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Fighting terrorism in New York City

Fighting terrorism in New York City 14:21

As the top terror target in America, New York City has taken every measure to defend itself from another 9/11. The New York Police Department's counter-terrorism unit is one of the most sophisticated in the world - complete with sea, land and air capabilities all dedicated to thwarting an attack. Correspondent Scott Pelley gets a personal tour from the anti-terror unit's architect and leader, NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly.

The following script is from "The counter-terrorism bureau" which aired on Sept. 25, 2011.

This week, the United Nations General Assembly is in New York with 137 heads of State moving all over town. No city, at any time, has a security challenge like that. And this year it comes as U.S. intelligence is investigating "credible information" that terrorists want to target New York with a car bomb.

After 9/11, New York City decided that it would never leave itself vulnerable to terrorism again. So Ray Kelly, the police commissioner, began to build something unique. Kelly tends to get things done. He was born in New York City 70 years ago. Fought with the Marines in Vietnam, joined the NYPD as a cadet, and along the way picked up a law degree and a master's degree from Harvard.

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Now, 10 years after 9/11, with an investment of billions of dollars, Kelly has created, what he believes, is the most powerful and technologically advanced counter-terrorism bureau that anyone has ever seen.

By air, land and sea - the nation's largest counter-terrorism squad is on the beat in America's largest city. One thousand officers - many of them armed like soldiers - are part of a presence that is meant to send a message: New York City is too tough a target. NYPD counter-terrorism is the creation of police Commissioner Ray Kelly.

Ray Kelly: We're the number one target in this country. That's the consensus of the intelligence community. We're the communications capital. We're the financial capital. We're a city that's been attacked twice successfully. We've had 13 terrorist plots against the city since September 11. No other city has had that.

Kelly is a classic cop. He started as an NYPD cadet and rose all the way to commissioner. He left the force before 9/11. But within four months of the attack, the mayor asked him to come back.

Extra: Ray Kelly's rise to the top

Kelly: I jumped at the chance.

Pelley: You knew you needed to do what?

Kelly: I knew that we had to supplement, buttress our defenses of this city. We couldn't rely on the federal government alone. I believed that we had to create our own counter-terrorism capacity, indeed our own counter-terrorism division. And, that plan was put into effect fairly rapidly. And the reason we were able to do that is this is a hierarchical organization.

Pelley: You call it a hierarchical kind of organization. In other words, you're the boss.

Kelly: That's correct. That's the way it works here.

Pelley: And you've got 50,000 people working for you.

Kelly: 35,000 uniformed police officers, 15,000 civilian employees. That's correct.

His police force is bigger than the FBI because no cop has more to protect than Ray Kelly.

Kelly: We're going to the U.N.

We were with him, in his hi-tech command truck last Wednesday when he headed to the east side as New York hosted the United Nations General Assembly. He wanted to be there when President Obama arrived. To prepare for those 137 heads of State, Kelly has to understand the threats that all of those foreign leaders have at home so their local troubles don't play out here.

Kelly: We have to look abroad. We do that with the Secret Service, to see what the issues are in another country. Does that raise the threat level here?

The threat level in New York was already high. Intelligence said that there could be a car bomb attack on the tenth anniversary of 9/11 and that worry had still not been resolved.

Extra: Kelly on 1993 WTC attack

Vinny Giordano: All our interior and exterior checkpoints are up and running. Bomb squad's completed all its sweeps and their Ops are up.

Kelly had the tower of the U.N. Secretariat building surrounded. Snipers on the roof tops, divers in the river, helicopters above. Mr. Obama slipped into the U.N. with the Secret Service, under the blanket of the NYPD. All of this came just ten days after Kelly's team had secured the most sensitive event in the nation.

It was the 9/11 National Memorial on the tenth anniversary of the attack on America. Osama bin Laden had written about attacking again on this very day. And Kelly had more than 8 million New Yorkers to protect.

As the names of the fallen were being read, Kelly was watching from his brand new Joint Operations Center.

From here he can see everything. All in one cavernous room Kelly has representatives from the military, the FBI, Federal Emergency Management, state and local first responders. The center is a symbol of the 10 years and three billion dollars that he has spent to prepare for every kind of threat.

Pelley: Are you satisfied that you've dealt with threats from aircraft, even light planes, model planes, that kind of thing?

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Kelly: Well, it's something that's on our radar screen. I mean in an extreme situation, you would have some means to take down a plane.

Pelley: Do you mean to say that the NYPD has the means to take down an aircraft?

Kelly: Yes, I prefer not to get into the details but obviously this would be in a very extreme situation.

Pelley: You have the equipment and the training.

Kelly: Yes.

Kelly gave us an extraordinary look inside the counter-terrorism bureau, the training - like this assault team practicing for a hostage situation in a subway car - and the astounding technology that has been designed and built specifically for the NYPD.

Extra: Detecting radiation in NYC

We started with the threat that no one wants to imagine - a nuclear device smuggled into the city.

Out on the East River, we went along on an NYPD boat that was designed by one of the federal government's nuclear laboratories.

Mike Riggio: Within the boat itself we have permanently mounted and installed radiological and nuclear detectors. And the good news is that the detection equipment is very sophisticated and it is very sensitive.

Beyond the water, Kelly has radiation detectors circling the city in helicopters; in trucks down on the street. And thousands of cops have automatic nuclear detectors on their gun belts. The technology is so sensitive Inspector Mike Riggio told us they often stop pleasure boats - for a reason that we found amazing.

Riggio: We'd pull up along side the boat and we'd interview. And that lets us find out that, hey this person may have just had some type of medical procedure.

People who had medical radiation treatments, trigger the detectors.

Pelley: So you like your chances of detecting a dirty bomb or a nuclear device?

Riggio: We do. We do.

Kelly has built something else that most New Yorkers never see. It is nearly impossible now to walk a block in lower Manhattan without being on television. There are 2,000 cameras, and soon there will be 3,000 - all of which feed into this control center housed in a secret location.

Jessica Tisch: Nobody has a system like this.

Jessica Tisch helps run this $150 million surveillance system that monitors the cameras and all those radiation detectors. A powerful computer, using artificial intelligence actually watches all of the cameras at once and it knows if a package has been left in one place too long.

Tisch: The camera has identified that this is the shape and the size of a potentially suspicious unattended package. It's narrowing in on it.

Pelley: And it counted how long that bag was motionless.

Tisch: Right.

Pelley: And this center will call a patrol officer and say, "Hey go check out that bag."

Tisch: Absolutely.

Look what happened last year when the cameras picked up a bag dropped outside the New York Stock Exchange. Within minutes the bomb squad moved in, they used a portable X-ray to look inside and then the bomb tech crawled up to open it.

Tisch: And thank God, it's someone who dropped their lunch.

Pelley: Somebody's lunch.

It's not just lunch bags and suspicious packages that catch the computer's eyes. Tisch showed us how the system can search for a suspicious person - based on a description. A red shirt for example.

Tisch: And I can call up in real time all instances where a camera caught someone wearing a red shirt.

Pelley: So the computer looks essentially through all the video.

Tisch: Yep.

Pelley: Finds all of the red shirts. And puts it together for you.

Tisch: Video canvasses that you used to take days and weeks to do you'll now be able to do with the snap of a finger.

But the most important part of counter terrorism isn't technology - it's cops on the ground gathering intelligence - Kelly's force speaks 60 languages and dialects and he has his own intelligence officers all around the world.

Kelly: Abu Dhabi, Amman, Jordan. They are in Lyon, France which is where Interpol is located. They're in Paris, Madrid, Tel Aviv, London, in Montreal, Toronto, Singapore, and the Dominican Republic.

Pelley: Why do you have New York City cops in all those cities?

Kelly: They're there to act as trip wires or listening posts. Is there anything going on there that (as I say) can help us better protect the city.

When terrorists strike overseas, as they did here in Madrid in 2004, NYPD cops respond and send intelligence back in real time.

In Madrid, Kelly's officers learned that bombs placed on the trains were assembled near the stations -immediately in New York, security was tightened in the neighborhoods around the subways. In Mumbai, India, 2006, the NYPD saw that the train bombs had been left in overhead racks. That morning in New York the cops zeroed in on the luggage racks in mass transit.

When Mumbai was hit again, hotels were taken hostage. The NYPD discovered that Indian police didn't have the layout of the hotel interiors. So Kelly's intelligence unit has now built a video library of the hallways, walkways and doorways of 700 New York City hotels. Kelly told us that good intelligence stopped a post-9/11 attack on one of the city's greatest landmarks.

Kelly: We had received information in some communications that the bridge in the Godzilla movie was being observed as a possible target.

Pelley: That's the conversation that the terrorists were having?

Kelly: That's right.

Pelley: That they were interested in the bridge.

Kelly: That's how they characterized the bridge.

Pelley: I see. And so somebody got a copy of the Godzilla movie and said, "Wait a minute, that's the Brooklyn Bridge."

Kelly: Uh-huh. True.

Kelly laid on extra security. And the next intercepted call from the terrorists said the weather in New York is too hot - in other words too many cops. Part of the strategy is to put force on display. At random, 100 police cars will swarm part of town just to make a scene. It happens with complete unpredictability. Cops signal subway trains to stop to be searched. And sometimes they hold the trains until they've eyeballed every passenger.

Of all of the things the counter-terrorism squad thought of - this one really impressed us. It's the NYPD cricket league - 12 teams, 200 kids. All because cricket is the national pastime of Pakistan. NYPD Inspector Amin Kasseim started the program.

Amin Kasseim: Back in the old days, we played baseball, basketball with the kids. But as we have these new immigrant communities coming from overseas, we have to find the sports that they love, that they genuinely love. Cricket is the sport the South Asian community loves.

Hundreds of Muslim immigrant parents now have their kids playing for the NYPD. The trouble with counter-terrorism is that the cops have to bat a thousand every day - the terrorists only have to get through once. And it very nearly happened on Kelly's watch last year when a Pakistani terrorist parked a car bomb in Times Square.

This was the scene after a street vendor saw smoke coming out of the car and called a cop. The bomb squad discovered the bomb and defused it. Later, the FBI built a bomb just like it to see what would've happened.

Kelly: We've been lucky. But we've been good. And, certainly as the Times Square bombing is concerned we were lucky. And we'll take luck any time.

Pelley: What message do you have for the potential terrorists out there, who have their eye on New York City?

Kelly: If you see the movie "Casablanca," and you have Humphrey Bogart talking to Colonel Strasser. And he says that he would advise the Nazis to think twice about invading certain parts of New York City.

Question from "Casablanca": How about New York?

Humphrey Bogart: Well, there are certain sections of New York, Major, that I wouldn't advise you to try to invade.

Kelly: Well that's our message. "Stay away."

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