Skip to comments.Inside The NYPD's Anti-Terror Fight
Posted on 03/21/2006 1:15:49 PM PST by presidio9
No American city has done more to defend itself against a terrorist attack than New York. Its police department, 37,000 strong and larger than the standing armies of 84 countries, has transformed itself from a traditional crime-fighting organization into one that places a strong emphasis on fighting terrorism. A thousand cops have been assigned to work exclusively on a new "terrorism beat." And, in an unprecedented move, New York has even stationed its own cops overseas.
These changes are all based on New York's belief that having suffered two devastating attacks while the federal government provided for its protection, the city had to take more responsibility for its own security and that from now on, New Yorks first line of defense is not the military, the CIA or the FBI: Its the NYPD.
From the Statue of Liberty, to the Brooklyn Bridge, to Manhattans grand canyons of office buildings, New York is widely believed to be the No. 1 target of international terrorists. It's the city they would love to attack again if they could, which is why, 4½ years after 9/11, New York remains on a high state of alert.
One common sight in the city's fight against terror is a counter-terrorism operation called "a surge." About 100 police cars from all over the city swarm into an area like Times Square. These happen unannounced all over the city.
It begins with an officer briefing, not only on their specific assignments, but on a subject you might not expect terrorist developments thousands of miles away.
In charge of this operation for the "new" NYPD is Chief Vincent Giordano.
Asked how often police conduct this operation, Giordano says, "Every day. Seven days a week. 365!"
A "surge" is a simultaneous deployment of about 200 cops to potential terrorist targets and a visible demonstration to terrorists and New Yorkers of the widespread changes the NYPD has implemented since 9/11. Giordano says these swarms of police officers go to locations all over the city.
"Thats an impressive show of force," Bradley remarked.
"If you want to use the term shock and awe when they go to a location, if somebodys watching the location and theyre doing type of surveillance, theyre not going to miss this type of deployment," Giordano said.
They also wont miss teams of heavily armed cops who show up unannounced at train stations, office buildings and other potential targets throughout the city.
"New York has done an enormous amount, and if there's anything else we could do, we haven't thought of it yet," says Mayor Michael Bloomberg
Mayor Bloomberg says the purpose of it all is to intimidate. "You'll see surges of police officers all of a sudden, heavily armed, that appear in one in a quiet, nice neighborhood. And you say, 'What are they doing here?' And then they disappear. Every once in a while, you'll see this stream of police cars go zipping down the street, lights and sirens. And you say, 'What's happening? What's happening?' Nothing! I hope."
The man with responsibility for keeping it that way is Ray Kelly, New Yorks Police Commissioner.
"I knew we had to do something different," says Kelly. "I knew we had to configure the department differently. We had to change our mindset."
Kelly became commissioner four months after 9/11. His mandate: to transform the NYPD. He created a Counter-Terrorism Bureau, dramatically expanded the Intelligence Division, and increased the number of cops working on terrorism with the FBI from 17 to 120.
He also ordered the NYPDs 37,000 officers to undergo training in how to handle chemical, biological and radiological attacks, and mandated that the Emergency Services Unit be prepared to respond to scenarios like an attack on the subway.
"The breadth and scope of their training has changed dramatically as a result of September 11," Kelly explains.
Another change is that detectives are taking courses, like one titled "Global Jihad," that covers subjects ranging from the history of Islam to the mind of a suicide bomber.
Its taught in the Counter-Terrorism Bureau, which was started four years ago and housed in a then-vacant warehouse in Brooklyn. Detectives in the warehouse work on keeping the city safe. They collect information on potential threats.
Civilian analysts do research on everything from radical Islam and militant terrorist organizations to detailed analysis of bomb making techniques and terrorist attacks.
"Has any other police department in this country, or anywhere in the world, taken the kind of steps that you have here in New York?" Bradley asked Kelly.
"I don't believe so, no," the commissioner replied.
Kelly says the NYPD still works closely with the feds, but he took those steps knowing he was stepping on the FBI and the CIAs traditional turf.
Kelly says he didnt discuss these changes with the FBI in the beginning. "No, we just did it on our own," he says.
He did it, in part, by hiring David Cohen and Michael Sheehan, two of the most experienced people in U.S. intelligence.
Before becoming the NYPDs intelligence chief, Cohen was Americas spymaster the Director of Operations at the CIA, where he served 35 years. He had been out of the intelligence business for two years when Kelly brought him back in.
"We show up every morning with that core assumption in our mind, that if they could, theyd like to come back. Can they? Our job is to raise the bar and make it more difficult, if not impossible," says Cohen.
"It would seem, at least to an outsider, that part of what you're trying to do is to take elements of what the CIA does and what the FBI does and put them within the New York Police Department," Bradley said.
"Thats what we've certainly tried to do. I'd like to think that we've had some success," Cohen replied.
Asked how the FBI and his former colleagues at the CIA reacted to the NYPD's changes, Cohen says there was a lot of initial suspicion. "What does this NYPD Intelligence Division gonna be up to? If I were in their shoes, I'd be suspicious too. Especially of me," says Cohen, laughing.
They might also be suspicious about what Michael is up to. He has held key posts in intelligence and the military, and now heads the NYPD's Counter-Terrorism Bureau.
"What we do in the counter-terrorism bureau is try to define what the threat is," Sheehan explains. "And understanding the threat. That drives everything that we do."
Sheehan acknowledges the NYPD has its own informants working undercover in the city. "The key to counter-terrorism is intelligence," he says, "and the key to intelligence are informants".
Every morning, Commissioner Kelly gets an intelligence briefing. The day 60 Minutes sat in, for part of it, Kelly listened to details of a botched suicide bombing in Israel.
"The bomber goes to the back of the restaurant, which was unusual, and he's leaning over taking a drink of water from the sink. Hes wearing a suicide belt and it partially explodes. It cuts the bomber's body in half, but you dont have the typical head blowing off," Cohen explained.
"Is that because it was positioned differently, or just because he was leaning over?" Kelly asked.
"It was the way that he was leaning over. Thats right," Cohen replied.
The source of all those details is Mordecai Dzikansky, a New York City Detective based in Israel one of 10 New York cops stationed overseas. The NYPD calls them its "early warning system."
Asked why the NYPD needs officers overseas, Kelly says, "To ask the New York question. And the New York question is, 'Is there anything, any piece of information thats going to help us better protect this city?'"
When bombs went off on in Madrid two years ago, killing nearly 200 people, the NYPD's man in Israel flew there immediately, met with Spanish police and sent detailed information back to the Big Apple.
"We found out that the terrorist had parked the van a couple blocks away from the station when they were moving their bags from the van into the train station," says Sheehan. "So what we did was we expanded our coverage of stations out a few blocks, and we made adjustments to how we talked to merchants and security people around the systems to tell them what to look for."
The program that tells merchants what to look for is called "Operation Nexus." Teams of cops visit businesses that sell products that could be used by terrorists.
"For example, as a result of the July 7 attacks in London: One of the key ingredients was hydrogen peroxide. Operation Nexus determined who produces the stuff and who they deliver it to," Cohen explains. "We put in place a program to contact each level to tell them what anomalies they should be watching for, and it trickles all the way down to the local hairdresser shop."
"So, you think if you learn enough about what happens elsewhere, you can prevent it from happening here?" Bradley asked.
"Absolutely," Cohen replied.
"But things like that, wouldn't that be information that eventually the FBI, the CIA, would have shared with you?" Bradley asked Kelly.
"The key word is 'eventually,'" Kelly replied, laughing. "So we can't wait."
"I mean, there's an implied criticism here that New York needs this information and needs it in a hurry and we can't wait for you to get it to us," Bradley asked the commissioner.
"That's our position," Kelly replied. "We need the information. We're a city, the only U.S. City, of course, that's been attacked, twice successfully, by terrorists."
Asked if the creation of the counter-terror until was in any way a reaction to frustration with the federal government, Kelly says, "We can't rely solely on other agencies to protect us here. So there's nothing like self help, and that's what we're doing."
So far, the price tag for all that "self-help" has been nearly $1 billion, most of it New York own money. That money has paid for the tightest security blanket in the citys history.
Security checks and bag searches on the city's subways and trains are routine.
Every day, the Harbor Unit patrols landmarks from the Statue of Liberty to the Staten Island Ferry. Every day, police divers check the base of the Brooklyn Bridge for explosives.
And every day, helicopters with high-tech cameras monitor the city, looking for anything out of the ordinary.
While there's a lot of what the NYPD's doing that 60 Minutes can show, there's more that it can't like the activities of the 600 Intelligence Division cops who operate from an undisclosed location, behind an unmarked door.
The main vehicle extremists and terrorists use to communicate, recruit, raise money, and disseminate propaganda is the Internet. The Intelligence Division has a cyber unit that tries to penetrate it.
"There's eight of us. I myself speak two languages," one member of the unit explained.
The cyber unit is drawn from the police departments own resources NYPD cops from Middle Eastern and South Asian backgrounds. 60 Minutes was allowed to discuss their work, if we didn't identify them.
Asked what they look for in these chat rooms, a member of the unit says, "Information that will relate to New York City. The ultimate goal for us is not to allow anything else like September 11 to ever happen again."
"These people in the chat rooms have no idea they're talking to an NYPD cop?" Bradley asked.
"Sure hope not," a unit member replied, laughing.
The value of the information they find, says one member, is priceless. "You cannot put a price tag on intelligence."
Just how priceless, the police say, has been shown twice a year and a half ago when a tip from an NYPD informant uncovered a plot to bomb the subway station outside Macys Department store, and once before in 2003, when a plot to blow up the Brooklyn Bridge by al Qaeda operative Iyman Farris was uncovered.
Cohen is confident that these plots would not have been uncovered without the changes the commissioner wanted.
"Absolutely not. There is no question in my mind. They would have been moving forward," Cohen says.
How close did New York come in those cases to another disaster?
"I don't know the answer to that, because all we really know is that we scared them off or stopped them," says Mayor Bloomberg. "For all I know we've deterred lots of attacks. And we'll never know."
Commissioner Kelly says he does know it's inevitable that terrorists will try to attack New York again. What's not inevitable, he says, is that they will succeed.
"When you look at the fact that there hasn't been a successful attack against New York since 9/11, do you attribute that to luck or to the changes you've put in place in New York City?" Bradley asked Kelly.
"I don't know," the commissioner replied. "We're doing what we think we have to do to protect the city. We could just be lucky. But we'll take that."
No other police departments are doing this. They are too busy busting people for not wearing seat belts, speeding and smoking pot.
It was very interesting, until Ed Bradley's needle got stuck on "Did you do this because you have no faith in the federal intelligence services... did you do this because you have no faith in the federal intelligence services... did you do this because..."
No matter how many times Ray Kelly kicked him, he just kept repeating the "Bush's fault" question.
It never occurred to him that there are just some cities that attempt to address their own problems.
Compared to the disappointing "security" measures at our airports and ports and borders, it sounds like the NYPD has got its act together -- at least if you believe the media.
In fairness, the LAPD doesn't need a dedicated CTU, because the federal government already has it covered.
Our founding fathers would be so proud.
I don't see what the big deal is. Including tourists and commuters, there are probably 12-15mm people in NYC every day. That's one cop for every 325-400 people. Is that fascist overkill where you come from?
not Bush's fault.
but after seeing the testimony about the FBI conduct on the Moussaoui request for a search warrant - don't put too much faith in the federal agencies. both the CIA and FBI are likely still infested with career people of this ilk.
What is the saturation per square mile?
So the ratio of police to people doesn't seem too high, so you want to bring up ratio of police to square mile.
That's rather pointless in a city that's is more saturated with people than just about any other city on the continent.
I trust the FBI a bit more than the UN.
I certainly don't, and neither does Ray Kelly apparently. It was just pathetic watching Ed Bradley try to put the spin he wanted on the story.
The truth is, if you want to make sure something is getting done right for your city, hire the right people and get it done. Don't sit there and cry and point your finger at Washington.
119.74 per suare mile is what I am getting. Just a different way of looking at it.
Not counting other agencies of course.
but the thing is - we need those federal agencies to be working too, we can't give them any excuses.
did you read today that the FBI still cannot figure out how to provide each of its agents with their own email address? are you kidding me.
Alot of those square miles have forty or seventy or ninety stories sitting on them too. It adds up.
No disagreement here on that.
I guess what I found annoying was that this story was supposed to be about the efficient and effective way the NYPD is operating, but Ed Bradley didn't know how to cover a positive story of self-reliance.
He's forever stuck in "blame somebody" mode.
3 shifts, housing projects, subways, a massive bridge and tunnel infrastructure, a host of high profile targets all over manhattan - it adds up.
sorta pathetic ,... unless of course , there is a security problem
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