There are fewer than 14,000 FBI special agents scattered across the country and beyond, and considering the many and varied missions they are expected to carry out, it is ludicrous to expect them to bear sole responsibility for conducting counter-terrorism investigations. And indeed in many cities the FBI is but one component in the Joint Terrorism Task Forces that were established after the 9/11 attacks. And in New York City, which bore the brunt of the 9/11 attacks and is presumably high on any list of al-Qaeda’s future potential targets, Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Ray Kelly would be worse than fools if they left it to the feds to protect the city from another attack.
So the question for Bloomberg and Kelly then becomes: How do you deploy your resources in such a way as to maximize their effectiveness in thwarting whatever malign designs people may have? Let us suppose some undercover NYPD officers spot people they believe to be engaged in target reconnaissance in Lower Manhattan near the Brooklyn Bridge. For added realism, let us further suppose these suspicious figures are young men who appear to be Muslims. (Did you know that all 19 of the 9/11 hijackers happened to be Muslims? It’s true!) The NYPD officers watch as these men take photographs of the bridge, the courthouses, City Hall, and One Police Plaza. (I know, it’s not against the law to take pictures of these places. And it’s not against the law for a police officer to watch people taking such pictures.)
Now let’s say these swarthy young men traverse Lower Manhattan and head for New Jersey via the Holland Tunnel, another ripe target for the aspiring terrorist. Should our NYPD officers abandon their surveillance when they reach the mid-point of the Hudson River? And if the officers should be so unlucky as to lose the suspects in traffic after discovering they are residents of New Jersey, would it be unreasonable for them to resume their surveillance at the suspects’ homes and monitor their activity further? They would be irresponsible not to, and no one should expect to be immune from scrutiny by dint of having crossed a state line. A potential terrorist might start his day in Philadelphia and end it in Boston, passing through Newark, New York City, Hartford, and Providence on the way. If the people following him happen to be local police officers rather than federal agents, should his activities go unobserved merely because he has passed through six states?
To his great credit, Commissioner Kelly is not backing down. Speaking on radio station WOR, Kelly told listeners, “People have short memories as to what happened here in 2001.”
And it is those people with short memories who have their knickers all in a wad over what Kelly’s NYPD is doing in the fight against terror. If the NYPD is constrained from conducting surveillance or other investigations out of concern for Muslims’ delicate sensibilities, and if the Empire State Building should therefore end up as a pile of rubble scattered up and down 34th Street, will these same people console themselves in the knowledge that at least no one was profiled or had his feelings hurt?