Kerik: To stop more attacks, “you're going to have to profile”

Photo by Benjamin Kanter/Mayoral Photo Office

Kerik: To stop more attacks, “you're going to have to profile”

Bernard Kerik: To stop more attacks, “you're going to have to profile”
December 11, 2017

On Monday, a man set off a pipe bomb strapped to his body in a corridor between the Port Authority Bus Terminal and the 42nd St.-Times Square subway station. Four people were injured in the attack, and the suspect, Akayed Ullah, is in police custody. Bernard Kerik, former New York City police commissioner, spoke with City & State about the crisis management process after such an attack, and argues that profiling is a crucial counterterrorism tool.

C&S: What is the initial process for crisis management after an emergency like the one today?

BK: There's two things going on. One, the city has to sort of manage the disaster response or the crisis management, and the FBI and the police department have to work on the investigative issue – who this guy is, where he came from, who his associates are, where does he get his money, where was he radicalized? He came into the country seven to eight years ago – how did he get into the country? Did he come in with anybody else, who is he associated with while he's here? He was down in the subway system – you probably have a half a million people in that corridor between Times Square and Grand Central, maybe more, at that time of the morning. You're shutting the system down. There's all kinds of plans and protocols that the NYPD has in responding to an event like this. This is something that Giuliani started in 1996 when he created the Office of Emergency Management in New York City. So the police department and the fire department, they have all these protocols and plans in place in the event that there's a disaster or crisis – whether it's a man-made or natural disaster – as to how they're going to respond, where the resources are going to go, who's going to be in command of that event. These things are already in place, so once it happens, they basically go to that playbook and it unfolds accordingly. So that's kind of how that works.

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C&S: Do you think that an event like this will inform future emergency preparedness plans?

BK: Here's what happens. Every time time they have an event like this, they'll do an AAR – an after-action report – in the aftermath. They'll have a briefing between the agencies – what worked best, what didn't work, who did their job and who didn't do their job. What were the lessons learned, how do we deal with it in the future, is there anything we should've done that we didn't, anything that we didn't do that we should've? That after-action report will basically be given out to everybody and they'll take it from there. I've got to be honest: This guy was a dud; the amount of focus and attention was only because the explosive device was on him. You could've had just about anything else going into the subway where you would've had much more of an issue than this guy. This is really nothing. I mean, he blew a hole in his stomach or whatever he did. It would've been a much bigger deal if he had a backpack filled with explosives, and it was – in his eyes – a successful attack. But this wasn't that big of an event.

C&S: What steps do you think should be taken to prevent this kind of thing from happening again?

BK: The most successful way to identify people like this that's in our country today is through criminal and predictive profiling. But nobody is going to tell you that. Nobody in a political position today is going to admit that. You want to know who these guys are? Where they hang out? What they're doing, who they're talking to? You're going to have to profile. And people are scared to death to say that because they consider that racial profiling. But the bottom line is, take any one of the guys that were on the four planes (hijacked on 9/11) – all of them fit a certain predictive profile. Had nothing to do with their racial background. It has to do with a bunch of other stuff – where they went to school, who they associated with, what their internet links were, what their prior associations were. The mosques they attended, things like that. You have to have enormous intelligence capabilities. Which we have. We're a lot better today than we were on Sept. 10, 2001. But if you want to fill a real vacuum and a real void in identifying and locating these kinds of guys, you're going to have to profile.

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C&S: This is the second attack in New York City in two months. Is New York more vulnerable?

BK: It's not more vulnerable. It's always been vulnerable. Look, New York City is a target-rich environment for the radical Islamic world. You've got 12 million people that travel, work, visit or go to school in this city on a daily basis. It's target-rich for what they're looking for. And they know that you can't protect every soft target. You can't protect the transportation hubs from people like this. They already know that. So it's not more vulnerable. It's the same that it's always been. And you can go back to 2004 during my testimony to the 9/11 commission. I predicted that this stuff would happen as time went on. And the more successful we are abroad, and in the last six months especially, we've annihilated ISIS in Syria and Iraq. You're going to have an insurgency of this stuff here, whether it's New York City or anywhere else. But New York City is always going to be a primary target because of the amount of people, the amount of tourist sites, the amount of religious locations.

C&S: What do you think New Yorkers should know about how this situation and others are being handled?

BK: I think a few things. First and foremost, there's no better equipped city in the entire country to deal with preventing this stuff and to deal with it in its aftermath if it's successful, or the attempt is conducted. Because New York City has resources nobody else has, whether there is the police department and federal agencies together, whether it's our intelligence capabilities – we actually have New York City cops that are assigned abroad. In the Middle East, in Europe, in Asia, there are New York City detectives that feed on a real-time basis the authorities from New York City on those locations. So, if anything goes on around the world, we know about it instantly. We don't have to wait for it to go to Interpol or anywhere else. So we're better prepared, our responses are better prepared, and so I think people have to realize that. And all that said, you're not going to stop every one of these. There's millions of people. Somebody's going to slip through the cracks. You can only hope that when they do and if they do, that you're on top of them, that they are unsuccessful as this guy was. But that's it.

Grace Segers
is City & State’s digital reporter. She writes daily content on New York City and New York state politics.