THE BLOG

Mukasey's 180

Dec 12, 2011 | Updated Feb 11, 2012

The NYPD has apparently been so unnerved by recent criticisms of its anti-terrorism policies that it's called in some heavy artillery: former U.S. Attorney General Michael Mukasey.

As Attorney General for President George W. Bush, Mukasey was an NYPD critic.

Now's he's become an NYPD apologist.

Writing in Sunday's Daily News, Mukasey praised the NYPD's recent arrest of so-called lone-wolf terrorist Jose Pimentel, who allegedly planned to bomb a Bayonne, N.J. army office and other targets.

Mukasey's defense of the NYPD also mocked a series of Associated Press articles, detailing widespread police spying on the city's Muslim communities.

In addition, the former AG (2007-09) dismissed the tensions between the NYPD and the FBI as nothing more than the athletic equivalent of "trash talk."

And he defends the police department's post 9/11 relationship with the CIA, which is forbidden by law to spy domestically but seems to be using the NYPD to do this for them.

In sounding like Paul Browne, the NYPD's public relations man, Mukasey has taken a 180-degree turn from his previously publicized stance that the NYPD had overreached in its attempts to fight terrorism.

As Attorney General, he had accused Police Commissioner Ray Kelly of breaking the law in attempting to wiretap domestic terrorism suspects.

"In effect what you ask," he wrote Kelly in the fall of 2008, "is that we disregard... legal requirements, which are rooted in the constitution." This position, he wrote, "is contrary to the law."

Now, however, in apparent collaboration with the NYPD's Intelligence Division, Mukasey is defending the department for the same abuses of power that he warned against as Attorney General.

Mukasey has not explained the reasons for his philosophical turnabout so that we are left in the dark as to what epiphany he underwent.

Mukasey begins by praising the Nov.19 arrest of Pimentel, an unemployed Dominican immigrant, allegedly planning to make bombs in his mother's Washington Heights apartment.

"Pimentel, according to a statement he signed, was an admirer of Anwar al-Awlaki, the American-born Islamist cleric killed in a drone attack in Yemen in late September, and was seeking revenge," Mukasey writes.

However, Mukasey ignores the elephant in the room: the FBI's refusal to participate in Pimentel's arrest. FBI sources have maintained that the Bureau distrusted the NYPD's confidential informant, was skeptical of his actions and believed that Pimentel had limited mental capacity.

"The police informant supplied him with bomb-making equipment and also supplied him with weed, which the two were smoking together," said a federal law enforcement official.

Muksaey dismisses the FBI's low opinion of the case as "background noise" -- whatever that is.

"The apparent sniping from federal sources appears to be an instance of the healthy competition between federal and state authorities getting out of hand -- the law enforcement analog of athletes' trash talk."

"In fact," Mukasey adds, "the NYPD and federal authorities work productively together in Joint Terrorism Task Force and other activities, and their competitive relationship assures that group-think does not dominate counter-terrorism efforts; New Yorkers are safer as a result. The occasional eruption of friction is regrettable, but manageable."

But is this "eruption of friction" merely occasional? And are New Yorkers actually safer?

The truth is that Commissioner Kelly has embarrassed and undercut the FBI for the past decade.

He has sent NYPD detectives on out of state terrorism investigations without informing the FBI, which has jurisdiction in such matters.

During joint FBI-NYPD terrorism investigations, he has blindsided the Bureau by holding his own, separate news conferences.

At one such news conference, Kelly publicly identified an NYPD anti-terrorism detective sent to London to appear at a court hearing for a recently arrested radical Muslim cleric. The head of the FBI's New York office became so exasperated that he complained publicly that Kelly's identification of the detective had led to "security concerns" for him and his family, resulting in his premature return home.

Most recently, Kelly transferred Deputy Chief James Shea and Inspector John Nicholson, the two top police officials of the Joint [FBI and NYPD] Terrorist Task Force.

Each was punished for refusing possibly unlawful orders from Deputy Commissioner of Counter Terrorism Richard Daddario and Deputy Commissioner of Intelligence David Cohen to remove classified documents from the Bureau's New York headquarters.

A federal grand jury is investigating the incidents as part of a larger investigation into government leaks to the media. Shea has testified before the grand jury at least once.

As for New Yorkers being safer, Mukasey fails to address the NYPD's meddling that jeopardized the investigation of Najibullah Zazi, the Colorado-based terrorist who plotted to plant bombs in the subway.

In that case, the NYPD's Intelligence Division secretly contacted its own informant about Zazi. The informant then tipped off Zazi's father. The FBI only learned of this snafu through a wiretap it had placed on the father -- not from the NYPD. Neither Kelly nor the Intelligence Division's head David Cohen informed the FBI either before or after the NYPD contacted the talkative informant.

Next, Mukasey turned to the Associated Press' recent series of articles on the NYPD's widespread spying in the city's Muslims -- what he called the AP's "purporting to disclose, breathlessly and imprecisely, all manner of supposed improprieties by the Intelligence Division, ... [including] alleged racial profiling in the random surveillance of innocent communities."

Mukasey justified the spying by explaining that the Intelligence Division uses census data "to map New York's ethnic neighborhoods so as to figure out where someone from a location known to have generated highly disproportionate numbers of terrorists, such as Tetouan in Morocco, or Zarqa in Jordan -- home town of the notorious Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, killed in a U.S. air raid in Iraq in 2006 -- might go if he were to try to come to New York."

"The AP articles focused some of their fire on what was portrayed as sinister and pointless surveillance by the Intelligence Division of the Moroccan community in New York, with apparently no interest in or even awareness of the disproportionate involvement of Moroccans in terrorist activity within that country and outside it, notably in connection with the Madrid train bombing in 2004. Within the past month Abdeladdin el-Kebir, a Moroccan national, was arrested in Germany and will be tried on an indictment filed in federal court in Brooklyn that charges him with agreeing to provide material support to al Qaeda."

This is Mukasey's rationale for the NYPD's spying on Moroccans? If perhaps a handful of terrorists in the world come from Morocco, you conduct blanket spying on New York City's entire Moroccan community.

Finally, Mukasey says that the NYPD's Intelligence Division "operates under a set of rules passed on by a federal court that are no less rigorous than the intelligence gathering guidelines I put in place for the FBI when I served as Attorney General."

But there is a difference. Whereas Mukasey monitored the FBI, no one outside the NYPD monitors its Intelligence Division.