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The Post-9/11 NYPD: Where Are We Now?

Speaker: Raymond Kelly, Commissioner, New York City Police Department
Presider: James D. Zirin, Partner, Sidley Austin LLP
April 22, 2009, New York
Council on Foreign Relations

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JAMES D. ZIRIN: Good evening. Welcome to this evening's Council on Foreign Relations meeting with Police Commissioner Kelly. The meeting is on the record.

When Henry Kissinger was introduced at a similar gathering, the moderator said, "Our guest really needs no introduction. You are all familiar with his many accomplishments." And Henry interrupted and said, "Please, tell them about my many accomplishments." (Laughter.)

And mindful of this, I will speak briefly -- because if I don't, Ray will never forgive me -- on some of the accomplishments of our police commissioner, whose rich biography is presented in your program.

Ray Kelly, like most visionaries, is a student of history, and history teaches us that the police commissioner of the city of New York is at least as important as the mayor. (Laughs.) No mayor -- he would deny this -- this part is off the record. (Laughter.) No mayor of the city of New York has ever gone on to higher office, but two police commissioners have gone on to higher office. Both are great favorites of mine. One was Thomas Murphy, who became a federal judge -- a great federal judge, and the other was Teddy Roosevelt, who, like our guest, instituted transforming changes in the NYPD.

No police commissioner in our history has been as qualified as Ray Kelly at the time he took office. A 38-year veteran of the NYPD, he is the only person to hold his post for second separate tenure.

During his term in office, crime is down 40 percent from 2001 levels. Homicides in particular are at the lowest levels since 1961 when they started keeping accurate records, and this has been no accident. Commissioner Kelly established a real-time crime center, a state-of-the-art facility that uses data mining to search millions of computer records and put investigative leads into the hands of investigators in the field. He designed a program called Operation Impact that drove crime down by concentrating police resources in high crime areas.

Since 9/11, terrorist attacks have been nonexistent in New York, as we all know -- thank God -- but few know the dimensions of the horrific plots, which I'm sure he might tell you about, that have been thwarted by the elite counterterrorism units that Ray Kelly created. No wonder General Barry McCaffrey when he was here said from this very podium that the NYPD is the greatest security organization on the face of the earth today.

This evening Commissioner Kelly will deliver some prepared remarks about the post-9/11 world. Then he and I will have a conversation, and finally he will take your questions.

This session is on the record, as I said, and you are invited to turn your cell phones and BlackBerrys on -- but only after the meeting has concluded. (Laughter.)

I'm honored to give you Police Commissioner Kelly. (Applause.)

RAYMOND W. KELLY: Thank you, James.

Jim and I go back a fairly long way. I do have some prepared remarks, and obviously Jim and I are going to sit up here and hopefully I'll be able to answer some questions.

Not too long ago it would have been somewhat unlikely for a New York City police commissioner to appear before this forum, but this is my second visit to the council in four years. That's because since 2002 the New York City Police Department, obviously a municipal police agency, has adopted an intensely international focus, and we've reorganized the department to accommodate this world view.

Now, almost seven and a half years ago we became the first police department in the county to develop our own counterterrorism bureau. We restructured our intelligence division and appointed leaders with exceptional credentials to guide our efforts. They include our Deputy Commissioner of Intelligence David Cohen, a 35-year veteran of the Central Intelligence Agency who lead both the operational and the analytical arms of the agency; Deputy Commissioner of Counterterrorism, Richard Falkenrath, a Harvard scholar and a former White House advisor on homeland security.

And we're fortunate to have with us this evening Richard's predecessor, Mike Sheehan. Mike did a phenomenal job. I think Mike is still here. Mike, are you here? There he is right there. Mike was deputy commissioner of counterterrorism number two. Mike was a former ambassador for counterterrorism at the State Department, a member of the both Bush I and Clinton NSC staff and a West Point graduate, a former Green Beret. So just an outstanding individual and did an outstanding job with the department. So good to have you here tonight, Mike.

Now, with the help of these and other experts, we are constantly studying events worldwide and assessing their implications for our city. We also have a lot to learn from institutions like the council. This past November we invited your president, Dr. Richard Haass, to address an audience of our senior executives at police headquarters. Richard was part of a distinguished speaker program that we created. Other participants have included former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, King Abdullah of Jordan, the emir of Qatar, former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, Generals Barry McCaffrey and Bernard Trainor, and top international journalists such as George Packer and Peter Bergen. You might say that the NYPD has aspired to become a Council on Foreign Relations with guns. (Laughter.)

Now, these discussions have greatly enhanced our understanding of the terrorist threats facing New York City, a threat that unfortunately shows no signs of abating. If you look at the intelligence -- and I can assure you we look at it closely every day -- you understand that al Qaeda is an extremely resilient organization. Despite repeated blows to its leadership by the U.S. military and expanded predator strikes, we see a continual replacement process of key operatives at the second and third tier level. Aided by a sanctuary in the FATA and the Northwest Territories of Pakistan, this has given al Qaeda a consistent ability to plot against the West. Obviously the most important leaders remain in place: Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri. We know from the recorded messages that they continue to make -- that their voices and directives are still being heard. They're being helped in this regard by an American spokesman, Adam Gadahn, who enables them to communicate directly with Western audiences.

Al Qaeda also continues to build a web of alliances with likeminded groups around the globe, from the Taliban and Lashkar-i-Taiba in Pakistan, to Jemaah Islamiyah in Indonesia, to Salafists in Algeria, and Shabab (sp) in Somalia.

From the intelligence we receive about these groups and looking at their public statements, we know that New York City remains the number one target of global Islamic terrorism. Many tend to forget, but since 9/11 we've been the subject of seven major plots here in New York. They include a plan to bring down the Brooklyn Bridge, to blow up financial institutions like the New York Stock Exchange and Citigroup headquarters, to smuggle explosive materials into Manhattan in shipping containers, and to release cyanide gas in the subway system. There was also the scheme by homegrown terrorists to bomb the subway station at Herald Square; another to blow up the path tunnels and retaining walls at Ground Zero, and a conspiracy to explode the jet fuel pipeline and supply tanks at John F. Kennedy Airport.

Last summer we also saw the arrest of Aafia Siddiqui, an American-educated al Qaeda operative. She was found in Afghanistan carrying notes about a mass casualty attack and references to the Empire State Building, Wall Street and the Brooklyn Bridge. So for the police department's -- from our standpoint, we see no reason whatsoever to let our guard down.

In addition to al Qaeda and its regional affiliates, which make up the first two tiers of the terrorist threat, we are very concerned about a dangerous third tier, which is homegrown terrorism. Indeed the majority of successful terrorist attacks in the West since September 11th have been carried out by individuals living in the countries that they targeted. In New York, we saw an example of this in the failed 2004 plot against Herald Square. It was conceived by two Brooklyn-based extremists outraged over the abuses at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.

Given the challenge this threat presents, we've made an attempt to understand it more thoroughly. In 2007 two of our intelligence analysts undertook the study of the process of radicalization. Through a detailed analysis of case studies worldwide, they provided a number of valuable insights we shared with the public and other law enforcement agencies.

We've taken the same highly analytical approach when it comes to our study of the different tactics terrorists use. We've compiled manuals on trends in improvised explosive devices and shared them with our bomb squad. We've prepared briefings on suicide bombings in Israel and truck bombs in Afghanistan and Iraq. We've devised methods to intercept a dirty bomb attack and to counter commando-style assaults like those that we saw in Mumbai and Lahore.

Our counterterrorism strategies are multilayered and our alliances to defeat terror extend far and wide, from the five boroughs of Manhattan to cities around the world. We posted detectives and senior officers in 11 international cities where they partner with local police agencies, respond to the scene of terrorist events, and report back to our department on the methods used. We presently have officers stationed in Abu Dhabi; in Amman; in London; in Leon, France and Paris; in Madrid; in Montreal; in Toronto; in Singapore; in Tel Aviv; and in Dominican Republic. Their work is supplemented by a core of civilian intelligence analysts with expert knowledge of counterterrorism and foreign affairs.

We recruited from within our ranks hundreds of native speakers of languages such as Arabic, Dari, Farsi, Urdu, Pashtun, Bengali. We tested them for fluency and reassigned them to counterterrorism duties. These include monitoring cyberspace for any potential threats to New York.

Perhaps it is because of NYPD's reach into international arena that we are being targeted for computer hacking in much the same way the Pentagon has been with its plans for the Joint Strike Fighter. You may have seen the lead story in the Wall Street Journal yesterday concerning this. We've documented that computers with IP addresses in China, the Netherlands and other countries are engaged in unauthorized scanning of NYPD computers at the rate of 70,000 attempts a day, looking for opportunities to hack into our system. So far all attempts have failed due to a robust protective system that we constructed over the last seven years. Nevertheless, it's a threat that we must continue to pay close attention to every day.

Our primary conduit for terrorist-related information about New York is a Joint Terrorism Task Force with the FBI. We bolstered our representation on the JTTF from 17 detectives on September 11th, 2001, to more than 120 today to a program called Operation Sentry. We work with almost 100 law enforcement agencies up and down the East Coast to generate leads and to generate information.

Our partnership with the private sector gives us a network of additional eyes and ears. To our NYPD SHIELD Program -- a program that Mike Sheehan had a great deal to do in initiating -- we share news and information with 6,000 private security managers by way of a password-protected website, and then exclusive briefings at police headquarters.

Under Operation Nexus, our detectives make thousands of visits to the kinds of businesses that might be exploited by terrorists, such as truck rental companies, scuba shops and fertilizer stores. Ideally we want to stop any threat in its earlier stages, but we have to be prepared if, God forbid, it already comes our way.

Under our partnership with the Department of Homeland Security and 65 law enforcement agencies throughout our region, we're placing a ring of radiation detectors around the city to stop a nuclear or dirty bomb from entering the five boroughs.

As part of our Lower Manhattan security initiatives, dozens of private companies have given us direct access to the live feeds from their surveillance cameras. Combined with our own cameras and license plate recognition readers, we're getting a detailed view of activity downtown. Every day, based on intelligence, we deploy large convoys of patrol cars with emergency lights and sirens on to make sudden, unannounced visits to iconic and sensitive locations -- always get a lot of questions about that phenomenon -- lots of radio cars moving around the city. We're constantly looking to disrupt surveillance, to let any would-be terrorist know that we're watching all the time and that we could be just about anywhere.

We conduct daily unannounced inspections of subway trains, as well as track systems and tunnels. After the London transit system was bombed in 2005, we launched a new program to protect the subways. Passengers are informed in advance that large bags and backpacks are subject to search. To date, we've instituted over 65,000 checkpoints at stations across the city.

Taken together, these measures have helped to make New York City safer than it has even been from a terrorist attack. But, again, we are under no illusions. As we continue to succeed in protecting the city and as the memory of September 11th fades, we in the police department must never forget that New York remains the world's most enduring terrorist target. We must bear this in mind especially in the midst of a tough economy and as the public's attention and that of the media turns to other issues.

We also have to contend with the reality of limited resources. Like all city agencies, the police department has been called on to make difficult, painful budget cuts. So far we've had to reduce recruit classes to about one-quarter of the normal size. We don't know yet what effect the federal stimulus package will have on our future hiring, but we remain hopeful that it will provide some relief.

But in the meantime, our imperative is a very simple one: We have to continue to do more with less without compromising any aspect of our mission. While that task may sound daunting, it's worth remembering that we once faced it before. After September 11th, when the city confronted a perfect storm of economic and security challenges, the police department devised strategies to use our resources more efficiency. So far those efforts have paid off.

Today, despite having 5,000 fewer officers in our ranks than we had in fiscal year 2001, crime is down, as Jim said, by nearly 40 percent from where it was eight years ago. At the same time, we built a powerful deterrent to terrorism.

Our challenge, and one we share with you, is to make the city's defense our highest priority, to keep our ears close to the ground here in New York and our eyes fixed to the horizon. The police department looks forward to your continued support in that all-important work.

Thank you very much for inviting me. (Applause.)

ZIRIN: Thank you, Ray, for your extraordinary service and also for those remarks.

I was curious as to -- just to start, what does your day look like? How much time is spent on counterterrorism, how much is spent on anticrime, and how does the day begin and how does it end?

KELLY: Well, no two days look alike, but the morning is pretty much always the same: We start a counterterrorism brief. I sit down with Commissioner Cohen and Commissioner Falkenrath and sometimes key members of their staff to get a sense of what's happened in the last 24 hours. And that is a perspective -- what's happened globally and what's happened locally. Obviously we have some of our own investigations going on right here. As I said in my prepared remarks, we have officers assigned overseas. We're gathering information from them. We're looking at our open-source material that comes in.

The analysts that I mentioned are really world class. We have a cadre of about 30 analysts divided roughly evenly between our intelligence division and our counterterrorism bureau. They're from some of the top educational institutions in the country. We have people here from Harvard Law School and Harvard undergraduate and these top schools, and they just do an excellent job of synthesizing information, gathering it and putting it in sort of digestible form. And that's the type of information that's used in a lot of places in the department, but when we have those mobilizations, those deployments of lots of police cars in the morning -- we do that several times a day -- they are getting that information as well. They're being briefed by our inspectors, who are receiving their information from our analysts.

So -- but after our terrorism briefing, there's usually some ceremonial aspect -- perhaps a promotion ceremony of some sort. We have 52,000 employees -- we have roughly 36,000 uniformed officers now versus civilian employees, so there's lots of different events that happen during the day. There's crime strategy meetings. I'll go to community meetings. We go to -- I go to community council meetings usually in the evening, and then there's always the possibility of some unscheduled event happening -- officer may be hurt. I spend a lot of time in hospitals.

And you know, as I say, no two days are probably exactly alike, but you start off with that counterterrorism brief in the morning.

ZIRIN: Now, you've said that you've succeeded in giving the department an international focus, which it certainly didn't have before, and you're noted for being a student of history and thinking outside the box. It was unprecedented, certainly, to appoint as top commissioners people who came from outside the department -- Cohen, Sheehan, Falkenrath. And did this create new problems within the police culture?

KELLY: It really created no or very few internal problems because the police department is really a hierarchal organization. It's very well structured. There may be grumbling, but they're going to do what the commissioner wants them to do. I won't necessarily -- (inaudible) -- going on.

ZIRIN: I knew you would say that. (Laughs.)

KELLY: There was some -- you know, we've assigned people overseas, and there was some I think resistance to that in the federal government -- sort of, "Who are they?" You know, "This s our job; who do they think they are?" But of course, we're a city that's been attacked twice and we want to do everything we possibly can do to see that it doesn't happen again.

That all quieted down when Bob Mueller came to visit a few years ago. He had a briefing on what we're doing. I think it's fair to say and he'll say that he was very impressed with what's going on the department, and whatever resistance -- at least overt resistance that was happening from the federal side of the house quieted down.

ZIRIN: So certainly immediately after 9/11 there was said to be some tension between the NYPD and the federal agents -- the FBI and the CIA. Since the formation of the Joint Terrorism Task Force do you think that's improved considerably?

KELLY: Oh, yes. No, it's improved tremendously.

Joint Terrorism Task Force actually started in New York in 1980, so it had been around a while. Now the FBI has over a hundred of them. And basically the FBI is at the core of all of these task forces and other agencies are sort of appended to it -- something that we'd like to change and have it more marbleized. But there is a free exchange of information. And quite frankly, if something happens, nobody wants to be caught holding the bag, so to speak, so that's one of the motivators for the exchange of information.

But we have a strong working relationship. I can't say that there's a total absence of tension, but generally speaking we get along well.

ZIRIN: Well, there are some amazing anecdotes. There was the hotel bombings in Jordan; there was the Madrid train bombing; there was the London Tube bombing. And NYPD detectives were on the scene almost immediately -- within a very short time. What did they hope to accomplish for New York City?

KELLY: We wanted to get any bit of information that's going to help us better protect the city, and we want to get it as quickly as possible.

When the London bombings happened -- they happened at 8:00 in the morning. Three of them happened in the subway system; the fourth was 8:52 in the morning on a bus. Now, we're five hours, of course, behind London, so we had our officer embedded in headquarters at New Scotland Yard, and he was able to give us real time information from their command center, because we didn't know -- nobody knew -- whether or not this was part of a worldwide series of attacks. So at the very least what we wanted to do was to give some comfort to the riding public in New York City. So we had enough time, with the specifics that he gave us, to deploy additional resources, to hold on to officers who were working through the night -- give them some basic information to bring on new officers and have them ride on subway trains and deploy them to the stations around the city.

With the Madrid bombing -- when that bombing took place we sent our liaison officer from Tel Aviv to Madrid. He arrived that day, and then we sent a team of police officers who are expert in the transit system and how trains are constructed -- we sent them there the next day to get any bit of information that would help us better protect ourselves. What we did do is we found out that the bombs were actually assembled a few blocks away from the train station, so we started our patrols or made certain that our patrols did sort of a perimeter check on all stations further out than the immediate area of the station.

ZIRIN: And that was new. Usually they've been known to be assembled some distance away.

KELLY: That's right.

ZIRIN: Even the first attack on the World Trade Center, they were assembled in New Jersey, I think.

KELLY: Yeah. And this is a little bit of information, but you don't know how significant it is when you get it.

Now, we did not get a report on the Madrid bombing from the federal government for 18 months. We were able to get our information literally that day, and increasing information.

That's just the way the federal government works. I worked there myself for four and a half years. And so it's not really a criticism; it's just an observation. It is just a slower series of institutions that they've assembled down there, and we need to act as quickly as possible here.

ZIRIN: Let's take one of the most recent horrific attacks internationally, in Mumbai. That was Lashkar. You had
Officers on the scene also, quite -- (inaudible).

KELLY: Right.

ZIRIN: And what did you learn from the attack on Mumbai on the two hotels?

KELLY: The attacks on Mumbai happened -- took 60 hours. They went -- they started on November 26th just a few hours before our Thanksgiving -- the Wednesday before -- and ended on November 29th. And we dispatched our officers literally right after the shooting stopped on November 30th. We dispatched a team of three officers, one of whom had been in Mumbai two years before because there was a series of commuter train attacks in Mumbai. We wanted to get information then, so we sent him to Mumbai. He was actually in Amman, Jordan. We sent him to Mumbai to get information in 2007 and he made some excellent contacts, so we used his contacts again to have him go there and to interview high level police officials -- and they were very receptive -- to visit the crime scenes, and to take lots of pictures.

They went to the train station. They talked to the station manager. What we found out -- and we put in a very I think well done comprehensive report that we provided to the FBI on December 5th -- we found that the shooting -- the shooting that was done was very well targeted. We don't think that automatic weapons were used; semi-automatic weapons because there were no bullet holes that were high in the ceiling. Usually when you fire an automatic weapon you have a certain amount of bullets that will go up higher. That the police were overwhelmed; that they simply were not trained to handle this. They were not sufficiently armed.

And all of this information was transmitted to an auditorium of NYPD SHIELD members -- about 400 members in our auditorium, with pictures, and our three investigators on the live feed from Mumbai to our audience full of SHIELD members.

That day we had a tabletop exercise with all the senior commanders roughly simulating what happened in Mumbai and a actual tactical exercise -- (inaudible) -- in the field where we had our Emergency Services officers engage in a similar Mumbai incident. And that was fed to us by closed-circuit TV.

What I was concerned about was a protracted situation such as that where you might have 10 or more individual things going on in New York City, with hostages perhaps being taken.

We have 400 officers that are extremely well trained. We think they are the best in the business at what they do -- Emergency Service officers. But if we had a longer-term event, there was concern that we may not have enough well trained people. So as a result of what happened in Mumbai, we've embarked on a training program in heavy weapons for members of our Organized Crime Control Bureau, which is essentially our narcotics division and some other investigative units; our range personnel -- firing range personnel.

And we also realized that these attackers were very familiar with the hotels and the targets that they hit, so we've taken our cadre of Emergency Service supervisors, sent them to major hotels in the city with cameras, and they've had tours of all of the hotels primarily in midtown Manhattan, but we're now going out to the hotels at the airports so that we are familiar -- our first responders are familiar with the sort of nooks and crannies of the major hotels in New York.

ZIRIN: I can't help but ask, but are your sharpshooters as good as the Navy SEALs? (Laughter.)

KELLY: Oh, I hope so. That was some job.

So that's some of things we learned from Mumbai. But again, we got there quickly. The lessons were learned as quickly as we could extract them, and then we disseminated it quickly.

ZIRIN: You spoke about the radicalization of homegrown terrorists. What goes into a terrorist? I mean, how do they reach them and how do they radicalize people who would otherwise be peaceful?

KELLY: That's not -- there's no easy answer. What we did do, under the direction of Larry Finch, who -- former CIA employee who now -- who works for us -- two of our analysts, Mitch Silver and Arvin Bhatt, engaged in producing a radicalization study, and they went to various locations of terrorist events throughout the world. They went to Amsterdam where the Theo van Gogh was assassinated. They looked at our own events here. They went to Australia for the -- (inaudible) -- group.

And they gathered a body of information that gives some insights -- this is not the Rosetta Stone, but it's some insight into how terrorists are developed -- these so-called unremarkable people who decide to kill innocent people in their own country. And they came to certain observations that -- usually an event that might trigger this tendency towards radicalization, like Abu Ghraib, which I talked about in my remarks; that there's often a sanctioner, somebody who is not necessarily a religious leader or religious person, someone who they look up to, someone who sort of crystallizes their thoughts. And then there is a fairly -- this process could take a while, but there's a fairly quick decision to decide on doing jihad -- the jihadization process.

And we looked at the events -- the Toronto 18, as they're called. That's where there was a -- part of a plot was to -- whether or not it was far-fetched is difficult to say, but they were going to behead the prime minister of Canada. But the sanctioner in that group was actually somebody who was almost a janitor of a mosque in Toronto.

So it is not -- there's not a clear template, but at least there's some clarity starting to be given to the process. I advise anybody interested in this issue to go to our website, which is www.nyc.gov/nypd, and this report -- it's a 90-page report -- it's on the website. I think they did an excellent job.

ZIRIN: One last question right before I open it up. One has the sense that there's been the increased use of surveillance cameras in not only the war on terror but also antiterrorism activity, but also crime and anti-crime activity. Has that been stepped up, and where are the cameras placed, and do you have people watching them 24/7, and have you found it to be effective?

KELLY: Well, I would like to greatly increase the number of cameras that we have in the city. You know, London has like 500,000 cameras.

We just put in an overlay of 500 cameras in areas throughout the city in every one of our eight borough commands. They're essentially in higher crime areas, and they have a sign that says NYPD security camera.

These cameras are not monitored.

ZIRIN: (Inaudible) -- turn the camera on --

KELLY: No, we turn the camera on. (Laughter.)

And they're not monitored, but if something happens you can go back and download it and we can run a live operation through those cameras if we so choose.

Now, I've mentioned the Lower Manhattan Security Initiative. We are collaborating with private sector in that area, and we hope to have a total of 3,000 cameras -- 1,000 public sector; 2,000 private sector cameras -- brought together. And they will be monitored in a coordination center which is already up and running in Lower Manhattan. That center will be manned by both police officers and private security folks.

So we're looking to put in more cameras, no question about it. We're looking to get money from the federal government to help us do that.

I want to stress that all of these cameras are in public places. We're not putting them by any stretch of the imagination in areas where there is a reasonable expectation of privacy. You know if you go into a supermarket or into a department store, your picture is taken 30 times.

By the way, we have found that this issue always surfaces -- the Civil Liberties Union will bring it up, but there is really not much of a constituency that is against cameras. It's just -- people have accepted it as a fact of life. We've done surveys and 80 percent of the people like the idea of having surveillance cameras in public spaces.

ZIRIN: I'd now like to invite everyone here to join in this conversation. By everyone I exclude members of the press because the commissioner has said he will take questions from members of the press after the meeting. We'll ask that the questions come from members. I ask that they be questions, not statements -- one question. I guess you all know the drill: Wait for the microphone, speak directly into it, stand, state your name and affiliation. And I know the commissioner will be delighted to take your questions.

Yes, ma'am?

QUESTIONER: Thank you. I'm Inger Elliot, IME, Ltd. I wonder if you would comment about Cheney's remarks because you -- (off mike) -- you brought up that in conversation. But I wonder if you might comment about the idea of torture versus getting information from that person.

KELLY: Well, I would support the president's position. I don't think we should engage in torture. And it may provide some short term gain, but I think in the big picture it's not helpful. In the overall efforts, I just don't think it's the way we should be doing business.

ZIRIN: Yes, sir?

QUESTIONER: I'm Patrick Burns, Euclid Systems. Commissioner, the vice president has suggested that -- our former vice president has suggested that our president's actions have increased the risk of catastrophe. Would you comment on that?

KELLY: I really -- I don't know in what context he said that. I know he said that, but -- say -- the president's actions releasing those memos -- is that what you're talking about?

QUESTIONER: I think so.

KELLY: Releasing the memos? I would hesitate --

QUESTIONER: He said increase the risk -- (off mike).

KELLY: I really can't comment on that. I'm not certain exactly what he's referring to. But I would say that it's a tough decision for the president to make. I probably would have advised not to release those memos because I think it can undermine our relations with our allies, with other countries in the future. But I understand there was lots of pressure to do that.

ZIRIN: Roland?

QUESTIONER: Roland Paul. Maybe I can focus this general question. Was any information gained from -- I may mispronounce these guys' names -- Zubaydah or Mohammed Sheikh Ali or any of the other 26 who are known to have received aggressive interrogation techniques -- was any information received from them that was helpful in preventing or foiling a plot against New York City?

KELLY: I believe that answer is yes. I mean, that information is out in the public domain.

MORE

KELLY: (In progress) -- when you say the president's actions releasing those memos -- is that what you're talking about?

QUESTIONER: I think so.

KELLY: Releasing the memos. I would --

QUESTIONER: (Off mike.)

KELLY: I really can't comment on that. I'm not certain exactly what he's referring to.

But I would say it was a tough decision for the president to make. I probably would have advised not to release those memos, because I think it can undermine our relations with our allies -- with other countries in the future. But I understand there was lots of pressure to do that.

ZIRIN: Roland.

QUESTIONER: Yeah. Roland Powell (sp), a lawyer.

Maybe I can focus this general question: Was any information gained from -- I may mispronounce these guy's names -- Zabaydah or Mohammed Sheikh Khalid or any of the other 26 who are know to have received aggressive interrogation techniques -- was any information received from them that was helpful in preventing or foiling a plot against New York City?

KELLY: I believe that answer is yes. I mean, that information is out in the public domain.

Khalid Sheikh Mohammed came forth with information and that information was helpful in identifying Lyman Faris, who was dispatched over here to scout out the Brooklyn Bridge.

ZIRIN: Ella.

QUESTIONER: Helen O'Ellicott (sp) with -- (inaudible).

Could you talk a little bit about the NYPD's interaction with other police departments around the country and the mentoring role it might play with other large cities -- for example, L.A. -- and also along the U.S.-Mexico border?

KELLY: Well, we have a strong relationship with a lot of cities. And a lot of agencies send people here to New York to look and examine what we're doing to take away what they think is helpful to them and that includes Los Angeles.

The city that probably looks the most like New York is London, quite frankly, because of its topography and population -- about 8 million people. So we have a very strong working relationship with London.

There are people here all the time exchanging information and we're certainly open to that.

Now, you talked about the border -- I'm sorry -- southwest border?

QUESTIONER: (Off mike) -- interactions with the cross border -- (off mike).

KELLY: We don't have that much contact, quite frankly. I used to be the Customs commissioner and I had a lot more focus in those days on what was going on on the border.

But we don't have any direct relationship with law enforcement agencies on the border. If something arises and we need information, you know, there's a network in which we can get that information. But I can only tell you that, you know, if people ask me what's the effect of all the violence that's going on in Mexico -- what does it mean here in New York? What we see is an increase in price in drugs and a diminishment of the quality of drugs that appear on the street.

ZIRIN: Yes, ma'am.

QUESTIONER: Thank you for the very lucid and valuable comments. I'm glad to know you're taking care of us!

I'm Carole Brookins; I'm former U.S. director on the board of the World Bank. I moved back to New York after 25 years.

I do have a question regarding this current version of jihad. And so much of what began was linked to the Palestinian problem and the Arab-Israeli problem. Hypothetically, the Arab-Israeli is resolved 12 months from today. Is this version of jihad going to be diminished or does it have a life of its own?

KELLY: Unfortunately, I don't think it's going to be diminished. I think there will always be reasons if you want a reason. And I think there are people out there who want to hurt us and want to hurt us badly. New York is a target that gives them everything they want -- it's the communications capital; it's the financial capital. And I'm pretty parochial. I'm looking at the five boroughs here. But if the Israeli-Palestinian problem was solved tomorrow, unfortunately I think you wouldn't see much of a reduction at all in that desire to come here.

There are hotbeds of problems throughout the world. Obviously we talked about the FATA in the northwest territories of Pakistan. It's an area of real concern for us now and has been for quite awhile. Pakistan is an unstable country and what happens there can greatly impact us in this city.

So no, unfortunately I think that's -- a lot of people say that. I know I hear that, and I certainly hope something is worked out, but I don't think it's going to change the overall threat very much.

ZIRIN: Yes, sir.

QUESTIONER: Thank you. Dick Huber from Antarctic Shipping. I also enjoyed your remarks.

The mayor has made gun availability a big issue. And of course, the National Rifle Association blocks every attempt at passing any meaningful legislation.

Do you think that with the new government there's any chance that something might be done to control this wild proliferation of firearms in our country -- and in New York City specifically?

KELLY: I hope so, but I'm not optimistic. Gun control is the third rail of politics in Washington on both sides of the aisle. That's just the reality of the situation.

The mayor has done a terrific job. He's really coalesced hundreds of mayors around the issue. The most immediate challenge is to pass a law that will take away what we call the Tiahrt Amendment. Tiahrt is a congressman from Kansas -- Wichita, Kansas. And he has put in an amendment or a rider to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms budget, funding -- and he's done it for several years -- that prevents them from exchanging information or allowing information to be exchanged among law enforcement agencies concerning where guns are coming from, where they're purchased.

I mean, that's an indication of the power of the NRA that you're able to prevent law enforcement from getting information -- exchanging information that will help us investigate gun crimes. So I'm not particularly optimistic, as I say, about a major change happening as far as national gun control strategies.

ZIRIN: Yes, sir.

QUESTIONER: Thank you. Brett Spar (sp) of Ace Link Capital (sp). Thanks for joining us, Commissioner.

As you know probably better than anyone, there's been a lot of debate around our readiness for a mass evacuation of Manhattan Island in the event of a chemical, nuclear, biological attack. And we've either read or heard that the tabletop exercises have not ended well -- for example, if the train tunnels are not accessible.

Can you just comment on our readiness today for such an evacuation and the circumstances under which it might occur?

KELLY: Well, evacuation is a major, major challenge -- no question about it -- and I certainly wouldn't want to sugarcoat it.

There are plans in place, basically, where the city is cordoned off into sectors -- about 100 sectors. Obviously, one thing that we're fortunate to have is an effective mass transit system. That's going to be helpful in any evacuation.

I mean, to evacuation a city of over 8 million people is extremely difficult to do and would take a long time to do it. Now, to evacuate parts of the city would obviously be much easier.

And there are plans -- plans coordinated by the Office of Emergency Management. We have major role in it; the fire department has a major role in it. We exercise these plans -- hurricane response plans will be exercised and some of them will involve evacuations.

So we can evacuate portions of the city, but just the idea of evacuating the entire city -- and where do you go when we talk about evacuation? You know, you go through New York City. When you evacuate Long Island, how do you do that? You know, the Long Island portion of New York City where do you go? Do you out to Long Island? Do you go upstate?

These are all difficult issues and they're thought about, but there's no easy answer to the problem.

ZIRIN: Yes, sir.

QUESTIONER: My name is Michael Scholl of Scholl & Associates.

Now, Commissioner, you are uniquely qualified to compare what New York City is doing and what is being done in Washington. And I think the consensus not just here, but a book has been written about the fact that New York is doing a better job in much of counterterrorism activity.

If you had the power to change one thing in Washington in this area, what would you recommend?

KELLY: (Laughs.) There's a loaded question!

You know, what we're doing here suits us. We're a city that's been attacked twice. We had, as I mentioned, seven other plots. So what we're doing is appropriate, in my judgment, for the city. There are some things the federal government simply can't do.

One of the things that we're able to do is to use human beings to gather information for us. And that's partly as a result of our tremendous diversity -- the diversity of the city and the diversity of the department.

Out of the last seven police academy classes, each of them had at least 900 recruits in that class. We had graduates born in 50 or more countries, which is simply phenomenal. So this gives us, as I said, great diversity, great language capability, the ability to do some sensitive investigations.

It's very difficult for the federal government to do that. Federal investigative agencies just don't have the sort of compact universe that we're dealing with.

So we're fortunate. We're fortunate, but I really don't want to criticize federal agencies. Having worked there, I know that the playing field is a lot different. Congress has a lot more involvement in day-to-day operations in Washington than, say, the legislative body here in New York City. It's just a more complicated environment to work in.

But we are blessed in the diversity of this city, and consequently the diversity of our department, is our strength. And we're using it to make the department even better than -- every year it gets stronger and more effective, in my judgment.

ZIRIN: Lynn Cher (sp).

QUESTIONER: Thank you.

Commissioner, I wonder if you could comment on the trial -- the upcoming trial -- of the fellow from Somalia, the pirate, and what if any threat that might have to this city. There have been some who have said, do we want another high-profile terrorism trial right here in New York?

KELLY: You know, we have a ways to go before we get to the trial. He just showed up the other day here.

You know, I don't see it as raising much of an issue here. I don't think it will increase the threat level very much if any. You know, these are robbers. These are not terrorists. These are people who are trying to get money. And so far, they have not been associated with any terrorist group.

There is a fairly strong terrorist operation in Somalia -- al-Shabab. And it's something that we keep our eye on. There are pockets of Somali residents here in the United States -- relatively few in New York, but in Minnesota and in Maine and Toronto has a very large population.

But our analysis shows that the pirate activity and the terrorist activity, if you will, are separate and very much apart right now. Could they come together some time in the future? It's possible, but I just see this young person as a robber trying to get money in a very poor environment.

ZIRIN: The lawyer says he's a juvenile delinquent.

KELLY: Well, I guess the question is how old are you?

QUESTIONER: Hi. Inishnal Wami (sp) from McKinsey.

One of the things about the Mumbai attacks was how the folks came in by the sea and attacked from the seawall. You speak about New York City being an archipelago with a lot of seafront. How do we protect ourselves there and what the plans are?

KELLY: Yeah. We have a very strong working relationship with the Coast Guard. We have our own harbor unit. It has a total of about 40 vessels. We have some pretty neat gear. We have a little submarine that we use to go under and take a look at ships that are coming in. We even board the Queen Mary, believe it or not, when it's coming into harbor. We do it out by Ambrose Lightship.

So we work, as I say, closely with the Coast Guard. We are, quote, "designated" to have the authority that the Coast Guard officers have in boarding ships. We're pretty vigilant. The Coast Guard is building a new command center here in New York -- a coordinate center. We'll be participating in that.

We have a lot of focus and a lot of attention paid to the water of New York -- the waterways. We have almost 500 miles of coastline in New York City. We have our little surges, if you will, where boats come together. We have that with our radio cars and we have it with our harbor craft as well.

So I think -- again, Mumbai is, you know, the police -- they acknowledge that they didn't respond well. We are in a much better position to respond if, God forbid, anything like that happens here. People on our boats are all heavily armed and they're experienced in using those weapons.

ZIRIN: John.

QUESTIONER: John Templeswank (sp).

I really want to talk a bit about -- have you talk a bit about your foreign operations. To what degree are you cooperating well with the CIA and the FBI in your foreign operations or are there turf problems?

KELLY: Yeah. We operate, I think, well with both agencies. We have actually someone from the CIA assigned up here. He works in our fusion center that we have. I get briefings from this individual, David Cohen, 35 years in the CIA -- actual relationship with the agency.

As far as the FBI is concerned, we have 120 of our detectives working on the joint terrorist task force. Our detectives went to Mombasa and brought this young man back with FBI agents. So we're working very, very closely together.

I think the notion that there's a lot of friction between the federal agencies and NYPD just is not the case. You know, sometimes you'll have two agencies who want to do a good job and sort of where the rubber meets the road there may be some tension. But at the higher level, everybody gets along, and generally speaking, there's mutual respect.

CIA, DIA, FBI, ICE -- which is the Customs enforcement unit -- Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms -- we work with all of these agencies every day. We do joint operations with them every day.

So the relationship, in my judgment has never been better. And I spent a long time in the New York City Police Department. I was in the federal government where I had federal agents that were reporting to me and now back in the police department. I think our relationship is better now than it's ever been.

ZIRIN: I'm afraid we have to wrap up.

And I want to say thank you, Commissioner Kelly, for sharing your views with us this evening. Really remarkable insights. And as New Yorkers, we should all thank you for being Ray Kelly and for protecting us. And this is really, in the real sense, where the rubber meets the road in government and you certainly personify that. (Applause.)

KELLY: Thank you, Jim. Appreciate it.

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