A New Mayor Mike: Terrorism Tough Guy

The Times Square bomb scare has revealed a new Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

He's now a terrorism shtarker. That's Yiddish for tough guy.

In the days following the botched plot, the new Mayor Mike has:

... Publicly criticized Immigration and Customs Enforcement for not immediately flagging bombing suspect Faisal Shahzad when he boarded a Emirates plane after paying for his ticket in cash.

... Called on Congress to ban the sale of explosives and firearms to people on the Terrorist Watch List.

.... Rescinded the planned cuts of 900 police officer jobs

... Presided with Police Commissioner Ray Kelly over a Memorial Day ceremony honoring 12 fallen officers, 11 of whom died of illnesses they developed at Ground Zero following the September 11, 2001 attacks. In the past, Bloomberg was criticized for his lack of support for Det. James Zadroga, the first NYPD officer to die of respiratory disease attributed to his work in the rubble.

So why is Bloomberg -- who in his two terms as mayor ceded virtually all law enforcement authority to Kelly -- now becoming a Terrorism Tough Guy?

Even to a political amateur like Your Humble Servant, the answer seems obvious. He wants to be President.

Talking Tough on Terror is good politics for a presidential candidate.

Talking Tough on Terror also allows Bloomberg to carve out positions that separate him from President Obama and the Washington establishment.

That, too, is important for Bloomberg's presidential plan.

Although his chances may seem ridiculously slim to those of us lacking the illusions that billions of dollars can buy, Bloomberg may be imagining a repeat of his somewhat quixotic mayoral run in 2001.

Virtually unknown, he won a Republican primary against a longtime city politician, Herman Badillo, then defeated the favored but flawed Democratic candidate, Mark Greene, in the general election.

For lightning to strike twice, Bloomberg's best chance may lie in a repeat of his 2008 presidential foray, where he portrayed himself as an Independent before realizing that no one outside his circle highly paid political advisors cared a whit about him as a candidate.

This time round, Bloomberg had already created some political space between himself and Obama before the Times Square bomb scare.

After Obama's operatives scared Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney and Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy out of running against U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, Bloomberg nudged transplanted Tennessee Congressman Harold Ford into opposing her. Ford blathered for a few weeks before withdrawing.

Then, after agreeing to Attorney General Eric Holder's plan to try terror suspect Khalid Sheik Mohammed in New York City, Bloomberg changed course after complaints from the city's business community, fearful that the multimillion dollars security blanket around the courthouse would kill life and commerce just as Lower Manhattan was beginning to recover from 9/11.

After Bloomberg called for a ban on firearms sales to anyone on the Terrorism Watch List, he received some inadvertent help from another Terrorism Tough Guy, Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina.

Graham maintained that under the U.S. Constitution, even terrorism suspects had the right to bear arms.

As bizarre as this sounded, neither Obama nor anyone of import in his administration or in Congress called the normally sane Graham to account.

Perhaps Bloomberg will now offer John F. Kennedy's Profiles in Courage as a gift to Graham - a reminder that a U.S. Senator's first obligation is not to the National Rifle Association but to the American people.

Graham's nonsense makes Bloomberg's hypocrisy in reversing his support for the city's two-term limit law so that he could run again for mayor seem pretty tame.

ONE VOICE? For the past eight years, Police Commissioner Kelly's mantra has been that of "one voice."

This is why he allows no one other than himself [or his trusted servant, Deputy Commissioner Paul Browne] to speak publicly on police department matters.

So why during the Times Square bomb scare was Kelly's voice -- albeit ubiquitous -- one of many?

Besides Kelly and Browne, there was also the FBI and the Justice Department in Washington.

Apparently, it was never clear to some people which agency was running the investigation.

First, it appeared to be the NYPD, which hosted the initial news conference at Police Plaza.

That changed a day later when it was clear that terrorism was involved.

According to Homeland Security President Directive/HSPD-5, issued in February, 2003, "The Attorney general has lead responsibility for [federal] criminal investigations of terrorist acts of threats by individuals or groups inside the United States."

That would seem to mean the FBI was in command.

But not everybody understood this. As late as Tuesday, the Wall Street Journal wrote, "While the New York City Police Department remains the lead agency on the case, the FBI's NY field office has a 24-hour-a-day operation tracking down any and all leads, law enforcement officials said..."

Indeed, although the FBI was the lead agency, information kept coming out of New York - in particular from Police Plaza. Perhaps the most obvious was a New York Post story on Wednesday saying that Shahzad had used another car for a trial run. The Post's writer has spent a lot of time at Police Plaza.

Of course, heading the investigation and discussing it in the newspapers and on television are not necessarily the same thing. As this column has documented, Kelly has been running media circles around the Bureau since 2002.

By 2005, relations had become so strained that when the new FBI New York station chief, Mark Mershon, landed from San Francisco, he announced that his first directive from FBI Director Robert Mueller "is to get along with Ray Kelly." [See NYPD Confidential column of Jan. 9, 2006.]

Following the Times Square bomb scare, has anyone counted how many times Kelly has appeared in the newspapers or on television, revealing such investigative details as the hidden VIN number, telephone calls to and from Pakistan, what the surveillance cameras at Times Square caught or missed?

Well-meaning but generally in-the-dark national media celebrities like Charlie Rose or Tina Brown love Kelly. And why not? He is intelligent, articulate and always available.

One correspondent put it this way: "Just from a casual monitoring of events, Ray Kelly certainly has had a busy week. Last Saturday, he attended the Newsweek pre-White House Correspondents Dinner party in DC, then the dinner itself, then the quick flight back to NYC (and had the presence of mind to have his minions bring a suit he could change into so he didn't have to report to the public about the Times Square incident in a tux.) He went back to DC for the press conference at the Department of Justice, then in-studio appearances on the TODAY Show and Good Morning America, then testified before Congress, then sat down with Lloyd Grove on Tuesday night for a profile in The Daily Beast, then sat for a 60 Minutes piece airing Sunday."

"I'm sure this is not a complete list of his public events this week but it certainly is an object lesson on how to burnish an image. That's one area where FBI folks (current and retired) give him full credit."

"SEAMLESS" COOPERATION? Despite claims of "seamless" cooperation between Kelly and the FBI, the outlines of the following story, if true, cry out for further investigation.

Police sources say that immediately after the flammable materials were removed from Shahzad's SUV, police put the vehicle on a flatbed truck and took it to a police garage in Queens. Later that night, police moved it to the department's Forensic Investigations Division and Police Lab on Jamaica Avenue. Shortly afterward, it was moved again, to the department's Firearms Range and Bomb Squad at Rodman's Neck in the Bronx.

Incredible as it sounds, some in the department suspect that the purpose of moving the SUV about town was to keep the FBI from finding it so that the NYPD could retain control of the investigation.

Deputy Commissioner Browne was said by his office to be out of town. No one in the Department's Public Information Office responded to an email request for explanation.

Given the past state of FBI-NYPD relationship, that may not be so far-fetched. In 2008, a man on a bicycle tossed a grenade at a Times Square military recruitment station.

That case, too, was considered terrorism - hence under the jurisdiction of the FBI.

Kelly, however, refused to let Bureau have the man's bicycle, which the NYPD had discovered nearby.

WELCOME BACK, JOE. That's Joe Demarest, the head of the FBI's New York office, who is expected back this week after a "special assignment" in Washington -- including the last two weeks, where nobody knew where he was -- following allegations that he improperly helped his FBI girlfriend obtain a promotion.

5/13 UPDATE: NO GO, JOE. That's Joe Demarest, former head of the FBI's New York Office, who, contrary to our earlier report, will not be returning to New York after the past couple of months on temporary "special assignment" in Washington. Instead, the Bureau announced that Demarest would remain in Washington, "responsible for leading the FBI's international and overseas law enforcement and liaison efforts." No mention in the announcement of what led to Demarest's temporary Washington assignment -- that he allegedly helped his FBI girlfriend obtain a promotion.