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British Terrorism Threat: Thank Goodness For Ray Kelly

July 2, 2007

As the specter of terrorism spreads yet again with the close calls in London and the attack in Scotland, most New Yorkers had at least one comforting thought: “Thank Goodness we have Ray Kelly.”

Here is someone who breathes the threat of international terrorism. Since becoming police commissioner five years ago, the NYPD has taken security measures unrivaled in law enforcement.

After two car bombs were defused in London and then a jeepload of terrorists hit Glasgow airport, Kelly ramped up security in New York City. The NYPD is now searching parking garages for suspicious vehicles and materials; stopping trucks coming into Manhattan and SUVs driving to airports; preventing cars from parking outside trendy night clubs; and increasing patrols in subways.

With these precautions, Kelly is creating a visible police presence to make New Yorkers feel safer. Perhaps this will even cause potential terrorists to lay low.

And yet: at the time of the London attacks, as the Daily News reported, the NYPD’s London-based detective — part of Kelly’s well-publicized international spy service under its Intelligence Division — happened to be here at police headquarters for a promotion ceremony. [He flew back to London the next day.]

Meanwhile, the head of the NYPD’s faction of the Joint [FBI] Terrorist Task Force, Chief James Waters, happened to be in Glasgow for a security conference when the car bombs were discovered in London. He immediately flew there and missed the Glasgow airport attack. [Presumably, he turned around and flew back.]

Point: Neither man was on the scene when the incidents occurred, which was the stated purpose of stationing people overseas.

The cops overseas, the increased police presence — it all sounds so good but does it any of it prevent terrorism?

On the other hand, what is the alternative?

Our Second Enemy.
While we can’t remain passive in the face of evil, pounding with too heavy a hammer risks crumbling our freedoms. While guarding against terrorism, we also have to guard our rights as Americans. Otherwise, what’s the point?

Our two tabloids are ignoring that delicate balancing. Both of them this weekend came out for over-aggressive policing.

Following the U.K. incidents, a Daily News editorial bonged out the following warning: “We cannot afford to have the NYPD’s intelligence operations crimped to satisfy altogether specious civil liberties claims.”

The News appeared to refer to the New York Civil Liberties Union’s attempt to learn what justified the NYPD’s “no-summons” policy and blanket finger-printing of the 1,806 people arrested at the 2004 Republican National Convention for mostly minor offenses. Charges against virtually all of them were dropped.

The NYCLU had sought the files of the Intelligence Division, which while protecting us from terrorism, dispatched detectives around the country and across the globe to spy on protest groups suspected of being terrorist fronts.

In court papers, Deputy Commissioner of Intelligence David Cohen, the former high-level CIA operative who commands the NYPD’s terrorism fight, opposed the release of any information that would reveal:

bullet“persons, groups or organizations about whom information is being obtained;

bulletlocations where the information-gathering personnel can be deployed, either inside .New York City or elsewhere;

bulletinformation that would be revealing tradecraft techniques such as how undercovers or informants travel or communicate.”

Cohen argued that “the ricochet effect on our ability to secure New York City’s pubic safety and security in the post Sept. 11 period would be severe and permanent.”

At least, that’s what he claims. Usually, when government officials cry “public safety and security,” what they really fear is an embarrassing disclosure. Possibly, Cohen doesn’t want anyone asking why the Intelligence Division pursued such groups as “Billionaires for Bush,” who seem as much a threat at the RNC as your grandmother’s knitting circle.

Meanwhile, the Post, in an editorial the same day, criticized the Senate Judiciary Committee for subpoenaing the White House, Vice President Cheney and the Justice Department, demanding information on the National Security Agency’s post 9/11 wiretapping policy.

It accused its chairman Patrick Leahy [D-Vermont] of “giving what amounts to material comfort to the enemy.”

Where Is He? Once again, during this weekend of high anxiety, where was the city’s leader and presumptive presidential candidate? Just like that first sunny weekend in June when a plot to blow up Kennedy airport was revealed and suspects were arrested, Mayor Mike was nowhere to be seen.

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Copyright © 2007 Leonard Levitt