Local police departments can play a vital role in protecting the United States from terrorist attacks but are not given the opportunity to do so by federal authorities, argues the former head of the New York Police Department”s Intelligence Division. The Sept. 11 attacks on New York and Washington show U.S. intelligence at its worst, says Daniel Oates, who left the NYPD to become Ann Arbor”s police chief just weeks before the attacks.

“The role of government is to do everything it can to prevent something like this from happening,” Oates said. “And so I question whether or not we in government could have done more.”

Oates spent 21 years with the NYPD, including stints with the department”s law division and its patrol division as well as the intelligence division. A lifelong New Yorker, he took over as Ann Arbor”s top cop Aug. 20.

“I consider New York City my city, my home, sort of the center of my world for my entire life,” he said in a interview with The Michigan Daily. “New York City was in the midst of this vibrant renaissance that people who know the city marveled at and all of that has been taken from New York.”

Oates, who got involved with the NYPD after tiring of his job at Popular Mechanics magazine, left New York just before what he describes as “probably the biggest criminal investigation in history” began.

In recent months Oates has received much attention due to his former role in the NYPD”s intelligence division.

Newly appointed FBI Director Robert Mueller contacted him shortly after an op-ed piece written by Oates appeared in The New York Times, criticizing the way the FBI coordinates investigations with local police. Oates has also traveled to Capitol Hill recently to testify on the subject, and he speaks with disdain toward the way in which federal, state and local law enforcement agencies work together.

“No one can dispute that this was a colossal failure of intelligence and New York City is paying the price for the federal government”s intelligence failure,” he added. “And any of the agencies that have a role in collecting and analyzing intelligence have a responsibility here for what happened.”

Oates said the FBI must put itself in a better position to communicate with local law enforcement agencies. He said many police chiefs see it as an elitist organization that does not want to bother discussing its investigations with qualified officers.

“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,” he said.

The “insular environment” of the FBI must also be changed, he said, and the bulk of these changes must be made by Mueller, the director. They won”t be made by Tom Ridge, President Bush”s newly appointed director of homeland security, he said.

“Congress can do oversight hearings and I predict that eventually Congress will 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?””

Oates said he was pleased with what he has seen so far and he believes Mueller and Attorney General John Ashcroft were already working to clean things up in the bureau. “The number two guy in the FBI retired two weeks ago. It would probably suggest there was some internal tensions there as a result of September 11 and the demands the new director has been putting on people,” Oates said.

For now, he says, he is working to keep Ann Arbor safe, and with the recent wave of anthrax-laced letters found in New Jersey and Washington, his department has examined envelopes that local residents have reported as suspicious.

Oates himself received a suspicious letter from someone he didn”t know in Venezuela, and procrastinated several days before opening it. It turned out to be harmless, but, he emphasized, this fearfulness is the new reality.

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