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New York Post

 

NYPD's Intelligence Advantage

July 16, 2007

By Judith Miller

PRINTER FRIENDLY

SINCE 9/11, the NYPD has broken up, or helped break up, at least seven serious terror plots. New Yorkers have become familiar with the department's "in your face" terror exercises, like its random deployments of heavily armed police and vehicles to sites around the city, but most know much less about the extent of the effort behind the scenes, which has employed unmatched resources, innovative methods and - contrary to what some detractors say - information-sharing.

The NYPD has long been one of the world's largest law-enforcement agencies. On 9/11, it employed some 36,000 sworn officers and about 14,000 civilians - a bigger force than the next five largest U.S. police departments combined. Shortly after taking office in January 2002, Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly began drawing on those considerable resources to revamp and expand the NYPD's terror-fighting capabilities.

Kelly hired two key counterterrorism deputies from Washington, D.C.: David Cohen, a former deputy director of the CIA's operations wing, to head the NYPD's Intelligence Division; and Michael Sheehan, former State Department head of counterterrorism, to run the force's new Counter Terrorism Bureau. Then he assigned more than 1,000 people to their units, the largest deployment of any American city to combat terrorism.

The NYPD tries to locate and neutralize pockets of militancy even before potentially violent individuals can form radical cells - a "preventive" approach, as Kelly calls it, that is the most effective way that police departments can help fight terror. Each day, the Counter Terrorism Bureau analyzes worldwide threats to determine how many officers should deploy where; assesses risks to targets; and develops plans for protecting key sites in and near the city.

Much of the NYPD's recent counterterrorism work has focused on the financial district in Lower Manhattan, home to 75 of the city's 367 most sensitive sites. Kelly is planning to erect a "ring of steel" - cameras, random screenings and sophisticated sensors like those that London installed after its own subway and bus terror attacks in 2005 - to help protect the 1.5-square-mile district and its 1 trillion daily financial transactions.

The cutting edge of the NYPD's antiterrorism efforts, though, is Cohen's Intelligence Division. Before 9/11, the Intelligence Division mainly developed intelligence on narcotics and violent crimes, and sought to protect visiting dignitaries to the city. Now its personnel devote almost all of their time to terrorism investigations.

Kelly says that the division has 23 civilian intelligence analysts, with master's degrees and higher; some have come from leading think tanks, even from the CIA - giving the force a capability, he says, "that exists no place else."

Cohen's division supervises undercover agents who infiltrate potentially violent terrorist groups - something that no other police department in the nation does. The identities of these covert warriors, and other details of the program, remain fiercely guarded secrets. But information occasionally turns up in federal prosecutions - such as the NYPD's use of an undercover agent in helping to foil the JFK airport conspiracy, and of both a Bangladeshi undercover officer and an Egyptian-born confidential informant in disrupting a 2004 plot to bomb the Herald Square subway station.

Undercover work capitalizes on the NYPD's 870-plus civilian and uniformed speakers of Albanian, Arabic, Bengali, Farsi, Pashto, Turkish and Urdu - more than the FBI's New York field office employs. More than 200 are "master linguists" in high-priority languages.

Los Angeles Police Chief William Bratton, who served as New York's police commissioner in the mid-'90s, describes the NYPD's intelligence operation as "the gold standard." What Bratton criticizes, however - and he's not alone - is the NYPD's alleged refusal to give other law-enforcement agencies access to the intelligence that it has so doggedly gathered. "My concern is that at the federal level, there are too few dots to connect - and in New York, what they collect is not being shared," he says.

Neither Kelly nor his deputies deny that, for years after 9/11, relations between the NYPD and the FBI were rancorous. The NYPD blames the strain on FBI resentment of Kelly's creation of what are basically a miniature FBI and CIA within the force. "For a long while," Cohen says, "their attitude was: 'If you're not under our control, you're out of control.' "

A turning point, both sides agree, came in November 2005, when FBI Director Robert Mueller III visited the NYPD and had a private sit-down with Kelly. Mueller agreed with Kelly that New York was "big enough and enough of a target to warrant some independence," an NYPD official recalled. The FBI began seeing Cohen's Intelligence Division not as a rival or nuisance but as an additional source of vital intelligence.

NYPD officials insist that the department doesn't deserve its reputation for arrogance and that its counterterrorism programs have always required cooperation with private businesses and other law-enforcement agencies. Since launching "Operation Nexus" in 2002, notes Cohen, the NYPD has visited more than 30,000 businesses in New York and beyond, encouraging them to report suspicious purchases or other potentially terrorism-related activity.

Another initiative, "Operation Shield," helps area businesses assess - and revise - security. The program also shares unclassified intelligence and security tips with private security firms. "Shield is all about sharing with the private sector on a real-time basis," Kelly says. And New York's "fusion center," the nation's first, now includes counterterrorism reps from some 40 local, state and federal agencies.

State officials and leaders in other cities still occasionally grumble that the NYPD is reluctant to work with other police departments or, more often, that it neglects to inform them about its operations on their turf. But "Operation Sentry," the NYPD's discreet new effort to forge counterterrorism partnerships within a 200-mile radius of the city, might change their minds.

Recognizing that the 9/11 attacks began not in New York but in Boston and Portland, Maine, Kelly invited law-enforcement officials from counties and cities as far away as Baltimore to a three-day meeting late last year to discuss such issues as the radicalization of Muslim youth and what New York has learned about how to identify terrorism-related conduct.

Francisco Ortiz, New Haven's police chief, calls Sentry "invaluable." Through Sentry, he now gets updates on regional threats as they unfold, as well as invitations to bimonthly sessions in New York featuring the latest threat assessments and training courses on improving security at sensitive sites. "They're helping us become a better listening post in Connecticut for New York," he says.

Washington is coming around to the NYPD's argument that thwarting terrorism requires better local intelligence about what potentially dangerous groups and individuals are planning. Last year, the Homeland Security Department's "Urban Area Security Initiative" began to offer grants to help local police strengthen their ability to collect and analyze intelligence. Our cities will be safer for it.

Original Source: http://www.nypost.com/seven/07162007/postopinion/opedcolumnists/nypds_intelligence_advantage_opedcolumnists_judith_miller.htm?page=0

 

 
 
 

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