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Everybody Loves Raymond

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Not only is Raymond W. Kelly the longest-serving police commissioner in city history but he is also, with a 75 percent approval rating, the most popular.

How does he do it?

Credit Paul Browne, Kelly's chief spokesman and longtime factotum, who has been expert both in exaggerating the NYPD's successes in fighting terrorism and in hiding its mistakes.

Last week, NYPD Confidential described how Browne -- known to readers of this column as Mr. Truth -- lied to two Associated Press reporters in their Pulitzer Prize-winning series about the existence of NYPD's Demographics Unit, which mapped the department's spying on the city's Muslims.

This week, let's examine Browne's terrorism manifesto of December 19, in which he updated the number of terrorism plots against New York City to 16.

Here's what Browne has to say of four of the better known plots.

HERALD SQUARE

What Browne said: "Shahawar Matin Siraj and James Elshafay plotted in 2004 to place explosive devices in the Herald Square subway in Manhattan. The plot was derailed through the involvement of an NYPD informant and an undercover officer.

"Elshafay pleaded guilty in 2004 to conspiracy to damage or destroy a subway station by means of an explosive. In 2006 Siraj was found guilty... He was subsequently sentenced to 30 years in prison.

"Shepherding the case from initial lead to federal prosecution required close cooperation with the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of New York."

What Browne didn't say: This was the NYPD's first high-profile case. Siraj, a Pakistani immigrant, was arrested on the eve of the 2004 Republican National Convention at Madison Square Garden and charged with plotting to bomb the nearby Herald Square subway station.

Siraj had an IQ of 78, considered borderline intellectual functioning, a step above mental retardation.

Evidence at his trial revealed that the police had paid $100,000 to a confidential informant, who gained Siraj's trust and encouraged him in his plot.

Co-defendant Elshafay described himself as schizophrenic and said he had spent time in a psychiatric ward. Shortly after his release from his treatment, he said he plotted with Siraj. Immediately after his arrest, he agreed to testify against Siraj.

The NYPD never informed the FBI of its investigation until the end of the case when police needed a federal warrant

SUBWAY PLOT

What Browne said: "In September, 2009, New York narrowly averted an attack on its subway system plotted by three individuals who grew up in Queens. ...The three had planned to set off bombs in the subway during rush hour shortly after the eighth anniversary of 9/11... The plot was thwarted through intelligence it received by the FBI with the cooperation of the NYPD through the Joint Terrorism Task Force."

What Brown didn't say: Amidst the FBI's investigation, Deputy Commissioner for Intelligence David Cohen ordered an Intel detective to contact a confidential informant. But Cohen never informed the FBI.

Meanwhile, the informant, Queens Imam Wais Afzali, tipped off the father of Najibullah Zazi, one of the three plotters. The father informed his son, who lived in Aurora, Col. and who then cut short his trip to New York, short-circuiting the investigation. The FBI, which had placed a wiretap on the father's phone, was forced to arrest Zazi and the other two plotters prematurely.
To hide Cohen's role, the NYPD transferred Deputy Inspector Paul Ciorra, a terrorism expert, to a captain's slot in the office of the Deputy Commissioner of Trials, where his assignment was to prepare the schedules of the department's five police trial judges -- an obvious demotion.

The day after the New York Times suggested that Ciorra had been made a scapegoat for the mistakes of higher-ups, Kelly transferred him again -- this time to the position of commanding officer of the Highway Unit -- a full inspector's position, suggesting a future promotion. [See NYPD Confidential Sept. 28, 2009]

BROOKLYN BRIDGE

What Browne said: "In 2002, Lyman Faris, a U.S.-based al-Qaeda operative, planned to cut the Brooklyn Bride's support cables at the direction of 9/11 mastermind, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. However as a testament to NYPD terrorism deterrence efforts, Faris called off the plot, indicating to al-Qaeda leaders that 'the weather is too hot.' ... NYPD's 24-hour coverage of the bridge, much of which was put in place following 9/11 and intentionally made highly visible, played a large role in Faris' decision to abandon the plot.

"Faris was arrested in 2003, pleaded guilty, and sentenced to 20 years in federal prison for providing material support and resources to al-Qaeda, among other charges. Knowing that the city's bridges and critical infrastructure remain attractive terrorist targets, the NYPD maintains heightened security around such facilities."

What Browne did not say: The FBI had alerted the NYPD to Faris' plan to destroy the Brooklyn Bridge. As a result, the NYPD increased the bridge's security.

There is no evidence the NYPD's presence on the bridge played a role, large or small, in Faris' decision to abandon the plot. According to a Department of Justice press release at Faris's sentencing on October 28, 2003, Faris said he 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.

Despite the NYPD's security on the bridge, which Kelly has maintained included round-the-clock patrol cars on the entry ramps and a police boat nearby in the East River, on the night of June 26, 2012, a 32-year-old graffiti artist named Enno Tianen was somehow able to climb to one of the bridge's stanchions 119 feet over the East River and tag his name -- "Lewy BTM" -- in three spots.

How did he do it? Did he use a rope? A scaffold? Lights? Did he have accomplices? How long did all this take him? Most important, where were the cops in those patrol cars at the entry ramps and in the police boat?

JOSE PIMENTEL

What Browne said: "Jose Pimentel, a native of the Dominican Republic and convert to Islam, was charged with plotting to detonate bombs in and around New York City in November, 2011. ...After a two-and-a half year investigation by the NYPD Intelligence Division, Pimentel was caught while assembling three bombs. Pimentel's criminal case is pending."

What Brown did not say: The FBI declined to indict Pimentel. FBI sources said he was unemployed, broke, beset with mental problems and incapable of building a bomb himself. The bomb was constructed in the apartment of an NYPD undercover, who smoked marijuana with Pimentel and helped him construct the bomb.

Because of the FBI's reluctance to pursue Pimentel's case, he will be tried not in federal but in state court.