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The Era of Good Feeling

November 13, 2017

After 12 years of tension under former Commissioner Ray Kelly, the relationship between the NYPD and the FBI is now friendly. How long that lasts depends on whether the men at the top, often with gigantic law enforcement egos, can submerge those egos for the greater good.

Although considered the father of the NYPD’s current terrorism-fighting structure, Kelly was unable to do that.

Today, the signs of cooperation between the Bureau and the NYPD are everywhere. During last year’s Chelsea bombings, William Sweeney, the low-key head of the bureau’s New York office, was permitted to take the lead at a news conference at Police Plaza that was hosted by another low-key guy, Police Commissioner Jimmy O’Neill, then in his first week in office.  

Sweeney and O’Neill engaged in apparently seamless cooperation, resulting in limited damages and a quick arrest of the suspect, Ahmad Khan Rahimi of Elizabeth, N.J., after a shootout with neighboring Linden police.

Click here to read what the police brass say about NYPD ConfidentialCooperation was evident again last month during the Lower Manhattan terrorist truck attack that left eight people dead. After a beat cop wounded Sayfullo Saipov, the NYPD hustled him to a hospital for questioning. By nightfall, the FBI presented federal charges.

In fact, one of the investigators, praised for his work on the case by Acting U.S. Attorney Joon Kim, was George Corey, a former NYPD anti-terrorism detective now working with the feds.

Ironically, Corey became a symbol of the agencies’ dysfunctional relationship under Kelly, who upon his appointment as police commissioner in 2002, announced that the FBI had failed to protect the city from 9/11. Kelly then created a Counter-Terrorism Bureau and expanded the NYPD’s Intelligence Division, hiring 35-year CIA operative David Cohen to run it. In perhaps his most controversial move, Kelly stationed NYPD intelligence detectives overseas to rival the bureau’s “legates,” who are based at U.S. embassies across the world.

Then in 2004, Corey was sent to London as part of a Joint [FBI-NYPD] Terrorist Task Force team after the arrest of radical Muslim cleric Abu Hamza al Masri. At a news conference in New York, Kelly singled out Corey for praise. The department released his picture and provided enough details about him so that reporters turned up at his home. His frightened wife contacted police headquarters. Corey was whisked home from London, supposedly for “security reasons.”

Meanwhile, an FBI spokesman said, “In 24 years of the JTTF, I can’t recall a JTTF investigator having his photo published in the midst of a prosecution.”

And Pasquale D’Amuro, then head of the FBI’s New York office, said of Kelly’s news conference: “This is NOT the way do we do business.” [See NYPD Confidential, June 4, 2004.]

Click here to read the New York Times profile of Leonard LevittRelations between the two agencies hit a low point in 2009 in what was believed to be the most serious terrorism threat against the city since 9/11: a plot by Afghan-born, Colorado-based Najibullah Zazi and two friends from Queens to plant bombs in NYC’s subways on the anniversary of 9/11. While the FBI tracked Zazi as he drove to New York, Cohen ordered an NYPD detective to contact his Afghan informant without informing the Bureau. The informant, Queens Imam Ahmad Wais Afzali, tipped off Zazi’s father, who informed his son, short-circuiting the investigation.

To hide Cohen’s lapse, Kelly transferred Paul Ciorra, a deputy inspector, out of the Intelligence Division to a captain’s slot in the Trials Bureau, where his assignment was to prepare the schedules of the department’s five trial judges. [See NYPD Confidential, Sept. 21, 2009].

Things changed immediately in 2014 with Kelly’s departure and William Bratton’s appointment. To succeed Cohen, Bratton appointed the former television newsman John Miller who later served as head of counter terrorism under Bratton in Los Angeles, and assistant director and chief spokesman of the FBI in Washington.

Kelly had issues with both of them. In 2006, to commemorate the fifth anniversary of 9/11, the Manhattan Institute co-sponsored a terrorism conference with the NYPD. But upon learning that Bratton and Miller had been included on a panel at the conference, Kelly withdrew the NYPD’s sponsorship and held a separate terrorism conference the same day at Police Plaza. [See NYPD Confidential, Sept. 11, 2006.]

Says Miller of the current relationship between the two agencies: “The institutional animus has gone. The tone is set at the top and for the past four years the tone has been different.”

The FBI even seems to have accepted — at least publicly — the NYPD’s overseas detectives. “We’ve had a lot of discussions about it,” says Miller. “We’ve met with their international operations people in Washington. We’ve laid out the differences and needs of the two programs and then we got the FBI’s foreign posts together with their NYPD counterparts to discuss ways to cooperate and help each other.”

Click here to read the Washington Post article on NYPD ConfidentialIn 2015, Ciorra returned to the Intelligence Division as a deputy chief — “to demonstrate to the department he had done nothing wrong,” said Miller

Last month, Miller transferred him to head the more than 100 detectives that comprise the NYPD part of the Joint Terrorist Task Force. Says Miller: “It brings it full cycle.”

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