Terrorism and the Top Cop

GUEST: Raymond W. Kelly
VTR: 4/22/04

I’m Richard Heffner your host on The Open Mind. And in a sense this program is a further extension of one we did a year ago about the threat to America of terrorism and about thinking the unthinkable … in order to do something about it.

My guest at that time and really the intellectual presence behind this Open Mind and others as well, was Dr. Ralph Gomory, the redoubtable President of the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation who so wisely insisted that “you can’t ask people to agree that the threat of terrorism is huge and leave it at that. You have to give them something concrete they can do. Because their question is going to be, ‘what can I do about it?’”

Well, here on The Open Mind therefore that is precisely what I want to ask a number of expert guests on occasional programs over the months to come; from their respective disciplines and vantage points just what practical measures can we Americans take to protect ourselves and our families and friends against terrorism – biological, chemical, nuclear – and in whatever other forms sick minds can conjure up to injure us.

Well, surely there couldn’t be a better person in America to ask that question than our guest today, New York City’s top cop, Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly.

Now I’m hugely biased, of course, for I’ve known Commissioner Kelly over many years now and as Vice Chairman of the New York City Police Foundation, I’ve seen close up the skill and determination this tough, and thoughtful Marine has consistently brought to protecting all Americans against terrorism.

Indeed, I know a good deal about the ways Ray Kelly has mobilized the NYPD for this enormous task. I’m aware of the pleas he has made in great detail before the Congress and the national administration for the resources our nation’s first responders and those who prepare for terrorism realistically must have to protect us.

But the question remains, and I hope he will help us each to address it … what can we do as individual citizens, what are the practical steps that realistically are available to those of us who are willing to think the unthinkable and then to act in our own best interests and those of our families and our communities. Can we do anything, Ray, other than stand behind you in your efforts?

KELLY: I think there are a lot of things that can be done by the general public. We need help with resources … you and I have been talking about this, I did testify in Washington about what I perceive to be a lack of resources going, not only to New York City, but other threatened localities.

There is money that is going out, but it’s going out in a generalized fashion and I don’t think it targets the communities that need it most. And people can let their legislators; let their government know about that.

We ask people to be observant, to be aware of their environment, to look at their world through the prism of 9/11. Everybody’s world changed as a result of September 11th. So we want citizens to be more alert, more aware of their surroundings, anything that the see of a suspicious or untoward nature, we want to know about it.

No call is considered to be silly or unnecessary, certainly not in, in the new world that we live in. So, we encourage that, we have put in place here in New York and I know they’re in other jurisdictions as well, a counter-terrorism hotline; that we man it 24 hours a day. We have investigators that respond to the information that we get on that, that hotline.

Again, it has to has to have some credibility, some substance to it … we’re not just going out on anything, that, that we receive. We take it, we log it, we investigate it if necessary and we look at it. We go back. We put it together; we marshal that information to help us as other information comes in down the road.

HEFFNER: Your emphasis then is on prevention? Right?

KELLY: Yes. We’re focused primarily on prevention. Obviously, we’d be very much involved if there is a terrorist event, as a first responding agency. But our primary mission now is to prevent another terrorist event in this city.

We’ve been targeted six times in the last decade, twice successfully with the two World Trade Center bombings. So, we have to be concerned about another attack here. If you talk to anybody in the intelligence community that was involved with terrorism, they’ll tell you that New York is right up there at the top of the terrorist hit list.

So we are focused on prevention. We have re-deployed a thousand police officers … a day. Full time equivalents … a day … to function in counter-terrorism. We’re spending about $200 million dollars a year to prevent, to protect the city. We have officers assigned overseas. We have 140 investigators assigned with the Joint Terrorist Taskforce working with the FBI.

We have heavily armed teams of officers that go out to sensitive locations on unannounced basis. You’ll see them at perhaps places that you didn’t expect to see them. And that’s good. We want it to be a … somewhat of a surprise. We have critical response units that we deploy throughout the city.

We’re engaged now in training 10,000 of our officers in … what we call “cohort training”; training of units that if something does happen, they would respond as a unit. Trained with protective suits and masks and certainly with, with some fundamental training in what to do in event of a terrorist event. But that’s, of course, if something happens. We are, as you say, very much focused on preventing another terrorist attack from happening here in New York City.

HEFFNER: There’s … it’s fascinating to me that you’ve spoken, you’ve written about the degree to which you’re keeping an eye on things far, far, far from this city where we sit now. In all parts of the world. Do you run into jurisdictional conflicts with other agencies?

KELLY: Not really. Other agencies may not be too happy about it, but we really haven’t had any, any conflicts. Our view is that we have to do everything that we can to protect this city, to any sort of “leg up”, any modicum of information that will help us better protect this city. There was a recent bombing on March 11th in Madrid; we had our investigators there that day. We had another team, a reinforced team there helping that investigation the next day.

We were able to glean real time information that helped us adjust some of our tactics in our transit system to better protect the city. That little piece of information … who knows … may be helpful in, in preventing an attack here. That’s the way we view it.

Anything that we can get from wherever our officers are assigned. And we have them in Tel Aviv, we have them in Leone with Interpol, we have them in, in London, in Toronto, in Montreal, in Singapore. Any amount of information that we can get to help us, not only in terrorism, but also in fighting crime in general, we’re going to get. We’re very pro-active in that regard.

And again, the Police Foundation has helped us do that. It’s important to note that the expenses of these officers overseas are paid by the Foundation.

HEFFNER: If the unthinkable happens, I know that you’re thinking about the unthinkable. What is it that you recommend that those who are watching us now do, think, try to take care of?

KELLY: Well, of course, it depends on what, what the event is. You need information, you have to get information from your government and …

HEFFNER: But you are our government.

KELLY: Well, I’m talking about … you said, “If an event happens”, so you’ve got to turn on a radio, listen to the media, television, assuming it’s working … portable radios, we recommend. Again it was very helpful in the blackout that we had here on August 14th of last year.

It depends on the nature of the event. We could sit here and think of all sorts of different possibilities. We can think of a chemical or biological attack. Large explosions of something in the transit system; some “dirty bomb” event. There’s lots of things that can happen.

So you’ve got to listen to government to see the nature of the event and take direction; take advice … certainly here that information would come from the Mayor.

HEFFNER: Said “come from the Mayor”, through what mechanism?

KELLY: Through the radio or the television. We are configured to get information out as quickly as possible. Gather information and put that information out.

HEFFNER: And the preparation that one can make in ones own home?

KELLY: Well, one of the questions that people ask is should we have a “go bag”?

HEFFNER: MmmHmm.

KELLY: Why not? I mean what’s the downside to having some basic elements that you want to take with you in the event you can’t get back to your residence for a period of time. Perhaps a bottle of water, a face mask. A whistle. Certain corporations have put these bags together for their employees. But everybody is a little different. So something basic that you think is going to help you sustain yourself for a period of time.

People talk about some sort of room in your house as a protection. Again, there’s no downside to that. I, I just … again … stress that you’ve got to get some direction from government leaders because there are so many variations and permutations of what can happen. Do I stay in my residence? Do I leave? Issues of evacuation. You know these are things that have to be determined and determined quickly by, by government. In this case, certainly here in New York City it would be the Mayor and his Executive Staff.

HEFFNER: What’s happening by way of cooperation between and among the major potential target areas?

KELLY: As far as cities are concerned?

HEFFNER: MmmHmm.

KELLY: You’re talking about. Well, we certainly communicate and talk to other cities … Chicago, Los Angeles, Washington … we have, I think, a strong relationship with London. And we’re looking to strengthen the relationships with other European cities because in many ways they, they look more like New York than perhaps other US cities. So the world has gotten smaller, we’ve increased our communication … certainly with US cities, but with major international cities as well.

HEFFNER: Interesting what you just said … many of the cities abroad look more like New York than so many cities here in this country.

KELLY: Right. For instance, the transit system in London, Paris … there are other subway systems in the United States, none as big as we have here in New York. Not even close to New York’s system … we have over 700 miles of track; we have 468 stations in our system.

So we look at the Paris Metro, you look at London, it’s … it looks more like our system than any other place in the US. That’s just one example. We need to have that relationship, in my judgment, both nationally and internationally and that’s what we’re fostering.

HEFFNER: A delicate question … I don’t know what you’re going to do with it … the relationship between the Police Department and the Fire Department. What question should I ask you so that you can make me feel better in terms of your answer?

KELLY: Oh, we have a good relationship. The Police and the Fire Department work together every day on the streets of this city. I would submit that we have the two best emergency response organizations in this country. You know, all totaled, we have 50,000 rescue workers, when you combine the New York City Police and Fire Department. That’s a pretty formidable group.

There is some competition and some situations where certain units in the Police Department and the Fire Department want to help people. I mean the citizens don’t pay any price for this … actually, it results in better service and more rapid service, so a lot of this is blown out of proportion. They compete on the sports field, football, boxing, hockey; they have all of these games that are going on. It’s a … generally speaking, it’s a healthy rivalry.

HEFFNER: “Blown out of proportion”, by whom?

KELLY: It’s good reading. It’s the media. It’s … you know … if there is some tension at a scene of something, as I say, it generally results in who’s going to provide the service and who gets there first. So, the public doesn’t suffer, but it … you know, as I say, it’s … it’s good fodder for the tabloids.

HEFFNER: Have you any problems with what the press has been doing with the question of terrorism?

KELLY: Problems? No. No. I think it is obviously a very, very important issue these days and I think people have to be reminded of it. Even here in New York. I know once you get away from New York [laughter] there’s not that much thought given to it. And it’s kind of understandable.

But we’ve been targeted here. But even in New York you can feel a certain drift. People don’t always stay, stay focused to it. So I think when they … when it’s written about in, in the paper, in the media … it’s generally speaking, a good thing. Because we want people to think about it.

HEFFNER: After 9/11 my feeling … strong feeling was that when you went outside of New York, as you’re suggesting, in part, there was much, much, much, much less awareness, much less than we wished there continued to be.

KELLY: Yeah.

HEFFNER: I even felt that in New York, when I left downtown, when I left the site of the disaster, life was going on almost as it had gone on before. Do you think when you go to Washington, when you make you pleas for the kind of funding that you feel we need, that we have largely, set that all aside?

KELLY: Set the …

HEFFNER: … the threat. That we’re not responding adequately because it’s not that immediate as it was on 9/12 and 13.

KELLY: Yeah. I think we all tend to live in the short term. And if it’s not an immediate problem for us, we have other things in our lives to focus on. And I think the terrorism threat by much of the rest of the country focuses on New York and Washington … the two targets hit on September 11th … and you’re right, even in New York, I was … I was here when that happened … I wasn’t in, in government … but once you got north of Canal Street …

HEFFNER: Yes.

KELLY: … life went on very soon after that. And, I don’t know, that’s almost something good in a way, you know. It’s the ability to have life go on. And, and respond. New Yorkers are pretty tough and gritty people. People were very generous, very helpful down at Ground Zero, you know, food, money, all of these funds have a tremendous amount of money now for, for all of the victims of 9/11, particularly the ones in public service.

And, and it’s understandable. It’s kind of the human condition. But we can’t … “we” being people in the emergency services, can’t forget about it. We have to focus … focus on it every day. We have drills here, literally every day in this city where our police officers are mobilized and marshaled to respond to an event, a terrorist event. We’re training every day. As I say our cohort training … we’re going to train a total of … we’re up now to about 3,000 … we’ll train about 10,000 officers in being in a chaotic situation, wearing protective suits, wearing masks. That’s what we’re doing every day. That’s our job, to prepare for it.

The public … yeah, we’d like them to think about it, but also there is probably some benefit to just getting on with your life. And it wasn’t … it was surprising to me, really in, in New York immediately after September 11th how life did seem to go on in the northern part of Manhattan and the other boroughs, so quickly.

HEFFNER: I know my wife didn’t believe it when I said, when I was down at Ground Zero that when I got to Canal Street, it was like as though I were in another country. And so I can understand it, as you do, that people … at a distance, don’t feel the way we did here in New York.

What about other countries? Are other countries investing resources to a lesser degree, to a greater degree in the threat … against the threat of terrorism?

KELLY: I think the Madrid bombing was a huge wake-up call. The bombing in the Moscow subway system, which was in February, was seen as sort of an internal thing, you know, Chechnians and the Russians, and that was just another manifestation of that dispute.

But the Madrid bombing was a huge wake-up call for Europe. And Europe has been sort of put on alert as a result of that. So I think you’ll see more of an investment. As you say, more of an awareness of consciousness … it wasn’t really seen as their problem. I think now, and certainly after Madrid, it’s seems a lot more likely that it can happen in a major capital in Europe.

HEFFNER: Did Madrid change anything in Washington? In terms of the availability for you and your colleagues in terms of resources?

KELLY: In terms of resources, I am not certain … I don’t think so. The resource process is a somewhat ponderous one in terms of when the budget’s put together and it, it takes a while. Again, the budget is formulated by the Administration, but it’s passed by Congress. It’s ultimately a product of, of Congress. And the next budget won’t be passed and won’t be issued, you might say, if it’s on time, until October 1st of this year. So I’m not certain what the impact of Madrid was on, on funding or the thinking about funding. Yes, we’ve gotten some alerts and you get certain things from Homeland Security and, you know, obviously the National Security Director has been saying things like, “Because the terrorists seem to have significantly impacted on an election, there’s certainly a possibility they may be emboldened to do something in this country. Those sorts of warnings have come out. As far as funding, I don’t know. It remains to be seen.

HEFFNER: What do we need …what do we really need … what do you need here in this city?

KELLY: Well, we need information and we need a steady flow of money. We need information, intelligence information from the intelligence community to keep us up to speed as to what’s going on.

HEFFNER: Are you getting that?

KELLY: We get, we get most of that … we get some of that … I think there could be a better job even there and I think the agencies have to do a better job of communicating within themselves, you might say. They, they’re still trying to work out their own internal communications issues, and then they have to communicate that to local law enforcement.

HEFFNER: By the agencies you mean the FBI and the CIA?

KELLY: FBI and CIA. DIA, there are other intelligence agencies as well. National Security Agency. But they all ultimately fall under the DCI, you know … as far as intelligence is concerned the FBI … not … but the Director of Central Intelligence … but, yeah, I think, we need information, a freer flow of information, plus we need money. We need money for on-going operations. It’s not enough just to focus on first responders, just to say “here’s money for equipment”. There’s only so much equipment that you can use. Only so much equipment that you can have in place waiting for the big event.

For us, here, we need to handle operational expenses. We’re spending overtime every day to cover sensitive locations in this city; locations that we deem to be not only national targets, but indeed, international targets. For instance, the New York Stock Exchange. I mean that would be a tremendous symbolic and substantive target if it were hit. So we have resources dedicated to the Stock Exchange and other locations throughout the city. We’re not just protecting the city, we’re protecting the country.

But that is a daily cost, a daily expense that adds up to about $200 million a year for the Police Department alone. And that, you know, continues every day, so … yes, we like new equipment; yes, we, we want to have money for training, and we have gotten some money for training. But we also need operational expenses addressed.

HEFFNER: Does it surprise you that it doesn’t surprise me that the figure is that much because it doesn’t seem like “that much” these days … $200 million.

KELLY: Well, again … we’re in a difficult budget environment in this city. You know we’ve had large, multi-billion dollar deficits that the Mayor has very deftly handled. But the big concern about the next fiscal year and the fiscal year after that, with the projections. So you’ve got to think of it in terms of local money, not Federal money. You know, we don’t print money here. We have to have a balanced budget every year. So when you say “it doesn’t seem like a lot of money,” it is a lot of money on a local level.

HEFFNER: No, I didn’t mean on a local level. I mean as receiving that money …

KELLY: Oh, from the Federal government …

HEFFNER: Yeah.

KELLY: From the Federal government.

HEFFNER: Yeah.

KELLY: Well, there is about $3 and a half billion dollars a year that comes through, through Homeland Security to localities throughout the country. Now they may … that may not seem like such a large amount of money when you spread it out throughout the 50 states.

And, indeed, under the formula now, that’s precisely what’s happening; it’s going to all 50 states. Of course, we would argue that it should go to the high threat cities, high threat localities to a much greater extent than it’s going now.

To the credit of the Administration they have put forward a proposal that adjusts that somewhat. But, again, the budget is ultimately a product of Congress and what Congress decides to do. Right now …

HEFFNER: In 20 seconds … are you optimistic about that?

KELLY: Ahh, cautiously optimistic [laughter]

HEFFNER: Cautiously optimistic?

KELLY: Well, we’ll see what happens. There are 80 localities that are now in the high threat universe, you might say. Initially there were seven; that makes a lot more sense to me than 80 … there’s 50 localities, I should say, and 30 transportation districts. It’s just spread out throughout the country. That looks, to me, like “business as usual” in Washington and that has to be narrowed, or at least the funding for those 7 locations that are, that are of much higher risk in most people’s minds … greatly increased.

HEFFNER: Good luck.

KELLY: Thanks a lot.

HEFFNER: Ray Kelly, thank you for joining me today. And thanks, too, to you in the audience. I hope you join us again next time, and if you would like a transcript of today’s program, please send $4.00 in check or money order to The Open Mind, P. O. Box 7977, FDR Station, New York, New York 10150.

Meanwhile, as an old friend used to say, “Good night and good luck.”

N.B. Every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this transcript. It may not, however, be a verbatim copy of the program.

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