Every day since 9/11, there have been plots against New York City, says David Cohen, the police department's intelligence chief. "What that plot consists of, who's doing it, and where it's percolating from can change," Cohen says, "but there's someone out there every day of the week thinking about that."
Because of such threats, securing any big city would seem to be "almost impossible," says Christopher Dickey, a Newsweek reporter in his new book, "Securing the City." But "the results obtained in New York, he concludes, are "almost a miracle."
Dickey knows terrorism. For more than 20 years, from Paris and the Middle East - where our assignments often overlapped and we shared not only a friendship but a publisher - he has reported on Islamic terror.
In this well-crafted account, Dickey weaves strands of various threats abroad - the fanatical plotters and their often bizarre, seemingly inept plots - into New York 's vast, complex urban landscape. He outlines the "cat-and-mouse games" that the NYPD played in 2003 with suspected agents attached to Iran's UN mission in New York - which one senior NYPD official concludes was aimed at "getting their people used to operating in New York City."
The NYPD's quest for its own information about threats to the city inevitably pitted Commission Ray Kelly's 1,000-person counter-terror team against the "three letter guys" in the CIA and FBI who initially waged a guerrilla war to keep NYPD off their "turf." But thanks to a backchannel relationship with the CIA, Cohen eventually got the information he wanted about Al Qaeda threats abroad.
"We knew everything," Cohen tells Dickey about the special relationships the NYPD devised. Gradually, Dickey reports, after the NYPD had information to trade, rather than share, both agencies came to value the NYPD's insights about potentially dangerous people and deadly techniques.
The NYPD now has information - tons of it. The data are plugged into the computers of Kelly's $11 million Real Time Crime Center, giving detectives access "to everything from criminal records to utility bills, to a database of tattoos."
While expressing concern about the implications of a paper on "radicalization" among the city's estimated 700,000 Muslims and the growing potential for "homegrown" extremism, Dickey seems to accept Kelly's assurance that the NYPD has sufficient oversight in the five district attorneys, two U.S. attorneys, boards against corruption and abuse, and the "relentless attentions of the media." But the NYPD's intelligence-gathering operations, even Kelly acknowledges, are in "uncharted water."
Dickey calls Kelly and his team heroes who have "somehow found the right balance." But he provides little new information about the activities of the department's sensitive undercover operatives, or how they are monitored.
He sees the NYPD's model as an alternative to what he calls Washington's "dangerously ill-conceived, mismanaged, and highly militarized 'global war on terror.'" The GWOT, he asserts without evidence, has "created more terrorists" than it has eliminated. Perhaps. But many in the NYPD see their programs not as a substitute for, or alternative to the federal war against Al Qaeda, but as a particularly effective part of it.