Barricades erected, roads closed amid tight security at UN

UNITED NATIONS -- Security during the United Nations General Assembly this year is evident -- and intense, authorities say.

"The New York Police Department's counterterrorism overlay includes hundreds of uniformed officers around the U.N.," John Miller, New York Police Department deputy commissioner of Intelligence and Counterterrorism, told CBS News.

There are also harbor patrols in the East River and airborne assets scanning ships for any "suspicious radiation signatures," as well as helicopters scanning rooftops, counter-sniper teams from the NYPD Emergency Service Unit, and motorcycles and cars from NYPD highway patrol to escort motorcades, Miller said.

The annual September gathering of world leaders in Manhattan's Turtle Bay, known as the United Nations General Assembly, or UNGA to insiders, includes world leaders' speeches, and heads of state each have press conferences and agendas.

President Trump made his U.N. debut Monday, urging the 193-nation organization toward greater efficiency and efficacy, while praising U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, who said he shares Mr. Trump's vision for the U.N.

"UNGA is the hottest ticket in diplomacy," Britain's Ambassador Matthew Rycroft told CBS News. 

"Only the United Nations can bring together the international community to tackle the biggest global challenges in such a way," Rycroft added.

Miller told CBS News Wednesday that security this year, however, is not particularly high compared to other years. Security was greatest when Pope Francis attended the UNGA in September 2015 -- the first time that a pope spoke at the annual session -- because he drew large crowds. Security was also beefed up last year following an explosion in the New York City neighborhood of Chelsea.

The Chelsea bombing took place as world leaders were preparing to travel to the annual United Nations General Assembly -- posing a challenge to authorities who had to deal with a major terrorism bombing case and diplomatic arrivals at the same time, Miller said. 

The FBI/NYPD Joint Terrorism Task Force took the lead.

"We had an arrest within 50 hours of the incident," said Miller. "We lost a lot of sleep those days, but the UNGA event never felt any impact. Between NYPD and our federal partners, we never skipped a beat."

federal agent united nations general assembly 2017

A federal agent stands guard amid heightened security before the start of the United Nations General Assembly in New York City on Sept. 17, 2017.

Reuters

This year, with 126 world leaders and 173 motorcades, including foreign ministers and some spouses, 10 countries are considered "high threat" for protection purposes. Approximately 20 countries are considered "medium threat."

Miller said plainclothes officers are working behind the scenes in areas where world leaders are meeting or staying. He also said there are bomb-detection K-9 units, belt-worn radiation detectors, chemical and biological sensors and bomb and hazmat response teams.

A network of thousands of cameras, and intelligence analysts, are also watching. The U.S. Secret Service, NYPD and State Department Diplomatic Security Service are all working together.

The United Nations General Assembly was, for the third year running, "designated as a National Security Special Event (NSSE), which gives the Secret Service the power to draw on personnel from other federal law enforcement agencies," according to Miller.

U.N. Security works with all the agencies and has updated scanning within the building, as well. None of the diplomats seem to mind and they feel safe, a U.N. official said.

united nations general assembly 2017 security

A pedestrian passes a sign announcing a security zone as the New York City police department heightens security before the start of the United Nations General Assembly in New York City on Sept. 17, 2017.

Reuters
  • Pamela Falk

    Pamela Falk is CBS News Foreign Affairs Analyst and an international lawyer, based at the United Nations.