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Terrorism and the Militarization of the NYPD

President Donald Trump’s decision to assassinate Qassem Suleimani (the leader of Iran’s Quds Force) and Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis (commander of Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Units) on January 3rd provoked deep fears in New York City.
Mayor Bill de Blasio pointed out, “the US Government effectively declared war on Iran tonight. The American people had no say in the matter, despite voting time + again to stop endless wars + bring our troops home. This one will not end soon.”

de Blasio warned, I “have spoken with [New York Police Department, NYPD] Commissioner [Dermot] Shea + Dep Commissioner [John] Miller about immediate steps NYPD will take to protect key NYC locations from any attempt by Iran or its terrorist allies to retaliate against America.” He added, “We will have to be vigilant against this threat for a long time to come.” 

Many pushed on the theme of threat to New York.  Shea announced that the NYPD will employ “heightened vigilance in terms of uniformed officers — many with long guns — at sensitive areas, critical structures and continuing community dialogue with our community leaders.”  Even the corporate-globalist organization, the Atlantic Council, got into the act: “Reverberations from Soleimani death requires vigilance in NYC.”

New York has been the site of two dozen or so terrorist incidents since 1914, but two are the most significant.  On September 16, 1920, a bombing by alleged Italian anarchists in the Wall Street district resulted in the death of 38 people, 143 seriously injured and hundreds wounded.  On September 11, 2001, Islamic terrorists associated with al-Qaeda flew two hijacked planes into buildings 1 and 2 — the “twin towers” – of the World Trade Center resulting in the death of 2,753 and the injury to over 6,000 people.

Unfortunately, for all the redundant reporting of possible outcomes for New York due to Trump’s provocative assassination of Suleimani, little attention has been paid to the increased militarization of the NYPD.  This militarization is representative of how local police forces throughout the country are being increasingly integrated into the national security state.

***

In March 2019, James Waters, Chief of the NYPD’s Counterterrorism Bureau, testified before Congress’s Committee on Homeland Security and declared: “New York City has become the safest big city in the nation, it remains the primary target of violent extremists, both foreign and homegrown.”

In his testimony, Waters identified a number of the NYPD’s key antiterrorist features:

+  Domain Awareness System (DAS) – that gathers data from real time sensors, including radiological and chemical sensors, ShotSpotter, information from 911 calls, and live feeds from CCTV cameras around the city.  Many of cameras belong to private entities and provide encrypted one-way access to their cameras as well as other information. It was developed and built by the NYPD and Microsoft.

+  Vapor Wake Dogs – specially trained dogs that can alert their human handlers to presence of explosive threats and can track explosive trail to bombers and suicide bombers.

+  Detection and response equipment – these include radiation and chemical sensors in fixed high-profile locations and in a variety of mobile conveyances.

+  T-Band networks – part of the broadcast spectrum to support communication and regional interoperability among first responders, including the subway system and train tunnels in and around the city.

+  NYPD SHIELD — a two-way line of communication and information sharing between the NYPD and approximately 20,000 private sector members from businesses and organizations throughout the country, representing almost every sector of industry and government.

The full scope of the NYPD’s antiterrorism operations was not detailed to members of Congress at the March session. In a separate undated report by Martine Materasso, Chief of Counterterrorism, detailed additional operating sections of the NYPD Counterterrorism Bureau (CT).  It includes:

+  Critical Response Command (CRC) – a “cadre of hand-selected police officers devoted to counterterrorism …. the team conducts daily counterterrorism deployments to critical infrastructure sites throughout New York City …”

+  Counterterrorism Division – it includes the Technology and Construction Section, the Threat Reduction Infrastructure Protection Section (TRIPS), the Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear, and Explosives (CBRNE), among other groups.

+  The Bomb Squad – investigates suspicious packages, devices and articles found throughout the city.

+  Terrorism Threat Analysis Group — performs strategic intelligence analysis.

+  Lower Manhattan Security Initiative (LMSI) and World Trade Center Command – counterterrorism efforts focused on the Financial District.

+  Joint Terrorist Task Force (JTTF) – linking the NYPD and FBI.

In the wake of assassination of Suleimani, New York and other government officials warned that a follow-up attack is possible, be it conducted by an Iranian operative or a lone wolf wanting to make a statement.  And no target is more significant than New York City, the capital of capitalism and postmodern life.

The NYPD is armed with the latest weaponry and surveillance equipment.  To appreciate just what the police mean by well-armed security, its helpful to picture a sampling of the NYPD’s high-tech weaponry and surveillance equipment.  A small sampling of NYPD’s weaponry is suggestive of the militarization underway:

+  Bell 412EP helicopter — it reportedly costing $10 million and acquired through a Justice Department grant, it is usually as a surveillance vehicle.  It operates through a shell company and maintains a special FAA “undercover” registration so it can’t be tracked.  It is equipped with sophisticated photo- and video-surveillance capabilities that Wiredmagazine says can capture “clear images of license plates—or the faces of individuals—from 1,000 feet away.”  The story noted that it could even “pick up the catcher’s signals at Yankee Stadium.”  John Diazo, the crew chief, noted, “Obviously, we’re not looking into apartments.  We don’t invade the privacy of individuals.  We only want to observe anything that’s going on in public.”  And who would know if they did?

+  Lenco Peacekeeper — originally produced as the Cadillac Gage Range for the U.S. Air Force, the “PK” is a 4×4 armored personnel carrier that costs an estimated $170,000 and functions as an armored truck.  It offers 360-degree protection on its turret, blast protection and FLIR (forward looking infrared) cameras.

+  Lenco BearCat — “BearCat” stands for Ballistic Engineered Armored Response Counter Attack Truck.  It is an armored personnel carrier – known as a “tactical armored response and rescue vehicle” — costing upwards of $250,000 and capable of stopping .50 caliber bullets.  It is a 16,000-lb armored tank that can transport 10-officer at 80 mph.

+  Z Backscatter Van — this is a mobile fortress used by U.S. Customs and Border Protection to scan for drugs and explosives, and costs between $729,000 and $825,000.  Two were reportedly deployed at the 2004 Republican convention, one on each side of streets near Madison Square Garden, to X-ray for explosives every vehicle that passed.

+  StingRay — this is an IMSI (International Mobile Subscriber Identity) system that is a mobile phone cell-site simulator.  It appears as a cellphone tower serving as a mobile wiretapping device.  It is used to capture metadata, record the content of phone conversations and SMS text messages.

+  AR-15 assault rifle — the civilian equivalent of the military M-16 assault rifle.  There are an estimated 2.5 million AR-15 rifles currently available in the U.S. – and Adam Lanza used this semi-automatic rifle to kill 26 students and teachers at the Sandy Hook School in December 2012.

+  Mossberg 590 — This “dual extraction” shotgun supports 9-shot action.  It includes “an anti-jam elevator to ensure smooth operation” that supports ambidextrous operation.

The NYPD does not appear to provide the public with a complete list of its antiterrorist equipment.  Part of the rationale for this is the classic argument that the police – like the U.S. military – must maintain secrecy so that an “enemy” will not know its secrets.  More troubling, the full scope of police and federal “counterterrorism” capabilities are kept secret to assure and enforce state rule if challenged by its people.

***

Much of the military equipment employed by the NYPD and other local police departments throughout the country is provided through programs run by the Departments of Defense and Homeland Security free equipment transfer programs.

In the wake of widespread public criticism of the use of paramilitary policing in Ferguson, MO, in 2014, in Baltimore, MD, in 2015, and other cities spread throughout the country.  Pres. Barack Obama came out in support of the sale of some kinds of military equipment to local law enforcement agencies.  “We’ve seen how militarized gear can sometimes give people a feeling like they’re an occupying force, as opposed to a force that’s part of the community that’s protecting them and serving them,” he declared.  He also noted, military equipment can “alienate and intimidate local residents and may send the wrong message.”

Reflecting on the president’s announcement, Brooklyn College sociologist and legal scholar Alex Vitale cautioned: “This will have very little effect.  The restrictions are very narrow and don’t cover materials typically used by the NYPD.”

But as evident from the 9/11 catastrophes, the 2013 Boston bombing and still other isolated “terrorist” attacks, government preparedness, whether federal or local, can only go so far.  The unexpected exposes holes in the system only after the fact.

The use of sophisticated military-style weaponry and surveillance equipment by NYPD and other local police has not been deployed to combat terrorists, whether fundamentalist jihadists or white nativists, but to suppress politically motivated civil actions by ordinary Americans.  Be warned.

David Rosen is the author of Sex, Sin & Subversion:  The Transformation of 1950s New York’s Forbidden into America’s New Normal (Skyhorse, 2015).  He can be reached at drosennyc@verizon.net; check out www.DavidRosenWrites.com.

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