Wednesday, May 04, 2005

NPR Sheds light on Federal Intelligence Frustrations

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

There's been a lot of talk about the flow of intelligence information
between federal agencies and local police and breaking down the walls
between them. In the largest cities, police are finding they may be able to
do the intelligence work better themselves. NPR's Laura Sullivan went to see
intelligence gathering New York style.

LAURA SULLIVAN reporting:

New York City has the biggest police department in the country. With 50,000
employees, it's almost twice the size of the entire FBI, spread out over
precincts in 76 city neighborhoods. And since 9/11, the department's had
precincts in a few other neighborhoods as well.

Commissioner RAY KELLY (New York City Police): In Tel Aviv, in Lyon, France,
which is where Interpol is located, in London, in Toronto, in Montreal, in
Singapore and in the Dominican Republic.

SULLIVAN: As New York police commissioner, Ray Kelly is turning his
department into a worldwide police force.

Commissioner KELLY: Our world got much smaller after 9/11. Obviously what
happens overseas can very much impact on what happens here in New York City.

SULLIVAN: On a wall in the commissioner's office suite, there are maps of
Afghanistan and Iraq, and a dozen clocks with local time in Paris, Tel Aviv,
Baghdad and other places. For Kelly, taking policing outside New York City
limits is the best way to prevent another attack, even if that means running
up against the FBI. It's not that Kelly thinks the FBI isn't giving him
information. It's just not the information Kelly wants or when he wants it.

Commissioner KELLY: We can't afford to wait months or sometimes years to get
a report on what happened at a particular site. We value the information
that we get from the FBI, from the CIA, but we also want our agents overseas
to ask the New York questions: Is New York involved in any way?

SULLIVAN: To get an answer, Kelly created what he calls the intelligence
division, a sweeping department of 500 officers, linguists and analysts
housed in a secret location in the city. Here in what was once a warehouse,
unsuspecting citizens shop and eat lunch, totally unaware of what's taking
place above them.

Mr. DAVE COHEN (Intelligence Division): Well, the whole point was to sort of
stay below the radar scope.

SULLIVAN: Dave Cohen was the CIA's director of operations under President
Clinton. Commissioner Kelly lured him to New York to run the new division.
Cohen walks to a far corner and stops in front of a nondescript elevator
without a button.

(Soundbite of beep)

SULLIVAN: A key card summons the elevator, which a few seconds later opens
onto a barren white hallway with a single door on the other side. Through
this plain white metal door is the intelligence division, an enormous
expanse of a room with hundreds of cubicles and no walls.

(Soundbite of door closing)

Mr. COHEN: This is our major operational headquarters, so to speak. We have,
you know, a large number of personnel that are following up on leads that
are called in from all over the city.

SULLIVAN: Everyone here is in street clothes. International investigators,
undercover agents, teams of linguists translate Farsi, Arabic and Pashto at
their desks. In this room are some of the most sophisticated computer
systems available, and a team of people surfing the Web in chat rooms for
terrorist information.

Mr. COHEN: I've spent 35 years in the federal agencies, and I think the
federal government has a great deal to learn from, you know, the things
we've done here in the NYPD.

SULLIVAN: In fact, the CIA showed up here to learn how this office managed
to find some highly valuable information on the Web it hadn't seen before.
Cohen says lately with agents undercover all over the city and a ready pool
of linguists in New York, this intelligence division is more likely to be
feeding federal agencies threat information than the other way around. And
that's what has the FBI worried. After spending years trying to centralize
threat information, FBI officials say New York could wind up creating
another autonomous intelligence agency, jeopardizing sensitive ongoing
investigations. But Cohen says the city needs specific information the
bureau can't or won't provide.

Mr. COHEN: We're outpacing their willingness to share that fine-grained
stuff, so it's a learning process. You know, you fight, they catch up, you
advance, have another fight, but as long as you're always moving forward,
that's the key.

SULLIVAN: Moving forward for New York means taking the intelligence they're
gathering and putting it to use every day in the city with or without the
FBI.

Unidentified Man #1: Here we go.

(Soundbite of police siren)

SULLIVAN: At least three times a day, New York's intelligence division sends
100 officers to swarm a specific location that their information suggests
could be a target. It's called a surge. On this day, that location is 65th
and Broadway. Inspector Vincent DeMarino gathers a group of captains in a
large police RV for a briefing.

Inspector VINCE DeMARINO (New York City Police): You guys have all done this
before, and I'm glad that, you know, we're getting some familiar faces now.
I think most of the captains' ranks have done this all at least once, which
is great. People are getting...

SULLIVAN: Officers will spend the next five or six hours fanning out into
the neighborhood, the shops and the subway, asking questions and looking for
anything suspicious.

Insp. DeMARINO: All right. Counterterrorism crime. Why are we out here? It's
part of our everyday counterterrorism strategy. OK?

SULLIVAN: As the officers spread out, Inspector DeMarino and Sergeant Robert
Brady head down into the subway at 72nd and Broadway.

(Soundbite of subway trains)

Sergeant ROBERT BRADY (New York City Police): And, you know, the rush hour
in Manhattan in the course of a half-hour, an hour of doing this, literally
thousands and thousands of people will see us, which, you know, can't be a
bad thing.

SULLIVAN: Acting on the intelligence division's information, the officers
are looking for anything suspicious.

Insp. DeMARINO: And there are cops lined up from one end of the platform to
the other, so that as each train pulls in, each car, each door almost, will
have a cop stepping in and out.

(Soundbite of announcement)

Unidentified Man #2: Attention, ladies and gentlemen. This train will be
held in the station temporarily for the police to make an inspection of the
train...

Insp. DeMARINO: If anybody is riding these trains--I'm not saying it's
happening--but if anyone was sent out on a mission to come here and ride
these trains and go back and report on what they see, we want their report
to include that there were cops all over the place.

SULLIVAN: It takes the officers less than a minute to inspect each car. New
York's been paying extra attention to its subways since the Madrid train
bombings last year.

(Soundbite of subway trains)

SULLIVAN: Immediately after that bombing, and without consultation, New York
sent its own intelligence team to Madrid. The FBI was furious. FBI Assistant
Director Louis Quijos calls incidents like Madrid a stumble in an otherwise
good relationship. He says talk of competition between the two is overblown.

Mr. LOUIS QUIJOS (FBI Assistant Director): We deal with New York PD and the
larger agencies every day of the year, 24/7, and you're going to have those
stumbles, so probably won't be the last time you hear Commissioner Kelly or
maybe even another chief or police superintendent say that maybe they didn't
get something they needed at the time they needed it, but it's not because
we're not trying.

SULLIVAN: But Bo Dietl, a former New York police detective and friend of
Commissioner Ray Kelly, sees the situation in less diplomatic terms.

Mr. BO DIETL (Former Detective): New York City is my home. This is Ray
Kelly's home. This is the New York City Police Department. We want to
protect our home. We are a target, and Ray and the boys are going out there
and they're trying to protect this city the best they can, and tough bananas
to the FBI if they don't like it.

SULLIVAN: And New York officials say in Madrid they got what they went for,
detailed information about how al-Qaeda puts together a subway bombing, and
any tension it created hasn't stopped them from traveling to Moscow, Turkey
and Bali to investigate bombings there as well.

John Cutter recently left as deputy chief in charge of the intelligence
division. He says one-on-one FBI agents and police officers work well
together, but with the stakes so high in New York, Cutter says Commissioner
Kelly won't back down.

Mr. JOHN CUTTER (Former Deputy Chief, Intelligence Division): It's actually
a very bold move on his part to stick to his guns and say, `Look, I know
we're the police department and we deal with crime, but terrorism is just a
higher level of crime, and we have to know about it. If it's in our midst, I
need somebody to investigate it,' that answers to him, and that would be the
intelligence division.

SULLIVAN: In the meantime, the FBI may just have to get used to what New
York has started. Los Angeles, Chicago, Phoenix and a handful of other
cities have all come to visit, asking how they, too, can have their own
intelligence divisions.
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