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Posts Tagged ‘NYPD’

THE TRUTH ABOUT COPS–AND DRUGS

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Social commentary on May 7, 2014 at 12:02 am

It’s a movie that appeared 32 years ago–making it, for those born in 2000, an oldie.  And it wasn’t a blockbuster, being yanked out of theaters almost as soon as it arrived.

Yet “Prince of the City” (1981) remains that rarity–a movie about big-city police that

  • Tells a dramatic (and true) story, and
  • Offers serious truths for those who want to know how police and prosecutorial bureaucracies really operate.

It’s based on the real-life case of NYPD Detective Robert Leuci (“Danny Ciello” in the film).

Robert Leuci

A member of the elite Special Investigating Unit (SIU) Ciello (played by Treat Williams) volunteers to work undercover against rampant corruption among narcotics agents, attorneys and bail bondsmen.

His motive appears simple: To redeem himself and the NYPD from the corruption he sees everywhere:  “These people we take from own us.”

His only condition: “I will never betray cops who’ve been my partners.”

Assistant US Attorney Rick Cappalino assures Ciello: “We’ll never make you do something you can’t live with.”

As the almost three-hour movie unfolds, Ciello finds–to his growing dismay–that there are a great many things he will have to learn to live with.

Although he doesn’t have a hand in it, he’s appalled to learn that Gino Moscone, a former buddy, is going to be arrested for taking bribes from drug dealers.

Confronted by a high-ranking agent for the Drug Enforcement Agency, Moscone refuses to “rat out” his buddies.

Instead, he puts his service revolver to his head and blows out his brains.

Prince Of The City folded.jpg

Ciello is devastated, but the investigation–and film–must go on.

Along the way, he’s suspected by a corrupt cop and bail bondsman of being a “rat” and threatened with death.  He’s about to be wasted in a back alley when his cousin–a Mafia member–suddenly intervenes.

The Mafioso tells Ciello’s would-be killers: “You’d better be sure he’s a rat, because people like him.”

At which point, the grotesquely fat bail bondsman–who has been demanding Ciello’s execution–pats Danny on the arm and says, “No hard feelings.”

It is director Sidney Lumet’s way of graphically saying: “Sometimes the bad guys can be good guys–and the good guys can be bad guys.”

Lumet makes it clear that police don’t always operate with the Godlike perfection of cops in TV and films. It’s precisely because his Federal backup agents lost him that Ciello almost became a casualty.

In the end, Ciello becomes a victim of the prosecutorial forces he has unleashed.  Although he’s vowed to  never testify against his former partners, Ciello finds this a promise he can’t keep.

Too many of the cops he’s responsible for indicting have implicated him of similar–if not worse–behavior.

He’s even suspected of being involved in the theft of 450 pounds of heroin (“the French Connection”) from the police property room.

A sympathetic prosecutor–Mario Vincente in the movie, Rudolph Giuliani in real-life–convinces Ciello that he must finally reveal everything he knows.

Ciello’s had originally claimed to have done “three things” as a corrupt narcotics agent.  By the time his true confessions are over, he’s admitted to scores of felonies.

Ciello then tries to convince his longtime SIU partners to do the same.

One of them commits suicide.  Another tells Ciello to screw himself:  “I’m not going to shoot myself and I’m not going to rat out my friends.”

To his surprise, Ciello finds himself admiring his corrupt former partner for being willing to stand up to the Federal case-agents and prosecutors demanding his head.

The movie ends with a double dose of irony.

First: Armed with Ciello’s confessions, an attorney whom Ciello had successfully testified against appeals his conviction.  But the judge rules these to be “collateral,” apart from the main evidence in the case, and affirms the conviction.

Second: Ciello is himself placed on trial–of a sort.  A large group of assistant U.S. attorneys gathers to debate whether their prize “canary” should be indicted.

If he is, his confessions will ensure his conviction.

Some prosecutors argue forcefully that Ciello is a corrupt law enforcement officer who has admitted to more than 40 cases of perjury–among other crimes.  How can the government use him to convict others and not address the criminality in his own past?

Other prosecutors argue that Ciello voluntarily risked his life–physically and professionally–to expose rampant police corruption.  He deserves a better deal than to be cast aside by those who have made so many cases through his testimony.

Eventually, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York makes his decision: “The government declines to prosecute Detective Daniel Ciello.”

It is Lumet’s way of showing that the decision to prosecute is not always an easy or objective one.

The movie ends with Ciello now teaching surveillance classes at the NYPD Academy.  A student asks: “Are you the Detective Ciello?”

“I’m Detective Ciello.”

“I don’t think I have anything to learn from you.”

Is Danny Ciello–again, Robert Leuci in real-life–a hero, a villain, or some combination of the two?  It is with this ambiguity that the film ends–an ambiguity that each viewer must resolve for himself.

SAFETY LOSES, TERRARABISM WINS: PART THREE (END)

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Politics, Social commentary on April 30, 2014 at 12:00 am

Since 1993, New York City–as the financial capital of the nation–has been Target Number Two for Islamic extremists.

Only Washington, D.C.–the nation’s political capital–outranks it as the city Islamic terrorists most want to destroy.

But for large numbers of New York’s Islamic community, this is unimportant.  What is important, to them, is their being viewed with distrust by the NYPD.

“The Demographics Unit created psychological warfare in our community,” said Linda Sarsour, of the Arab American Association of New York.

‘Those documents, they showed where we live. That’s the cafe where I eat. That’s where I pray. That’s where I buy my groceries.

“They were able to see [our] entire lives on those maps. And it completely messed with the psyche of the community.”

But that’s entirely the point of having an effective Intelligence unit: To disrupt “the psyche” of those who plan acts of violence against a community.

In 1964, the FBI launched such a counterintelligence program–in Bureau-speak, a COINTELPRO–against the Ku Klux Klan.

Up to that point, Klansmen had shot, lynched and bombed their way across the Deep South, especially in Alabama and Mississippi.  Many Southern sheriffs and police chiefs were Klan sympathizers, if not outright members and accomplices.

Ku Klux Klansmen in a meeting

The FBI’s covert action program aimed to “expose, disrupt and otherwise neutralize” Ku Klux Klan groups through a wide range of legal and extra-legal methods.

FBI Special Agents:

  • Planted electronic surveillance devices in Klan meeting places.
  • Carried out “black bag jobs”–burglaries–to steal Klan membership lists.
  • Contacted the news media to publicize arrests and identify Klan leaders.
  • Informed the employers of known Klansmen of their employees’ criminal activity, resulting in the firing of untold numbers of them.
  • Developed informants within Klans and sewed a climate of distrust and fear among Klansmen.
  • Beat and harassed Klansmen who threatened and harassed them.

“They were dirty, rough fellows,” recalled William C. Sullivan, who headed the FBI’s Domestic Intelligence Division in the 1960s.  “And we went after them with rough, tough methods.

William C. Sullivan

“When the Klan reached 14,000 in the mid-sixties, I asked to take over the investigation of the Klan.  When I left the Bureau in 1971, the Klan was down to a completely disorganized 4,300.  It was broken.”

Click here: The Bureau My Thirty Years in Hoover’s FBI: William C Sullivan, Sam Sloan, Bill Brown: 9784871873383: Amazon.com:

And for more than a decade, the Demographics Unit of the NYPD’s Counterterrorism Division worked diligently to prevent another major terrorist attack on New York City.

Agent at NYPD Counterterrorism Division Center

Then, in 2013, New York City voters elected Democrat Bill de Blazio as Michael Bloomberg’s successor as mayor.

For de Blasio, scoring Politically Correct points with New York’s uber-liberal community was more important than supporting a proven deterrent to terrorism.

Click here: New York Drops Unit That Spied on Muslims – NYTimes.com

De Blazio promised to give new Yorkers “a police force that keeps our city safe, but that is also respectful and fair.

“This reform [disbanding the Demographics Unit] is a critical step forward in easing tensions between the police and the communities they serve, so that our cops and our citizens can help one another go after the real bad guys,” he claimed.

In Washington, 34 members of Congress demanded an FBI investigation into the NYPD’s covert surveillance program.

Attorney General Eric Holder said he found reports about the operations disturbing.  The Department of Justice said it was reviewing complaints received from Muslims and their supporters.

All of this contradicted the warning provided by a Federal judge on February 20, 2014.

U.S. District Judge William Martini in Newark, N.J., threw out a suit brought against the NYPD by eight New Jersey Muslims.

They claimed that the NYPD’s surveillance of mosques, restaurants and schools in the state since 2002 was unconstitutional because Muslims were being targeted solely on the basis of their religion.

In his ruling, however, Martini disagreed:

“The police could not have monitored New Jersey for Muslim terrorist activities without monitoring the Muslim community itself.

“The motive for the program was not solely to discriminate against Muslims, but rather to find Muslim terrorists hiding among ordinary, law-abiding Muslims.”

Both NYPD Cmmissioner Raymond Kelly and Deputy Commissioner of Intelligence David Cohen chose to retire in 2013.

The Demographics Unit of the NYPD’s Counterterrorism Division was officially disbanded on April 15.  Detectives that had been assigned to it were transferred to other duties within the Intelligence Division.

Jawad Rasul, one of the students on the whitewater rafting trip in upstate New York, was enraged when he learned that his name was included in the police report.

“It forces me to look around wherever I am now,” Rasul said.

So now he knows how Americans feel when they spot Muslim women wearing chadors that hide their faces from view, or even burqas that cover their entire bodies (and any explosive devices they might be carrying).

Political Correctness mavens might laugh or sneer at such a warning.  But Al Qaeda has used exactly that tactic repeatedly–and successfully–against Afghan military forces.

Osama bin Laden was forced to spend his last years in a Pakistani house watching movies on TV. But that didn’t stop him from continuing to plot further acts of destruction against “infidel Crusaders.”

Among the plots he sought to unleash was the assassination of President Barack Obama.

It was simply America’s good fortune that the Navy SEALS got him first.

–30–

SAFETY LOSES, TERRARABISM WINS: PART TWO (OF THREE)

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Politics, Social commentary on April 29, 2014 at 12:02 am

In creating the NYPD’s Counterterrorism Division, David Cohen had a secret weapon: The latent resources of the NYPD.  Many of its officers were foreign-born, making them ideal espionage operatives

His Afghan- or Pakistan-born linguists could easily monitor chat rooms in Kabul or Peshawar, looking for Islamics seeking to carry out attacks on New York City.

The FBI, on the other hand, fearing divided loyalties, usually rejected hiring foreign-born applicants: “Oooh, [you] grew up in Pakistan,” mocked Cohen. “We can’t use you.”

Cohen realized that some analysts made better report-writers than streetwise detectives.  And some detectives were better at unearthing criminal secrets than desk-bound analysts.

So Cohen decided to pair Ivy-league-educated analysts with veteran detectives.  Together, they could pool their talents and compensate for each other’s weaknesses.

Perhaps most importantly, Cohen’s unit was not judged by the number of arrests or convictions generated by its activities.

Its purpose was to disrupt terror cells and prevent terrorist acts, not to prosecute individuals after they had unleashed destruction.

Agents of NYPD’s Counterterrorism Unit

Meanwhile, the CIA, FBI, Department of Homeland Security and the National Security Agency watched with growing anger as the NYPD trespassed on their jealously guarded turf.

What right did a mere local police department–even one of 33,000 sworn officers–have to conduct overseas Intelligence operations?

Cohen, in turn, was not shy in answering: We relied on you Feds to protect us in 1993 and 2001–and look at what happened.

And events soon proved the need for such a stepped-up anti-terrorism effort.

Since September 11, 2001, there have been 16 known terrorist plots against New York City.  Among these:

  • In 2002, Iyman Faris, a U.S.-based al-Qaeda operative, planned to cut the Brooklyn Bridge’s support cables.  But due to NYPD anti-terrorism efforts, Faris called off the plot, telling al-Qaeda leaders that “the weather is too hot.”  He was arrested, pled guilty, and sentenced to 20 years’ imprisonment.
  • In 2006, Dhiren Barot was sentenced to life in prison by a United Kingdom court for planning to attack  targets both in the UK and the United States.  These included the New York Stock Exchange and, Citigroup’s headquarters in Midtown Manhattan.
  • Shahawar Matin Siraj and James Elshafay plotted in 2004 to place bombs in the Herald Square subway station in Manhattan. Elshafay had already chosen potential targets before he met an NYPD informant in early 2004.  Both men were arrested, convicted and sentenced to prison.
  • In 2006, four men plotted to detonate the jet-fuel storage tanks and supply lines for John F. Kennedy Airport in order to cause wide-scale destruction and economic disruption.   All four were arrested and sentenced to prison–three of them for life.
  • In September 2009, the New York City subway system was targeted by three men who planned to set off bombs in the subway during rush hour shortly after the eighth anniversary of 9/11.  All three were arrested.  Two pled guilty and await sentencing; the third has been sentenced to life imprisonment.
  • Faisal Shahzad, a Pakistan-American residing in Connecticut, tried but failed to set explode a car bomb in Times Square on May 1, 2010.  Cooperation between NYPD and the FBI led to his identification and arrest 53 hours after the attempt, as he tried to flee the country. Shahzad pled guilty to all charges against him and was sentenced to life in prison.

All of these plots were foiled by the NYPD, the FBI, or by a combination of these agencies.

Then, after more than a decade’s successes in foiling a series of Islamic plots against New York City, disaster struck the NYPD’s Counterterrorism Division.

On February 18, 2012, the Associated Press (AP) broke the news that the NYPD had monitored Muslim college students far more broadly than previously known.

According to the AP:

  • The NYPD conducted surveillance at schools far removed from New York.
  • These included Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut, and the University of Pennsylvania.
  • Detectives daily tracked Muslim student websites and recorded the names of professors and students.

  • The NYPD, with CIA help, monitored Muslims where they ate, shopped and worshiped.
  • The NYPD placed undercover officers at Muslim student associations in colleges within New York City.
  • In one NYPD operation, an undercover officer accompanied 18 Muslim City College students on a whitewater rafting trip in upstate New York. He noted the names of those who were officers of the Muslim Student Association.

To put this act of journalistic treachery into historical context: Imagine the New York Times leaking the exact timetable for the D-Day invasion to agents of Nazi Germany.

New York’s Islamic community had long accused the NYPD of “profiling” its members.  Armed with the AP’s revelations, Islamics rushed to capitalize on them.

“I see a violation of civil rights here,” said Tanweer Haq, chaplain of the Muslim Student Association at Syracuse University, upon learning of the AP’s revelations.

“Nobody wants to be on the list of the FBI or the NYPD or whatever. Muslim students want to have their own lives, their own privacy and enjoy the same freedoms and opportunities that everybody else has.”

That’s true. But no other nationality has so often attacked Americans within the last 35 years–nor continues to pose so great a threat to this country.

END OF PART TWO

SAFETY LOSES, TERRARABISM WINS: PART ONE (OF THREE)

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Politics, Social commentary on April 28, 2014 at 12:01 am

There is a famous joke about racial profiling that’s long made the rounds of the Internet. It appears in the guise of a “history test,” and offers such multiple-choice questions as:

In 1972 at the Munich Olympics, athletes were kidnapped and massacred by:

  • Olga Corbett
  • Sitting Bull
  • Arnold Schwarzenegger
  • Muslim male extremists mostly between the ages of 17 and 40

In 1979, the US embassy in Iran was taken over by:

  • Lost Norwegians
  • Elvis
  • A tour bus full of 80-year-old women
  • Muslim male extremists mostly between the ages of 17 and 40

During the 1980s a number of Americans were kidnapped in Lebanon by:

  • John Dillinger
  • The King of Sweden
  • The Boy Scouts
  • Muslim male extremists mostly between the ages of 17 and 40

In 1983, the US Marine barracks in Beirut was blown up by:

  • A pizza delivery boy
  • Pee Wee Herman
  • Geraldo Rivera
  • Muslim male extremists mostly between the ages of 17 and 40

In 1985, the cruise ship Achille Lauro was highjacked and a 70-year-old American passenger was murdered and thrown overboard in his wheelchair by:

  • The Smurfs
  • Davy Jones
  • The Little Mermaid
  • Muslim male extremists mostly between the ages of 17 and 40

In 1988, Pan Am Flight 103 was bombed by:

  • Scooby Doo
  • The Tooth Fairy
  • Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
  • Muslim male extremists mostly between the ages of 17 and 40

On September 11, 2001, four airliners were hijacked. Two were used as missiles to take out the World Trade Center; one crashed into the Pentagon; and the other was diverted and crashed by the passengers. Thousands of people were killed by:

  • Bugs Bunny, Wiley E. Coyote, Daffy Duck and Elmer Fudd
  • The Supreme Court of Florida
  • Mr. Bean
  • Muslim male extremists mostly between the ages of 17 and 40

Do you see a pattern here to justify profiling?

To ensure that we Americans never offend anyone, particularly fanatics intent on killing us, airport security screeners should not profile certain people.

They must conduct random searches of 80-year-old women, little kids, airline pilots with proper identification, Secret Service agents of the President’s security detail, 85-year-old Congressmen with metal hips, and Medal of Honor winner-winning and former Governor Joe Foss.

But they should leave Muslim males between the ages of 17 and 40 alone because profiling is not Politically Correct.

When are we going to wake up to reality?

* * * * *

It’s well to remember the bitter truth behind this joke, especially in light of the April 15 headline on the National Public Radio website:

NYPD SHUTS DOWN

CONTROVERSIAL UNIT

THAT SPIED ON MUSLIMS

Click here: NYPD Shuts Down Controversial Unit That Spied On Muslims : The Two-Way : NPR

Yes, on April 15, the New York Police Department said it would disband a special unit charged with carrying out secret surveillance of Muslim groups.

Formed in 2003, the Demographics Unit had sent plainclothes detectives to secretly listen in on Islamic sermons in mosques, infiltrate Muslim neighborhoods and spy on individuals and groups.

The goal: To unearth terror cells before they could launch deadly attacks against New York City residents.

The unit had been established–as part of a worldwide Intelligence network operated by the NYPD–during the Mayorship of Republican/Independent Michael Bloomberg.

Commanding the NYPD was Raymond Kelly, a veteran of 47 years in the agency.  Kelly had served in 25 different commands and as Police Commissioner from 1992 to 1994.  Reappointed in 2002, he retired from the NYPD in 2013.

A lifelong New Yorker, Kelly had seen his city twice targeted by Islamic extremists in eight years.

The first attack had come in 1993, with the unsuccessful bombing attempt on the World Trade Center.  The second–and this time successful–attack on the Center had come eight years later, on September 11, 2001.

World Trade Center – September 11, 2001

With 2,977 New Yorkers obliterated in less than two hours, Kelly knew his city could no longer rely on the FBI and CIA to safeguard its residents.

He decided to borrow a page from the FBI’s own history.

Decades ago, the Bureau had created legal attaches–“Legats,” in Bureau-speak–in police departments around the world.  These contacts had provided the FBI with invaluable Intelligence on wanted fugitives and imminent acts of criminality.

Now the NYPD would arm itself with the same weapon.

Through these liaisons, the NYPD would tap into the Intelligence resources of police departments and espionage agencies throughout the world.

The NYPD greatly expanded the ranks of its Counterterrorism Division. More than 600 officers and operatives both stateside and worldwide now stood guard over New York City.

Click here: Amazon.com: Securing the City: Inside America’s Best Counterterror Force–The NYPD eBook: Christopher Dickey: Book 

Heading this division was David Cohen as Deputy Commissioner of Intelligence.  He had previously served as Deputy Director for Operations at the CIA, overseeing domestic missions in the 1980s and overseas assignments in the 1990s.

Given the full backing of Mayor Bloomberg and Commissioner Kelly, Cohen soon had twice as many fluent Arabic speakers on his staff as the entire FBI.

His agents spoke some 50 languages and dialects, which matched the reported linguistic capabilities of the CIA.

END OF PART ONE

INFORMANTS VS. RATS

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Social commentary on October 31, 2013 at 2:09 am

In the 1981 police drama, “Prince of the City,” both cops and criminals use plenty of four-letter words.

But the word both groups consider the most obscene is spelled is spelled with three letters: R-a-t.

The movie is based on the true-life story of former NYPD detective Robert Leuci (“Danny Ciello” in the film, and played by Treat Williams).  It’s based on the best-selling nonfiction book, Prince of the City, by Robert Daley, a former deputy commissioner with NYPD.

Leuci/Ciello volunteers to work undercover against massive corruption among lawyers, bail bondsmen and even his fellow narcotics agents.

Along the way, the movie gives viewers numerous insights into not only how real-world cops work but how they see the world–and their role in it.

In its first scenes, “Prince” shows members of the elite Special Investigating Unit (SIU) preparing for a major raid on an apartment of Columbian drug-dealers.

Ciello, sitting in a restaurant, gets a tip on the Columbians from one of his informants.  He then phones it in to his fellow officers.  Together, they raid the apartment, assault the dealers, and confiscate their drugs and money.

The film makes it clear that even an elite detective squad can’t operate effectively without informants.  And in narcotics cases, these are either addicts willing to sell out their suppliers or other drug-dealers willing to sell out their competitors.

For the cops, the payoff is information that leads to arrests.  In the case of the SIU, that means big, headline-grabbing arrests.

With their superiors happy, the stree-level detectives are largely unsupervised–which is how they like it.  Because most of them are doing a brisk business shaking down drug-dealers for their cash.

For their informants, the payoffs come in several forms, including:

  • Allowing addicts to continue using illegal drugs.
  • Supplying addicts with drugs, such as heroin.
  • Allowing drug-dealers to continue doing business.
  • Supplying drug-dealers with information about upcoming police raids on their locations.

All of these activities are strictly against the law.  But to the men charged with enforcing anti-narcotics laws, this is the price to be paid for effective policing.

But not all police informants are criminals.  Many of them work in highly technical industries–such as  phone companies.

A “connection” such as this is truly prized.  With it, a detective can illegally eavesdrop on the conversations of those he’s targeting.

He doesn’t have to go through the hassles of getting a court-approved wiretap.  Assuming he has enough evidence to convince a judge to grant such a wiretap.

A top priority for any cop–especially a narcotics cop–is protecting the identities of his informants.

At the very least, exposing such identities could lead to embarrassment, unemployment, arrest and imprisonment.  At worst, it could lead to the murder of those informants by enraged criminals.

But there is another reason for protecting the identity of informants: The cop who amasses a roster of prized informants is seen as someone special within the police department, by colleagues and superiors alike.

He knows “something” they do not.  And that “something” allows him to make a lot of arrests–which, in turn, reflects well on the police department.

If those arrests end in convictions, his status within the department is further enhanced.

But while a cop is always on the lookout for informants against potential targets, that doesn’t prevent him from generally holding such people in contempt.

“Rats,” “finks,” “stool pigeons,” “canaries,” “informers”–these are among the more printable terms (for most media) cops use to describe those who betray the trust of others.

Such terms are never used by cops when speaking to their informants.

For cops, the most feared- and -hated part of every police department is its Internal Affairs Division (IAD).  This is the unit charged with investigating allegations of illegal behavior by police.

For most cops, IAD represents the devil incarnate.  Any officer who would be willing to “lock up” a “brother officer” is considered a traitor to the police brotherhood.

Even if that “brother officer” is engaging in behavior that completely violates his sworn oath “to protect and serve.”

In “Prince of the City,” Danny Ciello gives voice to just these feelings.

He’s preparing to betray the trust of his fellow narcotics officers by exposing the massive corruption among them.  Yet he fiercely rejects the idea that he is a “rat.”

“A rat is when they catch you and make you an informer,” he tells his wife.  “This is my game.”

Ciello has volunteered to obtain evidence of corruption; he’s not under some prosecutor’s thumb.  That, to him, makes him different from a “rat.”

Of course, once Ciello’s cover is blown and his fellow cops learn what he has done, they will forever brand him a “rat,” the worst sort of turncoat.

The movie ends with Ciello now teaching surveillance classes at the NYPD Academy.  A student asks: “Are you the Detective Ciello?”

“I’m Detective Ciello.”

“I don’t think I have anything to learn from you.”

For viewers seeking to learn the workings–and mindsets–of real-world police agencies,  “Prince of the City” has a great many lessons to teach.

THE TRUTH ABOUT COPS–AND A GREAT MOVIE

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Social commentary on October 30, 2013 at 1:36 am

It’s a movie that appeared 32 years ago–making it, for those born in 2000, an oldie.  And it wasn’t a blockbuster, being yanked out of theaters almost as soon as it arrived.

Yet “Prince of the City” (1981) remains that rarity–a movie about big-city police that

  • Tells a dramatic (and true) story, and
  • Offers serious truths for those who want to know how police and prosecutors really operate.

It’s based on the real-life case of NYPD Detective Robert Leuci (“Danny Ciello” in the film).

A member of the elite Special Investigating Unit (SIU) Ciello (played by Treat Williams) volunteers to work undercover against rampant corruption among narcotics agents, attorneys and bail bondsmen.

His motive appears simple: To redeem himself and the NYPD from the corruption he sees everywhere:  “These people we take from own us.”

His only condition: “I will never betray cops who’ve been my partners.”

Assistant US Attorney Rick Cappalino assures Ciello: “We’ll never make you do something you can’t live with.”

As the almost three-hour movie unfolds, Ciello finds–to his growing dismay–that there are a great many things he will have to learn to live with.

Although he doesn’t have a hand in it, he’s appalled to learn that Gino Moscone, a former buddy, is going to be arrested for taking bribes from drug dealers.

Confronted by a high-ranking agent for the Drug Enforcement Agency, Moscone refuses to “rat out” his buddies.

Instead, he puts his service revolver to his head and blows out his brains.

Prince Of The City folded.jpg

Ciello is devastated, but the investigation–and film–must go on.

Along the way, he’s suspected by a corrupt cop and bail bondsman of being a “rat” and threatened with death.  He’s about to be wasted in a back alley when his cousin–a Mafia member–suddenly intervenes.

The Mafioso tells Ciello’s would-be killers: “You’d better be sure he’s a rat, because people like him.”

At which point, the grotesquely fat bail bondsman–who has been demanding Ciello’s execution–pats Danny on the arm and says, “No hard feelings.”

It is director Sidney Lumet’s way of graphically saying: “Sometimes the bad guys can be good guys–and the good guys can be bad guys.”

Lumet makes it clear that police don’t always operate with the Godlike perfection of cops in TV and films. It’s precisely because his Federal backup agents lost him that Ciello almost became a casualty.

In the end, Ciello becomes a victim of the prosecutorial forces he has unleashed.  Although he’s vowed to  never testify against his former partners, Ciello finds this a promise he can’t keep.

Too many of the cops he’s responsible for indicting have implicated him of similar–if not worse–behavior.

He’s even suspected of being involved in the theft of 450 pounds of heroin (“the French Connection”) from the police property room.

A sympathetic prosecutor–Mario Vincente in the movie, Rudolph Giuliani in real-life–convinces Ciello that he must finally reveal everything he knows.

Ciello’s had originally claimed to have done “three things” as a corrupt narcotics agent.  By the time his true confessions are over, he’s admitted to scores of felonies.

Ciello then tries to convince his longtime SIU partners to do the same.

One of them commits suicide.  Another tells Ciello to screw himself:  “I’m not going to shoot myself and I’m not going to rat out my friends.”

To his surprise, Ciello finds himself admiring his corrupt former partner for being willing to stand up to the Federal case-agents and prosecutors demanding his head.

The movie ends with a double dose of irony.

First: Armed with Ciello’s confessions, an attorney whom Ciello had successfully testified against appeals his conviction.  But the judge rules these to be “collateral,” apart from the main evidence in the case, and affirms the conviction.

Second: Ciello is himself placed on trial–of a sort.  A large group of assistant U.S. attorneys gathers to debate whether their prize “canary” should be indicted.

If he is, his confessions will ensure his conviction.

Some prosecutors argue forcefully that Ciello is a corrupt law enforcement officer who has admitted to more than 40 cases of perjury–among other crimes.  How can the government use him to convict others and not address the criminality in his own past?

Other prosecutors argue that Ciello voluntarily risked his life–physically and professionally–to expose rampant police corruption.  He deserves a better deal than to be cast aside by those who have made so many cases through his testimony.

Eventually, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York makes his decision: “The government declines to prosecute Detective Daniel Ciello.”

It is Lumet’s way of showing that the decision to prosecute is not always an easy or objective one.

The movie ends with Ciello now teaching surveillance classes at the NYPD Academy.  A student asks: “Are you the Detective Ciello?”

“I’m Detective Ciello.”

“I don’t think I have anything to learn from you.”

Is Danny Ciello–again, Robert Leuci in real-life–a hero, a villain, or some combination of the two?  It is with this ambiguity that the film ends–an ambiguity that each viewer must resolve for himself.

A NEEDED WAKE-UP CALL

In History, Law Enforcement, Politics on February 21, 2012 at 1:30 am

There is a famous joke about racial profiling that’s long made the rounds of the Internet.  It appears in the guise of a “history test,” and offers such multiple-choice questions as:

In 1972 at the Munich Olympics, athletes were kidnapped and massacred by:

  • Olga Corbett
  • Sitting Bull
  • Arnold Schwarzenegger
  • Muslim male extremists mostly between the ages of 17 and 40

In 1979, the US embassy in Iran was taken over by:

  • Lost Norwegians
  • Elvis
  • A tour bus full of 80-year-old women
  • Muslim male extremists mostly between the ages of 17 and 40

During the 1980s a number of Americans were kidnapped in Lebanon by:

  • John Dillinger
  • The King of Sweden
  • The Boy Scouts
  • Muslim male extremists mostly between the ages of 17 and 40

In 1983, the US Marine barracks in Beirut was blown up by:

  • A pizza delivery boy
  • Pee Wee Herman
  • Geraldo Rivera
  • Muslim male extremists mostly between the ages of 17 and 40

On September 11, 2001, four airliners were hijacked.  Two were used as missiles to take out the World Trade Center; one crashed into the Pentagon; and the other was diverted and crashed by the passengers. Thousands of people were killed by:

  • Bugs Bunny, Wiley E. Coyote, Daffy Duck and Elmer Fudd
  • The Supreme Court of Florida
  • Mr. Bean
  • Muslim male extremists mostly between the ages of 17 and 40

It’s well to remember the bitter truth behind this joke, especially in light of the latest headline:

On February 17, the FBI and Capitol police arrested a man who intended to carry out a suicide bombing at the U.S. Capitol as part of a larger al-Qaida terror campaign.

Amine El Khalifi, 29, a Moroccan who had lived in the United States for 12 years, was arrested near the Capitol after he received what he thought was a MAC-10 automatic weapon and a vest packed with explosives.

The “Al Qaeda terrorists” who provided these items were actually FBI undercover agents.  The gun was disabled and the vest had inert material.

And now the NYPD’s Intelligence Unit, tasked with preventing another 9/11 in America’s Number One target city, finds itself facing a possible civil rights lawsuit.

On February 18, the Associated Press (AP) broke the news that the New York Police Department (NYPD) has monitored Muslim college students far more broadly than previously known.

According to the AP, the NYPD conducted surveillance at schools far removed from New York.  These included Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut, and the University of Pennsylvania.

Detectives daily tracked Muslim student websites and recorded the names of professors and students.

The NYPD, with CIA help, has monitored Muslims where they eat, shop and worship.  The NYPD has placed undercover officers at Muslim student associations in colleges within New York City.

The United States is locked in deadly combat with Islamic “holy warriors” around the world–including those within its own borders.

To put this act of treachery into historical context, imagine the New York Times leaking the exact timetable for the D-Day invasion to agents of Nazi Germany.

And America’s enemies are not just willing but eager to make use of that information–legally and illegally.

“I see a violation of civil rights here,” said Tanweer Haq, chaplain of the Muslim Student Association at Syracuse, upon learning of the AP’s revelations.

“Nobody wants to be on the list of the FBI or the NYPD or whatever. Muslim students want to have their own lives, their own privacy and enjoy the same freedoms and opportunities that everybody else has.”

That’s true.  But no other nationality has so often attacked Americans within the last 30 years–nor continues to pose so great a threat to the country.

In one NYPD operation, an undercover officer accompanied 18 Muslim City College students on a whitewater rafting trip in upstate New York.  He noted the names of those who were officers of the Muslim Student Association.

Jawad Rasul, one of the students on the trip, was stunned when he learned that his name was included in the police report.

“It forces me to look around wherever I am now,” Rasul said.

So now he knows how Americans feel when they spot Muslims wearing chadors that hide their faces from view, or even burqas that cover their entire bodies (and any explosive devices they might be carryinig).

Don’t laugh–or sneer: Al Qaeda has used exactly that tactic repeatedly–and successfully–against Afghan military forces.

Osama bin Laden was forced to spend his last years in a Pakistani house watching movies on TV.  But that didn’t stop him from continuing to plot further acts of destruction against “infidel Crusaders.”

Among the plots he sought to unleash was the assassination of President Barack Obama.

It was simply America’s good fortune that the Navy SEALS got him first.

HOW THE FEDS LEARNED TO PROTECT WITNESSES – PART SEVEN

In Bureaucracy, History, Law Enforcement on June 30, 2010 at 4:40 pm

Out of the dangers and frustrations of guarding witnesses in motels grew the concept of the safehouse. Promoted by the 1967 President’s Crime Commission, the idea seemed a perfect solution, both efficient and economical.

Large numbers of endangered trial witnesses could be housed in well-guarded facilities for months or even years. Once they had finished testifying, they could remain at the safehouse until they no longer needed protection.

Starting in 1971, about a dozen safehouses were created around the nation. The permanent ones were located in Sacramento, Providence, Staten Island and Fort Holabird, Maryland. Temporary facilities were set up in Boston, Miami, San Diego, Manhattan and Bowling Green, Kentucky.

In theory–and, at first, in practice—the safehouses offered witnesses increased security at reduced expense to the Justice Department. Each safehouse had about fifty witnesses, called “principals,” who lived under constant guard for usually six to eight months.

They cooked their own meals, received a small daily allowance, and wore ordinary clothes instead of prison garb—which most of them, as convicted felons, would have worn had they been housed in jails. They were encouraged to use aliases and to mind their own business. And they were warned to not talk with other witnesses about their past crimes—a favorite topic among underworld figures.

These conditions provided several advantages over quartering witnesses in motels. Life became easier for both witnesses and their guards, who no longer had to live on the run. Witnesses had time to relax and prepare for upcoming trials. Case agents and prosecutors had ready access to witnesses for the exhaustive preparation vital to successful courtroom appearances.

At first, the safehouses weren’t meant to last more than two years. During the first one, Justice Department officials believed, the facilities would be entirely secret and secure. During the second year, they would be less secret but could presumably be made more secure by additional guards and electronic surveillance devices.

But two flaws quickly appeared in this theory. First, the safehouses were not phased out after the second year. They provided so many comforts and conveniences to witnesses, guards, case agents and prosecutors that no one wanted to terminate the arrangement. Second, many prisoner-witnesses, upon returning to prison or their underworld careers, passed along the locations of the safehouses where they had been lodged.

So the safehouses eventually became known to the Mafia. According to St. Germain: “Every Mafiosi in New England knew where the Providence safehouse was. It was well-defended, but I think that if somebody had wanted to get in there, I think they could have.”

Shortly after the opening of the Staten Island safehouse, federal agents got a tip that it was about to be blown up by the Mafia. That facility was closed and its witnesses lodged at the safehouse in Providence.

In 1975, the Mafia smuggled a hitman, posing as a witness, into a New York safehouse. He didn’t execute anyone there. He simply rifled the luggage of many witnesses, looking for the claim-tags noting their past or future relocation areas. He also mingled with many witnesses, learning where they expected to be sent after they left the safehouse.

Some witnesses grew suspicious of the curiosity of their new acquaintance. One of them called Witness Security Inspector Richard St. Germain at his office in San Francisco. He alerted his superiors at the Justice Department.

Panic-stricken, they ordered the immediate closing of that safehouse. Every witness there had to be relocated to a new area. The WITSEC imposter was rushed to the headquarters of the Program in Falls Church, Virginia, and thoroughly interrogated. St. Germain never learned what happened to him.

Because the locations of the safehouses were no longer secret, some witnesses refused to stay in them.

One man, flown from California to an Eastern state, refused to spend a single night at a particular facility. “Screw you,” he told the marshals who met him at the airport to escort him to that safehouse. He boarded the next flight to California and was gone within the hour.

By 1974, the Justice Department began closing the safehouses, with one exception. This was a “floating” safehouse in New York. Every ten days to two weeks, all the marshals and their charges staying at a particular motel would move to a new motel.

Only during the late 1980s did the concept of the safehouse—now dubbed “safesite”—re-emerge. By 1991, at least seven safesites—one in each of the seven busiest metropolitan areas of the country—had been established.

There was an important difference between the new safesites and the old safehouses: the safesites were ringed with sophisticated electronic security devices—infrared seekers, motion detectors and video surveillance cameras.

By contrast, the safehouses had depended completely on perimeter checks by deputy U.S. marshals. Donald “Bud” McPherson, the Inspector for Los Angeles in the 1980s, helped design the safesite in his city. He believed that it would not have been difficult for the Mafia to infiltrate any of the now-defunct safehouses.

So there was an interim between the closing of the safehouses and the creating of the safesites. During that period, the U.S. Marshals Service went back to quartering witnesses in motels or jails or on military bases.

Copyright@1984 Taking Cover: Inside the Witness Security Program, by Steffen White and Richard St. Germain

HOW THE FEDS LEARNED TO PROTECT WITNESSES–PART FIVE

In Bureaucracy, History, Law Enforcement on June 6, 2010 at 2:50 pm

Protection began from the moment that a client entered the Witness Security Program (WITSEC).

Among the first questions he would be asked was: “Who do you know who might try to kill you?” The marshals assumed that a witness was usually the best judge of the people who posed the greatest danger to him.

Another question he would be asked was: “Do you know of any local or federal cops on the take?” If he said yes, his charges would be investigated.

No matter how powerful a criminal might have been in the underworld, his introduction to WITSEC always proved highly unnerving. Above all else, he felt terrified for his own immediate safety and that of his family.

In addition, he felt confused and ashamed about his newly-divided loyalties and uncertain about his future under a new, alien identity.

But within two weeks, his fears were replaced by a false sense of security (“I don’t need to worry; I’ve got federal marshals looking out for me”). So the marshals had to protect their new charge from his own over-confidence, and possible audacity.

Security specialists such as Richard St. Germain warned countless witnesses: “You’ve got to realize that your life’s in danger. Keep your eyes open. Use your head. Don’t lie to us. Stay close to us. Keep us apprised of everything that’s going on. Suppose you’re sitting out on your balcony and you see something flash. What could it be? A pair of binoculars? A rifle-scope? Be aware of your position, and help us protect you.”

People outside the security profession generally assumed that the safety of a witness depended on round-the-clock protection by a score of guards. But the average witness-security detail consisted of only five marshals.

“That’s enough,” recalled St. Germain. “You don’t want to put too many guards on these people. If you do, then you’re going to cause people to wonder, ‘Hey, what’s going on?’”

Usually three guards, working a twelve-hour shift, were assigned to a witness during the day. In the evening, when there was less activity by both the witness and his pursuers, only two marshals were needed. Whichever deputy was assigned as detail supervisor always drew the day-shift.

A new shift of guards replaced those on duty every two weeks—unless a marshal asked to stay longer. This rarely happened, however, because most deputies had wives and children to go home to. “More families were broken up in the Marshals Service because of the man’s being gone all the time than for any other reason,” said St. Germain.

These deputies armed themselves with a wide array of firearms. Pistols were required to be greater than a . 38 caliber. St. Germain preferred a revolver—a six-shot .357 Magnum or a nine-shot .22 Magnum. Other marshals carried automatics.

And more powerful weaponry was always kept within easy reach. Submachine guns were the firearms of choice for many—especially the highly reliable Uzi and Thompson models. Others relied on automatic shotguns—so powerful, their double O buckshot could turn over a car.

Upon entering the Program, a witness usually got round-the-clock protection until he could be transferred to another city or state. The security Inspectors always tried to move the witness out of the danger area as quickly as possible. This served the needs of both the witness and his protectors.

“As soon as the witness had talked to the Strike Force or United States Attorney,” said St. Germain, “I tried to get him out of the area immediately. I used to get a lot of arguments from the case agent or attorney: ‘We need this man here, we’ve got to talk to him.’

“I would tell these people, ‘We don’t have the men to put on him. You’re risking this man’s life to keep him around here. Now, what I’ll do is fly him out or drive him somewhere. When you need him, I’ll bring him back in. But as far as leaving this guy here, that’s not right.’”

Oftentimes the Inspector found his judgment ignored and his decision overruled through the influence of an aggressive federal prosecutor. “The Strike Force usually gets its way about guarding these people where [the Strike Force attorneys] want them,” admitted St. Germain. “They want [witnesses to be present] every day or every other day. [Prosecutors] need them in constant contact for information.”

So long as a temporarily-relocated witness appeared safe on his own, no guards were assigned to him. But when a “hot” witness traveled to meet with federal prosecutors, a security detail always escorted him. His wife, however, would not be allowed to accompany him unless she was also a material witness.

For the length of the trial, he would be guarded round-the-clock. When the trial ended, he might return to his former address. But if anyone had meanwhile discovered this, he would be shipped to a completely new location.

Copyright@1984 Taking Cover: Inside the Witness Security Program, by Steffen White and Richard St. Germain

HOW THE FEDS LEARNED TO PROTECT WITNESSES–PART FOUR

In Bureaucracy, History, Law Enforcement on June 4, 2010 at 8:48 am

On some occasions, deputy U.S. marshals feared Mafia hitmen less than “young punks” who might try to gain a reputation by killing a notorious witness.

Such was the case when Deputy U.S. Marshal James Gardiner was assigned to protect Vincent Teresa. Once the number-three man in the Raymond Patriarca Mafia Family, Teresa became the target of a $500,000 contract when he turned federal witness.

Gardiner believed that a professional hitman wouldn’t dare try such a hit: the resulting investigation would put him out of business. But would-be gunsels, unaffiliated with the Mafia and eager to earn its gratitude, might be willing to do so.

“And with someone as big as Teresa—325 pounds—you had to protect your own men assigned to guard him,” recalled Gardiner. Security on Teresa proved airtight, and no Mafia or freelance assassins made an attempt on his life.

Gardiner (and other marshals) often relied on disguises to foil mob killers. Once, he and a witness, dressed in painters’ overalls and carrying a ladder, casually walked into a courthouse. (Gardiner was also carrying an empty paint can, which contained his pistol.) Outside, the Mafia’s hitmen were waiting for the scheduled arrival of the marshals’ detail. No one paid any attention to the two “workmen.” In fact, one of the mob’s assassins stepped forward to open the courthouse door for them.

Sometimes a witness and his guards faced as much danger from corrupt policemen as from Mafia hitmen. One NYPD officer accepted a Mafia enforcer’s invitation to work for him as a firearms expert. The policeman agreed to supply the mobster with dumdum bullets–which would be used to silence federal informants. Part of this conversation—captured by a hidden microphone—went:

MIKE: You like the way we set up the federal stool pigeons?
POLICEMAN: What do you mean, “stool pigeons”?
MIKE: Stool pigeons.
POLICEMAN: Oh, that’s what you’re after, stool pigeons?
MIKE: Only stool pigeons.
POLICEMAN: Oh, yeah.
MIKE: Nobody else. Only stool pigeons. I mean like, the cops like stool pigeons when they go, especially if they’re federal stool pigeons, right?
POLICEMAN: Nah. You’re kidding. How many times have I seen and have I heard—
MIKE: I said the cops—
POLICEMAN: Yeah?
MIKE: New York policemen—
POLICEMAN: Yeah?
MIKE: —Like it when a federal stool pigeon is hit.
POLICEMAN: Nah. What difference does it make? To me, it makes no difference.
MIKE: There’s a big difference. I’ll tell you why. A New York cop–detective or police department–doesn’t like a federal stool pigeon, because he’ll stool on anyone. I never do it. I walk.

“In New Jersey, federal agents had arrested so many politicians and mobsters, we knew the cops were infiltrated,” said former deputy U.S. marshal Gary Bricker of his assignment as a bodyguard for securities thief Gerald Zelmanowitz.

“And we knew it was just as likely we’d be hit by a guy in a policeman’s uniform as by a guy in a double-breasted suit. So we [himself and Zelmanowitz] were really on our own. We protected each other.”

In fact, Bricker and his security detail came within a hair’s-breath of a shootout with officers of the New Jersey Police Department. The police suspected that Zelmanowitz was using his house as a base for the fencing of stolen antiques. They didn’t know that Zelmanowitz had just agreed to become a federal witness.

Nor did they know he was now under constant protection by deputy U.S. marshals. Accordingly, they made plans for a late-night raid on the house.

Only hours before the raid, police stopped a car carrying what they believed were two criminal associates of Zelmanowitz. At a nearby police station, the arrested men identified themselves as deputy U.S. marshals. The police were surprised to learn that Zelmanowitz was under federal protection.

Surprise gave way to shock when they learned that the marshals were armed with bulletproof vests and Thompson submachine guns. Had the raid occurred, the marshals would have mowed down the police as they charged across the front lawn.

So the agents of the Witness Security Program usually distrusted local and even state police departments. The names and locations of federal witnesses were rarely divulged to such agencies. And when this occurred, the circumstances were truly extraordinary, as in the case of Gerald Zelmanowitz.

Sometimes this distrust of local police surfaced publicly and dramatically, such as during the security detail for Robert Leuci. A former member of the elite Special Investigating Unit of the NYPD, Leuci had done the unthinkable: he had become a federal undercover agent to expose massive narcotics corruption among judges, defense attorneys, bail bondsmen—and his fellow officers.

Scheduled to testify before a federal grand jury, Leuci was placed under guard by eight specially-screened NYPD cops. And deputy U.S. marshals were assigned to closely watch the eight officers—to ensure that none of them tried to murder Leuci.

Copyright@1984 Taking Cover: Inside the Witness Security Program, by Steffen White and Richard St. Germain

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