NEW YORK — An NYPD report on the Al Qaeda-linked massacre at a Kenyan shopping mall triggered an international incident that U.S. diplomats are still struggling to repair, DNAinfo New York has learned.
The diplomatic rift was sparked by the NYPD’s controversial Intelligence Division last month when it publicly released a report that claimed the four terrorists involved in the Sept. 21 slaughter at the Westgate Mall had likely escaped the fiery carnage.
Sources say the erroneous report so angered Kenyan president Uhuru Kenyatta and his top military and police leaders that they complained bitterly to the U.S. Ambassador in Nairobi and cut off communication with the State Department and various federal law enforcement agencies in Africa that were assisting the investigation, sources said.
“The Ambassador and the entire diplomatic community were totally caught off guard,” a source said.
“They tried desperately to explain to the Kenyans that the report was not the opinion of the U.S. government and that it was only wild remarks by police in New York, but the Kenyans would not hear anything of it.”
They did not care about the distinctions that were being drawn, all they knew was that it came from the Americans. They were beyond angry because they had responded well to the attack, and it came at a very sensitive time in the investigation.”
“(We) have been trying to repair the damage ever since,” another source said.
The attack, which killed 67 people and wounded hundreds more, ended with explosions and a fire that caused part of the four-story mall to collapse.
According to officials, the NYPD dispatched two detectives who were posted overseas as part of the department’s International Liaison Program to Nairobi after the Westgate attack.
The NYPD's unsanctioned report, which was widely circulated by media outlets, including CNN, stunned officials on both continents. It not only contradicted the view of the Kenyans and global investigators that the terrorists had been killed, but suggested the Kenyans had bungled the response to the bloodshed.
The schism was so deep that the U.S. State Department tried to assuage the Kenyans by issuing a rare public rebuke of the New York Police Department.
Within days of the controversial NYPD report, Linda Greenfield-Thomas, the top State Department official for Africa, officially announced that the NYPD opinion did not reflect the U.S. government position.
"That report has no connection with any official U.S. government reporting. It was not shared with us and we don't share the conclusions that were in the report," Greenfield-Thomas said on Dec. 13, according to the Associated Press.
Late last Friday, the campaign continued with the FBI’s Legal Attaché in Nairobi, Dennis Brady, posting fresh remarks on the bureau’s website.
“We believe, as do the Kenyan authorities, that the four gunmen inside the mall were killed,” Brady said. "Our ERT [Evidence Response Team] made significant finds, and there is no evidence that any of the attackers escaped from the area where they made their last stand."
Continuing his effort to smooth things over, Brady added, "Our people stood shoulder to shoulder with the Kenyans through some very difficult days. It’s also worth noting that it wasn’t just Americans helping the Kenyans. It was an international effort.”
Following the unusual State Department rebuke, the NYPD backpedaled and announced that its report was purely speculative and based on publicly available information. Lt. Kevin Yorke of the NYPD's Intelligence Division went even further, acknowledging the NYPD had no investigators directly involved in the Kenyan probe.
That’s because under State Department protocols, the U.S. Ambassador exclusively represents the president overseas — and all interactions with host-country officials must go through the U.S. Embassy and involve personnel with national security clearance.
Only NYPD officers assigned to joint FBI-NYPD Terrorist Task Force have that clearance, sources said.
The Kenyan flap is not the first international or domestic fracas sparked by an unsanctioned NYPD intrusion.
Following bombings in London subways in 2005, then-Commissioner Raymond Kelly infuriated the FBI and London law enforcement by revealing details of uncover work done by investigators from New York.
And just days after a movie house massacre at a screening of "The Dark Knight Rises" in Aurora, Colo., Commissioner Kelly shocked Colorado officials by disclosing that suspected killer, James Eagan Holmes, had died his hair red to resemble the "The Joker," Batman's sworn enemy.
Last week, “On The Inside" disclosed the NYPD's International Liaison Program has not provided a single tip on a terrorist attack, and that former federal officials who served overseas say the NYPD detectives are ineffective, often angering and confusing foreign law enforcement officials.
For example, when bombs exploded at resorts in Bali in 2005, killing 20 and injuring hundreds, the Indonesian National Police “were astonished and irritated that the NYPD showed up,” a federal source said.
The liaison program was created by Kelly in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks because he said it was necessary to get information quickly without waiting for the feds to funnel data to New York.
The initiative costs about $1.5 million a year and is funded by The New York Police Foundation, and therefore receives little, if any, outside scrutiny, according to those familiar with the program.
Kelly’s successor, William Bratton, has said he will review all NYPD programs, including the International Liaison program, to decide whether to keep it or change the way it operates.