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Anti-Terror Funding Cut: Unlikely Payback for Kelly

June 5, 2006

So it's "payback," is it, as Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Congressman Peter King have suggested, that led the Department of Homeland Security to cut the city's anti-terrorism grant by 40 per cent.

Both Bloomberg and King cited as payback last October's subway terror threat when Police Commissioner Ray Kelly ramped up security while DHS – which provided the warning – backed away, dismissing Kelly's actions as an overreaction. DHS then ate crow after Kelly revealed some DHS staffers took the threat seriously enough to have secretly warned relatives not to ride the subways.

But let's not stop with the subway threat. If payback by the feds is the real issue, we can also cite Kelly's stalking out of a Congressional hearing at which he was to testify because he was kept waiting too long. Or his gratuitous digs at the FBI for failing to protect the city before 9/11. Or his overseas detective corps, financed by private citizens, which remains a finger in the bureau's eye.

The problem is that the payback argument doesn't hold up. Why not? Well, what about Washington, D.C., also a 9/11 target when a hijacked airliner roared into the Pentagon? The District's funding was also cut. And nobody there is crying payback.

So could there be another reason? “New York is not an island and cannot protect itself by building a wall around itself," Lee Baca, the Los Angeles County sheriff and a DHS panel member who reviewed the grant applications, was quoted as saying. “Los Angeles' strategy is not just to think of Los Angeles but to think of America as a whole."

Granted, Baca is an elected official, whose words sound pretty good for a politician, especially considering that Los Angeles obtained a 20 per cent increase in its anti-terror funding. God knows, as does everyone in law enforcement, that Kelly's approach to fighting terrorism has been strictly go-it-alone and I'm-the-boss here.

Still, Baca's remarks don't quite add up. Or as a former top department official who knows Baca and who was at Ground Zero during the attack on the Twin Towers put it, “Lee should look at his geography. New York City is an island. Maybe he should try another analogy. It's easy for someone to talk that way who hasn't been attacked twice or who hasn't seen the carnage the attacks caused."

O.K., then what about Lt. Timothy Fisk of the Orlando Fla. police department, another DHS panel member? He said the problem with New York was its grant application – no programs to improve communications among cops, firefighters and paramedics, and no programs to train cops and firefighters to respond to attacks.

Now that's interesting. Remember the flap over first responders? The one that led to the retirement of the NYFD's top chief Peter Hayden, who objected to the NYPD's taking over?

Perhaps the harshest criticism directed at the city during and after the 9/11 attack was the lack of coordination between the police and the fire department, which lost over 300 firefighters when the Twin Towers fell. The 9/11 Commission cited the lack of communication between the two agencies and suggested that a more coordinated response might have saved many firefighters' lives. It recommended the fire department become the lead emergency response agency, as it is in every other major American city.

But that's not what happened in New York. Bloomberg gave jurisdiction to – you guessed it – Kelly and the police department, which became the first responders.

That brings us back to the city's grant application. Out in Los Angeles, whose police department is headed by Kelly's nemesis Bill Bratton, officials were said to have worked round the clock on their application. Was that the case in New York?

Bloomberg, who sounded more conciliatory towards the DHS's head Michael Chertoff than most other state officials did, said last week he wanted to review the city's application over the weekend. Maybe he suspects something.

So who wrote the application? Was it Deputy Police Commissioner of Strategic Initiatives Commissioner Michael Farrell, who in the past has come up with misleading FBI statistics the bureau itself disavowed to claim that New York is the “Safest Large City in America?"

What actually did the city's proposal say? Was it carefully prepared like L.A.'s or was it written on the fly? Will Bloomberg make it public? Or in refusing to, will he cite “national security?"

The Remarkable Mr. Browne. “Public relations was placed above substance," Rudy Giuliani's press secretary Cristyne Lategano famously said in 1995 about the mayor's first, and only, successful police commissioner Bill Bratton.

Could the same be said about the NYPD's anti-terror tactics, including Kelly's signature achievement, his overseas detective corps?

Note yesterday's Daily News' headline, referring to the Canadian bombing plot: “NYPD kept in loop from start," which was apparently based on comments by Paul Browne, the department's Deputy Commissioner for Public Information.

"An NYPD detective stationed in Toronto was briefed about the terror investigation even before the arrests were made and sent instant assurances to police brass in New York that the city was not a potential target," the News' story began.

It then quoted Browne saying, “We continue to be informed of the developments there."

But was the NYPD's man in Toronto informed of the bombing plot from the start of the investigation, as the News' headline implied? Or was he told just before the arrests were announced?

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Copyright © 2006 Leonard Levitt