So the question comes down to this: what is more important, saving lives or offending savages and their apologists? Clearly the current zeitgeist and the witless Warren Wilhelm (popularly known by his thrice-changed name Bill de Blasio) say the latter.
“NYPD’s ‘Muslim mapping’ saved lives,” NY Post, April 20, 2014
Federal agents knew that a would-be terrorist had likely arrived in New York City from Florida over Thanksgiving weekend in 2012. However, they didn’t know where in New York City he was —a worrisome prospect, considering that Raees Alam Qazi was gathering information on the best places to detonate bombs in Manhattan, Times Square and Wall Street among them.
The NPYD’s Intelligence Division, it turned out, knew exactly where to look — because it already knew places in the metro area that might be inclined to open their doors for the night to a cash-strapped transient enamored with al Qaeda. It then sent an NYPD undercover officer into one of those locations and confirmed Qazi’s presence there. That allowed federal authorities to initiate surveillance and arrest Qazi on terrorism charges as he stepped off a bus in Ft. Lauderdale on his way home soon thereafter.
Similarly, as Seth Lipsky reported in Thursday’s Post, had the Boston marathon bombers made it to New York with their explosive devices, the NYPD would’ve been in a good position to know where to look for them because of some mapping it had done in Brighton Beach and elsewhere.
These assessments of where a terrorist might land in order to find as cheap place to stay, a job off the books, an Internet café or even a restaurant for comfort food, were done by a small NYPD unit initially called the Demographics Unit and later the Zone Assessment Unit — which was dismantled last week.
The unit never had more than 14 police officers assigned to it in a department of 35,000 officers. None were undercover officers, although some undercovers were later employed in areas that detectives in the unit had mapped. The officers assigned to the unit didn’t infiltrate terrorist groups or spy on them. They provided investigators who did with road maps as to where terrorists might gravitate in the metropolitan area in advance of an attack or to hide after one.
Breathless reporting has asserted that police “admitted” that the unit hadn’t developed terrorist leads. That’s like saying Derek Jeter “admitted” to having never scored a touchdown. Right church; wrong pew: It was never the unit’s job. Instead, the unit complemented, in a very specific way, the work of the approximately 1,300 NYPD officers assigned to counterterrorism duties every day.
Its critics inflated the unit’s role and wrongly painted it as having engaged in unconstitutional spying. Hopefully, terrorists who want to return to kill more New Yorkers don’t believe it’s now easier for them to elude New York law enforcement, or interpret this as a prelude to further dismantling of the NYPD counterterrorism program.
That would be potentially tragic — considering terrorists’ relentless post-9/11 efforts to again target New York.
The conviction last year on terror-related charges of Abdel Hameed Shehadeh demonstrated the importance of early identification and intervention by the NYPD Intelligence Division and the FBI of individuals who pose a real danger.
An NYPD undercover encountered Shehadeh in 2008 and learned of his plans to travel to Pakistan for terrorist training.
The NYPD alerted federal authorities of his impending departure, which resulted in Pakistani authorities denying Shehadeh entry.
Shehadeh’s activities brought him into contact with the New York-based radical group Revolution Muslim and Jesse Curtis Morton, who was convicted in 2012 of conspiracy to solicit murder, among other federal terrorism charges.
A few months after Shehadeh was denied entry to Pakistan, three other New Yorkers made their way to Peshawar, also in hopes of joining the Taliban. Instead, al Qaeda saw the value of their US passports, gave them weapons training and sent them home to carry out an attack in New York City. Najibullah Zazi, Adis Medunjanin and Zarein Ahmedzay were subsequently convicted of planning suicide bombings of three busy New York City subway stations.
In 2011, New Jersey residents Carlos Almonte and Mohammed Alessa pleaded guilty to terrorism charges for their attempts to join Al Shabaab, Al Qaeda’s affiliate in Somalia. At the request of federal authorities and New Jersey law enforcement, the NYPD introduced one of its undercover officers into the investigation.
There were other plots since 9/11: to bomb the retaining wall at the World Trade Center and the PATH train, to take down the Brooklyn Bridge, to attack synagogues in Manhattan and Riverdale, to bomb fuel storage tanks at JFK. The list goes on. The plots had one thing common — New York City as a target. Any reassessment of the NYPD counterterrorism program should keep that in mind.
Paul J. Browne is former NYPD deputy commissioner for public information.
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