Tuesday, December 11, 2007


by Brad Reagan

Protecting America's cities, ports, borders and airports requires new technology and new tactics. Here's a look at who's doing it right.

A heavily armed Hercules team makes a show of force outside a midtown Manhattan office building.

No one sees them coming. There are no flashing lights, no sirens. The black Suburban simply glides out of Fifth Avenue traffic and pulls into a no-parking zone in front of the Empire State Building.

Moments later, four men spill out in combat helmets and heavy body armor: Two carry submachine guns; the others, snub-nosed shotguns.

Camera-toting tourists stop jabbering and stare at this intimidating new presence, their faces a mixture of curiosity and fear. Even jaded New Yorkers, many of whom work inside the midtown Manhattan landmark, look impressed.

A stone's throw down the sidewalk, Abad Nieves watches the scene unfold. Nieves is a detective with the Intelligence Division of the New York Police Department (NYPD).

Casually clad in slacks and a black leather jacket, he monitors the response of people loitering in the area. Is anyone making notes or videotaping? Does anyone seem especially startled by the out-of-the-blue appearance of a heavily armed NYPD squad?

On this day, Nieves doesn't see anything overly suspicious, but he is pleased that the deployment created a strong impression.

Known as a Hercules team, it makes multiple appearances around the city each day. The locations are chosen either in response to specific intelligence or simply to provide a show of force at high-profile sites.

'The response we usually get is, 'Holy s---!'' Nieves says. 'That's the reaction we want. We are in the business of scaring people--we just want to scare the right people.'

The people the NYPD hopes to scare are the ideological brothers of the Islamic extremists who have successfully attacked New York City twice in the past 13 years. To stop these terrorists, the department fundamentally changed the way it protects the city after 9/11.

At 51,000 strong, the NYPD employs more than 1.5 times as many people as the FBI, and its anti-terrorism initiative is a synchronized effort between the department's Intelligence Division and the Counter Terrorism Bureau.

The Intelligence Division coordinates the Hercules teams, which are composed of specialist cops rotated in from throughout the force.

The Counter Terrorism Bureau takes on a more focused role, functioning as the department's think tank on terrorism prevention and overseeing various subdepartments such as the NYPD/FBI Joint Terrorist Task Force.

The effort even stretches far from New York, with nine liaisons assigned to such overseas hot spots as Tel Aviv, Israel; Amman, Jordan; and London.

New York has become a testing ground for urban terrorism prevention in a major city, integrating new thinking and sophisticated technology into every level of the force.

And, the lessons learned are beginning to influence police forces in other cities. In 2004, Los Angeles launched Operation Archangel to identify possible targets and to develop protection plans for them, and the Chicago Police Department earlier this year began providing five days of terrorism training to all of its 13,500 officers.

Several big cities, including Washington, D.C., Las Vegas, Los Angeles and Chicago, even formed a network to gather and share intelligence--an interagency version of what New York built in-house.

The NYPD provides valuable consultation to many other local police departments and even state and federal agencies, from the Department of Defense to the Illinois State Police. In fact, international police forces from the Netherlands, Singapore and other countries have sent representatives to the NYPD to learn its tactics.

'Clearly, New York is way in front on this,' says Brian Michael Jenkins, a terrorism expert with the Rand Corp. 'As the threat gets more diffused, we are going to have less of the kind of intelligence that can be picked up by the feds.

We are dealing now with threats that are deliberately operating under the radar. Therefore, we have to aim the radar lower, to the local level.'

Although there have been no attacks in New York since 9/11, police officials work under the assumption that Al Qaeda and its sympathizers are constantly plotting against the city. As an example, they point to a 2002 plan by an Ohio truck driver named Iyman Faris to bring down the Brooklyn Bridge by cutting its cables.

Hercules teams are frequently stationed on the bridge, and the department keeps a boat in the waters beneath it at all times.

Faris, who later pleaded guilty to aiding Al Qaeda, ultimately called off the operation with a coded message reading: 'The weather is too hot.'

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