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Securing Our Cities

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Securing Our Cities

Counterterrorism After 9/11

Every New Yorker was profoundly affected by the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center of September 11, 2001. The Big Apple’s iconic skyline seemed suddenly unfamiliar. Soldiers dressed in body armor and toting assault rifles appeared on subway platforms and in bus stations. Impromptu memorials popped up on street corners and in front of firehouses draped in purple and black. The city had a gaping hole in its heart.

As New York mourned, the leaders of its police department turned their attention to the possibility of another deadly attack. At the time, such an attack seemed not only likely but inevitable. The NYPD flooded the streets with officers, significantly ramping up its visible presence outside the city’s many high-profile targets. Bridges, tunnels, banks, buildings, hotels, stadiums, theaters—no city landmark was left unguarded. But even while addressing the imminent security threat, the top brass of the NYPD took a longer view.

The nation’s largest municipal police force—primarily responsible for enforcing the city’s laws and investigating crimes committed within the five boroughs—needed to be retooled and reequipped to handle a new reality: New York had been attacked by al-Qaeda twice in less than ten years. The city was the terror network’s top target and would remain so for the foreseeable future. The NYPD knew that it needed to obtain the capacity to anticipate threats and disrupt attacks. This would require not just brawn—such as was on display outside Macy’s and in Times Square—but brains as well.

The plotters had killed nearly 3,000 people not with bombs or grenades but with box cutters and guile. They had used our freedoms against us. Foiling future plots would require outthinking and outwitting the terrorists, not simply outgunning them. In the late autumn of 2001, mayor-elect Michael Bloomberg announced his intention to appoint Ray Kelly commissioner of the NYPD. This would be Kelly’s second go-round in the top job.

Kelly had previously served as commissioner in 1992–94, under Mayor David Dinkins. Even before taking office in January 2002, Kelly convened a brainstorming session with David Cohen, a former CIA director of operations, and Michael A. Sheehan, former head of counterterrorism at the State Department. Their recommendation: the NYPD needed an in-house think tank that could serve as a knowledge hub for the department, gleaning insights from law-enforcement agencies around the world and generating new ideas and new solutions for the myriad unknown challenges that lay ahead.

Some called the task of getting the 40,000-strong NYPD up to speed in this new and complex security environment akin to building a Boeing 747 from scratch—while in the air. Cohen compared it to “putting tires on a speeding car.” Everyone agreed that transforming New York’s finest into an elite counterterrorism force was a tall order and would require a massive dose of creative thinking.

It became very obvious very quickly that the Manhattan Institute could become a great home and support network for something dynamic and useful for the NYPD

“The guys at the NYPD wanted to build a think tank,” said Larry Mone, president of the Manhattan Institute. “So they came to us.” For some time, the Institute and the NYPD had already had a working relationship. During the 1990s, the organizations had collaborated on a number of innovative policing strategies and techniques. These included the successful Broken Windows approach to policing—conceived by James Q. Wilson and George Kelling (two scholars with long-standing affiliations with the Manhattan Institute) and heavily promoted by the think tank—and the revolutionary data-driven intelligence and accountability mechanism known as CompStat, which was studied and reported on by Institute scholars such as Kelling and Heather Mac Donald.

Like all New Yorkers, the trustees and staff of the Manhattan Institute were eager to play a part in solving this new and urgent national security challenge. In January 2002, Sheehan, who by now was running the NYPD’s Counterterrorism Bureau, paid a visit to the Manhattan Institute, at the invitation of Institute senior fellow R. P. Eddy, a veteran national security expert with experience in senior positions at the U.N. and on President Bill Clinton’s National Security Council. Sheehan broached the idea of a new collaboration between the Institute and the NYPD, noting that the department needed to retrain its officers immediately but that the resources to do so simply didn’t exist—there was literally no line item in the NYPD budget for a new think tank or policy center devoted to best practices, intelligence analysis, and counterterrorism.

“It became very obvious very quickly that the Manhattan Institute could become a great home and support network for something dynamic and useful for the NYPD,” according to Eddy. “And the Institute stood up fast. The trustees put up real dollars to custom-build what we decided to call the Center for Tactical Counterterrorism (CTCT).” With Eddy at the helm as executive director, the CTCT’s first order of business was organizing a closed-door, invitation-only conference.

The event featured, as Eddy put it, “19 of the 20 best counterterrorism experts in the world,” interacting and exchanging ideas with officials and analysts from the major U.S. law-enforcement agencies. When word of the conference got around, many more attendees than had officially responded to the invitation—or that the conference hall could accommodate—showed up, demonstrating the urgent demand for new ideas and new approaches to the problem of protecting America’s cities from terrorist attack. David Cohen, the 30-year CIA vet, had in the intervening months been appointed the NYPD’s deputy commissioner of intelligence. He told colleagues that the event was “by far the most successful conference I’ve ever been to.” Senior FBI agents and CIA analysts happily stood in the hall, where they could hear, but not see, the proceedings.

“The whole idea was for it to be a ‘nonconference’ conference. We didn’t want people falling asleep in their coffee,” said Eddy. “We wanted a really dynamic, interactive exchange of information.” What emerged was a grand strategy for transformation of the NYPD’s approach to urban counterterrorism that blended intelligence gathering and analysis with traditional policing. One of the most visible components of this new approach was the overseas liaison program, which placed NYPD officers with police departments in foreign countries for the purposes of intelligence gathering, relationship building, and information sharing.

The New Jersey State Police called the CPT “instrumental in providing subject matter experts that our team could consult concerning policy, strategy, and the operations of intelligence.” In 2008, the Los Angeles Police Department opened the pilot class of the Counter-Terrorism Academy, a joint project of the LAPD and MI’s CPT. This one-of-a-kind program was developed to train state and local cops to be the front line in the War on Terror.

Over the next half-decade, the CTCT would consolidate and promote this model of intelligence-led policing through its connections with police chiefs and departments around the world. In mid-2002, Eddy brought on board Tim Connors, a West Point and Notre Dame Law School graduate, to oversee the CTCT’s day-to-day operations. As an army infantry officer, Connors had served as a platoon leader, company and battalion executive officer, company commander, and on battalion and brigade staffs. He had been practicing business law in Syracuse on 9/11. His reserve battalion was called up, and he was deployed as a civil affairs officer to Konar Province, Afghanistan, where he led a team in support of B Company, 20th Special Forces Group.

Under Connors, the CTCT began publishing reports and white papers on intelligence fusion centers, local counterterrorism strategies, and intelligence-led policing. With the research assistance of MI staffers Mark Riebling and Pete Patton, the center produced rapid-response briefings on major terrorist attacks around the world and presented them at weekly meetings with the Counterterrorism Bureau.

“In the beginning, the NYPD really relied on us,” said Patton. “They didn’t have the capacity to do this stuff in-house. There was urgency to the whole thing, and the Manhattan Institute added real value.” Emerging from this work was a conceptual counterterrorism strategy that built upon Broken Windows and CompStat policing models and that trained police in the problem-solving techniques, data analysis, and order maintenance that proved so successful in bringing down crime rates in American cities during the 1990s. This new approach enabled the officers and detectives of the NYPD to transform themselves from so-called first responders into a new breed of “first preventers.”

This transformation was described in a 2006 Manhattan Institute report authored by Kelling and former NYPD commissioner William J. Bratton: “Application of Broken Windows theory in counterterrorist policing has two components: the first is creating a hostile environment for terrorists; the second is recognizing that terrorism’s equivalents to subway fare beating are illegal border crossings, forged documents, and other relatively minor precursor crimes that terrorists often commit to fund the operations to prepare their attacks.”

“The ongoing threat posed by terrorism,” NYPD commissioner Ray Kelly said in 2005, “offers fertile ground for which an enhanced partnership between the department and the Manhattan Institute may prove fruitful. We’ve already taken tangible steps down this road with the establishment of the Center for Tactical Counterterrorism at the Institute, and the completion of several studies.”

The crucial insight gleaned from the partnership between the Manhattan Institute and the NYPD in the months and years following 9/11 was that local law enforcement was better positioned than just about anyone to identify and pursue those “relatively minor precursor crimes” taking place in their own communities and backyards. “The threats might come from gangs, from state-supported terrorist groups, or from loose transnational networks,” Connors said. “The one sure thing is that they’re going to manifest themselves locally.” NYPD commissioner Kelly foresaw, with remarkable prescience, that America’s long-term military operations in Afghanistan and elsewhere would minimize the probability that plots originating overseas would successfully make it to these shores.

Yet as foreign terrorist threats dimmed, the threat from domestic, self-radicalized terrorists with only the loosest affiliation with overseas networks, or none at all, grew. “How are we going to build local partnerships to follow a 17-year-old kid in California who is self-radicalized? This is the challenge that the Manhattan Institute saw and precisely the challenge that the New York Police Department saw when they asked us to help them,” said Eddy.

The Lackawanna Six, arrested in September 2002 and charged with providing material support to al-Qaeda, were all American citizens, as was Major Nidal Malik Hasan, the American army officer who killed 13 people at Fort Hood, Texas. Faisal Shahzad, the Pakistani-born perpetrator of the attempted car bombing of Times Square in 2010, had become a naturalized American citizen 13 months earlier. The thwarted plan to bomb New York City subways during the Republican National Convention of 2004, the plot against Fort Dix in May 2007, and the June 2007 conspiracy to blow up aviation fuel tanks and pipelines at JFK International Airport in New York were all designed and implemented on American soil. The efforts of local law enforcement were invaluable to the disruption of each plan.

In the months and years after 9/11, this focus on “first preventers” would come to define the work of the CTCT as it sponsored similar conferences featuring intellectuals and policy experts from agencies and organizations as diverse as the CIA, the FBI, the Joint Terrorism Task Force, the New Jersey State Police, the Los Angeles Police Department, the Department of Homeland Security, the RAND Corporation, the Police Institute at Rutgers University, the International Policy Institute for Counter-Terrorism in Israel, the New York City Office of Radiological Health, and many more.

The research papers, transcripts, and media products that these events produced each made invaluable contributions to local law enforcement’s increased understanding of the evolving terrorist threat. The CTCT was renamed the Center for Policing Terrorism (CPT) in 2006 and, under the directorship of Tim Connors, continued working closely with the NYPD and other police departments around the country. The I-95 Domestic Security Preparedness Group, devised by the CPT, Rutgers University, and the Department of Homeland Security, created a forum for East Coast law-enforcement officials to network and share best practices.

The New Jersey State Police called the CPT “instrumental in providing subject matter experts that our team could consult concerning policy, strategy, and the operations of intelligence.” In 2008, the Los Angeles Police Department opened the pilot class of the Counter-Terrorism Academy, a joint project of the LAPD and MI’s CPT. This one-of-a-kind program was developed to train state and local cops to be the front line in the War on Terror.

“I want to thank the Manhattan Institute for bringing your intellectual firepower to the fight. You were there early and often. And you were unwavering,” said Commissioner Kelly at a 2011 MI conference in commemoration of the tenth anniversary of 9/11. As an institution—but more important, as New Yorkers ourselves—the Manhattan Institute believes that Ray Kelly’s singular vision for the transformation of the NYPD from a traditional police force into the world’s premier counterterrorism agency is responsible for achieving what no one thought possible in the autumn of 2001: keeping the city safe from another attack.

“When Commissioner Kelly took office in January 2002, no one predicted that crime would continue to decline or that the city would not suffer from another terrorist attack. Yet that is exactly what happened,” said Larry Mone. “The credit belongs in full measure to Ray Kelly’s extraordinary leadership.” As a Manhattan Institute policy center, the CPT continued publishing research and consulting with law enforcement until the end of 2008. At that time, in keeping with the Institute’s history of supporting self-sustaining initiatives, the center was absorbed into the National Consortium for Advanced Policing, a private, nonprofit agency in California that provides training to law-enforcement agencies across the country.

In 2006, R. P. Eddy founded Ergo, a strategy-consulting firm in New York specializing in emerging markets and geopolitical intelligence. Tim Connors brought his 20 years of experience in national defense, counterterrorism, and homeland security to Constantine & Aborn Advisory Services, where he serves as senior manager of law enforcement and security services. And in 2004, Pete Patton was recruited as an analyst in the NYPD’s Counterterrorism Division. He works there to this day.

 

  1. September 2001

    Following the terrorist attacks on September 11, Mayor-elect Bloomberg announces his intention to appoint Ray Kelly as the NYPD Commissioner.

  2. February 2002

    Tim Connors is appointed to oversee CTCT’s daily operations. CTCT presents weekly briefings to the Counterterrorism Bureau on international terrorist attacks, also produces reports and white papers on local counterterrorism strategies.

  3. May 2002

    Based on CTCT’s recommendations, the NYPD begins utilizing counterterrorism tactics that build on Broken Windows and Compstat policing models.

  4. May 2006

    A 2006 MI report states that this method seeksto create a hostile environment for terrorists and emphasizes a crackdown on minor precursor crimes. The NYPD shifts from being first responders to “first preventers”.

  5. September 2006

    CTCT is renamed the Center for Policing Terrorism (CPT). CPT, Rutgers University, and the Department of Homeland Security create the I-95 Domestic Security Preparedness Group, which provides a forum for East Coast law enforcement officials to network.

  6. October 2008

    The Los Angeles Police Department partners with CPT to open the Counter-Terrorism Academy. The Academy trains state and local police officers on how to fight the War on Terror.

  7. September 2009

    CPT separates from MI and is absorbed into the National Consortium for Advanced Policing, a nonprofit agency in California that trains law-enforcement officials across the nation.

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