agencies, who were on hand at Kennedy and maintained the NYPD was violating diplomatic protocol. [See NYPD Confidential Oct. 1, 2007.]

[Kelly recently created a three-star chief’s rank for the commander who initiated the weapons check, Thomas Galati.]

Then there are Kelly’s troubled relations with top law enforcement officials, starting with outgoing FBI Director Robert Mueller.

Relations between them were apparently so strained that at a 2012 Senate Judiciary hearing Schumer urged Mueller to brief Kelly on a foiled Yemeni bomb plot.

“For the continued good operation, give him a call on this,” Schumer pleaded.

When Mueller responded, “As I told Ray, he is always welcome to call, Schumer put his long Senatorial arm on Mueller, saying, “Let’s not get into who calls whom. I am asking you to call.” [See NYPD Confidential, May 21, 2012.]

Kelly also seems to have a strained relationship with the Obama administration. [Then again, who doesn’t?]

Although Schumer touted Kelly in 2011 as “the pre-eminent law enforcement person in the country” when Schumer pushed him for FBI Director, Obama either didn’t agree or didn’t care. [See NYPD Confidential, Mar. 21, 2011.]

He extended Mueller for two years after his ten-year term ended, and recently nominated James Comey — not Kelly — to succeed him.

More recently, Kelly lit into Attorney General Eric Holder over the Edward Snowden domestic secrecy flap, saying the Obama administration “should come clean on domestic spying.”

Whether Kelly actually meant this is problematic, given his penchant for secrecy over virtually every aspect of NYPD life. Indeed, Kelly’s criticism of Holder probably stemmed less from policy disagreements than from personal pique. It followed Holder’s suggestion at the end of the Stop and Frisk trial that a federal monitor might be just the thing for the NYPD.

These sandbox issues go beyond the feds. They also involve his NYPD predecessors.

Take Howard Safir, police commissioner from 1996-2000 under Rudy Giuliani.

For a time, the two seemed tight as ticks. Kelly attended Safir’s inaugural at City Hall. Safir attended Kelly’s swearing-in as Assistant Treasury Secretary in Washington under President Bill Clinton.

For reasons that remain unclear, the relationship soured. When Kelly returned as police commissioner in 2002, Safir telephoned to make a luncheon appointment with him. Kelly’s staff advised Safir he would have to make his request in writing.

Kelly wasn’t the only NYPD official who blew Safir off. In a hand-written letter postmarked Aug. 25, 2006 to his former CIA buddy, Deputy Commissioner for Intelligence David Cohen, Safir wrote: “David! I have called you four times and you have not returned my calls. There was never a time when I was P.C. that I did not return the calls you made to me, nor did I ever fail to help you. Friends do not treat friends this way.” [See NYPD Confidential Dec. 10, 2007.]

Or take Bill Bratton, whose name has also been floated as Homeland Security Director. Kelly has never forgiven him for taking his job as police commissioner in 1994.

Over the past two decades, Kelly has kept up a drumbeat of criticism,­ including Bratton’s aggressive tactics in reducing the city’s crime rate — tactics Kelly adopted when he returned as commissioner in 2002.

In Sept, 2006, Kelly quit the Manhattan Institute’s international anti-terrorism conference at the Roosevelt Hotel, commemorating the fifth anniversary of 9/11, after he learned Bratton was participating. He then held a rival conference the same day at Police Plaza.

In 2010, outgoing First Deputy George Grasso invited Bratton to his walk-out at Police Plaza. The walkout — where the retiring NYPD official walks between two rows of white-gloves officers who applaud and salute — is a department ritual.

Kelly is meticulous about attending such events, even appearing at those honoring people he disdains, such as Kerik, who used his failure to pay taxes for his immigrant nanny as a cover to withdraw his Homeland Security Director nomination in 2004.

It turned out Kerik had more serious problems, including lying to federal investigators and all sorts of financial shenanigans, which landed him in federal prison for four years. [He is currently recuperating at his Franklin Lakes, N.J, home.]

But at Grasso’s walkout, Kelly was a no-show.

With Deputy Commissioner for Public Information Paul Browne keeping a watchful eye, many of the top brass were reluctant to sit with Bratton at Grasso’s luncheon in the police auditorium.

For much of the event, he and his wife, Rikki Klieman, sat by themselves.

CALLING ALL REPORTERS. The only thing more outrageous than barring Village Voice police reporter Graham Rayman from a news conference at Police Plaza two weeks ago is that no one protested.

Rayman, a veteran police reporter, says he was told by a sergeant in the office of the Deputy Commissioner of Public Information he could not attend because he wasn’t “credentialed.”

No matter that the news conference was to announce the findings of Kelly’s so-called blue-ribbon commission that investigated whether the NYPD systemically down-graded crimes; no matter that Rayman has probably written more on the subject than any other reporter in town; and is about to publish a book on Adrian Schoolcraft, the police officer who exposed such downgrading in the 81st precinct, which led Kelly to appoint the commission.

Twenty years ago when Howard Safir barred Daily News police bureau chief John Marzulli from a news conference at Police Plaza, the media was outraged.

Both the NY Times and the Associated Press wrote stories.

Safir and Mayor Giuliani then issued something approaching an apology and offered assurances that it would not happen again.

Today, not even the Village Voice protested. Its interim editor — somebody named Pete Kotz — did not respond to this reporter’s emails. The Voice is in such disarray that its telephone system doesn’t work. Try contacting someone if you don’t know his extension and see how far you get.

Norman Siegel, the former NY Civil Liberties Union head, says he’s spent the past year haggling with the Corporation Counsel to establish guidelines to credential reporters.

He says he was unsuccessful in taking that responsibility out of Deputy Commissioner Browne’s hands and was also unsuccessful in establishing an oversight committee.

But he says it’s easy for reporters, especially bloggers, to get credentialed. All you have to do, he says, is cover six city-related news conferences and then write about them.

Unfortunately it’s not that simple.

“I do not have a press card,” says the former Daily News reporter Jerry Capeci, who writes the influential on-line Gangland column about organized crime. “I was surprised when my application to renew it was rejected. …

“I appealed the initial rejection, then had what in my view was an upbeat, positive discussion about it with two police officials at Police Plaza. At the moment, my follow-up request is still pending.”

Rayman says: “They posted a notice at 1:10 about the presser [news conference] at 3. I emailed Browne, asking to be admitted. He didn’t respond.

“I called DCPI. First, I got the usual runaround and then they transferred me to the [NYPD] legal bureau for whatever reason. Of course, no one at the legal bureau answered.

“I called back and finally got a Sgt. Jones who said he would check and call me back. He did call back and said ‘credentialed’ press only.

“They kept saying I wasn’t ‘credentialed’ press, whatever that means. I’ve been covering the NYPD since was I was 24. I even spent three years as in-house press.

“On maybe two prior occasions I’ve been able to get in just by calling DCPI ahead. All Browne had to do was call the security desk and allow me to enter. It wasn’t a big deal. He chose not to.”

Edited by Donald Forst


Copyright © 2013 Leonard Levitt