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November 20, 2001 - Image 5

Resource type:
The Michigan Daily, 2001-11-20

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The Michigan Daily - Tuesday, November 20, 2001 - 5






Ann Arbor Police Chief Daniel Oates, former
head of the New York Police Department's
Intelligence Division, tells David Katz and
Louie Meizlish of The Michigan Daily about
the need for greater cooperation between local
law enforcement and federal authorities.

Photos by DAVID KATZ/Daily
Ann Arbor Police Chief Daniel Oates gestures during an interview last week. Prior to his appointment as the city's top law enforcement official, Oates
served in several roles in the New York Police Department, including head of the intelligence division.

Daniel Oates spent 21 years as a member of
the New York Police Department. He was sworn
in as Ann Arbor's police chief less than a month
before the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. During his
tenure with the NYPD, Oates served as a patrol
officer, as head of its law division, as head of its
intelligence division, and as an adviser to the
police commissioner.
At age 23, he was working as an editorial
production assistant with Popular Mechanics
magazine when he heard an advertisement on
the radio for job openings with the NYPD. After
working as a reporter in Atlantic City, N.J., he
was unhappy with not being able to write
articles at Popular Mechanics. He soon applied
for the police job, put aside his ambitions of
becoming a lawyer and entered the police
academy. He later got a law degree from The
New York Law School.
The Michigan Daily: How did you move
into intelligence work?
Daniel Oates: Well that was years later. By
that point I was a mid- to senior-level executive
in the department and the intelligence job was
one of the really prestigious, big-time jobs in the
police department and I was given that job
because the new police commissioner thought
that I could make major and
productive change in the "They h,
TMD: Given what hap- agents
pened on 9/11, would you
have liked to have been from out
working on this case now as
intelligence chiep who are n
DO: I think the hardest
thing for me would have savvy Nei
been to be in the NYPD t i
and not be the head of intel- tyin to
ligence when this hap- -nuslcy
pened. The last because I nVe~tIga
would have felt that I could running
have added so much to this,
and what happened was the leads. I
last six months of my career
in the NYPD I was on it's ma
patrol. ... So it's been tough
to sort of sit on the sidelines but, by the same
token, the kind of education and experience I got
in this arena was very helpful as a leader here in
Ann Arbor in the aftermath of September 11.
TMD: What would your role have been if
you were in place to deal with that (as the
NYPD Intelligence Division head)?
DO: Well, as the head of intelligence, I was
the principal security officer for the city. It was
my job to assess threats and make recommenda-
tions to the police commissioner on how to
deploy people to protect against any threats,
including individual threats to police officers or
to the mayor or big-time threats to the entire city.
And there are many, many threats that we used to
average somewhere in the neighborhood of 12 to
1,500 threats a year of various kinds in New
York City.
And I was the person who had to assess all of
them and I also had to do the primary security
planning for any major events in New York,
including the largest gathering of world leaders
in history, was the U.N. Millenium Summit


which was last year, last September. Any number
of major events - 40 presidential visits while I
was there, three Yankees' victory parades - I
mean all these big events where there were mil-
lions of people potentially affected.
TMD: When you get these threats, how do you
find out whether a threat is credible or not?
DO: Well, it depends on the source of the
threat, it depends on whose threat, and it depends
on the very language and the form of the threat
itself. I mean it depends on any number of
things. You do what in the business is called a
threat assessment. It depends on all of those
In the case of the "terrorist threats," depending
upon the source, the ones you worry about the
most are the ones you've heard about from your
friends in federal law enforcement because you
knew that those threats, the information came
from the U.S. government's intelligence assets.
The other kinds of threats that we got where we'd
get something in the mail, or we'd get a suspi-
cious phone call, you know a 911 hangup phone
call from some anonymous person; during my
four years those were of much less concern than
the threats that I would hear about form a source
in the federal law enforcement community.
Those are the ones you're really worried about
and we would get a number
a ye FBI of those every year.
TMD: You've spent some
lown in time talking to people on
Capitol Hill about the role
of town, of local intelligence authori-
ties. Can you talk about
whatyou did there, when
Yorkers,you were on Capitol Hill,
( ~ keS and computer comparison
atistics what success you
conduct ma
C~ndu t mayhave had?
DO: Well, I was deeply
ton an
affected by September 11. I
down consider New York my city,
my home, sort of the center
's crazy, of my world for my entire
life, the place where I
Iness." worked professionally for 21
years and where I learned
this business of law enforcement. And New York
has been devastated by this event. I also lost
some friends in the incident and I feel personal
great anguish over what happened September 11.
If you don't know New York, if you haven't been
there, you can't fathom the destruction, and not
just physically to lower Manhattan, but to the
New York City was in the midst of this vibrant
renaissance that people who know the city mar-
veled at and all of that has been taken from New
York: 100,000 jobs lost, the economy is in deep,
deep trouble, they're talking about a $4 billion
budget deficit next year and a $34 billion total
city budget. The city is in desperate, desperate
shape as a result of this event. And I'm extreme-
ly angry about it. The role of government is to do
everything it can to prevent something like this
from happening. And so I question whether or
not we in government could've done more.
I was interviewed on national TV a couple
days after this happened saying that there was no
question, no one can dispute that this was a

colossal failure of intelligence and New York
City is paying the price for the federal govern-
ment's intelligence failure and any of the agen-
cies that have a role in collecting and analyzing
intelligence have a responsibility here for what
happened. We in local law enforcement are rou-
tinely held to task for our failures. I think much
less so for federal law enforcement agencies.
And at some point, I think, the media and/or the
Congress is going to start to ask some hard ques-
tions about why what happened on September 11
happened and those questions have to be asked if
the federal agencies that were involved are going
to get better. And some of that is happening right
I also had, in the four years that I ran the Intel-
ligence Division, I had some rather unpleasant
experiences, in particular with the FBI not shar-
ing intelligence. ... If one of the things that
comes out of this is that the FBI does a better job
of sharing what it has and what it knows with
local enforcement, so that local law enforcement
can make decisions to better protect itself, pro-
tect its citizens. That would be a good thing.
The other lesson that we have to learn out of
September 11 is that the FBI, which is an agency
of 11,000 or 12,000 agents, can't do it all, that
there are 650,000 police officers in this country
who could help. And I believe that the culture of
the FBI is such that it fails to use the potential of
local law enforcement to assist in investigations.
Now, I'm not the only one saying that. A lot of
people have been saying that since September I11
and there appears to be some serious movement
in this area. Congress is talking about these kinds
of issues, and I believe the FBI director (Robert
Mueller) and attorney general (John Ashcroft)
are recognizing that there is a groundswell of
support for change among police chiefs across
this country. And my hope is that there will be
some real positive change that comes out of Sep-
tember 11.
But it's in that spirit that, hoping that there
might be change, that I was afforded an opportu-
nity to go to Capitol Hill, and I went there for a
day and I talked to a bunch of influential people
to express my concerns about the world as it
existed with regard to intelligence sharing in the
federal government prior to September 11.
TMD: When you dealt with the FBI, what
exactly was their reasoningfor not sharing infor-
mation with local authorities?
DO: The FBI typically cites a couple things
and I can tell you what they are. First, they say,
there's the issue of security clearances, that so
much of the information they traffic in is classi-
fied. ... I maintain that that reasoning is a false
one. The simple answer to the security clearance
issue is to hand out more security clearances.
There's no reason why the FBI can't hand out
thousands and thousands of security clearances
to local law enforcement....
For instance, the whole time in New York that
I was head of intelligence, I had a security clear-
ance from the Secret Service. I had a security
clearance from the U.S. State Department. It's
the same background investigation. All the FBI
had to do was honor that security clearance and I
would've been cleared in and they wouldn't do it.
So there had to be some other reason motivat-
ing them for that. It's not about whether or not
one police chief has security clearance, they
should hand out thousands of security clear-
ances. Probably 10 people in my agency, right
here in Ann Arbor, should have a security clear-
ance today. Not only should they have a clear-
ance, they should be briefed in. They should
know what is going on in southeast Michigan
with regard to this investigation so that if they
run into something here that crosses their desk,
they know enough about the investigation to
make a connection and help the FBI. Help the
FBI - that's the operative word here. We can
And the culture of the FBI, prior to September
11, I believe, based on four years of dealing with
them, was that we were of no help, we were
nothing but trouble, therefore don't work with us.
I think that's now changing.
By the way, with regard to security clearances,
the problem is that the U.S. government classifies
everything as secret. And so much of it shouldn't
be classified. But if you're going to classify it,
then hand out security clearances. And there's no
reason right now, with New York City under
attack, and with so many leads coming out of

better than the local investigators, the local cops.
So use the cops - that's my argument.
The other argument that the FBI has to the
kind of broad sharing of intelligence that police
chiefs like me are arguing for now is that there
already exists the mechanism to do that and that
is this notion of joint terrorism task forces. For
all the major urban areas in this country there is a
joint terrorism task force. So, for instance, there's
one in Detroit, there was one in New York. The
New York one was the biggest one in the coun-
try. The problem with that model is that it's been
proven that although it's a good model for inves-
tigating events after they happen, it's been proven
it's not a good model to protect us from terrorism
before it occurs. ...
Their definition within the agency of "need to
know" is so compartmentalized that the people
within the JTTF don't know anything, that when
they run out to do investigations and they run
down leads, they're not even briefed in them-
selves. I often knew more about a threat, without
the security clearance, and without being part of
the JTTF, but because I had friends elsewhere in
the federal government in law enforcement ...
because I got more information than the FBI
gives its own people.
All the strategic decisions in the JTTF in New
York were made by senior FBI agents. There was
no effort to embrace local law enforcement when
it came to deployment of resources....
What buttons you push to get information out
on the street. That's about being street savvy

commander and his counterpart, who is the
investigative commander for the precinct's detec-
tives squad, stand up at a podium with all their
support people and answer questions: What are
you doing about that homicide that occurred last
week or last month? What are you doing to find
the people? ... What are you doing about that
grand larceny auto pattern in that corner of the
precinct? And who in this room can provide you
any help with regard to that.
Essentially, September 11 is a big investiga-
tion, probably the biggest criminal investigation
in U.S. history. But it's basically a criminal inves-
tigation. So you get everybody in the room who
could possibly contribute to solving that case.
And obviously we also think logically that if you
can solve September 11 you can prevent further
September 11s. If you can get at the network that
caused September 11 then you can prevent fur-
ther events like that. You get everybody in a
room once a month (or) once every two weeks,
and you have the FBI director, the police com-
missioner for the city of New York, whoever the
head of the FAA is - whoever the stakeholders
are in September 11 - get them in a room and
you start firing questions at your own people.
Take the people who are responsible for that
investigation ... and ask questions of them and
you send all kind of wonderful messages about
cooperation, about productivity, about not toler-
ating failure and that's all you've got to do. The
framework exists and it can have magical results.
It has had magical results in New York.

"I know it's a common criticism among police chiefs
that among the words we use to describe the FBI
prior to September U was 'elitist."'

cops, and FBI agents just don't have that kind of
The common-denominator FBI agent - it
doesn't have the same experience that a New
York City detective has when it comes to getting
information on the street. Key decision makers
on the deployment and the use- of the JTTF as a
counter-terrorism tool were all FBI agents who
grew up in an insular environment and didn't
have the broad knowledge of the streets of New
York that the people I worked with in the NYPD
TMD: Do you think that the FBI is, essentially,
an arrogant organization?
DO: I'm not going to use that word. There's
no point in using that word. I know it's a com-
mon criticism among police chiefs that among
the words we used to describe the FBI prior to
September 11 was "elitist."
TMD: How much of a concern would the FBI
have if they gave information to local authori-
DO: Our great commanders of this country
have won wars by taking risks. I don't think it's
that much of a risk to entrust local police com-
manders across this country and their top investi-
gators with critical information. And to violate
the laws on revealing classified information
involves serious sanctions on the federal law. So
terrorize us! That's what they do. That's what
happens when you become a police officer work-
ing in one of these joint terrorist task forces is
they terrorize you about leaking information and
all of these evil things that are going to happen to
you. Fine! I'll take the same rules if you give me
the same information. At least I can have it, I can
act on it, and I can contribute to the fight.
TMD: In The New York Times on Nov. 5 you
i_7L,, a -..h4. CnA,(DCTQT mAV rr #-...in

TMD: We heard you a got phone call from the
FBI director, Robert Mueller Would you like to
talk about that?
DO: He called me on Friday to talk about my
op-ed piece, he was very cordial, said some very
nice things, you know, "I appreciate the informa-
tion, you're not the only one who's made these
points." ...
He seemed fairly receptive and I do sense that
he's trying very hard to make change. He men-
tioned, I don't remember her name, but he men-
tioned some woman with a police background
that he had hired onto the senior staff. One of my
recommendations has been that the way to
change the culture of the FBI is to start at the top
by bringing some career police officers into the
agency as senior managers. Another way is to
bring people in at the bottom - it's to have new
agents spend a lot of time with cops, probably as
part of a field training effort. I think new agents
should spend two months in the New York City
detective's squad, or Chicago detective's squad or
even the Ann Arbor Police Department Detective
Unit seeing how local cops conduct business.
TMD: But if this is going to get done, who's
really going to lead the charge?
DO: It's got to be Mueller. I don't think it
matters whether (Director of Homeland Securi-
ty) Tom Ridge ultimately ends up with authori-
ty over the FBI. Right now he doesn't have any
statutory authority. Whether he ultimately ends
up with it or not, the person who's going to
change the FBI is the director. Congress can do
oversight hearings and I predict that eventually
Congress will eventually hold hearings to ask
the question, "What did the FBI know and what
did other federal intelligence agencies know
and when did they know it, about September

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