Following the terrorist attack on Istanbul's airport last week, a pro-ISIS Twitter account was used to make threats against airports such as Heathrow, JFK, and Las Angeles International over the Fourth of July weekend.
As the LA Times reports, as of Thursday the FBI nationally said the bureau knew of no known specific or credible threat to the US during the Fourth of July weekend, however SITE Intelligence Group identified and publicized the threat on Friday.
Pro-IS Twitter Account Warns of Attacks in Heathrow, LAX, and JFK Airports on July 4 Weekend https://t.co/nResxCNiwL— SITE Intel Group (@siteintelgroup) July 1, 2016
With that said, the New York Police Department has been working around the clock to get ahead of any potential attackers, looking far beyond the city limits to do so. "I think that it's inevitable that there'll be another attack in this country. We are well-prepared to respond to that." said Chief James Waters, the head of NYPD's Counterterrorism Bureau.
As ABC News reports, about 525 specially trained officers rotate shifts so that at any given time, 24/7, some 100 of the officers are ready to roll out with high-powered weapons, radiation detectors and bomb-sniffing Labrador Retrievers that can detect the chemicals known to be used by ISIS for its suicide explosives. The operation is run from a command center in an undisclosed location in lower Manhattan, where the feeds from more than 9,000 surveillance cameras, from the Brooklyn Bridge to Times Square to inside the city's subways are piped in and displayed.
Aside from the specifically New York City, the NYPD Counterterrorism Bureau is looking for global trends to be concerned with as well.
"We look at the global threat environment. What's happening in the world? Are there any new trends that we need to be concerned with? Any new tactics that terrorist groups may be using that have any implication for us here in New York City?" said Meghann Teubner, Director of Counterterrorism Intelligence Analysis in the NYPD's Counterterrorism Bureau.
The security operation has been referred to as a "ring of steel," an expansion of the concept first used in London. "It's our way of protecting New York" Waters said, adding "It gives us an optic into what goes in New York City on any given day, and it tells us an awful lot with 9,000 cameras and the license plate readers. It gives us a sense to keep our finger on the pulse of what's happening here in the city"
Though officials have said there is no specific threat to New York or any American city over the holiday weekend, Waters thinks New York is a prime target.
The NYPD has studied the recent major terrorist attacks in order to better prepare - "We are constantly looking at tactics, techniques and procedures that are used at those events and how we can better prepare ourselves here in New York City" Captain Gene McCarthy said.
Should someone slip through the cracks and attempt an attack, the NYPD's "last line of defense" is a unit of Labrador Retrievers that are specially trained to detect explosive suicide vests.
"Instead of them just going after a static package where the handler directs them to search a package or an item, these dogs will air-scent, and will track any odor that is coming off a person or what the person is carrying. The dogs play a major role. They are pretty much the last line of defense for stopping that potential suicide bomber." NYPD Lt. Brian Corrigan said.
Waters says the dogs are so good they can stand and watch an entire subway train pull in and can clear a whole train as people pass, just by standing in one place.
If an attacker does manage to start shooting in a public place, Capt. McCarthy said the NYPD officers are trained not to hesitate, just go in and "stop the shooting."
"Whether they're police officers walking a foot post, CRC officers performing specific, directed missions or a tactical response team, the mission is to stop that shooting. Once the shooting stops, there is a reassessment. If it turns into a barricade or a hostage type situation, we would bring more experienced, trained officers in to deal with. But the initial object is to stop that shooting and remove victims, remove witnesses, remove people that are sheltering in place, get them out of harm's way."
Teubner said that recent ISIS attacks abroad prompted the NYPD to operate "in a heightened threat environment" but the city should feel safe. "I think the city should feel safe, the people, the civilians walking on the streets, they should feel safe and they should see the presence of law enforcement officers out there doing their job."
Circling back to the 9,000 cameras for a moment, and the sensitive topic of a reasonable expectation of privacy versus measures to keep cities safe, here is how Chief Waters explains it.
From ABC News
The 9,000 surveillance cameras are a mix of NYPD-owned cameras and those owned by “stakeholders,” private entities that provide their feeds to the police. License plate readers on roads can capture three million license plates a day, Chief Waters said, and the plate data is kept for five years.
As for fears of Big Brother-style privacy invasion from thousands of lenses, Waters said all the cameras are in public locations.
“So your expectation of privacy is just that – if you’re walking down the street, or if you’re driving your car and your license plate is read,” he said. “This is to protect us.”
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We'll leave that topic of debate for another time. With that said, we wish everyone a safe and happy Fourth of July weekend.
Here is a rare look inside the NYPD command center: