U.S., NYPD Clash on Wiretap Requests
By EVAN PEREZ
WASHINGTON — A long-running rivalry between New York City police and Justice Department officials over how to keep the nation’s largest city safe from terrorist attack has devolved into a feud over the use of national security surveillance wiretaps, with both sides accusing each other of endangering national security.
A letter from New York City Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly to Attorney General Michael Mukasey expresses frustration at what he describes as the Justice Department’s slow and cautious handling of national security wiretapping requests in terrorism cases and says the delays could put the city in danger.
A letter from Attorney General Michael Mukasey to New York City Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly says Mr. Kelly’s accusations are incorrect and alarming and says the Justice Department is trying to stay within the law while protecting New York City from terrorism.
In letters exchanged last month and since reviewed by The Wall Street Journal, New York Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly and Attorney General Michael Mukasey jousted over how officials from the Justice Department and Federal Bureau of Investigation handle requests made by New York City police for warrants to conduct national security surveillance. The Justice Department is the clearinghouse for the requests, which must be approved by the court that administers the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, the federal law that oversees government national-security eavesdropping.
In his letter Mr. Kelly complained that Justice officials are overly cautious about submitting requests to the FISA court, that there is poor communication between Justice and FBI officials in New York and Washington, and that there are unacceptable time lags in handling NYPD’s requests.
Despite Mr. Mukasey and Mr. Kelly discussing the matter on the phone in July and a subsequent visit to New York by top officials from Justice’s National Security Division, Mr. Kelly’s letter on Oct. 27 expresses frustration about continuing problems. “Consequently the federal government is doing less than it is lawfully entitled to do to protect New York City, and the City is less safe as a result,” Mr. Kelly wrote.
Mr. Mukasey, who is a former federal judge in New York City, responded with a letter Oct. 31 defending the Justice Department’s handling of New York’s wiretapping requests and accusing Mr. Kelly of leveling inaccurate and alarming charges. “In effect, what you ask is that we disregard FISA’S legal requirements, which are rooted in the Constitution. Not only would your approach violate the law, it would also in short order make New York City and the rest of the country less safe.”
The dispute has gotten the attention of members of Congress from New York. Rep. Peter King, a Republican, said “the Justice Department is being too cautious here and is putting New York at risk.”
The accusation from the NYPD runs counter to the reputation the Bush administration has developed among civil-liberties groups, which say the administration is too willing to allow eavesdropping that threaten Americans’ civil liberties. Mr. Mukasey has spent much of his time since taking over as attorney general a year ago defending the Justice Department from such charges.
The dispute is an escalation of a rivalry that goes back years between the nation’s largest city police force and federal officials. Motivated by New York’s profile as a target for terrorism, and its experience in the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, city police have ramped up their counter-terrorism efforts.
Dean Boyd, spokesman for the Justice Department’s National Security Division, confirmed the letters exchanged between Messrs. Kelly and Mukasey. “While disagreements inevitably arise during the course of investigations, the Justice Department and FBI continue to work closely with the New York City Police Department with significant urgency and resolve to protect New York City and the entire nation against terrorism,” he said.
The New York Times reported on the letters on its Web site Wednesday night.
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