Bloomberg: New York Short-Changed on Terrorism Prevention Funds
NEW YORK, New York – “The federal government needs to do more to help us protect our city,” New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg told the first public hearing of the nine-member Congressional Commission on the Prevention of Weapons of Mass Destruction Proliferation and Terrorism Wednesday in New York.
“I’m glad to see that Congress has focused this Commission on prevention – because Congress itself has lost that focus,” the mayor said. “The people we send to Washington have been too busy spreading homeland security funds around based on votes, not threats. And that is a very dangerous thing for our country.”
“Seven years ago tomorrow, a group of terrorists brazenly attacked the city’s two tallest skyscrapers, writing an ugly new chapter in the history of horror and evil,” Bloomberg said. “In the seven years since, New Yorkers have come together to rebuild a city that is safer, stronger, and more welcoming than ever. If anything, our incredible comeback is a shining testament to the resilience of the American spirit.”
The mayor said New York City is still the number one target of terrorists from around the world, yet for bioterrorism prevention funding it ranks 21st out of 54 eligible states and cities in the amount of funding provided in 2008.
He said, “huge sums of Homeland Security funding that could have been used to bolster our defenses instead treated like political pork and doled out to communities that either don’t need it or don’t know what to do with it when they get it.”
“Meanwhile, New York City, which has enormous needs, which has been attacked before – has been targeted many times since and remains in the crosshairs – goes wanting,” Bloomberg said.
“In fact, just last week, a Pakistani woman with ties to al-Qaeda – and a degree from MIT – was charged with trying to kill U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan. When she was arrested, she was ominously carrying a list of New York City icons, including the Statue of Liberty, the Brooklyn Bridge, Wall Street, and the Empire State Building,” he told the commission.
“Clearly, New York is a powerful symbol for what our enemies find so threatening: capitalism and freedom, modernity and diversity, equality and tolerance. New York is the world’s media and financial capital, the home of the United Nations, and a place where every faith is respected. For all these reasons, and because we are America’s biggest city, we remain a prime – if not the prime – target for terrorist groups,” the mayor said.
Detailing the efforts his administration has made to prevent terrorism since he took office less than three months after the 9/11 attacks, Mayor Bloomberg said “we are sparing no expense,” but accused the Bush administration and Congress of cutting the budget for terrorism prevention and allocating funds for it as part of a mix of other threats.
“To its credit, the Department of Homeland Security has begun moving some of its grant programs toward a system of allocating funding that gives greater consideration to threat and vulnerability,” he told the commission. “But the problem is that it’s a system which gives greater consideration to every kind of threat – hurricanes, chemical spills, plagues of locusts – you name it.”
“The result is that the special characteristics which set New York City apart as a unique and unparalleled target of terrorism get completely overlooked.”
“At the same time, we also must keep working with Congress and the Department of Health and Human Services to fix the distribution of bioterrorism preparedness funding – which is allocated essentially without regard to the risk of terrorist attack,” the mayor said.
“Because of the anthrax episodes in 2001, New York is one of only a handful of places in the nation that’s ever experienced a bio-terror attack. Yet in Fiscal Year 2008, we received $2.72 per capita, putting us an incredible 21st out of 54 eligible states and cities.”
“That makes the situation especially challenging is that the total pool of bioterrorism funding that’s distributed across the nation continually falls far short of the actual needs of the nation. Combined, these two facts threaten to severely hamstring our efforts to protect New York City as best as we possibly can from bioterrorism,” Bloomberg said.
His administration has made terrorism prevention its #1 priority, Bloomberg said. He and Police Commissioner Ray Kelly, who also testified before the commission, said that they have overhauled the NYPD’s Intelligence Division and created a new Counterterrorism Bureau, which together now employ a total of 1,000 officers.
In August 2004 they foiled a plot to bomb the Herald Square subway station in Midtown Manhattan a week before the Republican National Convention. “The tip-off came from an informant whom the Intelligence Division had cultivated in our city,” the mayor said.
Eleven NYPD detectives are posted in Tel Aviv, London, Abu Dhabi, and other foreign cities, the mayor said, “feeding us intelligence every day.”
More than 700 members of the police department speak 47 different languages in the NYPD’s growing foreign language division, including 63 Arabic language speakers.
Police officers visit chemical plants, storage facilities, parking garages, and other businesses that might unwittingly be used in a terrorist attack.
“Prevention is why we now conduct random bag searches in the subway system. It’s why we conduct additional patrols of potential targets,” the mayor said. “It’s why we created a special inspection team to monitor the city’s underwater tunnels.”
And the Bloomberg administration is working to strengthen the ties between New York’s Muslim community and the city as a whole, to ensure that “the antagonism and resentment, which has become all too common among Europe’s Muslims, doesn’t happen here,” the mayor said.
Commission Chairman Bob Graham, a former Democratic senator from Florida, and Vice Chairman Jim Talent of Missouri, a former Republican Congressman, say the commission’s mandate is “to build on the work of the 9/11 Commission and complete a critical task – to assess our nation’s progress in preventing the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and terrorism, and to provide a roadmap to greater security with concrete recommendations for improvement.”
“We’re examining the government’s current policies and programs, identifying gaps in our government’s prevention strategy and recommending ways to close them when we issue our report in November,” they said.
Since May, the commission has interviewed over 200 experts inside and outside of government. They have met with counterterrorism and intelligence officials in the United States and abroad who are working to stop proliferation and terrorism.
The creation of this commission implements a key recommendation of the independent, bipartisan 9/11 Commission to address the threat that the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction poses to the United States. The commission plans to issue its report in November 2008.