For years, Mayor Bloomberg and Commissioner Ray Kelly have claimed that the NYPD has thwarted 14 terror attacks since 2001. And many people actually believed them.
The problem is it’s not really true. In fact, as the internet news site Propublica notes, “the figure overstates the number of serious, developed terrorist plots against New York and exaggerates the NYPD’s role in stopping attacks.”
These questions have been raised before, most prominently by Leonard Levitt, a former Newsday columnist who writes the NYPD Confidential site. Levitt has written a whole series of columns critiquing the Bloomberg and Kelly claims about these foiled terror cases. Here at the Voice, we have also raised these questions–particularly about the so-called Newburgh 4 case which was made up out of whole cloth by the government.
What Propublica piece brings to the table is that it rounds up the key details behind the 14 plots in one fairly brief article. Author Justin Elliott writes that just two, maybe three, of the plots were clear cut terror plots.
“Of the 11 other cases, there are three in which government informants played a significant or dominant role, four cases whose credibility or seriousness has been questioned by law enforcement officials, including episodes in which skeptical federal officials declined to bring charges; and another four cases in which an idea for a plot was abandoned or not pursued beyond discussion,” Elliott writes.
What does this mean for New Yorkers? Well, not all that much, except it’s another example of how you can’t believe everything you read or everything politicians say.
But there’s another more serious question here: if the NYPD is not thwarting plots, then why is the city spending so much money on anti-terror measures?
In other words, shouldn’t we be using a scalpel approach rather than the shotgun method of pulling thousands of cops out of precinct patrol duties to staff tourist-heavy areas, to ride in long lines of police cars with lights flashing, to station detectives in overseas cities, to purchase millions in fancy technology?
Crime is creeping up, by the way, and neighborhoods need their cops more than tourists in Times Square, you could argue. Do we need 1,000 officers in the anti-terror bureau? What are they doing all day? Wouldn’t they be better served on the street? Just asking.
Mayor Bloomberg, responding to the article, went the other way with it. He claimed there could have been as many as 28 foiled plots, not just 14. He noted there hasn’t been one successful attack.
Anyway, here’s a run-down of the 14 plots.
The Newburgh Four. The Voice wrote extensively about this one, how the FBI and an unethical informant basically pulled the strings of four pot-smoking, video game playing ex-cons. The informant aggressively pursued the men, plying them with gifts, and promising to pay them. One of the four told the Voice exclusively that they were just trying to con the informant out of his money. Bloomberg and Kelly exaggerated the seriousness of the plot and credited the NYPD when it was not really involved.
2010 Times Square bomb plot. Faisal Shahzad’s failed attempt to set off a bomb would have worked if the bomb hadn’t malfunctioned. Elliott claims it was widely seen as a law enforcement failure because he wasn’t on anyone’s radar despite being in contact with the Pakistani Taliban.
2009 subway bomb plot. Uncovered by United States intelligence services, not the NYPD. Ringleader Najibullah Zazi had gotten terror training from Al Qaeda.
2006 London U.S. Airline Bomb Plot. British authorities, not the NYPD, were responsible for catching the plotters. Questions lingered over whether they were going to go through with it.
2004 Shahawar Matin Siraj. Here again, an aggressive informant pushed talk of a plot along on Siraj, a man of limited functionality. The informant was paid $100,000 by the NYPD. The whole case was built on talk. There was no bomb, no timetable, no link to foreign terror.
2007 JFK Airport Plot. Here again, officials admitted the public wasn’t at risk, and the informant was a convicted drug dealer on the government payroll. He chauffeured the supposed plotters, gave them plane tickets, and got an apartment for the main conspirator, Russell DeFreitas.
2011 Jose Pimentel Case. The feds didn’t even think this one was worth pursuing, calling him a stoner and no danger to anyone but himself. Once again, an NYPD informant did all the serious stuff: shopped for pipe bomb materials, used his apartment to build a pipe bomb. The case is pending.
2011 Ahmed Ferhani Case.The Feds passed on this case, too. Ferhani had a history of mental illness.
2003 Brooklyn Bridge Plot. Iyman Faris was convicted of providing support to Al Qaeda, but his plan to destroy the Brooklyn Bridge with a blowtorch was ridiculous.
2006 PATH Train Case. Assem Hammoud was arrested in Lebanon with FBI involvement for plotting to attack this train system. But the plot never advanced beyond talk. Hammoud never even visited the U.S.
2006 Subway Cyanide Case. The plot was considered and abandoned by Al Qaeda. No evidence of any NYPD role in the decision.
2004 Stock Exchange Plot. Issa Al Hindi was arrested in Britain in 2004. He was at terrorist training camps, had ties to Al Qaeda and photographed sites in New York City. But there was no evidence the plot was real, nor any that the NYPD had anything to do with his arrest.
2005 Garment District Case. Another “plot” that just talk, and never went anywhere. A key informant claimed he gave false information to interrogators while being tortured. No NYPD involvement.
2008 Long Island Railroad Plot. All just talk. Bryant Vinas, an American Muslim was arrested in Pakistan. He talked with an Al Qaeda member about an attack on the LIRR, but never pursued it beyond that. No NYPD involvement there either.