Now, as even the New York Times grudgingly noted, this was a legal intelligence collection operation. It was allowed by a federal judge who accorded the department "greater authority…to investigate political organizations for criminal activity."
More to the point, New York law enforcement officers are at the cutting edge of policing terror. Their department recognized after 9/11 that it too had to adopt an offensively oriented strategy. No longer could the police simply try to secure the City; intelligence about actual or potential terrorist threats – and ideas about how best to counteract them – must be obtained from the best sources available, wherever they may be.
These tools were indispensable during the 2004 Convention and they are no less valuable today. To its credit (and the consternation of the New York Times), the NYPD has not only created active intelligence-sharing arrangements with a number of other U.S. federal, state and local law enforcement agencies. It has also assigned detectives to work in at least 8 foreign cities, including London, Amman, Tel Aviv and Toronto where they liaison with the host country's own counterterrorism force and report back to New York.
The value of such "forward-deployed" assets was evident when, immediately after the London subway bombings in July 2005, New York’s Deputy Policy Commissioner, David Cohen, received a detailed report on the methodology adopted by the terrorists, the materials they used and the suspects. The NYPD immediately briefed officers with this intelligence and redeployed them appropriately on the subways of New York City.
The NYPD has been a national leader in recognizing that policing in an age of terror requires not only proactive intelligence collection but the ability to act decisively upon the fruits of that collection – rather than waiting for disaster to strike, and then reacting. Since he took over in 2002, New York’s Commissioner Kelly has striven to improve the NYPD’s capacity for decisive action.
For example, on any given day 300 or more police officers, often drawn from every precinct in the City, are ordered to converge on some previously undisclosed, but high-value locations (such as the Empire State Building or Times Square). In this manner, a formidable array of heavily armed units, emergency service personnel and detectives get potentially invaluable, life-saving training in how to prevent terrorist attacks and, failing that, to contend with their aftermath.
Intelligence-led policing as practiced by the New York Police Department is a significant reason why we have not been successfully attacked again. Rather than hector those who are working hard to protect us while respecting our rights, denying them tools they need to do so or imposing new bureaucracies (such as a British-style MI5), we should ensure that they receive our support – and remain armed with the legal and other authorities needed to do their jobs.
Frank Gaffney Jr. is the founder and president of the Center for Security Policy and author of War Footing: 10 Steps America Must Take to Prevail in the War for the Free World .
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