Tensions between the FBI and local police are nothing new. Around the country, police grouse that the FBI snatches their biggest cases. The FBI complains that police don't alert the federal government early enough on big cases.
New York is supposed to be different. The NYPD is perhaps the premier police force in the nation. No other department comes close to the NYPD's manpower. No other city can rival its team of counterterrorism analysts, language capabilities or stable of officers working overseas.
New York was the first city to form a Joint Terrorism Task Force, a collaboration of federal and local agencies that has been replicated in cities nationwide. The NYPD has hundreds of officers assigned to that task force, working side by side with the FBI.
When the NYPD Intelligence Division, the secretive squad that answers to Cohen, and the FBI work together, they have produced strong cases. When the FBI was keeping tabs on two New Jersey men whose rhetoric was becoming increasingly violent, it was an undercover NYPD intelligence officer who helped make a case that sent the men to prison.
But the intelligence division often operates independently. The FBI, for example, says it was neither involved with nor aware of a 2007 NYPD intelligence operation that photographed and catalogued every mosque in Newark, N.J., and eavesdropped inside Muslim-owned businesses there. The FBI also did not know that the NYPD was in Paterson, N.J., collecting license plates outside a mosque and taking pictures as people arrived for Friday prayers.
"They think their jurisdiction is the world. Their jurisdiction is New York City," New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, the state's former top federal prosecutor, said recently. "My concern is this kind of obsession that the NYPD seems to have that they're the masters of the universe."
The NYPD's top lawyer, Andrew Schaffer, said New York police were not acting as police officers outside the city.
Police said they don't have to notify anyone of such operations.
"They don't exercise police power, they don't make arrests, they don't conduct searches, they don't execute search warrants," Schaffer told reporters recently. "That is beyond our power outside of our defined jurisdiction. But there's no prohibition on traveling to, residing in or investigating within the United States."
In May 2008, a young man named Abdel Hameed Shehadeh came to the attention of the NYPD as part of another investigation. Shehadeh, a former Staten Island resident, had become increasingly radicalized, according to court documents. That spring, he told a close friend about wanting to die as a martyr and wage violent jihad abroad against the U.S. military. He hoped to attend a terrorist training camp in Pakistan, authorities said.
The NYPD knew about Shehadeh. His friend was an NYPD informant.
But the FBI had no idea.
On June 13, the NYPD informant gave Shehadeh a ride to John F. Kennedy International Airport to catch a flight to Pakistan. The informant scrambled to notify the police, who alerted the FBI that a potentially dangerous man was about to fly to Pakistan.
The FBI suggested that the NYPD stop Shehadeh at the airport, current and former federal officials said, but the NYPD worried it would compromise the informant. With no justification for keeping him off the airplane, the FBI let Shehadeh fly but arranged for the Pakistani government to turn him away at the airport and send him home.
NYPD officials say they didn't intentionally withhold information from the FBI. They said they hadn't expected Shehadeh to move so quickly from talk to action. Once he did, police swiftly alerted the federal government. And there is nothing to prohibit the NYPD from starting its own investigations.
At the FBI, the incident reinforced the perception that the NYPD wasn't interested in a partnership. The strongest case the U.S. put together against Shehadeh focused on charges of lying to investigators. He faces up to eight years in prison.
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