Skip to content, or skip to search.

Skip to content, or skip to search.

The NYPD's War On Terror

Frustrated by the lack of help from Washington, police commissioner Ray Kelly has created his own versions of the CIA and the FBI within the department. So how will we know if he has succeeded? If nothing happens.

ShareThis

The World's Policeman: Commissioner Ray Kelly.  

Buried deep in the heart of one of New York's outer boroughs, in an area inhabited by junkyards and auto-body shops, is an unmarked redbrick building that stands as an extraordinary symbol of police commissioner Ray Kelly's obsessive commitment to the fight against terrorism. Here, miles from Manhattan, is the headquarters of the NYPD's one-year-old counterterrorism bureau.

When you step through the plain metal door at the side of the building, it is like falling down the rabbit hole—you're transported from a mostly desolate, semi-industrial area in the shadow of an elevated highway into the new, high-tech, post-9/11 world of the New York City Police Department.

The place is so gleaming and futuristic—so unlike the average police precinct, with furniture and equipment circa 1950—that you half expect to see Q come charging out with his latest super-weapon for 007. Headlines race across LED news tickers. There are electronic maps and international-time walls with digital readouts for cities such as Moscow, London, Tel Aviv, Riyadh, Islamabad, Manila, Sydney, Baghdad, and Tokyo.

In what is called the Global Intelligence Room, twelve large flat-screen TVs that hang from ceiling mounts broadcast Al-Jazeera and a variety of other foreign programming received via satellite. The Police Department's newly identified language specialists—who speak, among other tongues, Arabic, Pashto, Urdu, and Fujianese—sit with headphones on, monitoring the broadcasts.

There are racks of high-end audio equipment for listening, taping, and dubbing; computer access to a host of superdatabases; stacks of intelligence reports and briefing books on all the world's known terrorist organizations; and a big bulletin board featuring a grid with the names and phone numbers of key people in other police departments in this country and around the world.

The security area just inside the door is encased not only in bulletproof glass but in ballistic Sheetrock as well. The building has its own backup generator (everyone learned the importance of redundancy on September 11); and the center is staffed 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Even the 125 cops in the bureau (hand-picked from nearly 900 applicants) look a little sharper. Some are in dark-navy polo shirts that bear the counterterrorism-bureau logo, and others are in suits that seem to be a cut above the usual discount-warehouse version of cop fashion.

Though the counterterrorism bureau is still in its infancy, law-enforcement officials from around the U.S. and overseas regularly come to see it and learn. And it was all put together practically overnight—it opened in February of last year, little more than a month after Ray Kelly was sworn in as police commissioner.

The bureau, along with the NYPD's totally revamped intelligence division, and the high-level hires from Washington—a lieutenant general from the Pentagon and a spymaster from the CIA—is part of Kelly's vision to remake the NYPD into a force that can effectively respond to the world's dangerous new realities.

There are now New York City police officers stationed in London working with New Scotland Yard; in Lyons at the headquarters of Interpol; and in Hamburg, Tel Aviv, and Toronto. There are also two cops on assignment at FBI headquarters in Washington, and New York detectives have traveled to Afghanistan, Egypt, Yemen, Pakistan, and the military's prison at Guantánamo Bay in Cuba to conduct interrogations. Members of the department's command staff have also attended sessions at the Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island.

And there are the Hercules Teams, elite, heavily armed, Special Forces–type police units that pop up daily around the city. It can be at the Empire State Building, the Brooklyn Bridge, Times Square, or the stock exchange, wherever the day's intelligence reports suggest they could be needed. These small teams arrive in black Suburbans, sheathed in armor-plated vests and carrying 9-mm. submachine guns—sometimes with air or sea support. Their purpose is to intimidate and to very publicly mount a show of force. Kelly knows that terrorists do a lot of reconnaissance, and the Hercules Teams were designed to disrupt their planning. Like an ADT warning sign in front of a house, they're also intended to send a message that this is not an easy target.

The police commissioner now has what's called an STU (Secured Telephone Unit) on his desk. It is a phone line that enables him to talk to someone in the White House or the Pentagon without fear of being monitored. When a key on the phone is turned, the conversation is electronically encrypted.

"We are doing all these things," Kelly says over coffee in his fourteenth-floor office at police headquarters, "because New York is still the No. 1 target. We have been targeted four times, twice successfully, and the city remains the most symbolic, substantive target for the terrorists. These are cunning, patient, deliberate people who want to kill us and kill us in big numbers."


On a bright October day several weeks after September 11, Kelly and his wife, Veronica, were finally allowed to return to their Battery Park City apartment—not to move back in, but to pick up a few personal items. Before they left the building, one block from the World Trade Center, they went up to the roof. There, Kelly consoled his weeping wife as they looked in stunned disbelief at the devastation of their neighborhood.

Eight years earlier, back in 1993 when the Trade Center was attacked the first time, Kelly was police commissioner. Mayor David Dinkins was in Japan when the buildings were bombed, so Kelly essentially took charge. It was Kelly who went on television to calm the city, to let everyone know in his powerful Marine kind of way that everything was under control.

Now Kelly is staking his reputation and his legacy on the fight against terrorism. "Four months after 9/11, when Kelly was about to be sworn in, you just didn't get a sense of confidence at the federal, state, or local level that changes were being made," says former NYPD first deputy commissioner John Timoney, who was recently named police chief of Miami. "Ray could easily have said, 'What do I know about this stuff? It's the Feds' job.' It takes a lot of courage to do what he's doing. He's leaving himself open to be second-guessed and criticized if things don't go well. So he's making decisions that may benefit the city but be detrimental to him personally."

Kelly is familiar with being second-guessed and criticized. He served as NYPD commissioner during the final eighteen months of the Dinkins administration, in 1992 and '93. Though he was essentially finishing Commissioner Lee Brown's term, he did manage several significant accomplishments. He cleaned up and restructured Internal Affairs, which was a serious mess. And it was Kelly, not Bratton or Giuliani, who took care of the squeegee guys.

Not that anyone knows it. "When Bratton came in with his arrogance and swagger, he showed Ray up nine ways from Sunday," says a former high-level member of Bratton's own team. "Giuliani and Bratton lumped him in with Dinkins as one big ineffective management disaster."

So Kelly has plenty of reasons to want to make his mark this time. Even so, isn't combating terrorism primarily a federal responsibility?

When I ask Kelly this question, he looks at me long and hard. He is a man who knows his way around Washington. In addition to his time in the mid-nineties as undersecretary of the Treasury, he was head of the Customs Service. He also worked for Interpol and was a special State Department envoy in Haiti where he was sent to establish and train a police force.

"I knew we couldn't rely on the federal government," Kelly says finally. "I know it from my own experience. We're doing all the things we're doing because the federal government isn't doing them. It's not enough to say it's their job if the job isn't being done. Since 9/11, the federal government hasn't taken any additional resources and put them here."

Has any kind of an increased federal presence been asked for? Soldiers? Fighter planes? More FBI agents? "Asked for?" he says, repeating my question incredulously. "Would you think it would have to be asked for? Look," he says, shifting in his chair and crossing his legs so the .38 in his ankle holster is visible. "It's a different world. We've redeployed. We've got 1,000 people on this. All seven subway tunnels under the river are covered, and it's the same with all the other sensitive locations. It's taken constant attention. It's extremely difficult. But make no mistake: It's something we have to do ourselves."


Advertising
Current Issue
Subscribe to New York
Subscribe

Give a Gift

Advertising