The New Jersey FBI head who publicly criticized the NYPD's widespread spying on Newark's Muslims had the green light from FBI headquarters for a rare rebuke of NYPD Police Commissioner Ray Kelly, sources said.
Or at least he didn't have a red light.
FBI special agent Michael Ward, who heads the Bureau's Newark office, had cleared his remarks with superiors in Washington the day before he publicly took on the NYPD, sources said.
"They didn't say, 'Don't do it.' They could easily have stopped it," said one of his former Bureau colleagues.
At a news conference last week, Ward said that the NYPD's spying on Muslim businesses and mosques has damaged relations between the FBI and Newark's Muslims, making it more difficult to protect the public.
"There's no correlation between the location of houses of worship and minority-owned businesses and counterterrorism" work, Ward said. By generating distrust, the NYPD operation created "more risk," he said.
Ward's remarks were striking, given the FBI's button-down culture and their decade-long reluctance to mess with Kelly.
Ward's remarks also contrasted with those of FBI Director Robert Mueller, who told a Congressional subcommittee the same day that the Bureau maintained a close working relationship with the NYPD. Mueller also praised Kelly for "a remarkable job of protecting New York" from terrorism.
Some, noting the byzantine world of internal FBI politics, saw the secret hand of Mueller behind Ward's criticisms of the NYPD.
However, a former FBI official said that Ward's remarks "were not Mueller's idea."
In fact, Ward's remarks represent an undercurrent of dissent from Mueller's continual praise of Kelly despite the police commissioner's repeated taunts and criticism of the FBI.
"Many people in the Bureau were happy Ward did this," said his former colleague. "Many people in management at headquarters hold the same view of Kelly and of the NYPD as Ward.
"Mueller has been stroking Kelly all along. Most people in the Bureau do not agree with Mueller's approach. Mueller may not have known what Ward planned to say, but very high ranking people knew of it."
Unlike Jan Fedarcyk, head of the FBI's New York office, Ward has local political cover in challenging the NYPD.
Newark Mayor Cory Booker, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and New Jersey Senators Frank Lautenberg and Robert Menendez have all criticized the NYPD's blanket spying on New Jersey Muslims, which was brought to light by the Associated Press.
In addition, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder last week called reports of the NYPD New Jersey spying "disturbing."
By contrast, in New York, Mayor Michael Bloomberg has defended Kelly and the NYPD's aggressive tactics while other major politicians and civil rights organizations have remained silent.
Meanwhile, the city's tabloids, the Daily News and the New York Post, have stridently supported Kelly and the police department.
As Michael Goodwin wrote in Sunday's Post: "The misguided souls and professional whiners determined to keep the New York Police Department handcuffed, blind and silent need a refresher course on terrorism."
Last week Kelly received support from an unlikely source: his predecessor, Bernard Kerik.
On his prison blog (Kerik is serving four years in federal prison in Maryland for bribery and extortion), Kerik wrote: "Let Ray Kelly do his job... For those who have difficulty letting him do so, take a walk down Memory Lane, dating back to September 11, 2001."
This is not the first time that New Jersey officials have criticized the NYPD's spying tactics.
In 2003, after Jersey officials discovered that the NYPD's Intelligence Division had conducted a secret undercover anti-terrorism operation involving scuba-diving shops on the Jersey shore, the state's then head of the Office of Counter-Terrorism [OCT] Sidney Caspersen warned the NYPD to stop.
"OCT was not aware that the tests were being conducted and has since informed the NYPD Intelligence Division to cease and desist all such activity in the state of New Jersey," Caspersen wrote.
But Caspersen's criticism was private. It became public only after NYPD Confidential reported it.
Caspersen, meanwhile, a former FBI official, is now the NYPD Intelligence Division's Assistant Commissioner for Programs.
Nor is Ward's the first public criticism of the NYPD from the head of an FBI office.
In 2004, Kelly held a news conference praising an NYPD detective after a joint FBI-NYPD investigation led to the arrest of a radical Muslim cleric in London. Kelly divulged so much information about the detective that he was sent back to New York for his own safety.
Pat D'Amuro, then the head of the FBI's New York office, was angered that Kelly had held the news conference without informing the Bureau and that he had ignored the FBI agents who were part of the investigation.
This prompted D'Amuro to post an internal memo, released to the media, criticizing Kelly and pointedly saying, "This is not how we do business."
Within a year, D'Amuro was gone, joining the firm of Kelly's arch-enemy, Rudy Giuliani.
Finally, Ward's remarks bring into sharp relief the hoops that Mueller has jumped through to get along with Kelly.
After D'Amuro retired, Mueller brought in Mark Mershon to succeed him.
"I got word of my appointment on a Monday," Mershon said at the time. "My first business call was to Ray Kelly."
Following a subway bomb threat in 2005, Mershon participated in a joint news conference with Kelly and Mayor Bloomberg. "I came back to the office and the phone was ringing. It was the Director's secretary Wanda. Before I could say a word he [Mueller] said, 'Mark, thank you, thank, thank you... thank you for the manner in which you handled yourself.'"
Mershon said that as he was driving home the phone rang again. Again it was Mueller. He said, 'Mark, I hope you don't mind. I just called Ray Kelly to thank him for working together.'"