Bush appoints new Homeland Sy adviser


Book Reviewer

Profile: Bernard Kerik
By Kathryn Westcott
BBC News

Bernard Kerik - chosen by President Bush to protect the US from security threats - is no stranger to danger.

The new head of the Department of Homeland Security, known as "Bernie" to his friends and colleagues, has worked in the fields of law enforcement and security for decades.
Mr Kerik is a tough-talking former street cop and undercover narcotics officer. His background is very different to that of Tom Ridge whom he will be replacing.

While Mr Ridge is a Harvard-educated, former congressman and governor of Pennsylvania, Mr Kerik's story is one of a battle against the odds to become New York City's top cop and then the country's head of domestic security.

Growing up in a tough neighbourhood of Paterson, New Jersey, no one would have known that he would go on to lead one of the biggest police forces in the world, winning plaudits for overseeing the police department's heroic efforts in the wake of the 11 September 2001 terror attacks.

His mother had abandoned him as a toddler and he spent his childhood in the homes of relatives and friends until his father was awarded custody.

It was not until decades later, while writing his memoirs, that he discovered his mother had been an alcoholic prostitute who had been murdered in Ohio.

Medal of Valor

Mr Kerik dropped out of high school to join the army, where he became a military policeman stationed in South Korea. After a few years, he left to work as a security expert in the Middle East, including a stint with the Saudi royal family.

But he had always wanted to be a policeman and it was to the New York Police Department that he turned. He joined the force in 1986 as a street cop and became a star undercover narcotics detective who helped bring down members of Colombia's Cali cartel.

In 1991, he was awarded the NYPD Medal of Valor for his role in a shoot-out during a drugs bust in Washington Heights.

A few years later, he began a long professional association with former mayor Rudolph Giuliani. He served as Mr Giuliani's campaign bodyguard in 1993. A year later, he joined the Department of Correction as the director of investigations. According to the New York Times, one official told the department's commissioner: "Congratulations. You've just hired Rambo." Mr Kerik took over as commissioner in 1997.
There, he won accolades for curbing jail violence, particularly at the notorious Rikers Island prison. In 2000, Mr Giuliani chose him to take over as the city's police commissioner.

During his 15-month tenure, he was praised for his role in reducing crime rates in the city. During the last year of his term, violent crime had its biggest drop in five years.

In the wake of the 11 September, 2001, attacks, he caught the eye of the White House and was later rewarded with a role as special policy adviser to the Iraqi interim government. He was enlisted to help in set up a fledgling police force.

He was also given a honorary Commander of the British Empire (CBE) award by the UK.


Mr Kerik, gregarious by nature, was a popular police commissioner, although he did develop a reputation for being tough-talking and working his staff hard.

In the wake of the Trade Center attack, he called on lawmakers to pass legislation that would encourage the FBI to share terrorism information with local police agencies. He was quoted as saying that the walls between the different agencies were "the worst kind of dysfunctional thinking in government".

Perhaps the toughest investigation Mr Kerik ever had to carry out was that into the background of his mother. "The worst thing," he said "was discovering that she had been beaten to death and that her death had not been investigated." He was later fined by the Conflict of Interests Board for using police officers to investigate her death.

Mr Kerik's autobiography "The Lost Son: A Life in Pursuit of Justice", was finished just hours before the attack on the Twin Towers. He was criticised in the press for quickly adding a chapter on the attack - some said he was profiting from tragedy - and for including dozens of police department photographs. He argued that he was only reporting the biggest event that happened on his watch and said he would donate some of the proceeds of the book to a charity for the World Trade Center victims.

Mr Kerik resigned as police commissioner when Mr Giuliani left office, despite being urged by elected replacement Michael Bloomberg to stay. He decided, instead, to explore opportunities in the private sector.

He went to work with Mr Giuliani as a partner in a security consultancy. One of their major tasks was to advise the Mexican authorities on how to combat Mexico City's crime problems and reform its ill-reputed police force and justice system.

He is reported to have made millions of dollars since leaving the NYPD, much of it believed to have been made while working with the consulting firm.

Mr Kerik, 49, has two young daughters with his second wife Hala and a grown son. He fathered another daughter while he was stationed in Korea.

Story from BBC NEWS:

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