Monday, May 18, 2015

Policing the ISIS Threat

Barely a week ago, the Defense Department increased security at military installations in the United States, amid concerns about ISIS-related threats.  Officials quickly pointed out there was no specific plot or information that prompted the change, just "general concerns" about the terror group and its growing ability to strike targets inside the CONUS.

The change in force protection condition levels at military bases was the latest indication of a gorwing ISIS threat inside the United States.  Earlier this year, the FBI reported it had opened ISIS-related cases in 49 states, and is said to be monitoring "several hundred" individuals with ties to the group, including American citizens who have fought with the terrorist organization overseas and returned home.  And, in the wake of the attempted attack on the Muhammad cartoon exhibition in Garland, Texas, several senior officials--including Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson--warned about the growing risk of "lone wolf" attacks by home-grown jihadists.

But it's also clear that some law enforcement organizations are preparing for something beyond isolated, small-scale attacks.  New York City Police Commissioner Bill Bratton announced Sunday that he wants to assign another 350-400 officers to his department's counter-terrorism division.  The additional manpower would supplement officers assigned to the NYPD's intelligence division, and units trained to respond directly to terrorist incidents:

“We need to be very concerned about terrorism … The significantly increased threat from ISIS using social media to recruit people not only to go to Syria to fight, but encouraging people … to attack police, to attack government officials, to basically brainwash them under their screwed-up ideology. That threat has expanded significantly in the now 16 months I’ve been police commissioner,”


“We are entering a new era where we cannot live in fear, but we have to live increasingly aware of our surroundings … This crazy hijacking of the Muslim religion by these fanatics, twisting it into an ideology that’s all about hate and murder and killing.” 

The NYPD is already the nation's best-prepared police force for counter-terrorism operations.  Under former Commissioner Ray Kelley, the department built impressive intelligence collection and analytical capabilities, assigning more than 1,000 officers to those tasks.  At least one member of the intel division is at the scene of every major crime or incident in the city, looking for information that may be related to other, on-going investigations.  Kelly also improved anti-terror training for his officers and invested in new technology for dealing with the threat.

Obviously, the NYPD was well-prepared for terrorism before these recent revelations, but Commissioner Bratton wants to assign one percent of his officers to the ISIS beat.  To be fair, there may be budgetary and operational considerations; emphasizing the "new" threat could be a hedge against potential cutbacks under the administration of "Comrade Bill" DeBlasio, the city's ultra-liberal mayor. Mr. Bratton may also use the ISIS threat to head off further restrictions on police powers, best illustrated by efforts to end the department's controversial "stop-and-frisk" program. 

Or, the commissioner may simply be taking prudent steps, realizing his city remains a prime target for terrorists.  There's also the possibility that the domestic ISIS threat is worse than we've been told, and Bratton is preparing for the inevitable: a major attack in New York City that his officers must defeat or respond to.
Commissioner Bratton's request for more officers to deal with ISIS isn't exactly a ringing endorsement of the FBI, which is supposed to play a leading role in domestic anti-terrorism efforts.  We're guessing he wasn't impressed with the bureau's response to the Garland incident (where the FBI sent a routine bulletin warning of the possible threat--but did nothing to mobilize field resources to look for the prime suspect, who had been on their terrorism "radar" for almost a decade).   

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