Friday, October 19, 2012


 The New York Federal Reserve Bank on Liberty Street

(Friday Oct. 19, 2012, New York City)  Two days ago a Bangladeshi man, Quazi Mohammad Rezwanul Ahsan Nafis, 21, was arrested after attempting to detonate what he believed to be a 1000 pound bomb outside the Federal Reserve Bank at 33 Liberty Street in Lower Manhattan just about 6 short blocks from the site where the World Trade Center's Twin Towers once proudly stood.  Nafis came to America in January on a student visa and in July made contact with a man he was hoping to enlist in his desire to wage “jihad” allegedly telling this individual he had plans for a terrorist attack.  Nafis was completely unaware that this individual he was trying to recruit to assist in his cause was in fact an FBI informant.   As Nafis and his ‘co-conspirators’, who were undercover FBI Agents, continued to plot, the entire enterprise was now a full-fledged “sting operation”.  “It is important to emphasize that the public was never at risk in this case, because two of the defendant’s ‘accomplices’ were actually an FBI source and an FBI undercover agent,” Mary Galligan, acting head of the FBI’s New York office, said in a statement.

“Terrorists have tried time and again to make New York City their killing field,” New York Police Department Commissioner Raymond Kelly said yesterday in a statement. Kelly noted that the city has faced 15 terror plots since the 2001 attacks. “Vigilance is our watchword now and into the foreseeable future.” 

This foiled plot is just the latest example of the asymmetry of the terrorist threat.  An individual or a small group of like-minded people are capable of causing death and destruction on an enormous scale as we witnessed on September 11, 2001 and others have lived with for decades around the world.  On its face it appears to be a virtually impossible mission to prevent a terrorist attack in New York City or anywhere in our wide open American society.  It has been through the tireless, valiant efforts of the NYPD and the specialized Intelligence and Counter Terrorism Units as well as the federal intelligence community and cooperation from our allies that we have not been rocked by another successful attack on our soil.  These efforts, combined with a certain degree of luck have kept us safe thus far.  As Commissioner Kelly commented, New York City remains a high value target for terrorists and we must never become complacent or allow our focus and energy to stray. 


Perhaps one of the most difficult aspects of the terrorist mind for Americans to grasp is that they do not tell time like we do.  The length of their memories, patience and tenacity seem to be completely alien concepts in our incredibly face paced, individualistic, materialistic, somewhat hedonistic culture.  America is also a very “young” Country having only been in existence since 1776.  Many of the terrorist who pose the most clear and present danger to us come from Countries and societies with long histories some stretching back to antiquity.  We have seen ethnic and tribal conflicts centuries’ old flare up in places where central governments are but tokens of authority.  In the aftermath of the collapse of the Soviet Union several of the former Soviet states erupted in bitter conflicts over animosities hundreds of years old. 

Many of the most ancient and storied Countries and cultures in the world are experiencing internal strife as modernization and globalization are seen as a threat.  Lands that were literally the cradle of civilization for millennia are now nations struggling to find their place and identity in a world moving at light speed.  Egypt, Syria, Yemen, Sudan, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, and their immediate neighbors were for most of recorded history the epicenter of civilization.  There are regions in Afghanistan and Pakistan that, according to one CIA operative who spent time in those areas in October through December 2001, which have essentially remained “unchanged since the days Jesus Christ walked on Earth”.

There are locations throughout the Middle East that are referenced in the Bible, Koran and Torah that have profound significance for three of the major religions: Catholicism, Judaism, and Islam.  Some of these “Holy Sites” are among the most contested parcels of land and have been the source of bitter, bloody “religious” conflicts the world has ever seen.

Now some of these once mighty nations with rich cultural histories are caught in the grip of rapidly changing demographics with the majority of their populations being under the age of 28 years old with staggeringly high unemployment, widespread poverty, disillusionment, and despair.  Technology such as the Internet has exposed these populations to the western world, allowed them to explore the wider world beyond their borders, and to wonder why conditions in their native land is so vastly different than in the West.  There are myriad forces and factors, influences and ideas that have allowed an infinitesimally small number of (mostly) men to lash out using acts of terror as their chosen modus operandi. 

As the award winning, highly respected Iranian journalist currently residing in Pakistan, Bilqees Seema of B4 Media recently wrote, simply referring to Islamic Fundamentalist terrorists as “ Ill-tempered with non-cultured backgrounds; this definition is enough to understand their "intention", in your words "threat". We have to find out the "roots"”.  And she is absolutely correct but, that is another component of what should be a comprehensive approach to the threats to our national security posed by those to whom we, the United States, represents the most significant threat to their homelands, beliefs, faith and independence.
Indeed, our State Department must seriously earnestly address the “roots” of terrorism.  To achieve some broader understanding a more robust concerted active effort must be made as a component of our foreign policy agenda.  This in no way excuses acts of terror; it is merely a statement of fact if we are to minimize the threats before they blossom into active operations. There is a well know albeit twisted logic at the heart of the matter at least regarding the stated intentions of Al Qaeda. 


The eleven years since September 11, 2001 have produced a voluminous numbers of well researched books, scholarly papers, studies, articles and solid journalistic reporting documenting the genesis of Al Qaeda, its mutation from the CIA backed “mujahedeen” fighting the Soviet Union and ultimately defeating one of the “Super Powers” after 10 long years of fierce fighting.  As the mighty Red Army was forced to retreat, the mujahedeen reveled in their first intoxicating taste of victory and finding proof positive from Allah Himself the righteousness of their cause.  These two rewards proved to be addictive as the opium that grows so freely in the plains and valleys of southern Afghanistan.  They were hooked and hungry, battle tested, tough and ready to take on the next Goliath.

Many of the mujahedeen (Holy Warriors) returned to their native countries bringing with them the skills learned in the battles they fought in Afghanistan.  Those who remained in Afghanistan became Al Qeada and, once the Taliban seized control of that largely fractured, lawless, country in 1996 where tribal, ethnic, and regional bonds never recognized any central government, Al Qaeda had a safe haven from which to plot, plan and train for the next conflict.

In 1996 in a taped interview with ABC television reporter John Miller, Osama bin Laden “declared war” on the United States.  But, apparently, no one was listening.  After a series of successful lethal embassy bombing in Africa and the attack on the USS Cole suddenly Osama bin Laden was on the radar screen of every intelligence agency in the western world and that his declaration of war, once considered the laughable blustering rhetoric of a lunatic living in a cave in the Khyber Pass, it was laughable no more.

Actually the history of Al Qaeda in America goes back to 1990 when radical Jewish Defensive League founder firebrand Meir Kahane was killed in a Manhattan hotel by an Arab gunman in November 1990 after Kahane concluded a speech warning American Jews to emigrate to Israel before it was "too late." [1] ( The government of Israel had previously designated Kahane as a "terrorist)In July 1990 Sheikh Omar Abdel-Rahman, also known as The Blind Sheikh, came to the United States and began preaching in Mosques in Brooklyn, New York and across the Hudson River in Jersey City, New Jersey.  It was members of his ‘congregation' including Ramzi Yousef, who carried out the truck bombing of the World Trade Center on February 26, 1993.  Ultimately Yousef was apprehended and extradited back to New York City and, as the FBI helicopter that was transporting him to the Manhattan Federal Detention Center passed over the still standing Twin Towers he told an FBI Agent that “next time” those towers would fall.  And, as we know, fall they did 8 years later.

Ramzi Yousef is also the nephew of the alleged "mastermind" of the 9-11-01 attacks, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed who has been held at the US Prison at Guantanamo Bay Cuba since his capture in Pakistan in 2003.


The desperate need to gain understanding of the dynamics that create men bent on doing us harm is a matter on the international diplomatic level to be engaged in rigorously by the State Department.  That is one prong in this multipronged defensive effort to protect our City and Homeland.  This will require time; a great deal of time utilizing a variety of tactics from negotiations and communications among governments, to providing modest financial and humanitarian aid where we can.

However, in “real time”, the roots of terrorism have little relevance to the day in, day out task of securing New York City.  It is a task the likes of which no other domestic law enforcement agency has become so effective in such a short period of time than NYPD.  The sense of urgency infuses the vigilance they must maintain with an immediacy of purpose; and this immediacy requires tactics and methods of an aggressive nature that often have come under fire in the New York City media and among civil rights groups.  There is no doubt that the efforts to secure our City are laden with thorny legal issues which the NYPD has taken very seriously. 

The NYPD Intelligence Unit headed by former CIA Deputy Director David Cohen works closely with the Department of Justice as well as with the NYC Office of Legal Counsel and NYPD Legal Bureau to assure they are operating within acceptable legal parameters.  The novelty of having a local Police Force so actively engaged in intelligence and counter terrorism has posed unique challenges as they have had to navigate" on the fly", so to speak,  in uncharted, murky waters where the hazards and perils are usually visible on the surface.

In a report issued on October 12, 2011 by STRATFOR Global Intelligence titled “Growing Concern Over the NYPD's Counterterrorism Methods” written By Scott Stewart, the author noted, “The NYPD's counterterrorism and intelligence efforts are still new and developing. As such, they are unconstrained compared to those of the larger legacy organizations at the federal level. At the same time, the department's activities are unprecedented at the local level. As its efforts mature, the pendulum of domestic security and civil liberties will remain in motion, and the NYPD will face new scrutiny in the coming year, including judicial oversight, which is an important standard in American law enforcement. The challenge for New York is finding the correct balance between guarding the lives and protecting the rights of its people.”


One of the most prescient concise axioms describing the asymmetrical nature of the complexities of the challenges the terrorist threat presents is that “All they need is to be right once, we need to be right 100% of the time.”  So true it is.  It is sometimes akin to the proverbial “needle in the haystack”. In our City of almost 10 million residents, with hundreds of thousands more who come here to work and visit daily, with over 800 miles of subway track winding through tunnels and on elevated tracks, with all our many landmarks, businesses and industries packed densely into 319 square miles across the Five Boroughs, the odds of determined terrorists appear decidedly in their favor.  Numerically, of course, they are; statistically it is not quite as obvious but that is a moot point for some academic’s research years hence.

Out of the total NYPD force of approximately 31,000 Members of Service (MOS) the official numbers of those assigned to the Intelligence and Counter Terrorism Units are relatively closely guarded secrets but it is safe to say that they number an estimated 1500 Officers, Analysts, and other specialists in areas ranging from designing uniquely tailored computer algorithms, to translators fluent in languages such as Farsi, Urdu, Arabaic, and their many dialects.  Back in the 1980’s NYPD had more MOS assigned to fight organized crime and that was a comparatively finite and intimately familiar battleground with most of the adversaries well known.  This puts into stark relief facing those tasked to protect and secure our City.

It is a “war” fought most of the time on a daily basis with the battle zone stable and unchanging in one sense with an amorphous, ethereal potential adversary lurking next door, in plain sight or in the shadows perhaps supported by well concealed slender conduits leading back to places in South Asia, The Subcontinent, somewhere in The “Stans”, The Philippines, the Middle East or God knows where.  Perhaps that slender conduit extends only as far as California, Texas, Michigan or Connecticut.  Who knows?  Who can say?  It is the charge of NYPD to answer those questions every day, one day at a time.


[1]: Courtesy of Wikipedia



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