Raymond W. Kelly discusses the NYPD response to 21st century terrorism.
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GUEST: Raymond Kelly
I’m Richard Heffner, your host on The Open Mind. And I suppose in the name of full disclosure I ought to add that I’m also a long-time Vice Chairman of the New York City Police Foundation.
For my guest today is New York’s Top Cop, Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly, who has spent more than three decades in the NYPD, holding every rank, even serving as Commissioner once before.
Ray Kelly is also a lawyer. A graduate of St. John’s Law School. Holds a Master of Laws from NYU Law School and a Master of Public Administration from the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard.
And lest you think of my guest only as a cop and a lawyer; he is a combat veteran of the Vietnam War, who retired from the Marine Corps Reserves as a Colonel. He has also been Director of International Police Monitors in Haiti, Undersecretary for Enforcement of the U.S. Treasury and Commissioner of the U.S. Customs Service.
And before his re-appointment as New York City’s Police Commissioner on the heels of 9/11 he had even briefly entered the private sector as Senior Managing Director, Global Corporate Security for Bear Sterns & Company.
In other words, in this new world in which the very term “security” has such enormous meaning for each one of us, Ray Kelly has “been there, done that.” Which makes the titles of two recent front page articles about him in The New York Times all the more intriguing. One … “Terror Makes All The World A Beat for New York Police”; the other “Leader Sees New York Police In Vanguard of Terror Fight.”
Indeed, I’d like to begin today by asking Commissioner Kelly if I’m safe in assuming that not really so very long ago he, himself, would have been rather taken aback by such headlines about the job of the NYPD.
KELLY: Let me first say though how much the Department appreciates the Police Foundation and your involvement in the Foundation. It’s been a very important force and factor in the Department for a long period of time.
Yes, I think our world has changed. No question about it. I would have been surprised ten years ago with those headlines. Our world has gotten much smaller, terrorism has been brought right to our door step, the oceans no longer protect us. We believe that we need to reach out, to think globally and to act globally. We need a leg up. Any information that we can get that better protects this city.
And we’re doing a host of things. One of them being stationing police officers overseas to work with other police agencies. Certainly we’re focused on terrorism, but also to help with conventional crime as well. We see New York as the capital of the world in many respects, so if things are going to happen, often times they happen right here in New York. And that includes money laundering, drug trafficking, car theft, smuggling of people. We want those officers to help us get information, to increase the flow of information. And terrorism, of course, is one of those areas that we’re looking for help from.
HEFFNER: What does that do to your job of recruitment?
KELLY: Well, we’re a big organization. We have now over 53,000 employees, 14,000 civilian employees and a little under 39,000 uniform officers. So, when we recruit we cast a fairly large net and it really is amazing the talent that we’re able to bring on board.
Tremendous language capability, for instance. We have over 30 certified Arabic speakers. We have people who speak Pashdu, Hindi, Fukenese, which of course is a Chinese dialect. Rare to come by certainly in Federal government circles. So, we’re big, we’re a complex organization and I think we’re recruiting, I would say, a quality of candidate that is the best I’ve seen.
We require a minimum of 60 college credits. I think it’s a great job. Last time we recruited for a test given in June we had 32,000 people sign up to take the examination.
HEFFNER: And the qualifications? Or, I should put it this way. Those qualified out of the 32,000?
KELLY: Well, they’ve taken the test and now we’re …
HEFFNER: I see.
KELLY: … in the process of, of going through the process to identify who is qualified. But the qualifications are 60 college credits or two years of military service. You have to be over 21 years of age to be appointed and under 35, actually 35 years of age when you’re appointed. So it’s a fairly wide age spread.
We’ve got lots of lawyers. We even have medical doctors who’ve applied. We have Ph.Ds who have applied. It’s an exciting time to be a part of the New York City Police Department. I think those recruiting numbers show that.
HEFFNER: And the nature of the people who are being recruited? You say they show that, too. Talk about doctors, talk about Ph.Ds. Is this since 9/11?
KELLY: I think there’s a renewed interest in public service and in working in law enforcement since 9/11. We probably reflect some of that. We’re also an organization that’s becoming more diverse. We’re about 15% Black, about 20% Hispanic, 16% female. No, not only are, I would submit, getting better qualified people, in a variety of ways, we’re increasing our diversity. We’re looking more representative of the city we serve.
HEFFNER: Do you think all of that can protect us? I’m a New Yorker, you’re a New Yorker. And the question always comes up … I told you before we went on the air that I’ve determined to spend more of my time here in the City. Why I don’t quite know, but just, just feels … this is my, this is my country. This is my city. Are we safe?
KELLY: We’re certainly safer than we were a year ago. I think September 11th changed everybody’s world. Again, it showed that we’re, we’re not protected by oceans. We’re doing everything we reasonably can do to make this city a safer place. We’ve put in place a Counter-terrorism Bureau. Headed by a retired Marine Lieutenant General, Frank LiButti. We’ve increased our component on the Joint Terrorist Taskforce that works with the FBI. On September 11th there were 17 Investigators in that organization from the New York City Police Department. We’re now up to about 120 Investigators. And with the FBI they’re going to all corners of the world to do investigations. And I would submit they’re doing them well.
We have increased and strengthened our Intelligence Division. We brought on board David Cohen, a 35 year veteran of the Central Intelligence Agency to head our Intelligence Division. He brought a tremendous level of experience and professionalism to that component. So we’re working more closely with other agencies throughout the world. Certainly more closely with the federal agencies.
We have embarked on a training initiative for the entire Department, giving them basic information about terrorism, what to look out for. We need more training, no question about it. We need a more sophisticated level of training.
HEFFNER: How do you get that?
KELLY: Well, we’re certainly striving to do that in the parameters in which we’re now working. But ideally we’d be able to get some Federal resource, Federal money to bring in additional trainers, but also provide over time to allow us to train in what I call “cohort” fashion. Officers who work together should be trained together. But we police this city 24 hours a day, seven days a week. So it’s difficult to shut down units and have them train for extended periods of time.
That’s what the military does and that what municipal police departments can’t do. You can’t do it for extended periods of time. So we’d like to get some resources in that area to help us have officers train together on an overtime basis, so it’s not impacting on fighting conventional crime, which I would submit we’re doing very well at.
Crime is down this year an additional six percent over what it was last year. Our homicide rate in New York City is as low as its ever been since we started recording it. Its down 12 percent over what it was last year. So all the numbers are very positive. And that tells me that the men and women in the Department are doing a terrific job. And they’re now tasked with being involved in the fight against international terrorism and keeping the city safe from conventional crime and I think they’re doing it well.
HEFFNER: Are you going to get those extra resources from the Feds?
KELLY: We hope so. It’s hard to say. We’ve certainly spoken to our Congressional delegation. We’ve spoken to Governor Ridge. Right now the budget, the budget forecast, the Federal budget that is for 2003 is still somewhat murky. The budget process is not a neat one in, in Washington, I can tell you from my time there. Right now there is no budget that has been assembled and of course signed off on by the President. There’s some friction in Congress. We hope out of this process emerges a significant amount of resources, not only for New York City, but for local governance throughout the country, to better protect themselves.
HEFFNER: What are our lives going to be like? How will they be different, in your estimation, in the near and the long future from what they’ve been in the past.
KELLY: I don’t think we’ve seen too much change. You know there’s been a lot of talk about people being inconvenienced or losing privacy. I don’t think that’s really manifested itself in any significant way. Yes, it takes a little more time to get processed when you go to the airport. So I think for the vast majority of people, you know life goes on pretty much the way it was. Is there a higher level of anxiety? Sure. People are understandably a little more concerned about the, the future and concerned about terrorism, but I don’t see this, this dramatic change in how we live our lives. It certainly hasn’t, hasn’t shown itself even here in New York City to any great degree.
HEFFNER: Yes, I’m aware of not being aware of police involvement, police presence … yes, and I want it. But there are those people, you suggest, who are complaining already. Now maybe these are just professional complainers. But you don’t anticipate …
KELLY: I don’t. I think it’s a kind of a pre-emptive complaint that they’re putting out there. I really don’t … I don’t see it … you know, the things that we’re doing … government doing is significantly intruding in people’s lives. We’re very conscious of that issue, we’re governed by the Constitution. We’re a city and a country governed by the Rule of Law. I don’t see this violation of people’s rights taking place. A little more inconvenience in some transportation hubs. That’s sort of thing.
HEFFNER: When it came to the matter of Presidential security, John Kennedy said, anyone who is determined to and determined to … willing to give his life … could get to and assassinate the President. What did you think about that?
KELLY: Well, I don’t know. There’s lots of scenarios, I guess we could think about that would certainly raise that specter. But we’re doing everything we can not to make it easy and the President is in town today, as we speak … awful lot of security surrounding the President. Not only the Secret Service, but New York City Police officers as well. So, yes … someone giving … wants to willingly give up their, their life causes us concerns. But that doesn’t mean you make it easy for them. Or … you know, there are things that you can do that would definitely impact on that capability … even though someone is willing to give up their life.
HEFFNER: After 9/11/01 the assumption was, on the part of many people, that there would be other places that would be targets. What’s your assumption that we, here in New York are still the capital of the world and therefore the capital target?
KELLY: I wouldn’t say capital target. We’ve been targeted here four times in the last ten years. Twice successfully … the ‘93 bombing of the World Trade Center, of course, the horrendous acts of September 11th. But I don’t … I’m not one that says it’s inevitable. I think we have done a lot, as a nation. We’ve done a lot. As a city we’ve done a lot. I think other cities in the country have, have done a lot to disrupt perhaps reconnaissance or planning the maybe going forward to launch another attack. And we have to continue, in my judgment to keep that pressure on, both overseas and here.
We’re going to see complacency on the part of the public. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing. You’d like to have people vigilant, but we want life to go on as well. But we can’t be complacent, government can’t be complacent, the police department can’t be complacent, or other emergency services can’t. So, that’s my job and other, other people at the executive level in law enforce to see to it that we keep taking care of business.
HEFFNER: Commissioner, what happens in other major cities around the world? To what degree are they on as much of an alert as you are … as we are here?
KELLY: It’s difficult to say. Some are. Some aren’t. Some have been on alert status long before 9/11/01. They’ve been plagued by it in, in the past twenty, thirty years. We’ve been pretty much immune from it. So you can go to cities in the nineties and see, you know, police carrying machine guns in strategic locations. We simply didn’t have that. Some countries, some cities are more aware, more alert than others. But, again, you look at our track record here … being targeted four times. Certainly the 1993 bombing should have been a huge wake-up call, not only for the city, but for the country …
HEFFNER: It wasn’t.
KELLY: It was not. It was not. And there’s lots of people to blame for that, you can do lots of finger pointing …
HEFFNER: Without blaming, without blaming … why wasn’t it?
KELLY: There was this sense that these people involved in the bombing of ‘93 were amateurs, were coalesced or brought together by Sheik Rahman’s preaching and philosophy and that they weren’t part of an international conspiracy. The first arrest was made six days after the bombing, so there was a palpable sigh of relief in the city, in any event. That “okay, this is, this is solved.” Again there wasn’t this smoking gun of an international organization or conspiracy that’s now emerged … of course, just recently by the way, in the last six months, have the authorities come out and said “yes, this was an Al-Qaeda sponsored event.” The arrest of Ramsey Josef is a, you know, hard core terrorist, or the identification of him being involved in the ‘93 bombing and the subsequent arrest, also should have been a huge tip-off.
We’ve heard the expression that “we didn’t connect the dots”. Well, that’s very true, there were lots of dots out there that simply weren’t, weren’t connected.
HEFFNER: Now, what were the other two areas where we had been successful in avoiding real planned attacks?
KELLY: Well, there was a conspiracy, a plot in 1993 to blow up the … or have explosions to go off at the U.N. and the tunnels under the Hudson River and the, the Federal office building at 26 Federal Plaza. And that was foiled …
KELLY: … by undercover FBI Joint Terrorist Taskforce infiltrated an organization. A lot of people forget about that case. But it was also in 1993 and it was in Spring of 1993 after the bombing in February of 1993. Then in 1997 we had another plot by terrorists to have bombs go off in the subway, in Brooklyn, if you recall. And that was uncovered by an individual who became a little skittish, there was some alert police observation that was involved in that case. And that was foiled.
HEFFNER: What was a factor in the those two instances, that wasn’t a factor or that failed in the two instances at the World Trade Center?
KELLY: Well, some of it was luck. And some of it was opportunity to reach into an organization to work with a local informant. But, you know, it’s tough to draw lessons from those two cases and say, “hey, you know, that’s what we, we should be doing”. This is a complex area. And these are very smart, cunning people, who want to hurt us. Who want to just kill Americans. You just can’t say that okay we learned something there and then we’re going to use that kind of schematic to address it. Much more complex than that. We’re dealing with a very skillful foe here.
HEFFNER: Can we be as smart and cunning, to use the words you use?
KELLY: Yes, we can. But it takes time. So many people have said we have neglected the area of human intelligence. That’s happened for many, many years. We had an over-reliance on technical surveillance. We have the best, no question about it, in the world as far as that goes, through the NSA, through our other intelligence gathering entities in this country. But this is not unknown by these terrorists groups. So, they don’t communicate using technical means. And it means you have to get in and do that “grunt” work which we have, for many years, avoided in this country. Yes, we use surrogates to a certain extent. We use other countries to do some of this dirty work. But we have kind of separated ourselves, through the years, from doing that sort of thing. We didn’t want to get our hands dirty, it was somebody else’s business and then again, we had the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans to, to protect us.
Well, all of that is over. So, we’ve got to get involved as a nation in the real dirty work, if you will …
HEFFNER: Well, that …
KELLY: … of intelligence gathering.
HEFFNER: That’s what I wanted to ask you, can good guys finish first?
KELLY: Absolutely. But it takes, it takes resilience, it takes commitment … over time. This is going to be a long, protracted battle. I think we as a society … we want things in the short terms. We want quick results, we want things to happen rapidly … “hey, we’re going to go in, use military force, and that’s it.” Well, that’s not the enemy that we’re facing these days. So, it is going to be a long pull. We’ve got to get back into that business of intelligence gathering. Yes, the technical surveillance and our technological superiority is, is a factor and we’re not going to back away from that. But we’ve got to expand our capability to operate in, in the rest of the world. I mean we can’t use just other countries to do it for us.
HEFFNER: Well, that’s what impresses me so much about what you said before about language skills and the NYPD and the degree to which you are able here in this incredible city of ours to recruit what I would guess would be the basis for that old, now new approach.
KELLY: We have people coming from all over the world. 40% of the people in New York City have been born outside of the United States. So, you know, there’s tremendous potential here. The, the excitement, the … you know, all of the things that New York has to offer draws an awful lot of talented people from throughout the world. And, you know, we now find that many of them want to become New York City policeman. You have to be a citizen. So, you know, we do a whole background investigation, thorough background investigation on people that we hire. But we do have some very talented people. And we’re using that language capability to do a variety of things. We’re now able to go to Internet sites and chat rooms and read periodicals that we weren’t focused on a year and a half ago.
HEFFNER: The Feds are having trouble in that area aren’t’ they?
KELLY: Well, I think historically they’ve had some trouble in recruiting people with language skills. They’re ramping that up now. They have a full court press on to recruit people with language skills that they deem to be necessary and helpful. We also stand ready to assist them in that regard.
HEFFNER: Is there a competition?
KELLY: No. I wouldn’t say there’s a competition for, you know, recruitment. I think we, you know, there’s enough talent out there for both the local and the Federal authorities to recruit who they need.
HEFFNER: There’s always been talk about competition, about rivalry between the Feds and the NYPD. Lessened now?
KELLY: Yes. It’s less than it was. There have always been these kind of turf issues, both on the Federal level, among Federal agencies and local and Federal agencies, that’s kind of the nature of the game. I mean there’s lot of competition between companies, and this is not such an unnatural thing to happen even in the government sector. There’s a lot less of that now because there’s a realization that we’re all in this together; that the world has changed, we have to cooperate, we have to communicate in, in a more effective way. And we are doing that.
HEFFNER: To what degree does that same realization prevail in the NYPD and the New York Fire Department?
KELLY: Well, I think there’s recognition that we have to work more closely together. We’ve now taken a Police Captain and assigned him permanently to Fire Headquarters. A Battalion Chief is now assigned … Fire Chief … is now assigned to Police Headquarters. We have bi-weekly meetings of the command staffs of the two agencies …
HEFFNER: Are they two different cultures as I’ve been lead to understand?
KELLY: Yeah. They’re two different cultures. And we need better communication, but it’s overblown. We’re doing two different jobs, basically. People talk about the lack of coordination or communication on 9/11 between the police and fire. We need better communication and coordination, but it was not relevant to the horrendous loss of life that took place on September 11th. The communications were not a factor in, in either of the agencies loss of personnel. You look at the chronology … we can go into it … but this communication that took place from the helicopter pilot, that was done after the first building collapsed. And with the collapse of the first building, the communication capability of the Fire Department … totally eliminated.
HEFFNER: We’ve got one minute left, or I’m going to get the sign for that in a moment. What about the reporting that lead New Yorkers and the world to some understanding of what happened … 9/11. Have we been, not mislead … have we been informed well enough, or do we have a mythology building up about mis-information or mis-communication.
KELLY: I think it’s been reported fairly openly. I don’t know what other area needs to be explored. We asked McKinsey to look at our agency, to see what lessons we could learn. The Fire Department did the same thing. Those reports are public. I don’t know of anything that’s being put under the rug.
HEFFNER: I meant just the opposite, and we’re … our time is up … I really meant have we been lead to think that there was an impact, a negative impact from mis-communication …
KELLY: Yes, exactly. I’m not certain why that happened, but it really was not relevant. It was kind of an interesting issue that some reporters jumped on, but it really had no relevance to the terrible act of that day.
HEFFNER: Ahh, the press. Thank you so much for joining me on The Open Mind, Commissioner Kelly.
KELLY: Thanks, Dick.
HEFFNER: And thanks, too, to you in the audience. I hope you join us again next time. If you would like a transcript of today’s program, please send four dollars in check or money order to: The Open Mind, P. O. Box 7977, F.D.R. 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.