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A peek inside security plan

November 4, 2005

Testimony in federal court this week provides a glimpse of one of the NYPD's "cutting edge" strategies in its much-praised fight against terrorism.

The testimony stems from a New York Civil Liberties Union suit against the Police Department's searches of subway riders' bags and packages, which were begun after the London subway bombings in July.

No other city in the world - including London and Madrid, whose train system was also bombed by terrorists - uses the strategy begun here in New York City.

Whether it's effective is another question.

Testimony has revealed the department's subway searches are rare and random, occurring during peak hours in but a fraction of the system's 468 stations. Riders can refuse to be searched and enter the subway at another station.

Testifying for the department were David Cohen and Michael Sheehan, two former top anti-terrorism federal officials brought to New York by Police Commissioner Ray Kelly.

Cohen, the NYPD's deputy commissioner of intelligence, is a 35-year CIA veteran who described himself as having established the CIA's "first analytic program on terrorism." He also said he created the al-Qaida Osama bin Laden station (whatever that is), which Cohen said was considered "the most important counterterrorism decision made by the CIA from the first attack on the World Trade Center in 1993 until it was destroyed on 9/11."

Cohen testified that terrorist targets were not chosen randomly. "Planners or operators typically have identified a specific location and prepare concrete plans of action."

Pre-planning, he testified, "would typically include an evaluation of methods of access to the target as well as assessment of security around the target."

Sheehan, the NYPD's deputy commissioner for counterterrorism, was, according to the 9/11 Commission, one of the few federal officials who before the World Trade Center attack had urged the bombing of an Afghan training camp in which Osama Bin Laden was said to have been present. The mission was never attempted and is now regarded as the United States' last and best opportunity to have killed him.

In New York, Sheehan has become so influential that despite his lacking an architectural or engineering degree, his complaint that the Freedom Tower wassusceptible to a terrorist bomb led to changes in the building's design.

Asked about the effectiveness of the subway searches this week, Sheehan testified, "There is no doubt in my mind that the introduction of bag searches - even though it's random, even though it's not 100 percent - dramatically improves the security posture of this huge, sprawling subway system, which I believe is a top-tier target of al-Qaida."

The following exchanges then occurred between Sheehan and Christopher Dunn, a staff attorney with the New York Civil Liberties Union, which opposes the searches as ineffective and violative of the Fourth Amendment's prohibition on unreasonable search and seizures.

Dunn: "Mr. Sheehan, can you identify a single mass transit system in the world that has an ongoing mass transit program of searching people entering the system?"

Sheehan: "Like in many terrorist programs, we're at the cutting edge. I don't know. We're the first."

Dunn: "Setting aside the issue of mass transit systems, can you think of a single search security procedure that is used for any target in the world that you know of that deploys random searches at a limited number of entrances to the target?"

Sheehan: "I don't."

Federal Judge Richard Berman is to make his decision on the legality of the searches in December.

The safest spot. What's the safest place in the city? A police station, right? Wrong. Take the 107th Precinct in Queens. A cop there had his locker overturned. The commanding officer, Deputy Inspector Charles Talamo, then stationed someone to guard the locker room and keep a log book of everyone going in and out. Sources say that after each shift change, he gathers the troops and asks if anyone wants to confess.

That Fahey farewell. Besides former Commissioner Bernie Kerik, William Bratton, currently Los Angeles police chief, attended the farewell dinner for retiring two-star chief Tom Fahey, making Ray Kelly's absence all the more blatant.

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