The FBI and the NYPD: Where's the love?
When the news came out last week about the latest version of an underwear bomb plot, Police Commissioner Ray Kelly was publicly irked that he hadn't been briefed about the plot by federal officials despite the fact that days had passed since the operation hit the headlines.
This week, FBI Chief Robert Mueller went before a Senate Judiciary Committee panel and was asked whether there were any communication problems.
"Shouldn't be," Mueller said.
Translation: Wouldn't be if Kelly would stop trying to act like Policeman of the World.
Senator Chuck Schumer asked if Mueller had talked with Kelly about the underwear bomb plot.
"I have not on this issue," said Mueller, adding that he talked with the commissioner "about a month ago." Under more questioning from Schumer, he added, "He's always welcome to call."
We have all run into this kind of bad relationship. He wants to talk, he can always pick up the phone. Generally, this kind of standoff is the result of a bad date. But it's a little scary when it's the top guns at the FBI and the New York City police.
"Let's not get into who calls whom. I am asking you to call," said Schumer.
"I'm happy to do it," said Mueller, who will not be happy to do it.
Turf wars are common in the world of law enforcement. The late Tom Puccio used to talk about how rival groups of federal prosecutors showed up at JFK in the 1970s to arrest the same man -- a drug dealer on a flight from Brazil. Prosecutors from the Manhattan-based Southern District raced to the control tower and told the FAA supervisor to send a message to the Pan Am flight directing a federal drug agent the prosecutors had placed on board to arrest the dealer immediately. The supervisor refused.
Undaunted, the Manhattan prosecutors found the Pan Am radio dispatcher and demanded that he send the message. The bewildered drug dealer was taken off the plane in handcuffs and bundled into the back of a black car for the trip to Manhattan. Puccio, then a Brooklyn-based federal prosecutor, left the airport empty handed. The angry FBI agents in Puccio's arrest party made sure that the Bureau filed a formal complaint with the Attorney General. Needless to say, nothing changed and the bureaucratic warfare continued.
But this particular feud is very bad for the city. Although Kelly has been expanding his anti-terrorism operations as if he were going to need to be doing undercover work in Yemen soon, the city cannot have a truly effective war on terror on its own. We need the feds. And for the two operations to work well together, somebody has to acknowledge that he is the subordinate partner. That somebody is not going to be the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
You can understand Kelly's point of view. He's the police commissioner of a city that suffered a devastating terrorist attack. He wants to do everything possible to prevent another attack, even if that means making enemies in Washington.
That's human. But we need a police commissioner who can maximize the cooperation between city and federal officials. One of Kelly's great strengths, when he came back for a second run as commissioner under Michael Bloomberg, was that he had spent part of his career in Washington, as undersecretary for enforcement in the Treasury Department and then head of U.S. Customs. He knew the territory and the people. He would be able to make things move to our advantage.
Now that's over. The relationship has gone sour. Last month the agent in charge of the FBI's Newark office complained that Kelly had been freelancing in his territory -- conducting secret surveillance operations of Muslim businesses and religious organizations in New Jersey.
"I don't have a problem if the FBI thinks the NYPD is doing something that interferes with his operation in New Jersey," Schumer said at the hearing. But, Schumer told Mueller, he was surprised that the FBI made the dispute public.
"Now what was that all about?" he asked. Mueller indicated it was no big deal, all taken care of.
Good, said Schumer, because "it did create bad blood for a time."
But the bad blood isn't going to go away. Unless Kelly does.