By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
By Dennis Romero
THE LAPD's DEPUTY CHIEFS and commanders shift restlessly when 44-year-old John Miller, the just-appointed head of the department's new Bureau of Homeland Security, walks to the microphone for his first address to the troops. It doesn't help that he looks exactly like what he wasuntil a few weeks ago — the former anchor of ABC's 20/20 with Barbara Walters
But he was also NYPD's deputy police commissioner for public affairs during Chief William Bratton's New York police-commissioner days; he trekked through Afghanistan for ABC to interview Osama bin Laden in 1998, and worked for years for WNBC, New York, reporting on mobsters and domestic terrorists.
"Last week I was reviewing a manual about undercover operations," Miller begins his talk with a steady voice. "It discussed in detail how to blend into the community, how to pick a location to live, what kind of clothing to wear, what kind of job to get in order not to arouse suspicion. The thing that worries me is that it was not an LAPD manual, or an NYPD manual. It was an al Qaeda manual that was found in a European safe house . . ."
The room is suddenly silent as Miller ticks off all his other "worries" — the barely foiled millennial plot to blow up LAX, the information he's gotten from debriefing al Qaeda operatives in Saudi Arabia and Malaysia, the specter of suicide bombers walking into the Sherman Oaks Galleria.
It is a savvy performance. But a slew of questions remain. Back at his office on the sixth floor of Parker Center, Miller handles them deftly as I volley inquiries in his direction.
L.A. WEEKLY:The LAPD already has an Anti-Terrorist Division. Why do we need you and a new Homeland Security Bureau?
JOHN MILLER:Look, the work that ATD does is the highest quality. But having an Anti-Terrorist Division of detectives who follow leads is not enough to protect this city's infrastructure from the current threat. Prior to Chief Bratton arriving, L.A. was not living in the reality of a post-September 11 world. To give one example, the LAPD needs to have a cadre of people who are developing target folders for the 500 or so locations that are considered reasonably high-threat locations. All those things that are the no-brainers in the anti- terrorism business weren't being done, because there was an attitude that it's just not gonna happen here.
Let's talk about those 500 major targets . . .
We rank them according to a scoring system that is based on certain criteria: Has this been the kind of target hit by al Qaeda before? Is this a target that we know has been cased by al Qaeda in other cities? Is this a strong economic target, or an infrastructure target like a power plant? Is this a symbolic target?
The chief is asking the City Council for a million dollars to get your bureau up and running — $500,000 of which is slated for "office furniture." When we're cutting millions out of health care and schools, aren't those priorities off just a bit?
We have around a hundred people working in this bureau. We need at least another hundred, and those officers have to sit at desks. And they need computers. A million dollars is hardly a staggering figure to create a department when the threat is this high . . . After September 11, the NYPD took 1,000 officers, and they put them toward [anti-terrorism], and they said this is the department's top priority. People here don't get it, in part, I think, because they don't have the same emotional connection to September 11 that New York has, because no part of downtown Los Angeles was turned into a multiacre ashtray.
Okay, you were in a very high-profile job as the anchor of20/20. Now you have to beg for money to pay for desks. Why did you take this position?
I came here because of Bratton. He's one of those leaders who people tend to follow. He develops talent. And the chance to work for him again was challenging, and in many ways irresistible.
Yet you must have taken a pretty huge pay cut. At least we hope you took a huge pay cut.
Let's put it this way: On my former salary I could have bought all that furniture and those computers myself.
As a non-cop who has been catapulted to a command position in law enforcement, what kind of resistance have youencountered?
Actually, the biggest difficulty I've had has been with the press. They seem to be saying, "My God! They gave one of us a serious job! What were they thinking?!" Police officers are easier. They can tell if you're faking. But the way I see it is — if anybody still has an attitude about me being here — get past it, because this is a critical mission, and it has to unfold now.
In your book,The Cell, you wrote that what the FBI didn't understand when they arrested the head of the Nairobi cell of al Qaeda was that an al Qaeda soldier was eminently replaceable. Does that principle apply to Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the al Qaeda leader who was arrested last Saturday?