Ray Kelly’s Path to Becoming America’s Next Big Brother
On Friday, Chuck Schumer, the New York Democrat who’s been in the Senate for 15 years and in Congress for 32, recommended the appointment of Ray Kelly, the longest-serving police commissioner in New York City history, to take over the US Department of Homeland Security after the just-resigned Janet Napolitano leaves. Pretty much immediately a chorus went up praising the idea of NYC’s top cop taking the reins of the country’s most dystopian-sounding agency. “Kelly should have been Obama’s pick the first time around—a confidence-inspiring law-enforcement leader with federal experience,” wrote John Avlon in the Daily Beast, a sentiment that’s been more or less echoed by a host of prominent officials. “He’s so professional and so dogged,” Juan Zarate, who was a top national security advisor in the George W. Bush administration, told me. “In some ways he’s the perfect choice.”
In other ways, he sounds like a nightmare.
Why would we want the country’s top security post to be filled by the guy who organized a sprawling, illegal program to spy on New York City’s Muslim community and who has overseen the emergence of a stop-and-frisk regime whose blatant racial bias is a national embarrassment and potential propaganda tool for our enemies? Whether it’s directing the Transportation Security Agency and our airports, managing immigration and border enforcement, or just generally having his way with a multi-billion dollar budget, the opportunities for abuse in a Kelly-run DHS are terrifying to contemplate.
Given that he has already worked closely with the CIA on controversial programs in New York and plenty of cities abroad, it’s hard to imagine Kelly being a force for restraint at a time when the Feds’ surveillance powers are under scrutiny from the public and the media. His returning to DC, where in the Clinton years he served as US Customs commissioner (among other posts), would reinforce the already widespread perception that the Obama administration is indifferent to civil libertarian criticism of its national security policy. In many ways, Kelly is even more authoritarian than the Obama Justice Department—when Attorney General Eric Holder recommended that the NYPD have an outside authority monitor the stop-and-frisk program, Kelly publicly “blasted” (to use the New York Post’s phrasing) his old buddy Holder.