Last week, James Clapper, the director of National Intelligence, backed by the director of the National Counter Terrorism Center, DHS and the FBI, told the Senate Armed Services Committee that the current terrorist threat was as layered and complex as it has ever been since 9/11.
Clapper highlighted that ISIS presents a persistent threat to the world, and indicated that a terrorist attack on U.S. soil in the next year would be likely. On Sunday night, John Brennan, the CIA director, said much the same on “60 Minutes,” adding that ISIS now has access to chemical weapons.
In the parallel universe we call Washington — while the intelligence community gave a unified message that we are in more danger from terrorism than we were before — the Office of Management and Budget was just printing out its latest work, a brand new 2017 budget, which slashes homeland security funds to major urban areas by half, known as UASI.
Let me say that another way. They want to reduce funding to major cities, including New York, from $600 million to $300 million. This came with no warning, consultation or explanation to anyone who protects a major U.S. city for a living. Somebody in Washington thought this is a good idea, and that an election year might be the best time to do it. It baffles.
In New York City, we have been the target of 20 plots since the first bombing of the World Trade Center in 1993. The plots climaxed on 9/11 with the devastation that left 3,000 dead and still dying when you account for the respiratory diseases and cancers that are still claiming the lives of cops and firemen almost 15 years later.
Since then, other plots include the Anthrax attacks (by an emotionally disturbed government scientist), a plan by Al Qaeda to use cyanide gas on the subways, backpack bombs on the subways, and a live truck bomb that was left in Times Square on a Saturday night on orders from a Taliban offshoot. Four of the 20 plots have been inspired by ISIS propaganda in just the last two years.
This spring, a dozen arrests were made in New York and New Jersey of men and women who were studying the construction of pressure cooker bombs and a plan to behead a person on Manhattan’s East Side while filming it with GoPro cameras for ISIL’s video collection.
So let’s get back to the head-scratching question here: What are they possibly thinking in Washington? Is the assumption that by 2017, the threat will be all wrapped up or cut in half? They must not be reading the same intelligence reports that I am, or DNI Clapper is, or FBI Director James Comey.
Since no one from the federal government has offered a cogent explanation of this, let’s try and take an objective guess at what a bean-counter’s rationale might be. The best argument I could come up with goes, big urban areas have been getting what amounts to hundreds of millions of dollars now for over the last 14 years and by now, they should have bought all the gear and trucks they need. It’s cheaper to just maintain these things than it is to buy them, so we figure that should take about half. Anything more than that, they should pay for themselves.
If that is the rationale, that is a fundamental misunderstanding of what it takes to protect a city like New York every year. We are constantly developing and morphing the NYPD’s programs to adjust to the ever changing threats. We are growing a network of cameras, license plate readers and radiation detectors. We are monitoring and updating our bio watch equipment to detect a biological agent released into the streets. We have just replaced the escape masks to protect all our officers in the event of a chemical attack. We already spend tens of millions of dollars of city tax payer dollars for personnel costs, weapons, smartphones that can get terrorist alerts to 35,000 officers in an instant and other expenses.
After the Paris attacks involving active shooters killing 130 people, we expanded our response capabilities. With money from the mayor and City Council, we just hired 500 more officers for counterterrorism work. We gave them specialized weapons and active-shooter tactical training. What happened in San Bernardino only validated this approach. We pay for that, federal funds cover their overtime only. It is not that New York City has not done its part or paid its share.
That said, make no mistake. The threat posed by foreign based terrorist organizations is largely a federal responsibility, but one the federal government can’t do without local law enforcement. The NYPD has the single closest partnership with the FBI than at any other time in history. We collaborate with DHS on a daily basis. But can a city like New York leave the prevention and response to terrorism to the federal government? Read the 9/11 Commission Report again. Those who do not study history are doomed to repeat it … by doing things like telling Congress that we are in more significant danger of a terrorist attack on an American city while slashing the very funds that could help prevent that. The White House needs to fix this, or Congress needs to fix it for them.
DEADLY PLOTS THAT HAVE BEEN DEFUSED
– July 2015: A Staten Island man and a Queens resident identified as ISIS wannabes were busted for allegedly plotting attacks with pressure cooker bombs.
– April 2015: Two Queens women with links to Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula were arrested after purchasing bomb-making materials.
– November 2012: Pakistani-born brothers Raess Alam Qazi and Sheheryar Alam Qazi were nabbed in Florida for a plot targeting New York landmarks including Times Square and Wall Street.
– October 2012: Bangladeshi student Quazi Mohammad Rezwanul Ashan Nafis, a murderous Al Qaeda acolyte, is cuffed for a plot to blow up the Federal Reserve Bank with a 1,000-pound bomb.
– November 2011: Islamic convert Jose Pimente is charged with bomb plots targeting U.S. military veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.
– May 2011: Two immigrants intent on avenging the mistreatment of Muslims worldwide are arrested in an NYPD sting operation for plotting to bomb a Manhattan synagogue.
John Miller is deputy commissioner for the NYPD’s Counterterrorism and Intelligence