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Mayor Bloomberg Speaks Of Elevated Level

Aired December 21, 2003 - 18:17   ET


CAROL LIN, CNN ANCHOR: The news conference in New York is starting right now.
MAY. MICHAEL BLOOMBERG, NEW YORK: Good evening. As you know, this afternoon, homeland security secretary Tom Ridge announced that the nation's threat level was being raised from yellow to orange. Orange is the same level that New York City has been at since the terrible tragedy of 9/11. Even though we are not aware of any specific plots targeting New York City, we have to always act as if there are, because it's the best ways to deter a terrorist attack.

The Christmas season and New Year's, like other holidays, raises the possibility that terrorists would attempt to take advantage of the symbolism of that time of the year, but we're not letting our guard down. To the contrary, although New York has been at orange since 9/11 attacks, we are stepping up our counter-terrorism operation throughout the city. Operation Atlas remains in effect and we're deploying additional police resources as a result of today's events.

Some of these measures are visible such as increased police presence at sensitive locations, including landmarks and the financial institutions. There are checkpoints throughout the city, including on our bridges and tunnels, and we have increased patrols on our subway systems and waterways.

Other measures are less noticeable, such as our ongoing intelligence operations. I spoke with Governor Pataki today, and we are coordinating our activities with the state as well as with the MTA.

Today, again, Secretary Ridge said that what he has said many times before, that no city is better prepared than New York. I hope New Yorkers take comfort in that fact that the world's greatest police department is working day and night to protect them. I know that I feel better.

Let me now introduce Commissioner Kelly to describe in greater detail some of our preparations -- Ray?

RAYMOND KELLY, NYC POLICE COMMISSIONER: Thank you, Mr. Mayor. I'm joined by Chief Joe Esposito the chief of the department and also our deputy commissioner of counter terrorism, Mike Sheehan and our deputy commissioner of intelligence, David Kohmn.

The New York City Police Department has taken a number of steps in the wake of the administration's decision to raise the national terror threat alert level from yellow to orange. As the mayor mentioned, Operation Atlas remains in effect and we're taking additional steps to secure the city.

More police officers have been placed on patrol, and we've heightened security at sensitive locations across the city, including bridges, tunnels and ferries. Midtown and the theater district. Signature buildings such as the New York Stock Exchange, houses of worship, media outlets, and the transit system, especially during rush hour.

We're also in close contact with the FBI, the CIA, other state and national agencies, and as the mayor said, the MTA and the Port Authority as well. We've asked that New York state to assign its community support team to be in the city from tomorrow through the holidays, and have agreed to do that.

The CST team is a very sophisticated group of National Guard officers and enlisted men who are trained in the detection of chemical, biological, radiological substances. Our intelligence and counter-terrorism bureaus are also taking steps that we're not going to discuss publicly.

Our specialized units are, of course, employed under Operation Atlas. Our harbor patrol boats are on the waterways in the vicinity of sensitive locations. Our aviation units monitor the city from above. Our highway units conduct checkpoints. Our heavily armed Hercules teams worked with the intelligence division and show up at unannounced sensitive locations in an effort to disrupt any surveillance.

We also employ a surge approach to counter-terrorism patrols, where large numbers of officers respond to one area, such as a specific subway station. Other units such as the bomb squad emergency service and canine are also deployed under Operation Atlas.

As Secretary Ridge said in his remarks earlier today, the decision to raise the alert level was based on a substantial increase in the volume of threat-related intelligence reports. I want to stress that there is no specific threat against New York City.

What we're doing is based on reality that New York City remains at the top of the terrorist target list. We were attacked here in 1993, and of course, on September 11 and the threat continues.

We know that in February of this year, an al Qaeda operative by the name of Iman Ferris (ph) came to New York City to scout the Brooklyn Bridge and other potential terror targets. After witnessing the level of security he reported back to his handlers that the weather is too hot, meaning that the security was too high. In May, Ferris was sentenced to 20 years in prison for providing material support to al Qaeda.

Just last month, two men we believe to be Iranian intelligence officers were stopped and interrogated after they were caught videotaping subway tracks in Queens. They have since been expelled from the United States.

As you know, New York City has been on heightened state of alert since September 11. Our actions today increase that already high level of security. New Yorkers should be reassured that their police department is doing everything in our power to protect this city. As Secretary Ridge said today, no city is better prepared, more on alert or devotes more resources to counter-terrorism than the city of New York. thank you. Mr. Mayor?

BLOOMBERG: I think the question is, how do you put these levels in the context of what does it mean for you, the average citizen. The levels are basically levels for the security personnel. When the level is increased, they will increase what they do. When the level is decreased, they'll cut back, but each of us has to go about our business. Each of us has to go and enjoy life.

This is just a wonderful time of the year for New York City. It's a time to celebrate freedoms we enjoy with our friends and families and loved ones. It is a sad fact that the great strengths that we have: our diversity, our position as a financial capital of the world, will always make us a target to those who want to destroy our way of life.

But we can't stop living and we aren't going to stop living. That would hand the terrorists a victory that they don't te serve and there is know reason for us to do so. We can go about our business as individuals day in and day out, knowing that we have the world's greatest police department that is doing everything that we can ask them to do, and we think everything that is necessary to keep this a safe place. We'll be happy to take a question or two. Yes, sir?

QUESTION: Your honor, how long about these special increased operations last for, considering New York has already been under Code: Orange and now the rest of the nation is?

BLOOMBERG: We have to take a look at as long as we think that the threat level is high, we will keep our forces out there. Keep in mind, every day the NYPD whether you can see them or not, has been throughout the city for the last two years protecting us.

We are doing spot checks. We show up where you don't expect us. We show up sometimes in civilian clothes and sometimes in the most obvious way, with cars and uniforms and heavy weapons. That's all designed to keep anybody that would attack us off guard, and we will continue to do this for as long as as is necessary -- Sir.

QUESTION: Mr. Mayor, we've been, the country's been to orange now five times. Could you compare this one, city-specific compared to the other four or better or worse or?

BLOOMBERG: You know, orange is orange. If they wanted to take it to a higher level, I suppose they would have taken it to red. We can only assume that each time there is a reason why Tom Ridge and his people think it should go to orange.

We've kept it at orange because of the reasons that I just stated a couple minutes ago. Our great strengths are what make us the obvious target. And even though there's no specific threat to this city right now, common sense says that, because we are a symbol, we have to err on the side of always going and making sure we do everything we can.

QUESTION: For either you or the commissioner, what are being planned as far as security goes for New Year's, the New Year's celebrations?

BLOOMBERG: Well, I'm going to be with Shoshana Johnson (ph)in time's square dropping a ball. I'm going to be safe like the all of the million or whatever number of people show up. It's going to be a great time of year for New York City. And we'll have the crowd control, and that keeps people safe from the normal things, and you'll see, and sometimes won't see police protection to make sure that nobody uses that event and that location as a place to conduct a terrorist a event.

QUESTION: Is this all with the national level, sir?

BLOOMBERG: The national level was raised a few hours ago and we have plenty of time to get ready for New Year's Eve. Our first concern is tomorrow and the next day and the next day. There are a lot todays and this is a safe city and we're going to make sure that we continue to keep it that way.

Yes, miss

QUESTION: Mayor Bloomberg, do you thinkthat given the enormous financial expense of the terror attack being at this level, do you think we're getting enough support financially from the federal government? Can you detail some of the conversation between you and Secretary Ridge when he phoned you this afternoon?

BLOOMBERG: We didn't talk to Secretary Ridge today about finances. I didn't talk to him. We talked to the joint terrorist task force.

We're more concerned today on the operational matters. We'd always like to get more money. I've been very vocal at saying that security monies that are given out should be given out based on where the threat is as opposed to population. We've been convincing to the federal government that some monies are given out some way. Some money is given out so everybody gets a piece. I think that's wrongs. And we could certainly use more money than others.

But the public should not make any mistake about it, we are not skimping because of our financial burdens. We are doing everything that the police commissioner and the other security agencies think is appropriate, and we'll figure out a way to pay for it. The public security comes first. Hopefully we have the right resources in the right places, but money is not the issue in terms of the commissioner's allocations.

QUESTION: Was there any conversation between you and the governor about bringing National Guard into the subways?

BLOOMBERG: We've talked to the Governor, Ray. Is there -- go ahead. KELLY: Yes, we did ask for the Community Support Team that I mentioned. I think at this time, we're satisfied with that level of help from the state. I know the governor mentioned that there will be National Guard personnel at the airports, and you may see some additional personnel with the MTA, particularly at bridge and tunnel locations. So we think we're in the appropriate levels at this time.

BLOOMBERG: I should say, however, the governor did say explicitly anything that he has that we want, he would provide. At the moment, there's some things that are helpful, and some things that just would be wasting resources, which we might want to use later on, or you get too many people in the same place, they step on each other -- sir.

QUESTION: A question for the commissioner. There's been talk about a potential female suicide bomber threat. Is that a legitimate concern right now?

KELLY: No, that information surfaced on Friday. We checked it out and to the best of our knowledge there's no substance to that report.

BLOOMBERG: We'll take the last question -- sir.

QUESTION: How much has the department beefed up its patrols by, hundreds, thousands?

KELLY: Well, we won't get into specific numbers but we've we allocated some of our resources to sensitive locations. So it's not just a matter of increasing personnel. It's a question of where you deploy them and at what times, but we will use some overtime to increase the number of officers on the street.

BLOOMBERG: Thank you very much. It is a safe city...

LIN: All right. We are just hearing from the mayor of New York City, Michael Bloomberg, as well as Raymond Kelly, the police commissioner saying taht New York City has been on orange alert, high alert, since, 9/11. Not much is going to change. But however, working with Homeland Security, they are apparently their counter- terrorism operations. That means more officers and more patrols at landmark locations, such as buses and subway stations, obviously the New York Stock Exchange, religious symbols around the city. They're beefing up security around their waterways and setting up checkpoints, or beefing up their existing checkpoints at bridges around the city of Manhattan.

But basically, they're saying that it should be business as usual. that as Homeland Security chief Tom Ridge said, that New York City is the best place to be, the safest place to be, probably in the United States because of their experience on 9/11.


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