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Interview With Ray Kelly

Aired July 6, 2002 - 17:30   ET


AL HUNT, CO-HOST: I'm Al Hunt. Robert Novak and I will question the chief law enforcement officer of the nation's largest city.

ROBERT NOVAK, CO-HOST: He is New York City Police Commissioner Ray Kelly.


NOVAK (voice-over): New York City and much of America braced for a possible terrorist attack on the Fourth of July.

The only incident was an attack by a gunman at the El Al Airline ticket counter at Los Angeles International Airport. The man, an Egyptian national who has lived in California for 10 years, killed two people and wounded three others before he was killed by an El Al security guard.

While Israelis authorities said they suspected terrorism, the FBI said it looked like an isolated incident. The mayor of Los Angeles and governor of California reassured their constituents.

MAYOR JAMES HAHN (D), LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA: We have no reason to believe that we need to do anything different than we're doing now.

GOVERNOR GRAY DAVIS (D-CA): If you see something that looks odd to you, let the police know. But otherwise be assured that local and state and federal law enforcement are doing their job to protect you.

NOVAK (voice-over): Ray Kelly spent 31 years in the New York City Police Department, rising to commissioner in 1992 to 1994. He came to Washington during the Clinton administration, serving as the Treasury's undersecretary for enforcement and, later, U.S. customs commissioner.

He returned to New York City late last year to accept Mayor Michael Bloomberg's appointment for a second hitch as police commissioner.


NOVAK: Commissioner Kelly, I know that the incident at Los Angeles Airport is 3,000 miles away and you don't know the details, but with your experienced eye, just looking at it from a distance, does that look to you like a terrorist attack or an isolated incident? RAY KELLY, COMMISSIONER, NEW YORK CITY POLICE DEPARTMENT: We simply don't know enough yet. Obviously, the identity of the shooter, his contacts, the mosque that he goes to, because apparently he is a Muslim, these sorts of things are going to be very important.

We don't know enough yet, but clearly he went to that location, he wanted to kill people who were going to Israel or had some contact with Israel. So it's certainly a major cause for concern, and it could very well be a terrorist act.

NOVAK: Well, whether it's a terrorist act or not, there is talk now that the security perimeter at airports should go all the way to the sidewalk to prevent incidents like this. That would really put a crimp in travel. Do you think that's a prudent suggestion or not?

KELLY: Well, I think it's impractical right now, just the way airports are constructed. And I can tell you, from my experience, I was on a committee that Secretary Mineta put together, that there'd be significant resistance, I believe, on the part of the airline industry, because there is a tipping point, where if you travel perhaps less than 300 miles, which many of the airlines -- most of their flights are less than 300 miles, people would drive. And I think they would see it as a significant impact, at least potential of impact, on their business.

So it was discussed. It was discussed when I was in Washington. But I think it's very difficult to reconfigure airports to allow that to happen.

NOVAK: Mr. Commissioner, just before the Fourth of July holiday began, your boss, Mayor Bloomberg, made a comment that I'd like to put on the air for the viewers to listen to.


MAYOR MICHAEL BLOOMBERG (R), NEW YORK CITY, NEW YORK: Security seems fine so far. We're in good shape. I think what people have to do for security is drink a lot of water, wear light clothes, stay out of the sun, don't drink and drive, put on your seatbelt, don't smoke. Those are the things that will kill you, not terrorists.


NOVAK: As I understood what the mayor was saying, and tell me if I'm correct, he is saying that the workaday problems of the world that we've always faced, which he listed, are really more pressing for the country than the remote possibility that the terrorists would seize on the national holiday. Is that correct?

KELLY: Yes. And the mayor also said that you should go about your business, be alert, and let the police department do the worrying.

And I think on July 4th we had lots of officers in place. We used all of our resources, I believe, well. We had a very safe and happy holiday. And as the mayor says, we want to stick it to the terrorists by going forward with our daily lives, but being a little more vigilant, certainly than we have in the past.

New York City, we have a hotline. It's 1-888-NYC-SAFE. We urge people if they see anything out of the ordinary, certainly in the post-9/11 world that we live in, to call that hotline and tell us about it. And if there's credibility to that concern, we send officers out right away.

So the mayor's message, I think, is a sound one.

HUNT: Mr. Commissioner, as you noted, there were wide -- there were persuasive reports of dangers on July 4th. Nothing materialized, other than that incident in Los Angeles.

In New York City at least, do you think that the reports ahead of time were exaggerated, or was it the added security that prevented it?

KELLY: Well, it's hard to say. But we have to keep our guard up, no question about it. I think, as a nation, we didn't learn our lessons from the bombing of the World Trade Center in 1993. We should have been more careful in a whole host of areas.

So we can't let our guard down just because we got past one holiday. I think there are people out there that are bent on doing us harm. We know that in New York City.

We've done a lot of things. We've put a counterterrorism division in our police force. We've created a new, robust intelligence division. I think we're using our resources smarter than we ever have before. But certainly not a time to let our guard down.

HUNT: Do you agree with Vice President Cheney then that another terrorist attack is virtually inevitable?

KELLY: No, I do not. I think we're doing an awful lot as a nation. We're doing a lot on a state and local level to disrupt potential terrorists. So I would never use the word "inevitable." I think we are doing a lot, but we have to remain vigilant and on our guard.

HUNT: You have sent NYPD agents to Israel to learn about their defenses against suicide bombers. Wouldn't some atrocity like that be far easier in a large, diverse country like America than it is even in Israel?

KELLY: Well, it's a concern for us, no question about it. And we're concerned about copycats, some emotionally disturbed person who will do it just because it's going on in Israel, and maybe not with an ideological reason to do it.

So it is a cause of concern for us. We rely to a great degree on intelligence information, working closely with the federal government. In fact, more closely than ever before with the FBI. Is it a concern for us? Yes. NOVAK: Commissioner Kelly, in connection with the close connection that you're doing in your work with the FBI -- of course, anybody who knows anything about law enforcement knows that the NYPD and the FBI, over the years, have not had a very good relationship. You have said that it's gotten a lot better since 9/11. Is there still room for improvement, do you think?

KELLY: Well, I think it's something we have to work on every day. I speak to Director Mueller; certainly Kevin Donovan, who's the director of the FBI in New York, is a true professional. I think we are working more closely than ever, but it's something that we have to continue to pay attention to.

We're all in this together. I think, clearly, after September 11 there's been a much freer flow of information. I think virtually everything that comes to the FBI, certainly that remotely concerns New York, comes to us. We're doing better. We have to continue to make certain that we communicate freely.

HUNT: Mr. Commissioner, you are one of the country's great experts on law enforcement, and clearly the FBI, pre-9/11, did a poor job. There are critics who say that there really has to be an entire change in the FBI culture, that it has to be more than just appoint a good director like Bob Mueller. Do you agree? And what changes should the FBI be making that they're not making?

KELLY: Well, I think Bob Mueller is on the right track. I think there probably needs to be restructuring. The FBI is a big organization, has an awful lot of talented people. They have 56 field offices in New York -- I'm sorry, in the United States. They have 50 legates, they're called, overseas.

Difficult to manage such a big, diverse organization. I think they need some structural change, and I think they have to work more closely than they have in the past with state and local law enforcement.

And as far as I can see, that's happening. But they have to continue to emphasize that, and it's certainly something that Director Mueller wants to do. I know I've had several conversations with him. I think he's certainly on the right track.

HUNT: Mr. Commissioner, we're going to have to take a break now.

But when we come back, we'll ask Ray Kelly if he thinks that President Bush's homeland security plan will make us more secure.


NOVAK: Commissioner Ray Kelly, President Bush's homeland security reorganization doesn't touch the FBI, doesn't touch the CIA. It puts a lot of agencies in this new department.

Based on your considerable experience in Washington, is this a good idea? Does it make us safer by establishing this massive new department? KELLY: I think it's a good idea. The devil will be in the details. It's not a new idea. It has been around for a while. I think that the Hart-Rudman Commission recommended it.

It doesn't make sense to have the multitude of agencies that we have now in so many different departments protecting our borders. For instance, at an average border crossing, you have Customs which is in the Treasury Department, you have INS which is in Justice, you have the Department of Agriculture there. And these are agencies that have not communicated particularly well in the past.

So I think, generally speaking, it's a good idea. I think actually putting it in place is going to be a pretty heavy lift because of some axes that are going to be gored in all of this. But I think conceptually it makes sense.

NOVAK: How is it going to affect your old agency, the U.S. Customs Service, moving from its traditional, its ancient place in the Treasury Department over to this new department. How will that affect the Customs Service?

KELLY: Well, it's going to affect it, no question about it, significantly. I think Customs should probably move as a whole and be much more focused on border security than it has been in the past.

Customs was seen as a tariff-collecting agency, and indeed, collects about $20 billion a year. But that really is a minuscule amount these days. Obviously most of our revenue comes through the Internal Revenue Service.

I think Customs should be much more focused on border security. And in that respect, it should leave Treasury and go to the new Homeland Security Department.

HUNT: Mr. Commissioner, let me follow up on that. There's some business executives who worry that turning Customs into a security agency principally could create an economic choke point impeding the free flow of goods to and out of the United States and maybe hurt the economy. How do you answer that criticism?

KELLY: No, I don't think that's the case, and I think those business people have been bringing that up for years. I mean, clearly we have to do a better job of protecting the country. I think technology will allow us to ensure that the flow of trade goes forward relatively unimpeded. But I think that has driven the debate in Washington for years and has kept Customs resources down and kept INS resources down.

Indeed trade is doubled over the last 10 years, yet the resources that Customs has, particularly resources on the border, have remained static. You know, we have to use 9/11 as a huge wake-up call. And it's time to make our border protection agencies much more robust than they have been in the past.

HUNT: Commissioner Kelly, experts say not only, as you just suggested, with the devil being the details for the Homeland Security Agency, but also it's critical who heads it. There are some down here who are pushing former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani. Would that be a good choice?

KELLY: Oh, I think it would be a very good choice. Mayor Giuliani is an excellent administrator. And I think it's going to need a real strong leader to pull these agencies together. Again, they've been not necessarily cooperating for many, many years. So you're going to need very strong direction from the top to make certain that's a roll on the same sheet of paper.

NOVAK: Mr. Commissioner, Senator Bob Graham, the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, has several times indicated that whatever the failings of airport security, it's a lot more secure than port security. He really worries about enemy agents, about material coming through on these container ships.

You, of course, have one of the great ports in New York. Do you think this is a really serious problem?

KELLY: I certainly do.

A couple years ago, I co-chaired a commission in Washington on port security, and it showed that we were tremendously vulnerable. Very few of our containers are checked when they come in. And I think the proposal to have us check -- that is, Customs -- go to other countries, other ports before we get the goods to the United States is a very good one.

It is an area that needs a tremendous amount of attention. We simply don't know with any degree of accuracy what's coming into this country.

NOVAK: Commissioner, how safe is it in New York right now? And I'm not talking about normal street crime, I'm talking about terrorism.

KELLY: Well, I think we're doing everything that we reasonably can do. I think our citizens are on alert. New Yorkers are real gritty and tough. You can feel the city, it's bounced back from September 11. We're working, as I say, more closely with the federal authorities. We have our own counterterrorism division.

We're safer now, certainly, than we were on September 11, and we're safer than we were the first of the year. And we'll be even safer still as we move forward. Every day we're improving our ability to defend ourselves against terrorism and respond if, God forbid, there is another attack.

But I think crime is -- and reduction of crime is something that makes New Yorkers feel safe as well. Crime is down another 6 percent this year, and our homicide rate is as low as it's been in 42 years.

So New York is a safe city, the safest big city in America.

HUNT: Mr. Commissioner, let me just ask you this, if I may. You have opposed racial profiling, yet many intelligence experts say that with the threat coming from Middle Eastern terrorists, that some sort of racial or ethnic profiling is unavoidable. Do you agree?

KELLY: Well, I think that you have to look at factors such as where flights are coming from. There's high-risk flights, there's high-risk countries. I'm talking about drugs, but also that's true as far as terrorists are concerned.

But just stopping someone because of their race or ethnicity is simply not a wise use of law enforcement resources. We need a lot more information, and we haven't had it in the past. I think we're certainly moving in that direction now. But you have to look at kind of the totality of information, rather than simply just someone's race or ethnicity.

HUNT: We're going to take a break now, but when we come back, we'll have the Big Question for Ray Kelly.


HUNT: Commissioner Kelly, the Big Question:

As you noted, crime is down 6 percent the first six months of this year in New York City. I think violent crime is down 12 percent. It's inching up in many places around America. What is the Big Apple doing differently?

KELLY: I think we're focusing on kind of the worst of the worst, you might say. We're using our resources, our warrant squads to go after people that we've identified as recidivists -- 15- to 24-year- old age group, they've committed violent crimes in the past, they're wanted on warrants.

So we're using our resources more intelligently to go after people that we think have a propensity to commit more crime.

NOVAK: Commissioner Kelly, eight years ago you left the NYPD after spending most of your adult life there. Coming back now, eight years later, how has it changed, how has the NYPD changed in that time?

KELLY: Well, the job is essentially the same, except we have now the overarching issue of terrorism. So everything that we do, of course, has to be looked at in that perspective. We have to use our resources to, of course, fight crime, but, again, we have to take some of those resources and focus them on counterterrorism issues. And we also have to make certain that we have good relations with the community.

So far, I think, we're moving forward in all three areas very effectively.

NOVAK: Police Commissioner Ray Kelly, thank you very much.

Al Hunt and I will be back with a comment after these messages.


HUNT: Bob, I think Commissioner Kelly suspects that Los Angeles airport incident may be the act of a terrorist.

But he disagrees with Dick Cheney. I mean, you run around saying these things are inevitable. You ought to be vigilant, you ought to be tough, but you shouldn't talk about it a lot.

NOVAK: I was interested to learn, Al, that Commissioner Kelly had been on a committee considering airport security. They have looked at this idea of extending security to the sidewalks, as they're talking about in the wake of the Los Angeles incident, and he says it just isn't practical. It probably would wreck air travel.

HUNT: You know, Bob, this is a terrific top cop. Crime down again in New York City, the first six months of this year. It was really a great Bloomberg appointment, and the city is lucky to have him.

NOVAK: Ray Kelly is a nonpolitical guy. And he gave an endorsement, I thought, for the -- at least for the broad outline of President Bush's homeland security plan. And I think he likes the idea of his old agency, the Customs Service, being more than just a tax cluster getting into the security business.

I'm Robert Novak.

HUNT: And I'm Al Hunt.

NOVAK: Coming up at 7 p.m. Eastern on "CAPITAL GANG": Is an attack on Iraq imminent; Al Gore takes aim at the Bush administration; J.C. Watts announces his departure from Capitol Hill; and a patriotic newsmaker of the week, Bob Dole.

HUNT: Thanks for joining us.




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