Maureen Tkacik is a writer living in Washington, DC. You can follow her on Twitter at @moetkacik
I was at the Georgetown library the other day flipping through old bound volumes of the Ramparts magazine for reasons entirely unrelated when I came upon a brief story from a 1972 issue about “increasing speculation within the intelligence community that the CIA has struck up a direct relationship with police forces in major cities.” Said speculation had been triggered by a $30 million grant from the Ford Foundation to endow a new nonprofit formed to research “best practices” in policing or something along those lines. And Richard Helms’ former executive assistant had recently left the Agency after 17 years to join, and another bigger deal CIA guy was somehow also involved.
I jotted down some notes because the official description of the Ford Foundation project in question reminded me of the alleged purpose of the organization I’d read about hosting conference calls to discuss “best practices” for cracking down on Occupy Wall Street. And there was a very good reason for that! The group coordinating the anti-Occupy effort is the same group mentioned in Ramparts.
Or to be completely precise, the Occupy group is the spinoff organization of the original group cited in Ramparts, the Police Foundation, which now seems to operate in a more administrative/fundraising capacity. (“Shell” might sound derogatory, but its website does use frames.) Geographically the two have since been separated by an intersection, with PERF headquartered across the street from its parent organization in a ninth floor suite inside (where else) the American Bankers Association building. But the intellectual landlord of the operation was at least at its inception the Central Intelligence Agency, which admitted as much two years before PERF was spun off, in 1973.
In its early days, though, Police Foundation clique cultivated an image that was pretty squarely the opposite of the creepy paramilitary robocops we now associate with the officers apparently observing PERF “best practices.” No, back in the early seventies the Police Foundation crowd cast themselves as the contemplative hippies of law enforcement, a combination that would have probably been utterly unimaginable had it not been for Frank Serpico, the reluctant NYPD whistleblower who went public with his Kafkaesque personal stories in the New York Times in early 1970 after three years of trying and failing to find a single simpatico superior willing to do anything about it. The Times story triggered a formal inquiry, chaired by the Wall Street lawyer Whitman Knapp.
By the fall of 1970 New York had a new police commissioner, Patrick V. Murphy, peddling himself as an Irish Serpico to anyone who’d ask for an interview, and the Ford Foundation had earmarked $30 million for a new think tank for masterminding ostensibly Serpico-minded criminal justice reforms.
But there was a lot more on the agenda than cracking down on petty bribes and kickbacks, because the project was infested with CIA veterans, most of whom had been somehow involved with the National Students Association front: former NSA director Bob Kiley, Kiley’s old housemate Anthony Smith, a former think tank liaison named Don Harris, former deputy director Drexel Godfrey and Mark Furstenberg, a career Beltway insider who would later found the upscale bakery Marvelous Market with funding from NSA buddies Mark Shields and Democratic fundraiser/convicted felon Robert J. Stein.
It was only natural for Patrick V. Murphy to invite a few scholars from this well-intentioned new institution into the police department to consult on recommended reforms. And when one of its first recommendations involved sending fourteen of his best cops (including his deputy commissioner) down to an undisclosed location for special CIA training, it was also only natural that someone who hadn’t been given a heads-up—in this case, then-Congressman Ed Koch—would find out about it and make a stink.
What is somewhat unusual is that the stink seems to have literally lasted one day. In 1973 the Times ran a story quoting the CIA blaming the Ford Foundation for the idea, the Ford Foundation denying it and the usually garrulous Murphy for once pleading the old “could not be reached for direct comment” excuse. “And there the matter stands: everyone is accused; no one is blamed,” Ramparts concluded in a pretty brilliant feature on the CIA alumni association’s infiltration of urban police departments and the municipal governments that set their priorities published in 1973. By that point the magazine reported that “at least 12 local police agencies” had “availed themselves of the opportunity”—offered to more “enlightened” departments on friendly terms with the Police Foundation—to send cops to intensive training camps run by the CIA.
And yet somehow the connection between the two institutions would never again merit mention in the mainstream media. Clearly some now mostly inscrutable political circumstances made this possible: the Police Foundation was plainly institutionally organized in opposition to three major “enemies”: Frank Rizzo in theory, J. Edgar Hoover in jurisdiction and Richard Nixon mostly out of political opportunism. Watergate investigators—Terry Lenzner, Thomas McBride, Henry Roth—were very well-represented in the Police Foundation scene, and it seems from here like Democratic political partisans were in charge of the narrative of the 1970s, and while more reliable narrators than their opponents, that’s not saying much.
Beyond that it’s hard to divine what exactly was going on. Hoover supposedly hated Murphy so passionately he refused to admit anyone from the NYPD into FBI academy one year and the feeling was mutual. But a lot of people (Jack Lindsay included) started to tire of Murphy, and Hoover’s death in 1972 left an incomprehensible power vacuum; by 1973 Murphy had decamped to Washington for a new job as president of the Police Foundation, while most of the rest of the heavies with serious intelligence connections had moved to Boston for jobs in the office of mayor Kevin White or the Harvard Kennedy School.
In any case, in 1972 a group of powerful bankers, real estate developers, lawyers and Charlie Rangel started a New York City Police Foundation; one of the trustees, Benjamin Buttenweiser, was an officially sanctioned member of the White House “enemies list”; its director Betsy Gotbaum was the current wife of the municipal union chief Victor Gotbaum (who was also on the board of the Ford Foundation’s Fund for the City of New York) and a former longtime wife of a CIA agent in Brazil. It’s the New York Police Foundation that today hosts the famous annual socialite fundraiser, that funds its sometimes dubious espionage adventures in foreign countries with the sometimes obscene donations from philanthropists like JP Morgan and Dick Grasso.
By the time Serpico opened in theaters in December 1973, Bob Kiley had found a genuine hirsute Italian radical, Robert DiGrazia, to be the Police Foundation clique’s real-life Serpico, and recruited him from St. Louis to take the Boston police commissioner spot. DiGrazia in turn started the Police Executive Research Forum. DiGrazia was a regular on Sunday talk shows and on the policy speaker circuit known for speaking frankly about cops’ ultimate powerlessness in the face of the underlying socioeconomic causes of crime and other liberal realpolitik; probably though his real appeal was his relationship with his former mentor Clarence Kelley, who had just become America’s first FBI director not named J. Edgar Hoover.
(The real Serpico, for what its worth, had been left to die in 1971 by three of his fellow cops after getting shot in the head on a heroin bust; an upstairs elderly neighbor saved his life and he retired soon afterward. The movie, for which Pacino won an Oscar, opened in December 1973; its screenwriter Norman Wexler was also not fond of Nixon.)
In any case, DiGrazia quickly distinguished himself at headquarters as the guy who liked submitting cops to random intelligence tests, psychological evaluations and detailed financial audits; he was pushed out after a couple years and now gets by, I believe, by renting out his services as a professional expert witness.
But in newspapers he mainly distinguished himself as a candid and relentless exponent of the flagship Police Foundation philosophy of those early days, that cops are ultimately impotent in the face of the forces that cause crime. (The Foundation even proved this by conducting a massive experiment in Kansas City I don’t have the time to seriously evaluate.) In spite of this philosophy, PERF elevated the job of police chief into the kind of thing about which municipal leaders increasingly felt compelled to consult a headhunter—ideally PERF, which quickly became the authority in elite public safety executive searches—and that in turn was mainly due to the uncanny ability of Ford Foundation affiliates to “discover” the next big public policy celebrity and marshal its money and clout into dozens of glowing profiles touting the individual in question as a model for the rest of America. Perhaps predictably considering its NSA origins, membership in PERF required a college degree.
But if the Police Foundation’s ability to squeeze oceans of good press for its anointed public safety executives during an uninterminable crime wave was impressive, its power once the crime rate finally began to drop was otherworldly. Credit went mostly to one of DiGrazia’s first promotions in Boston, Bill Bratton, recipient of PERF’s second annual Gary Hayes award. (For whatever reason, PERF awarded its first such distinction to Tom Koby, who would achieve national fame for leading the Jon-Benet Ramsey investigation.) Bratton’s old right-hand man, John Timoney—whose career I’ve followed over the years, never quite before now grasping why the same media so eager to canonize the guy was simultaneously so hesitant to explore why both his daughter and son had pursued the narcotics business with such gusto—currently heads PERF.
I do not have the time or the energy to parse Bratton’s cult of personality or assess Timoney’s response to the 2000 Republican National Convention, nor can I offer satisfying explanations of what’s happened to most members of the PERF clique since the eighties. But if you were old enough to care what any media outlet had to say during the 1990s you probably understand that Bratton and his ilk were as inextricable from the great narrative of unending American exceptionalist prosperity as Bob Rubin, Alan Greenspan and Bill Clinton were. (Also: goddamned Richard Florida.)
Well, now we know: they all solidly joined the ranks of the top 1% as a result while the rest of the country went to rot. And as Bob Kiley, who was demoted from his last job running the London tube in January 2006 (on the heels of a glowing New Yorker profile) due to constant drunkeness, readily admitted when a reporter tracked him down, it isn’t as though he deserves it.
“If you ask me what I actually do to earn my consultancy,” he said, demonstrating rare candor and humility, “I’d have to tell you, in all honesty, not much.”
And that’s probably as close any of these guys will ever come to Frank Serpico.