Volume 18 • Issue 12 | August 12 - 18, 2005

Downtown Express photo by Jennifer Bodrow

Feeling safer with the N.Y.P.D. tracking terrorists

By Jane Flanagan

Well, I am now feeling a lot better about living in New York City. Let me explain. Yes, I am aware of what’s happening in London, and, no, I haven’t lost my mind. I know that N.Y.C. is still terrorist target No. 1. It’s just that I read an article on the N.Y.P.D.’s counter-terrorism efforts and I am very impressed. I can’t believe I didn’t know what these guys were up to.

The story, as detailed in a New Yorker article, begins with my neighbor, N.Y.P.D.’s Raymond Kelly. The Police Chief lives in Battery Park City and was here on 9/11. Like the rest of us here that day, he’ll never forget it either. He had a feeling of utter helplessness as well. Because at the time, Kelly was working in the private sector. But a few weeks afterward, Mayor-elect Michael Bloomberg asked Kelly to resume his mantle as police chief. (He held the top post under David Dinkins in the early ‘90s.)

And Kelly got to work. First, he installed two terror-obsessed guys in key positions. You know, the kind who can’t sleep nights because they are up mulling over angles they may have missed. Exactly the right guys for the job.

They are not just any guys, either. One, Michael Sheehan, N.Y.P.D. Deputy Commissioner for Counter Terrorism, spent 20 years in the army, mainly in Special Forces and was the State Department’s Ambassador-at-Large for Counter Terrorism in the Clinton administration.

David Cohen, Deputy Commissioner for Intelligence, spent 35 years in the C.I.A., eventually becoming director of operations. Kelly hired him in 2002 to revamp the Police Department’s intelligence division. There is no other program in the country even slightly like it now, according to William Finnegan, the author of the piece.

And why do they want to work at the city level? Because they can get things done, that’s why. Unlike when they worked for the Feds. In fact, the Feds are now borrowing N.Y.P.D.’s manpower and expertise. I’m not kidding.

Before 9/11, there were less than two dozen officers working the terrorism beat full time, Finnegan reports. Today, there are about 1,000. Also, all police officers are now trained to consider counter-terrorism a fundamental part of their job.

The N.Y.P.D. has also recruited far more people of Arab descent who can pass its rigorous background checks than either the F.B.I. or the C.I.A. At unmarked locations around the five boroughs, police officers fluent in relevant languages pore over the foreign press and surf the vast number of jihadist Web sites and chat rooms.

N.Y.P.D. also runs “Operation Nexus” which tracks terror-sensitive businesses. Nexus squads visit about 200 business entities a week. Since it was launched in 2002, the squad has visited more than 20,000. Also, whenever any terror-related event occurs anywhere in the world, New York police officers are dispatched to the site, usually within hours.

And what’s motivating these efforts? For one thing, the same feeling of shock and fear that all of us in Lower Manhattan experienced on 9/11. As Finnegan writes of Kelly and the N.Y.P.D., “There was a strong feeling that federal agencies had let down New York City, and the city should no longer count on the Feds for its protection.” Amen.

And as David Cohen told Finnegan, the N.Y.P.D. is on high alert and “they are not going to attack you when you’re on high alert.”

So now, when I read articles in the paper about how the F.B.I. has a growing stockpile of untranscribed intelligence tapes, and that its critical new computer system won’t be online until 2009, I think about the N.Y.P.D. and feel a little better.

Reading this article, I kept wondering why I haven’t heard much before about N.Y.P.D.’s counter-terrorism work. Perhaps because unlike Washington politicians who, as Finnegan puts it, “practice the politics of fear,” Kelly and his group do not seem to crave the spotlight. On the contrary, they know that fear mongering hinders their ability to separate real from false threats. No, you won’t see them popping up on TV with color-coded charts. They are too busy doing the back-breaking, meticulously-detailed work that is counter-terrorism. Thank God for that.


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