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Len Levitt

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What's Up on the Brooklyn Bridge?

Posted: 07/10/2012 11:49 am

It took a graffiti artist to expose a gaping security lapse in Ray Kelly's vaunted plan to protect the city against terrorism.

This lapse occurred at a favorite terrorist target -- the Brooklyn Bridge, which since Kelly returned as police commissioner a decade ago has supposedly been under police watch night and day.

That's 10 years of bridge watching. So maybe the cops let their guard down. Or were looking the other way. Or, more likely, they were asleep in their radio cars with their windows closed and the air conditioning on so that a daring graffiti artist was able make his mark in a big way.

For graffiti artists in the Big Apple, the Brooklyn Bridge is their Mount Everest. As the graffiti blog 12ozProphet put it, the Brooklyn Bridge is considered "one of the most legendary spots in the history of graffiti."

And so on Tuesday night, June 26, one "Lewy BTM" struck. He was somehow able to climb to one of the bridge's stanchions 119 feet over the East River and tag his name in three spots.

It was, 12ozProphet stated, the first time the bridge had been tagged since 1998 -- when someone painted a profane message to Rudy Giuliani.

The Daily News described Lewy's exploits a few days later but kissed the story off in a few graphs at the back of the paper, regarding it as a mere graffiti item.

They ignored the ominous issue of the security breach: How Lewy was able to leave his tags under the all-seeing, omnipresent terrorism-fighting eye of Ray Kelly and the NYPD.

Indeed, the New York Times headlined an article about the Brooklyn Bridge on April 26, 2011: "A Bridge Under Scrutiny, by Plotters and the Police," and described it as "one of the more carefully guarded potential targets in New York," with patrol cars at the entry ramps and a police boat patrolling nearby in the East River.

The unanswered question: If Lewy could evade all this security, why couldn't a terrorist?

Had Lewy been recruited by Al Qaeda to take down the bridge rather than paint it, this would have been the most devastating attack on the city -- and its most devastating security breach --- since 9/11.

Ironically, Kelly cites the Brooklyn Bridge as an example of the NYPD's supremacy in fighting terrorism.

Back in January, 2002, when he returned as commissioner, he announced that the FBI had failed to protect the city from 9/ll, then declared, "We feel we have to protect ourselves."

His spokesman Paul Browne put it this way: After 9/11, Kelly "took the position that the NYPD could no longer rely on the federal government alone, and that the department had to build an intelligence capacity worthy of the name."

Since then, Kelly and Browne have maintained that the NYPD's revamped Intelligence Division and its aggressive anti-terrorist efforts have foiled 14 terrorist plots against the city.

More recently, after this column called them on it, they have modified that statement, acknowledging that the FBI helped to foil virtually all of them.

The plot Kelly cites most often was the one targeting the Brooklyn Bridge.

Law enforcement officials acknowledge that the plot was for real, concocted or approved or both by Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the principal architect of 9/11.

It was to have been carried out by Iyman Faris, an Ohio trucker, who reported to the highest levels of Al Qaeda.

Kelly has taken full credit for preventing it. However, the story he tells is myth, not fact.

He and spokesman Browne have maintained that Faris abandoned the plan after spotting NYPD patrol cars guarding the bridge. He sent back a coded message to his Al Qaeda superiors: "The weather is too hot."

So skillful has Kelly been in selling this canard to the public that even Thomas Reppetto, perhaps the country's foremost police historian, has accepted it.

In his most recent book, Battleground New York City, his authoritative account of the city's efforts to counter spies, saboteurs and terrorists who have plotted against New York since 1861, Reppetto wrote that Faris' coded message "meant there was too much of a law enforcement presence in the area for an attack to be contemplated."

It meant no such thing. The NYPD presence on the bridge had little or nothing to do with deterring Faris.

According to a Department of Justice press release at Faris' sentencing on October 28, 2003, Faris said he had lacked "gas cutters" -- the necessary equipment to sever the bridge's suspension cables. In other coded messages, he indicated he had been unable to obtain them.

That -- not the police presence at the bridge -- was why he abandoned his plan.

Moreover, Kelly has never acknowledged that NYPD was guarding the bridge because of a tip from the FBI about Faris and his plot.

A former high-level federal law enforcement official recently told NYPD Confidential that the FBI had received information about Faris' plot from the CIA, after interrogating a top Al Qaeda operative, Abu Zubaydah, who was subsequently water-boarded at Guantanamo.

A former high-level NYPD official recently said of the NYPD's Intelligence Division: "They lay claim to any fortuitous event and create a myth about how clever Kelly is in keeping terrorists in check. They take credit for events and circumstances that he has no control over."

Indeed, Kelly is still taking credit for preventing the Brooklyn Bridge plot.

"We believe that he [Faris] saw what we had done, in terms of additional coverage, the radio cars on both ends of the bridge and the boat in the water," he told the Times in its April 2011 article. "And his message back was 'The weather is too hot,' as I understand it."

According to that article, the bridge remains so sensitive a target that Browne said the department had hired an engineer to study ways that the bridge could be "taken down," as the Times put it.

In addition to the radio cars and the police boat, the Times reported that security cameras watch the bridge's hidden corners and that maintenance crews must notify the NYPD's Intelligence Division before scaling the cables.

So with all this security, how did Lewy manage to make the bridge his canvas?

Did he use a rope? A scaffold? Lights? Did he have accomplices? How long did all his work take him while the police apparently slept?

Perhaps Lewy placed a graffiti mole inside the NYPD who put a sleeping potion in the coffee of the officers in their radio cars and in the police boat.

Perhaps the army of NYPD officers watching the Brooklyn Bridge day and night is another Kelly myth.

 
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