How New York City fights terror now
Just after dawn, more than 75 police cars race to Times Square, lights flashing, then converge in what's called "combat fashion." Each backs halfway onto the sidewalk in a daunting show of municipal muscle and readiness.Skip to next paragraph
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Across town on the Gowanus Expressway, three heavily armored SUVs suddenly pull over. Helmeted antiterrorism officers jump out and survey the Brooklyn scene around them, guns cocked and ready.
Meanwhile, in Lyon, France, a New York Police Department detective is being briefed on Interpol's latest terrorist intelligence and immediately relays it back to One Police Plaza in Manhattan.
NYPD intelligence gathering and drills such as these happen every day. Five years after 9/11, New York has emerged as an international leader in urban security and counterterrorism measures. On any given day, more than 1,000 uniformed officers are tasked with ensuring that New York City – still the world's No. 1 terrorist target, according to analysts – is doing everything in its power to prevent another attack. Indeed, the city's police department has developed a wide variety of tactics, from positioning detectives abroad to reaching out to the Muslim community at home.
Terrorism experts applaud the city's approach in part because of this comprehensive nature. That reflects a growing consensus among security analysts that five years after 9/11, the United States must readjust its thinking and behavior in the fight against terror: It should not only continue to implement on-the-ground security measures, they say, but it should also reaffirm and cultivate bedrock American values that could counterbalance terrorist efforts.
"In the final analysis, our security is not going to be a matter of barriers and bollards and electronic surveillance or keeping shampoo from carry-on luggage," says terrorism expert Brian Jenkins, who created the terrorism unit at RAND Corp. more than 30 years ago. "It is really going to be found in our own courage and our continuing commitment to our own values and the rule of law – our sense of community, our tolerance, our historic traditions of self-reliance and resilience."
That spirit of self-reliance is what motivated New York to create its unique counterterrorism and intelligence units within the police department, as well as to post detectives in 10 different countries.
Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly says the city had no choice, if it wanted to protect itself. "I would like to think we perfect and hone our skills virtually every day," says Commissioner Kelly. "But we're not in a position to declare success."
New York now spends $200 million a year on counterterrorism measures – most of it coming from the city's coffers, not the federal government.
"The approach taken by the city of New York is absolutely essential," says Michael Greenberger, director of the University of Maryland's Center on Health and Homeland Security. "On a broad array of issues, the federal government has let the states and cities down."
But federal government has also increased its homeland security spending to an estimated $49 billion this year, up from $20 billion five years ago. According to the White House, those increased funds have helped transform the federal government so that it is now "better informed of terrorist threats, with improved intelligence collection."
"Over the past five years, we have waged an unprecedented campaign against terror at home and abroad, and that campaign has succeeded in protecting the homeland," President Bush told the Georgia Public Policy Foundation in Atlanta last week in the final of three speeches addressing the national threat five years after 9/11. "At the same time ... we've seen that the extremists have not given up on their dreams to strike our nation."
That is foremost in the minds of independent terrorism experts. They acknowledge that progress has been made, but they contend that the federal government still hasn't addressed huge gaps in the nation's security, from a lack of screening of cargo on passenger planes to failures to properly "harden" and protect the nation's nuclear and chemical plants.
"We're not doing enough, quickly enough, in almost every area," says Lee Hamilton, vice chair of the 9/11 commission and president of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington. "We're now going about things with a 'business as usual' attitude, without the sufficient urgency that I think is warranted."