An NYPD State of Mind

An NYPD State of Mind

After 9/11 our leaders tried to wrap American security in a blanket of bureaucracy. They should have empowered local law enforcement and they still can.

 Although the Washington Post is alas but a mere shadow of its former self, it fortunately still has the capacity to punch above its now anemic weight. As Hendrik Hertzberg observed in the New Yorker a couple of weeks ago, despite its re-branding as an “education and media company”——in recognition of the profits from the Kaplan educational testing service it acquired in 1984 and that today manages to keep the Post afloat——the paper delivered a magnificent example of investigative journalism at its best last month with a three-part expose of the expansive dimensions of America’s profitable and profligate intelligence and homeland security empire.

Star reporter and two-time Pulitzer Prize winner Dana Priest teamed with intelligence geek extraordinaire William M. Arkin in a two-year effort to map its Herculean, though largely hidden, dimensions. In their first installment titled, “A hidden world, growing beyond control,” Priest and Arkin detail how

  • *Some 1,271 government organizations and 1,931 private companies work on programs related to counterterrorism, homeland security and intelligence in about 10,000 locations across the United States.
  • *An estimated 854,000 people, nearly 1.5 times as many people as live in Washington, D.C., hold top-secret security clearances.
  • *In Washington and the surrounding area, 33 building complexes for top-secret intelligence work are under construction or have been built since September 2001. Together they occupy the equivalent of almost three Pentagons or 22 U.S. Capitol buildings - about 17 million square feet of space.
  • *Many security and intelligence agencies do the same work, creating redundancy and waste. For example, 51 federal organizations and military commands, operating in 15 U.S. cities, track the flow of money to and from terrorist networks.
  • *Analysts who make sense of documents and conversations obtained by foreign and domestic spying share their judgment by publishing 50,000 intelligence reports each year——a volume so large that many are routinely ignored.

Their conclusion is as sobering as it is stunning. “These are not academic issues,” Priest and Arkin wrote,

lack of focus, not lack of resources, was at the heart of the Fort Hood shooting that left 13 dead, as well as the Christmas Day bomb attempt thwarted not by the thousands of analysts employed to find lone terrorists but by an alert airline passenger who saw smoke coming from his seatmate.

They are also issues that greatly concern some of the people in charge of the nation's security.


Unfortunately, America’s instinctive response to the September 11, 2001 attacks was in keeping with its national character, e.g., bureaucratic. The reason that the nineteen al Qaeda hijackers succeeded had little to do with the fact that the U.S. Coast Guard was in the Department of Transportation or that the U.S. Customs agency was in the Department of the Treasury——but our response was quintessentially American: to corral twenty-two separate agencies and create a new bureaucratic entity to house them——the Department of Homeland Security. Eight years later, DHS is still struggling to find its feet and perhaps even divine its mission. But, as the Post series persuasively argues, the problem goes beyond homeland security to embrace the entire U.S. intelligence architecture and the new structures, like the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI), that have been grafted onto it in the years since the September 11 attacks.

To date, though, surprise at the existence of this vast, bloated empire has been greeted mostly by paralytic bewilderment coupled with the predictable vigorous defense from those agencies and departments, contractors and consultants who have benefited most from it. Among the rare constructive contributions to this discussion was Judith Miller’s 25 July 2010 New York Daily News column, “ The Shield We Need: The Best Defense Against Terrorism Is Not In D.C.——It’s The NYPD Model .”

Miller suggests that rather than building and perpetuating still bigger bureaucracies, Washington would do well to emulate the pioneering and highly effective counterterrorism model advanced by the New York City Police Department (NYPD) under its Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly and his Deputy Commissioner for Intelligence, David Cohen. “Using the NYPD program as a model,” Miller writes,

the DHS should make a major, long-term investment to enable local and state police throughout the nation to do what they are best positioned to do.

Empowering local law enforcement would also enable city and state police to provide real intelligence to the 72 "fusion centers" that the DHS operates ostensibly to share terrorism-related information. Currently, according to officials, too much relatively useless federally-generated information is passed down through the centers, and too few locally-generated tips are being passed up the chain. Moreover, few fusion centers collect intelligence on their own; nor were the centers designed to do so.

Equally important is the need to share locally gathered intelligence laterally——among local police agencies. The NYPD's "Sentry" program helps train local cops in the tri-state area. Relationships have been created that generate trust, and hence, vital tips are shared rather than hoarded. This program, too, should be replicated throughout the nation, starting with cities that terrorists have already targeted.