Professor warned not to abolish police intelligence units - in 1977

Romerstein cited dangers of international terrorism

November 15, 1977  |  SPEECHES & LECTURES
Source : New York State Assembly, Special Task Force on State Police Non-Criminal Files  (Albany)

STATEMENT OF HERBERT ROMERSTEIN

BEFORE THE NEW YORK STATE ASSEMBLY

SPECIAL TASK FORCE ON STATE POLICE NON-CRIMINAL FILES

NOVEMBER 15, 1977


MR. CHAIRMAN, members of the Task Force, thank you for the opportunity to again testify before your Committee. I have had the opportunity to watch the operations of the New York State Police Intelligence Unit, also known as the Special Services Unit, for the past 23 years. From 1954 to 1956, I served as an investigator for a New York State Joint Legislative Committee; and during 1964, I was an investigator for a New York State Senate Committee. In these capacities, I worked closely with New York State Police. From 1965 to 1975, I served on the staff of the House Committee on Un-American Activities and the House Committee on Internal Security. From 1971 to 1975, I was Minority Chief Investigator of the House Committee on Internal Security. In both official and private capacities, I have provided intelligence information and advice to the New York State Police since 1954.

I was born and raised in New York City and spent 35 years there. Although, I am not a resident of New York State, at this time, I have many relatives and friends both in the City and State. The safety and security of the people of New York is of continuing concern to me. In addition, in today's world, terrorists and subversives find it easy to travel not only from state to state, but from country to country, so this is not a local problem.

During my previous testimony in Executive Session, I outlined the problem of trans-national terrorism and the responsibility of the police to gather intelligence to prevent terrorist acts. Unfortunately, as a result of your Committee's investigation, the New York State Police has been derelict in its duty in this regard. Its Intelligence Unit has been disbanded and its files sealed.

The hearing, today, relates to your suggestions on legislation to prevent police intelligence gathering. It is clear from reading your report on "State Police Surveillance", dated September, 1977, that such legislation is not necessary. In fact, it would be counter-productive and detrimental to the interests of the people of New York.

The investigation by your task force was based on allegations made against the New York State Police by William F. Haddad an employee of Stanley Steincut, the Speaker of the New York State Assembly. It is clear from your report that every significant allegation made by Haddad was untrue.

Haddad in his report to Speaker Steinqut dated October 27. 1975 (Marked confidential and released to the press) stated that the State Police intelligence files were, "political dossiers" (page l). He further stated that, "these files are political in origin, political in content, political in intent." (page 5) Your report stated,

"The original newspaper reports on the Special Services Files described the Files as ‘political dossiers.’ We have found that most of the notations on political figures do not comprise dossiers in the sense that a complete detailed file was deliberately compiled on an individual's life and activities. However, through extensive news and magazine clip-pings, large amounts of information were collected on political figures. There is no evidence that these files were used for improper purposes."

"One of the functions of Special Services personnel is to provide security for the Governor and other political figures when they are appearing in public. This includes national and foreign figures such as ambassadors, the President, national candidates, and Cabinet officials. Many of the so-called 'dossiers' kept on State and national political figures which were reported on in the press appear to have been reports of the individual's speeches and public appearances." (page 21-22)

Your reference to "original newspaper reports" were in fact Haddad's allegations as leaked to the newspapers.

In Haddad's report to Speaker Steingut, he stated, "There are strong indications (and a tacit admission) that wiretap information is included in these dossiers." (page 2) In Haddad's press release concerning his report dated November 6, 1975, he stated, "According to the report, information was collected from confidential information, wire taps, undercover surveillance, newspaper articles and intelligence bulletins." Your own findings after a careful investigation were,

"We have found no evidence at all that the Special Services operation was ever involved in illegal activities such as break-ins, illegal wiretapping, rail opening, etc." (page 37)

Despite Haddad's allegations and the sensational stories in the press, your Committee had to admit that abuses had not occurred in the activities of the State Police Special Services intelligence unit. Your report stated, "That such abuses do not appear to have occurred may be a result of the highly professional nature of the State Police." (page 51)

Your report made the point that,

"It is clear that the greatest harm to individuals that could result from intelligence files is the use of this information by non-police persons or organizations in an improper manner. We have seen no evidence that Special Services File information was ever used in this manner, or that it was ever disseminated to unauthorized persons or agencies. Furthermore, the Police have testified under oath that there was no such dissemination." (page 40)

In the 23 years that I have been in contact with New York State Police, I know of only one instance in which State Police intelligence information was improperly disseminated and used. This was when State Police files were made available to William Haddad, in his capacity as an employee of Speaker Steingut. Haddad leaked material from State Police files, not only to the press, but to such organizations as the National Lawyers Guild and the Socialist Workers Party. Both of these organizations have served as part of the support apparatus for foreign, as well as domestic terrorists. The information supplied by Haddad was used publicly in a distorted and sensational manner by these groups. It was also used to identify individuals that had provided information to the New York State Police on violence prone and terrorist groups. In his dissenting statement to your report, Assemblyman James F. Hurley, a member of the Task Force, made reference to Haddad's "serious breach of integrity". (page 54)

Based on the admissions made in the report of your Task Force it should be clear that since there was no problem, remedial legislation is not necessary. However, you have made a series of recommendations for legislation which I feel are both unnecessary and dangerous. Your recommendations are similar to those of Haddad, who in his report of October 27, 1975, to Speaker Steingut stated,

"Our special counsel, Terry Lenzner, comes up with a legislative concept for consideration. Before a file can be started, police might be required to gain permission to do so by establishing and proving cause to a legal authority. Only when that case was made, would a dossier be started. (page 6)

Your own recommendation #11 says:

"Legislation should be enacted to require that the Police obtain signed warrants before conducting certain intelligence activities. The warrant should require that the investigation in which the activity would be undertaken would have to be clearly related to a criminal activity." (page 59)

What was the sense of your conducting an investigation, when after disproving every significant allegation made by Haddad, you then recommend the same ridiculous legislation that was recommended by Haddad and Lenzner. This recommendation, if enacted into law, would make it impossible for Police anywhere in the State to gather intelligence information in order to prevent terrorist violence. This is a "Catch 22". There is no way that enough information could be obtained without extensive investigation to enable the police to get a warrant. They could not investigate without a warrant.

On February 17, 1965, the NEW YORK DAILY NEWS headlined "Hero Cop Foils Bomb Plot". The paper told the story of New
York City Police officer Raymond Wood, who penetrated a terrorist group that planned to blow up the Statue of Liberty. As a result of his courageous work, the culprits were arrested when they brought dynamite into New York City from Canada. They were tried, convicted, and served jail sentences. If the recommendation made by Haddad and by this Committee were the law then, the Statue of Liberty would have been bombed with extensive loss of life.

In the summer of 1967, 17 members of a terrorist group were arrested in New York and Philadelphia for plotting the assassination of Whitney Young. of the National Urban League; and Roy Wilkins, of the NAACP. These murders were prevented because undercover officers of the New York City police department penetrated the terrorist group. If your legislation was in effect then, there would have been no way to prevent the murders.

Other New York City undercover officers and informants provided the evidence against members of terrorist bomb rings operating in New York City a few years ago. Your recommendation would have prevented the police from doing their work.

Your recommendation #7 is:

"The Legislature should amend the Freedom of Information Act to allow individual's access to their law enforcement files, when the investigation was based on an activity which was not a criminal act and did not result in a criminal act." (page 53)

Since not every action of a criminal is a criminal act, this recommendation would prevent the police from compiling intelligence information on the known associates and other operations of, not only terrorists, but the members of organized crime. When a citizen allows the police to observe an organized crime gathering taking place near his home, your recommendation would make his identity known to the criminals if the evidence was not available, at that time, that they were committing a particular criminal act. It is no secret that it is at the social gatherings of organized crime families that they meet with their criminal associates and corrupt politicians. Your recommendation would protect the corrupt politician from police surveillance.

Your recommendation #l0 says,

"The legislature should enact statues which would recognize an individual's right to privacy and create a cause for civil action for violation of this right. This right could also be extended to prohibit purely political surveillance, harassment, provocation and selective law enforcement in this area." (page 59)

While your own report shows that the New York State Police committed no such abuses, this recommendation would encourage disruptive lawsuits against the police by the lunatic fringe and violence oriented groups. Even without your recommendation such lawsuits are underway in many parts of the country including New York.

Your recommendation #4 is that,

"The Assembly Governmental Operations Committee should conduct a review of State Police operations
at regular intervals and issue public reports." (page 57)

As I indicated before, while the New York State Police was extremely careful to prevent unauthorized and improper use of its files, when William Haddad and Thomas Burton, employees of the legislature, had limited access to the files, they
misused the material made available to them. Among other things, Haddad and Burton obtained information from New York State Police files about John Rees, the publisher of a newsletter which reports on terrorist and violence oriented groups. Haddad and Burton took information of a personal and identifying nature about Mr. Rees and his family, that Mr. Rees had supplied the New York State Police, and turned it over to the National Lawyers Guild, a group that is in close contact with the Palestine Liberation Organization terrorists; the Socialist Workers Party, the American section of the Trotskyite Fourth International, some of whose sections have engaged in terrorism in Latin America, Europe and the Middle East; and the publication COUNTERSPY, which was officially cited by the CIA as having provided the identity of the CIA station chief in Athens, Greece, which resulted in his murder by Communist terrorist

Until the legislature can make sure that irresponsibles such as Haddad and Burton will not have access to sensitive police information, the legislature should not have control of police files.

Your Committee has already done considerable harm as a result of the sensational and distorted publicity carried in the press about your report. The New York State Police still has not re-established the intelligence unit or restored the intelligence files to use.

The New York City Police intelligence gathering ability has also bean severely curtailed as a result of politicians applying pressure. I talked to you about this last year during my testimony in Executive Session. Instead of taking steps to remedy the police weakness created by politicians, your Committee issued a report and a series of recommendations to further reduce the ability of the police to cope with terrorism.

On August 3, 1977, terrorist bombs exploded in New York City injuring a number of innocent people and killing Charles Steinberg, His death should be on the conscience of every politician that participated in weakening police intelligence gathering which might have prevented this tragedy. As I told you last year, a number of Communist terrorist groups have targeted American Jews as their victims. The communiqué issued by the FALN on the bombings that murdered Charles Steinberg, after a lengthy diatribe about Puerto Rico, ended with, "Victory to the Palestinian Struggle."

As a result of the severe cutback in police and FBI intelligence gathering, it has become more difficult to protect both officials and the American public from terrorist attacks. On July 27, 1977, H. Stuart Knight, Director, of the U.S. Secret Service, testified before the United States Senate Judiciary Committee, subcommittee on Criminal Laws and Procedures His agency is charged with the protection of the President of the United States and other officials and foreign dignitaries.

Mr. Knight pointed out that in the past his agency had received substantial intelligence information from federal and local law enforcement agencies. This helped them do their job. Now, however, the quantity and quality of the information has been severely reduced. He stated, "We are now receiving only 40 to 50 percent of the information we received previously."

When asked by Senator Hatch if, "the President himself may be in much greater jeopardy today because of the up to 40-percent falloff in intelligence information that we have heretofore had in the past." Mr. Knight answered, "I think that is a fair statement, Mr. Chairman. As I indicated to you, it is a source of concern to me."

Senator Hatch asked, "What happens if the President wants to visit; say a large city like Chicago, where the intelligence files have been locked no or destroyed or other-wise done away with for more than 2 years? How can the Chicago police cooperate with you without their files?" Mr. Knight answered, "They can only then rely on what we would term ‘institutional memory’ -- what their personal recollections are. This is not the greatest source of information."

Senator Hatch asked, "Then the Secret Service does not have adequate intelligence about a city -- let's say the city of Chicago, or any other city for that matter -- that the President is about to visit, how do you come up with the information to correct the deficiency? Or do you?" Mr. Knight answered, "We don't, really."

Mr. Chairman, your Committee has already done considerable harm to the people of the State of New York by weakening the protection that they have a right to expect to receive from the New York State Police. Please don't do further harm by promoting the ill-conceived legislation that you have recommended in your report. Please let the police do their job without further interference from political hacks and publicity seekers.