Counterterrorism Now a New York State of Mind

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NEW YORK CITY - In the years since the Sept. 11 terror attacks, the New York City Police Department has made great strides in the war on terror.

The department uses state of the art measures to keep the city's 8.2 million resides safe from terrorism.

Thankfully, there has not been another terrorist attack since 9/11.

"We have stopped 14, at least, plots on New  York City," New York Councilman Peter Vallone told CBN News.

He credited the city's Counterterrorism Division, created by New York Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly in 2002, for keeping the peace.

"I think we're very fortunate to have Ray Kelly. He's been doing a great job here and we've been successful. God willing, we continue to be successful," Vallone said.

The unit is the first of its kind in the nation. Prior to 9/11, only a handful of NYPD detectives monitored terrorist activity in the city.

Eyes on the World

That has all changed. Today, hundreds are on the job.

"We've got officers throughout the world in terror hot spots, out there looking to see how what's happening affects New York City," Vallone said.

This focus remains because al Qaeda and other Islamic extremists remain obsessed with attacking infrastructures in New York, such as railways, subways, passenger ferries, roads, and bridges.

New York Police Inspector Michael O'Neil explained the importance of the counterterrorism division.

"We're still under the threat of terrorism here in New York City," he said in a YouTube clip embedded on the department's website.

"There are certain areas and locations in the city that are high profile targets, from our baseball stadiums to the Empire State Building to the development of the new Freedom Tower," he continued.

Model of Counterterrorism

An example of how it's protecting the Big Apple: the division put a ring of radiation detectors around the city and established protocols with surrounding counties in case of a chemical, biological, or nuclear attack. 

Cities across the country see this sophisticated effort as a model for stopping such attacks.

"We have technology now that you have cameras that will alert you if a bag has been left too long," Vallone explained. "A scene will be programmed into it so when something new enters into that scene, like a bag for a certain amount of time, it will alert you."

"We actually have taped evidence of how it's picked up a bag, the bomb squad has come out," he added.

Tracking Homegrown Terror

One of the main objectives of the city's Counteterrorism Division is to track radical Muslims from all over the world, including homegrown terrorists.

Vallone said that homegrown terrorism is a big problem, not just in New York but in cities across the country. 

"Why does somebody that grows up in Queens decide he wants to grow up and kill Queens residents?" he asked.

In November 2011, police arrested Jose Pimentel, also known as Mohammad Yusuf. Officials said Yusuf, a U.S. born citizen, was within an hour of carrying out a powerful pipe bomb attack.

He is accused of plotting to bomb police cars, post offices, elected officials, and U.S. troops returning home from overseas.

Police said Pimentel is an al Qaeda sympathizer who frequented radical Islamic websites.

"The suspect was a so-called 'lone wolf,' motivated by his own resentment of the presence of troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as inspired by al Qaeda propaganda," New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg said during a press conference on Pimentel last year.

"He made even some of his like-minded friends nervous because of his extremeism," Kelly said.

The Real Enemy

Meantime, the NYPD's Counterterrorism Division has run into major challenges, including clashes with federal authorities.

"One of the things we learned after 9/11 was that there was a huge failure of communication and cooperation between all levels of government -- between the city, states, and feds, between agencies at those levels, and that's gotten much better," Vallone said.

"But due to the fact that the NYPD has taken on such roles traditionally federal there are some rivalries," he added.

That tension exists because the division is now doing intelligence work once only done by the FBI and CIA.

Despite the differences, Vallone said the Counterterrorism Division must focus on real enemies: ones committed to destroying America.

"They're thinking about hitting us all the time," he said.  "Right now, as we're talking they're plotting to kill us. So the more police personnel we have in every city thinking about this, the better."

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Charlene  Aaron

Charlene Aaron

CBN News Reporter

Charlene Aaron serves as a general assignment reporter and helps anchor for the CBN News Channel.  Follow her on Twitter @CharNews and "like" her at Facebook.com/CharleneIsraelCBNNews.