Securing the City describes the creation and operation of the New York Police Department’s anti-terrorist unit. If you thought that fighting terrorism was the province of the CIA or the FBI, you will be surprised to know that the NYPD maintains operatives in foreign countries and maintains tight links with multiple foreign anti-terrorism groups.
Some of the stories are very inspiring. For instance, the NYPD was able to quickly recruit, hire, and train many Arabic speakers by simply reaching out to its own, non-native but assimilated population (of US citizens, to boot) while the extreme bureaucratic requirements of the CIA or the FBI seriously hampered their efforts. It was able to dispatch police officers to the scenes of the Madrid and London public transportation bombings to bring back lessons on how to spot would-be terrorists and implement immediate new protection measures — whereas the other agencies took months to issue a wonderful, but very late report. It regularly stages “swarms” of police officers in sensitive spots to reassure the public that it is safe; dissuade would-be terrorists from targeting such unexpectedly-protected landmarks; and also train the police to think about terrorists along with their other regular duties.
Other stories are chilling. I’m not sure I would like to be watched from the sky, 24×7 (naturally I was, unknowingly, when I visited New York last year.) It seems that the vast resources assigned to the terrorist task force could perhaps be spent in other ways. And it’s also clear that the intercine wars between the federal organizations and the NYPD terorist unit are incredibly wasteful: it would surely be better to merge the efforts and share the techniques more transparently rather than duplicate the expenses. Finally, I can’t help but wonder whether such a frenzy around terrorism may not feed on itself: we must spend more because we know more about plots — even if, as the book makes clear, most terrorists are quite inept and pause little danger except to themselves.