NYPD stresses work with overseas partners in terror fight

By Pamela Falk

/ CBS News

New York Police Commissioner James O'Neill speaks at New York City Police Foundation's "State of the NYPD" breakfast, Wednesday, Jan. 23, 2019, in New York. Diane Bondareff / AP

New York — The extent of coordination between the New York City Police Department (NYPD) and overseas intelligence agencies has expanded the department's ability to thwart potential lone-wolf attacks in "real-time," Commissioner James O'Neill said Wednesday while unveiling his office's annual "State of the NYPD" report.

"We are seeing the emergence of the propaganda-inspired lone wolf, or small groups of people as the primary threat," John Miller, the deputy commissioner for intelligence and counterterrorism, told CBS News.

Attacks carried out by self-radicalized individuals without specific direction from overseas terrorist organizations are the primary threat to the U.S. overall and New York City in particular, Miller said, given the diminished capability of groups like ISIS and al Qaeda to carry out external operations.

Miller, a former CBS News contributor, said the NYPD's counter-terrorism and intelligence-gathering units are critical to identifying and preventing attacks.

A spokesperson for the NYPD told CBS News the department and the FBI have brought charges related to 30 alleged plots "either originating in New York or targeting locations in New York since 9/11." In October 2018, eight people were killed when a man drove a rental truck onto a busy bike path in lower Manhattan. The driver told prosecutors he was inspired by ISIS.

"Working both with, and independently of, the FBI, the [IOAS] unit has preemptively and systematically dismantled numerous terror threats to New York City, including would-be attacks on the subway system, bridges, landmarks, and city streets," the report said, referring to the Intelligence Operations and Analysis Unit of the NYPD's Intelligence Bureau.

The NYPD now has 14 intelligence posts outside the U.S., including in London, Paris, Madrid, Tel Aviv, Amman, Doha, Abu Dhabi, Singapore, Sydney, Interpol in Leon and Europol in The Hague, Miller said. Detectives are also embedded with federal partners in Washington, and one detective serves as a liaison to law enforcement in Los Angeles.

"There were three terrorist attacks in the 18-month period in New York City between 2017 and 2018," Miller said. "The model of low-tech, low-cost, high-impact attacks driven by the social media messaging of terrorist groups is what we are seeing and what our partners in London, Paris and the larger European Union are seeing as well."

The new NYPD report also cites a 2015 case as an example of the NYPD countering terrorism overseas. Saddam Mohamed Raishani, a resident of the Bronx, allegedly conspired with another man to "provide material support for ISIS" by arranging for the man to travel to Istanbul and cross into Syria.

A member of the community reported Raishani to the NYPD's intelligence unit, which made contact with him through a confidential informant and undercover officer. In 2017, Raishani told the officers he planned to join the fight himself, and was arrested just before departing John F. Kennedy International Airport.

Miller said the department's partnerships with overseas law enforcement and intelligence agencies are intended to get information back to the U.S. quickly: What was the intended target? Is there an affiliated target in New York? Does the department need to move police resources there? What were the details of a specific attack? What were the tactics used by the terrorists? Were the tactics new, different? Do we need to adjust our tactics in turn?

"It's information we need in real-time because we need to react in real-time," Miller said. "It is not unusual to have plotters who meet on the internet and are plotting from multiple locations around the globe connected through conventional social media."

The 2019 National Intelligence Strategy prepared by Director of National Intelligence (DNI) Dan Coats noted the increased "demand for greater intelligence support to domestic security, driven in part by concerns over the threat of terrorism."

"The dynamic nature of the terrorist threat facing the United States requires continued emphasis on intelligence collection and analysis," the DNI report stated.

O'Neill underscored the enormous amount of time and resources the NYPD commits to counter-terrorism occupies every day. "The threat is real. Absolutely," he said.

"In 2001 … maybe we did have the lead, but it is absolutely a true partnership now," O'Neill said. "This is something that will continue to become more and more of a focus in the NYPD as the years go on."

O'Neill said the department's work with the FBI is being hampered by the ongoing partial government shutdown, with some FBI agents working without pay.

"I do try to stay in my lane, but now I think this is coming into my lane," O'Neill said. A spokesperson added that "unnecessary additional pressures … can only make it harder for [FBI agents] to do their already difficult jobs."

First published on January 23, 2019

© 2019 CBS Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Pamela Falk

Pamela Falk is CBS News Foreign Affairs Analyst and an international lawyer, based at the United Nations.

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