S/SW blog philosophy -

I credit favorite writers and public opinion makers.

A lifelong Democrat, my comments on Congress, the judiciary and the presidency are regular features.

My observations and commentary are on people and events in politics that affect the USA or the rest of the world, and stand for the interests of peace, security and justice.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

A counterterrorism unit in NYC blends cops and analysts with amazing effectiveness.

Published by the New York Times: September 17, 2010
A little-known unit of the New York Police Department relies on civilian analysts to help fight terror threats.
A very well written and researched article in the New York Times seems to affirm that it is indeed the case that a small unit of analysts and cops achieves just the right mix of street smarts, international sophistication, intellectual adeptness and rigorous attention to detail needed to solve cases rapidly. It seems counterintuitive that a municipal counter terrorism unit could be more effective in protecting its citizens from terrorist attack than the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and the National Counter Terrorism Center located at Langley Field near Washington, D.C. There is an explanation however. To quote from the story,

NEW YORK seems an ideal place to practice this theory of intellectual investigation, and the unit has managed over the years to attract people who have worked in the Washington bureaucracy and seem to prefer the city.
“We had people leaving jobs with the C.I.A. and military intelligence to come work for us,” Mr. Rascoff said. “Why were they doing that? Part of it was the noir quality of being within the confines of an institution like the N.Y.P.D. There is an emotional, even an aesthetic, immediacy in being in New York rather than sitting in a cubicle in some fluorescent-lit office in Langley.”
To Mr. Silber, the attraction is the opportunity to work at street level on terrorism cases.

Mitchell Silber is the leader of [to quote]:
. . . a little-known counterterrorism team deep within the crime-fighting structure of the New York Police Department. Formally known as the Analytic Unit of the department's Intelligence Division, the team was created in 2002 as part of the city’s response to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. It stands as a unique experiment in breaking traditional law-enforcement boundaries, comprising two dozen civilian experts -- lawyers, academics, corporate consultants, investment bankers, alumni of the World Bank, the Council on Foreign Relations and even a former employee of the Foreign Ministry of Azerbaijan. The team serves as the Police Department’s terrorism reference arm: available on demand to explain Islamic law or Pakistani politics to detectives in the field.

Ironically, a decentralized approach may have been the explanation for how well New York City, a bull's eye target for terrorist activity, has succeeded so well in its own defense.  They, unlike the Feds, at times were able to connect the dots enough to grab the bad guys, wrapping up their plots just in the knick of time.  For example, 
Mr. Silber’s analysts earn $55,000 to $95,000 a year working daily shifts at their offices in Manhattan and at the Brooklyn Army Terminal, but are available to put things into context around the clock, at the ring of a cellphone. Their assistance can be as complicated as explaining the interlocking network of Afghan tribes or the nuances of the Koran, or as simple as keeping current with New York’s foreign-language newspapers.
The unit, of course, did not operate in a vacuum.  Federal and city coordination, probably through a local Fusion Center, would have been essential for the strategy to work as well as it did.  But it is actually the fusion of special talents in the NYC counter terrorist unit that accounts for its success.  
In conclusion, the rest of us who do not live in New York also are the beneficiaries of the unit's good work, as the citizens of the nation attacked on 9/11.  It is gratifying to know that the extremely challenging work of preventing terrorist attacks in the United States can have some measure of success.  Because a city, that seems to most represent the homeland to those who would do us harm, manages to do so well, all of us win.  We can be grateful for this.  

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