In New York, a Turf War in the Battle Against Terrorism
Saturday, March 22, 2008
NEW YORK -- Not long after Sept. 11, 2001, as New York City began to build a counterterrorism effort to rival those of most nations, Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly decided to put an end to the department's reliance on the FBI for classified data coming in from Washington.
Kelly, who was working to protect the city against another attack, wanted his own access to the stream of threat reporting concerning New York. The solution was to install a classified-information vault, like the FBI's, at the headquarters of the New York City Police Department.
Kelly made the request in the spring of 2002 and waited six years for an answer. After questions from The Washington Post for this story, the FBI said it has decided to approve the vault, a specially designed, guarded room known as a Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility.
No other police department in the United States has responded to the threats of terrorism in quite the same way as the NYPD -- or clashed as sharply with the nation's primary counterterrorism agency, the FBI.
A thousand NYPD officers are assigned full time to operations drawing on the traditional missions of the CIA and the FBI. The department's liaison officers have been deployed from Nairobi to Singapore, while its networks of domestic informants stretch across the five boroughs of New York City.
In the past seven years, Kelly and his deputies have formed close working relationships with key intelligence agencies and the Department of Homeland Security. The NYPD has so many native foreign-language speakers that it lends translators to the Pentagon.
But the FBI, protective of turf and disdainful of local initiative, froze Kelly's department out of two New York-related terrorism investigations, officials say. When more than 100 top police detectives joined the FBI's joint terrorism task force, they were initially not permitted to read the bureau's case files.
"People have information, and they want to control information," Kelly said in an interview at police headquarters, just five blocks from where the World Trade Center once stood. "Controlling information is power, and they don't want to let it go -- it is as fundamental as that."
Working largely on its own, the NYPD has transformed an unmarked Brooklyn warehouse into a counterterrorism center with a national and global reach. In a second facility in Manhattan, the department runs undercover operations, recruits spies and houses intelligence analysts.
Inside police headquarters is a high-tech situation room where rows of computer monitors give off a moody blue light and floor-to-ceiling television screens beam images from around the world. It is staffed 24 hours a day with officers tracking local and international threats, as well as the movements of as many as a dozen NYPD detectives on foreign assignments.
During a recent interview there, Kelly and David Cohen, the deputy commissioner for intelligence, were interrupted by a liaison officer calling from the scene of a suicide bombing in Israel to report on a new technique employed by the bomber.
Successes include the arrest in 2004 of two Muslim men on charges of plotting to blow up a subway station near the Republican National Convention, and the arrest and deportation in 2003 of two Iranian men who were filming a subway track in Queens, Cohen said. The former probe, in which one of the men pleaded guilty and the other received a 30-year prison term, was based on a year of undercover work by one of Cohen's top detectives.