Policing Terror

Posted: Mar 27, 2007 1:28 PM

Some people think the reason there have been no successful terrorist attacks in the United States since 9/11 is because the threat from Islamofascists and others wishing us ill has been overblown. Actually, our enemies have never stopped trying to inflict additional death and destruction here. In fact, there have been some 300 mostly successful prosecutions of terror-plotters in America in recent years. It would be the height of folly to believe that those who wish us harm will not continue to try to inflict it.

Others, with greater reason, attribute the absence to date of new attacks here to the offensive strategy the Bush Administration adopted in September 2001. It is aimed at disrupting our enemies' operations by attacking their bases of support and safe-havens overseas. There is no question that fighting terrorists abroad has helped make more manageable the task of having to counter them here at home.

Still, in no small measure, the miraculous feat of five-plus years without a large-scale, lethal terrorist incident in America is a credit to those who on the frontlines of the home front in this War for the Free World. And there are, arguably, no finer examples of such heroes than the members of the New York Police Department (universally known by its acronym, NYPD).

Unfortunately, the NYPD is under assault at the moment by civil liberties agitators, a phalanx of lawyers and their allies at the New York Times. Last Sunday, the Times breathlessly reported on its front page that lawsuits against New York’s Finest have produced evidence the Police Department went to extraordinary lengths to prevent attacks on the 2004 Republican National Convention. That event was rightly seen as offering terrorists a possibly irresistible two-fer: a chance simultaneously to do further damage to the Nation’s financial capital and to disrupt American democracy, in the process perhaps killing many of its leaders as they convened in that city.

Specifically, the New York police, under their outstanding Commissioner, Ray Kelly, created an "RNC Intelligence Squad" after New York was selected to host the Republicans' quadrennial gathering. The Squad was charged with assessing the intentions of individuals and groups who exhibited an interest in: violently or otherwise disrupting the Convention; interfering with or damaging the infrastructure, facilities and businesses servicing it; or otherwise impinging upon its delegates' exercise of their freedoms of assembly and speech.

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.