New York expands its counterterrorism monitoring system
BARACK OBAMA visited the National Counter-terrorism Centre in Virginia on October 6th to heap thanks on the organisation for frustrating al-Qaeda’s tricks. He praised the co-ordination between federal, state and local partners, in particular pointing out that members of New York’s police department (NYPD) now play a crucial role. He pledged to keep America safe and to “give all of you the tools and support you need to get the job done, around the world and here at home”. About time too, New Yorkers reckon. The city spent $300m of its own money last year on counter-terrorism, according to Ray Kelly, New York’s police commissioner.
Michael Bloomberg, the mayor, and Mr Kelly announced on October 4th that a new grant of $24m from the Department of Homeland Security will be used to expand the Lower Manhattan Security Initiative so that it can take in midtown Manhattan as well. The initiative, which dates back to 2005, involves an extensive network of security cameras, licence-plate readers and weapon-detectors which work together to spot threats and deter terrorist surveillance. Several thousand cameras, many provided by private companies, will now cover transport hubs like Grand Central Station, Penn Station and Times Square.
Bruce Schneier, a security guru, calls this “cover-your-ass security”, not unlike taking off shoes at airports. He worries that the ring of steel will not deter attackers, but merely force them to change targets. It is far better, he says, to invest in security that defends against a broad spectrum of attacks, namely “intelligence, investigation and emergency response”. These three tactics led to the arrest of Najibullah Zazi, an Afghan immigrant, who pleaded not guilty last month to conspiracy to use weapons of mass destruction in New York.
“Hiring Arabic translators doesn’t get you votes,” says a cynical Mr Schneier. But to be fair to the NYPD, recruits who are native speakers of languages such as Arabic, Pushtu and Bengali are often assigned to counter-terrorism duties. Mr Kelly starts every morning with a counter-terrorism briefing. His force has assigned 1,000 of its officers to the task of fighting terrorism and sends officers from the outer boroughs to patrol potential midtown targets, such as buildings belonging to financial firms. The struggle goes on.