[CIA Director George] Tenet sent [David] Cohen packing for New York, a plum pre-retirement assignment that made him the CIA’s primary liaison with Wall Street titans and captains of industry. After three decades in Washington, he had become one of the most unpopular and divisive figures in modern CIA history. He left feeling that the agency was hamstrung by the people overseeing it. The White House micromanaged operations, slowing down everything. And Congress used its oversight authority to score political points. The CIA was stuck in the middle, an impossible position.
Now [Police Commissioner Ray] Kelly was offering a chance to start something new in the New York Police Department, without any of the bureaucratic hand-wringing or political meddling. The World Trade Center attacks had changed the world. Cohen was being given an opportunity to change policing in response.
He didn’t need a couple days to think about it. He called Kelly back two hours later and took the job.
[Mayor] Bloomberg and Kelly introduced Cohen as the deputy commissioner for intelligence at a city hall press conference on January 24, 2002. Cohen spoke for just two minutes, mostly to praise the NYPD. He had been raised in Boston’s Mattapan neighborhood, and though he’d been gone for decades, he still spoke with a heavy accent.
“We need to understand what these threats are, what form they take, where they’re coming from, and who’s responsible,” Cohen said.
The new deputy commissioner offered no specifics about what he had planned. Weeks before his sixtieth birthday, he even declined to give his age, telling reporters only that he was between twenty-eight and seventy. The brief remarks from behind the lectern would amount to one of Cohen’s longest media appearances ever.
“I look forward to just getting on with the job,” he said.
Cohen’s appointment was not front-page news. The New York Times put the story on page B3. The Daily News ran a 165-word brief on page 34. It was four months after 9/11, and the country was focused on doing whatever it took to prevent another attack. Nobody questioned the wisdom of taking someone trained to break the laws of foreign nations and putting him in a department responsible for upholding the rule of law. [Continue reading…]