Friday, July 27, 2007

Bloomberg's CIA

Judith Miller has a fascinating look in City Journal at the different anti-terror tactics employed by Los Angeles and New York City. One part of the NYPD anti-terror effort which gets a fair amount of attention is a unit that might be described as New York City's CIA:

The cutting edge of the NYPD’s antiterrorism efforts, though, is David Cohen’s Intelligence Division. “We’re looking at ‘clusters,’ at how and where people get together, what they do and where they go, how they raise funds,” Kelly says during an interview at One Police Plaza. “This analytical work is not being done anywhere else in government. It’s all about prevention.”

Before September 11, the Intelligence Division mainly developed intelligence on narcotics and violent crimes, and sought to protect visiting dignitaries to the city—a glorified “escort service,” Kelly once scoffed. Now, its personnel devote 95 percent of their time to terrorism investigations, the PERF report concludes (and sources confirm). Kelly says that the division has 23 civilian intelligence analysts, with master’s degrees and higher from Columbia, Cornell, Harvard, and other universities; some have come from leading think tanks, even from the CIA—giving the force a capability, he says, “that exists no place else.” The division’s “field intelligence officers,” one assigned to each of the NYPD’s 76 precincts, keep tabs on people, crimes, and arrests that might have terrorism links. “Core Collection” officers develop confidential informants, who could give early warning about people being radicalized by militant associates or websites.

Cohen’s division also supervises undercover agents who infiltrate potentially violent groups. 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 June JFK airport conspiracy, and of both a Bangladeshi undercover officer and an Egyptian-born confidential informant in disrupting a 2004 plot by Islamic terrorists to bomb the Herald Square subway station. “I want at least 1,000 to 2,000 to die in one day,” one of the accused told the informant in the subway case, a stunned New York jury heard last year. Though the men had not acquired explosives, police arrested them shortly before the Republican national convention in August 2004, after nearly two years of surveillance. The key plotter, Shahawar Matin Siraj, a 22-year-old Pakistani, recently received a 30-year sentence. “This is the kind of homegrown, lone-wolf case that starts way below federal radar,” Cohen says. “But had these two guys acted on their intentions”—to “fuck this country very bad,” as Siraj threatened on tape—“a lot of New Yorkers would have died and been injured.”

But does the NYPD need to share more?

What Bratton criticizes—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. “New York has perfected an array of intelligence-gathering initiatives,” he observes. “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. As a result, law enforcement is not being formed by this information.”

Read the whole thing. It's fascinating. First off, from a simple political perspective, it will provide the meat of Mayor Bloomberg's presidential platform as regards national security -- if he ultimately chooses to run. Since the 9/11 attacks occurred at the end of the Giuliani mayoralty, Bloomberg will claim credit for all of New York's anti-terror developments since the attacks.

Second, it seems to show the extraordinary difference that an actual terrorist attacks makes in perceptions. Miller looks at Los Angeles, whose anti-terror efforts seem a world away from New York City's -- and one big reason is the urgency in New York as a result of 9/11. Should a successful terror attack occur in Los Angeles, one can imagine officials there being forced to discuss why they did not learn the lessons of September 11, and having to consider an overhaul to government structures and jurisdictions to do more of what New York does.

The piece also illustrates the value of an 'Army of Davids' approach to anti-terrorism efforts. One gets the sense that America's large cities can accomplish as much to check terrorism in the US as does the federal government -- once they combine their efforts.

The NYPD's larger and more comprehensive program in particular, seems to be at the center of a northeast regional anti-terror hub, whose roots in the communities offer the potential for a great amount of intelligence about terrorist activities. With the knowledge they develop from walking the streets and listening to tipsters, these police agencies that make a big difference.

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