Law Enforcement News

Vol. XXVIII, Nos. 589, 590 A publication of John Jay College of Criminal Justice/CUNY December 15/31, 2002

[LEN Home] - [Masthead] - [Past Issues] SUBSCRIBE

In this issue:

Don’t tell New York City, but the nationwide crime rate is going up.
Once again, it’s a year for serial killers.
Child-snatchings are big news, but are they a big problem?
Amber Alert is getting nationwide green light.
Police wipe a smile from mailbox bomber’s face.
Beltway snipers continue to confound police expectations.
Legislative probes point to FBI, CIA lapses.
Police catch terrorist “sleepers” napping.
Homeland security is demanding still more of local police agencies.
The courts are wrestling with anti-terror issues in various forms.
Is there a new federal perspective on consent decrees?
Agencies try harder to fill depleted ranks.
Bottom lines will get worse before getting better.
The Cabinet is about to get a new anti-terror look.
Justice by the Numbers: A numerical profile of criminal justice in the United States in 2002.
Around The Nation: A coast-to-coast roundup of police news.

LEN salutes its 2002 Person of the Year:
A very special agent
Coleen Rowley of the FBI sheds light on institutional failings in pre-9/11 terrorism probes

By Jennifer Nislow

     Ethical decisions are made by individual law enforcement officers every day, but only rarely do they affect national security to the degree that a 13-page letter written by a veteran FBI field agent did last spring.

     In her May 21 memo to FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III, Coleen Rowley, who is legal counsel to the Minneapolis field office, accused bureau management of shading and omitting facts that would cause embarrassment to either persons or the institution for lapses relating to pre-9/11 probes. Her superiors, she said, deliberately thwarted efforts to obtain a search warrant for the laptop of a man later accused of being the 20th hijacker. And agents from Minneapolis were never informed that only three weeks earlier a memo had been sent by a Phoenix-based agent which warned that al Qaeda operatives could be seeking flight training for terrorist purposes, said Rowley.

     “Although the last thing the FBI or the country needs now is a witch hunt, I do find it odd that (to my knowledge) no inquiry whatsoever was launched of the relevant FBIHQ personnel’s actions a long time ago,” she wrote. “It’s true we all make mistakes and I’m not suggesting that HQ personnel in question ought to be burned at the stake, but we all need to be held accountable for serious mistakes…”

     Whether one believes that Coleen Rowley was a hero or, as some do, a turncoat who betrayed her agency by airing its failures in the most public of forums, there is little doubt of the impact she had on law enforcement in 2002. The nature and extent of any long-term implications that her actions may have remain to be seen. Clearly visible, however, is her courage in speaking truth to power, for the good of the country and at potential risk to her career. It is this courage, coming from a most unassuming member of the nation’s most vaunted law enforcement agency, that compels Rowley’s selection as the Law Enforcement News Person of the Year for 2002.

     Rowley is clearly a reluctant honoree, who resists being singled out for actions she contends did not go beyond the requirements of her job. “It wasn’t just me…. Our whole office was basically just telling the truth about what happened here,” she told LEN. “Actually, there are other agents in my division who had more of a first-hand, direct involvement in the underlying investigation, a lot more involvement.”

     Uncomfortable though she may be with her newfound prominence, Rowley does acknowledge that it has given her a forum from which to speak out against laws that impede effective federal investigations, such as the 1999 McDade Amendment, which subjects federal prosecutors to state bar rules and has had the effect in some cases of prohibiting contact between U.S. attorneys and police agencies engaged in undercover narcotics operations. Rowley would also like to see modifications to the Miranda rule, especially where public safety is concerned, as well as to the nation’s encryption laws. “It’s terrible right now,” she said, “We’re seeing more and more encrypted communications between criminals and terrorists.”

     “When we have a law that’s either wrong or creating huge problems or impediments, it’s law enforcement’s job to keep speaking out about it,” said Rowley. “When I have a chance, I’m going to keep bringing those up.”

     Rowley’s letter, a copy of which was also sent to key Congressional leaders, was made public as lawmakers, recovering from the immediate shock of 9/11, began grappling with the question of why the nation’s vaunted intelligence apparatus was unable to “connect the dots.” Some believe the clues reach back nearly a decade. In 1994, for example, a “test bomb” was detonated aboard a Philippine Airlines jet which exposed an al Qaeda plot to blow up more than a dozen jets over the Pacific. In 2000, the CIA began noting increased signs of terrorist activities abroad. And in the spring of 2001, specific threats were received by the White House from intelligence sources which said the Middle Eastern terrorist group could potentially attack U.S. interests overseas.

     From May through early July of 2001, intelligence officials told law enforcement that domestic attacks could not be ruled out. A spike in the number of threats suggested that President Bush might be a target during an economic summit meeting in Italy. During this period, the State Department and the Federal Aviation Administration urged U.S. government interests to operate with caution; a worldwide alert issued by the agencies warned that explosives could be used at airport terminals. In July, non-essential travel by U.S. counterterrorism staff was suspended.

     Later that month, the so-called Phoenix memo cited by Rowley was sent to headquarters. Its author, Kenneth Williams, an agent with the Arizona office’s international terrorism unit, noted that a large number of Middle Eastern men – some


2002: A year in retrospect
What a difference 12 months can make for law enforcement

By Marie Simonetti Rosen

     What a difference a year makes. 2002 began with a sense of resolve and clarity of mission born of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, coupled with classically American optimism and “can-do” spirit. The year proceeded amid flurries of activity as law enforcement agencies on all levels scrambled to incorporate homeland security and anti-terrorism measures into their agendas, despite problems of understaffing and underfunding. Departments sought equipment and training — both commodities in short supply — and did their best to implement or improve internal and external communications networks.

     As the year ended, however, the grim reality of dwindling resources seemed more dire than ever, with states and localities facing what some describe as the gravest fiscal crisis in the past half-century. Moreover, the promise of federal funding has gone unfulfilled. The once-clear mission has become muddied, and the sense of urgency has in many places turned into little more than heightened consciousness.

     Certainly, some departments have done more to prepare than others — or have done so more visibly. New York City, notably and for obvious reasons, has probably done the most. As Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly noted, “We’re all on the front lines here, so to speak” — and he wasn’t being metaphorical. To defend this front line, the department created new positions and filled them with former high-ranking officials from the Central Intelligence Agency and the Marine Corps. Like other departments, it sent officers to Israel to learn more about suicide bombers, and planned to have some officers work in concert with intelligence agencies throughout the world. New equipment, such as radiation-detection gear and bio-hazard suits, is on hand or on order. While continuing its emphasis on quality-of-life offenses and dousing the periodic crime hot-spot, the department appears to be spending its crime “peace dividend,” generated by its declining crime rates, on actively protecting the city from another terrorist attack.

     For many localities, however, prevention and preparedness efforts fell short, in many cases because the promise of federal funding had failed to fully materialize by year’s end. The Bush administration bottled up $1.5 billion in law enforcement and antiterrorism assistance, citing Congress’s inability to pass appropriations bills (although some surmise that it may have more to do with the White House’s desire to have more control over the fate and fortunes of the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services).

     Even with lean resources, however, police departments managed to get in some training, frequently in the form of joint haz-mat response exercises with other emergency personnel. New joint anti-terrorist task forces emerged from improved communications between the FBI and state and local departments. Statewide communication systems were enhanced; public terrorist tip lines were established. A number of states are now putting visa expiration dates on driver’s licenses. Although not widely publicized, plans were developed by some local governments for evacuation and quarantine scenarios. For personnel in some larger departments, training in intelligence analysis took priority — only to be met with a glaring lack of expertise in this critical area. But for all the initiatives that were undertaken, and all the practitioners for whom anti-terrorism activities have become a full-time job, law enforcement preparedness is not what it could or should be, some experts contend.

     Amid improved communications between local and federal law enforcement agencies, there remain thorny issues concerning the extent to which police should go in interacting with illegal immigrants. To a large extent, the debate centered on whether or not local law enforcement should shoulder some of the enforcement duties that have long been the province of the beleaguered Immigration and Naturalization Service. The Florida Department