One Police Plaza

Tiptoeing Around Ray Kelly

January 9, 2006

The FBI appears to be doing an about-face in dealing with Police Commissioner Ray Kelly. Now you can almost feel the love.

Less than two years ago, the head of the bureau’s New York office, Pat D’Amuro, publicly rebuked Kelly for singling out an NYPD detective in the arrest the radical Muslim cleric Abu Hamsa Al-Masri in London, while ignoring the contributions of the Joint Terrorist Task Force.

The JTTF — comprised of NYPD detectives and FBI agents and in place for 25 years — is the group through which the two agencies supposedly work together. Overall command of the group is by the head of the FBI’s terrorism division in New York.

On at least three other occasions, as documented in this column over the past two years, the NYPD’s Intelligence Division — under Kelly’s deputy commissioner, the former CIA official David Cohen — sent Intel detectives to New Jersey, Massachusetts and Pennsylvania to conduct terrorist-related investigations, ignoring the JTTF and the FBI.

Now listen to D’Amuro’s FBI successor Mark J. Mershon, appointed Assistant Director of the New York office last May.

“I got word of my appointment on a Monday. On Wednesday, the Director [FBI Director Robert Mueller] issued a press release,” Mershon said in an interview in his office last week. “My first business call was to Ray Kelly.

“He took the call. He knew who I was. I said, ‘Ray, I really need to address something with you about the real or exaggerated differences at our level. I have profound respect for your command presence and your ownership of the safety of the good people of New York. I hope we will stand shoulder to shoulder, reassuring those same people that we will do the right thing.’

“After a brief pause,” said Mershon, “he responded absolutely in kind.”

Mershon said the acid test came on October 6th with the city’s subway bombing threat. “We had been following a stream of threat reporting, enough to make the hair stand up on your neck, and the mayor and/or the P.C. made the decision to ramp up security in the subways.

“They phoned over and asked me to participate in a press conference. I was delighted to do that. I went over a little before 5, thinking it was a 5 pm press conference, only to find they were strategizing on how to present the information. I participated in that. I suggested some terminology that the mayor might use or not use.

“We did our prepared talks and did some questions and answers. I came back to the office and the phone was ringing. It was the Director’s secretary Wanda. Before I could say a word he [Mueller] said, ‘Mark, thank you, thank you, thank you, I am so glad we have you up there. Thank you for the manner in which you handled yourself.’”

Mershon said that as he was driving home, the phone rang again. Again, it was Mueller. “He said, ‘Mark, I hope you don’t mind. I just called Ray Kelly to thank him for working together.’

“I said to the Director, ‘Anything we can do to enhance the relationship. I dearly, dearly want it to work.’”

Mershon and Mueller have even accepted Kelly’s most controversial move: stationing Intel detectives overseas. The move had been resisted by the bureau, which viewed those detectives as rivals to the JTTF and the bureau’s own overseas agents. Some in the bureau have subsequently complained that the NYPD does not share the information it receives from those detectives with the FBI.

Now, Mershon says both he and Mueller support Kelly’s move.

“Ray Kelly views this as the signature accomplishment of his administration,” says Mershon. “Those detectives are doing something we are not. They sit in the bullpen with the foreign police agencies eight or ten hours a day. Their primary mission is to get right to the scene, and to light up a cell phone and call back to the NYPD in the event that simultaneous attacks are planned for New York City. I would love to be able to say the FBI can do that. But we are not staffed to do that. That is not our mission.”

Referring to the terrorist bombing late last year in Amman, Jordan, where an NYPD detective had arrived just days before, Mershon said, “When the bomb went off, our agent was on a road trip.” Another governmental agency he declined to publicly identify was “unavailable,” he added.

“But within two hours, that detective was on the scene, phoning back his observations. How can I possibly object to that?”

Finally, there is the issue of which agency — the FBI or the NYPD — will lead the criminal investigation, should terrorists attack New York again. Homeland Security Presidential Directive/HSPD-5, issued in February, 2003, states: “The attorney general has lead responsibility for [federal] criminal investigations of terrorist acts or threats by individuals or groups inside the United States.” That means the FBI.

“The reality,” says Mershon, “is that a number of agencies have to work together. It is an issue of maturity and judgment from the top, of the pureness of heart, so to speak, of the leaders of those agencies.

“It will not be done in an atmosphere of subordinating another agency. They are full partners and decision-makers. The reality is you have to walk into that room, let out a deep breath and hope everyone in there is as mature and as like-minded as yourself. You have to share completely and make it crystal clear that anyone who violates this is not part of the team.”

So will Kelly sign on? Says Mershon: “I do genuinely expect that. I will be shocked if I don’t see that.”

Who's Afraid of Leonard Levitt? Your Humble Servant received a New Year’s surprise Friday. I was banned from One Police Plaza.

The cop manning the building’s metal detector said apologetically, “Mr. Levitt, I recognize you. My orders are that you are not allowed in the building.”

The following exchange then ensued.

“Is this a joke?”

“No, those are my orders.”

“Can you tell me why?”

“I don’t know why. I was only told you are not allowed inside the building.”

So who is afraid to allow Your Humble Servant into police headquarters? On the same day, I was deemed safe enough to pass through the even stricter security of armed guards, a metal wand and a pat-down at FBI headquarters at 26 Federal Plaza. [See above item.]

Even convicted felons who can prove they are not terrorists are permitted inside One Police Plaza after clearing security. For the past year, I’ve gone through the building’s metal detectors without incident and I can assure you, readers, I’m neither a felon nor a terrorist.

Rather, the ban appears to be the latest in a campaign begun nearly three years ago. Then, Commissioner Kelly took a day off from fighting crime and terrorism to brave the Long Island Expressway and complain to the editors of Newsday about this column.

As my boss at the time, Les Payne, said as gently as possible of his tête-à-tête with the commissioner, “He wants your head on a platter.”

Last year, Kelly revoked my building pass. Deputy Commissioner of Public Information Paul Browne explained it was because I no longer was a full-time employee of Newsday, though the column continued as before.

This time, Browne did not return a phone call seeking an explanation.

To report this on-line column, I obtained a press card in October as an “independent.” The press card expires in 2007.

One Police Plaza is a public building. If banned, I can no longer cover departmental trials, which are open to the public. Nor can I attend next month’s Police Foundation dinner, open to anyone willing to buy a ticket.

And I can’t visit all my friends on the 13th floor in the Office of Public Information like Chief Mike Collins or Lieut. Pete Martin. [More on them in a subsequent column.]