Los Angeles has been much in the news lately, and not for reasons likely to make the city fathers proud.
First, President Bush gave a speech in which he referred to 2002 al Qaeda plot to fly a hijacked airliner into a downtown L.A. office building. This was news, apparently, to Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who used the occasion to have a very public snit. Perhaps emboldened by the low-rent treatment shown the president during the Coretta Scott King funeral, Villaraigosa held a press conference and lectured the president and his staff for their egregious breach of protocol.
”I would have expected a direct call from the White House,” Villaraigosa told reporters. In an interview with the Associated Press, Villaraigosa went even further in displaying his pique. “I’m amazed that the president would make this [announcement] on national TV,” he said, “and not inform us of these details through the appropriate channels. I don’t expect a call from the president–but somebody.”
Here’s how the mayor’s knickers came to be in such a bunch: On February 9, President Bush gave a speech that detailed an aborted al Qaeda plot to fly a hijacked jetliner into the west coast’s tallest building, a skyscraper in downtown Los Angeles known at the time as the Library Tower. (The president misspoke when he referred to the 73-story building as the “Liberty Tower.” It has since been renamed as the U.S. Bank Tower.) The alleged plot involved southeast Asian men who were to crash into the building after using shoe bombs to breach the cockpit door. The plot was foiled, President Bush said, through the use of electronic intercepts and the aid of an unnamed Southeast Asian government.
Villaraigosa’s feathers hadn’t been smoothed by the following day, either. “We did not get a direct call from the White House or the Department of Homeland Security in the way I was accustomed,” the mayor said at a joint appearance with Matt Bettenhausen, California’s top homeland-security official.
Unfortunately for the mayor, Bettenhausen contradicted his assertions, saying the information was indeed provided to officials at City Hall and the Los Angeles Police Department before the president’s speech. ” I think the terrorist information was handled appropriately,” Bettenhausen said.
Though the president did provide some previously undisclosed details about the aborted attack in his speech, the existence of such a plot should hardly have come as a shock to Mayor Villaraigosa. Shortly after taking office last year, he was personally briefed on the matter by John Miller, who at the time was head of the LAPD’s counterterrorism division. And the 9/11 Commission report went into some detail about the interrogation of 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, among whose disclosures was a plan to attack Los Angeles. On page 154 of the report there appears the following passage:
[Khalid Sheikh Mohammed] has insisted to his interrogators that he always contemplated hijacking and crashing large commercial aircraft. Indeed KSM describes a grandiose original plan: a total of ten aircraft to be hijacked, nine of which would crash into targets on both coasts–they included those eventually hit on September 11 plus CIA and FBI headquarters, nuclear power plants, and the tallest buildings in California and the state of Washington.
I don’t expect Antonio Villaraigosa to have read the whole report–but somebody.
Echoing the feelings of most LAPD officers, the Los Angeles Daily News put it this way in an editorial after the verdict: “The further removed we become from the Rampart saga that engulfed the Los Angeles Police Department, the clearer it becomes that the real ’scandal’ wasn’t widespread police corruption, but city leaders’ overblown response to the allegations. We’re still paying for that response.”
The Rampart Scandal revolved around former officer Rafael Perez, who, when arrested for stealing cocaine from evidence storage facilities, tried to save his own hide by accusing nearly everyone he had ever worked with of the widest possible range of corruption. Scores of criminals were freed from prison, many with large cash payouts from the city. Strangely though, while prosecutors were busy dismissing cases tainted by Perez’s testimony, internal affairs investigators were only too willing to believe his tales of police corruption, even after nearly all of them were proved to be fabrications.
The city doled out more than $70 million to some of its most hardened criminals in the form of settlements it seemed almost eager to pay. Added to this is the $50 million or so the city pays each year–and will continue to pay–to comply with the federal consent decree it so hastily agreed to in 2002. So monumentally inept was the city’s handling of the Rampart Scandal, so overblown was the way it was covered in the media, that the Daily News editorial deserves to be quoted at greater length:
For all the sensationalism that Rampart generated among unscrupulous media outlets and professional cop-haters, in the end it was little more than the story of criminal misconduct on the part of a few rogue cops. A serious problem, to be sure, but nothing close to the purported tales of rampant, department-wide corruption – with officers running wild, stealing drugs, framing the innocent and killing suspects.
This is the real scandal: A CYA mentality on the part of nervous bureaucrats and politicians that’s costing taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars and continues to handcuff the LAPD, preventing the public from having adequate police services.
Not a day goes by that I don’t marvel at the time and money the LAPD wastes in complying with the consent decree. If the Rampart Scandal has been proved to be not much of a scandal at all, why are we still mired in its repercussions? I’m just asking.
–Jack Dunphy is an officer in the Los Angeles Police Department. “Jack Dunphy” is the author’s nom de cyber. The opinions expressed are his own and almost certainly do not reflect those of the LAPD management.