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Mayor Bloomberg Speaks About Raised Threat Level

Aired August 1, 2004 - 16:29   ET


FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: And a live look, right now, inside city hall where we are awaiting a news conference to begin any moment now involving New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Ray Kelly. We're told that he really is on the way. Just a few steps away, in fact, there he is. Let's listen to the mayor and the police commissioner, right now.
MAYOR MICHAEL BLOOMBERG (R), NEW YORK CITY: Well, good afternoon. As we all know, much too well, New York City continues to be a target of choice for those who want to destroy our way of life. A few hours ago, Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge raised the alert status for the financial sector located here, in Washington, D.C., and in northern New Jersey from yellow to orange.

As you know, New York City has been at orange since back on 9/11. The secretary raised the level in response to recently obtained and credible intelligence that al-Qaeda is targeting financial institutions, specifically the New York Stock Exchange and Citigroup buildings.

There was no timeframe, let me emphasize that. There was no timeframe associated with the intelligence. Although we have been at the equivalent of orange since the September 11 attacks and even though New York City has been protected by "Operation Atlas" since last march, there will be an even greater law enforcement presence at sensitive and symbolic locations across the city from now on.

Even as we prepare for the Republican National Convention, at the end of this month, we have ramped up security even further at the named locations as well as at other potential targets because of this recent intelligence. Along with the additional protective measures, the police department is putting into effect, like increased security screenings and vehicle checks, we are working with the corporate security directors of those institutions and companies to make sure that they are doing everything possible to protect their employees.

I have spoken to Secretary Ridge and Governor Pataki several times over the last few days. Both have offered to provide whatever support and assistance we ask for, as they always do.

Commissioner Kelly will detail some of the protective measures we are putting into place in a few minutes. But let me assure all New Yorkers of one thing -- we are deploying our full array of counter- terrorism resources. We will spare no expense, and we will take no chances. We will be watching and protecting the city through never- ending vigilance. Some of it will be visible, and intentionally so, such as the teams of heavily armed police officers at sensitive locations, including landmarks and financial institutions, and the increased monitoring of truck traffic and checkpoints on our bridges and tunnels. Some of it is virtually invisible, such as our syndrome surveillance and air monitoring. As always, when you see something suspicious, can you call 311 to reach the counter-terrorism hot line. If it's an emergency, call 911 immediately -- Commissioner Kelly.


The New York City Police Department has instituted a number of precautions to prevent terrorist attacks against the financial community, especially Citigroup, Prudential and the New York Stock Exchange.

These precautions include: vehicle stops and searchs in midtown and lower Manhattan and in Queens, as well as stepped-up inspection at bridges and tunnel crossings into Manhattan. The public can expect some traffic delays with this activity beginning early tomorrow morning.

All truck traffic will be banned from the Williamsburg Bridge until further notice. Manhattan bound truck traffic will be instructed to use the Manhattan Bridge instead. This will allow us to better concentrate our searches.

Police presence, both uniformed and in plain-clothes will be increased at certain subway station throughout the city. Obviously, that includes subway platforms beneath the Citigroup center and midtown Manhattan.

Citigroup headquarters in midtown and its annex in Long Island City, as well as other locations. Other locations are also receiving greater police protection and scrutiny.

Although the New York Stock Exchange is already well protected, it also is receiving greater attention because of the extraordinary intelligence that named it and Citigroup among other specific targets.

We're giving Prudential locations in New York City additional attention.

Although the intelligence analysis indicates that the target of primary concern as far as Prudential is concerned is their office building in Newark, New Jersey. The police department will be using its heavily armed Hercules teams, as well as deploying officers in our Atlas counterterrorism program to provide additional coverage.

We're also deploying as many as 76 teams of police officers at a time to given locations, as part of our critical response surges from throughout the five boroughs.

In addition to deterring terrorists and disrupting reconnaissance, the surges bring a large number of police officers to a location quickly to handle any situation. The intelligence we received indicates that the principal threat to the financial institutions in New York City is by bombing either through a large vehicular bomb, or by individuals trying to smuggle explosives into a building by backpack or package. Because of the concern about vehicular bombs, we've asked security directors to pay special attention to parking facilities.

We've also asked the corporate and institutional security directtors safeguard their heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems from being used to deliver chemical or biological agents. Of the two threats, either explosive or chemical, explosives is considered more likely at this time.

We continue to work closely with the directors of corporate and institutional security throughout the city.

We also ask the public to remain vigilant. As the mayor said, any information about terrorism can be reported to 311, and ask when you -- when the call is answered for the New York City police department counterterrorism hot line. Any immediate threat, like a suspicious package, should be reported through 911.

Mr. Mayor?

BLOOMBERG: We'll be happy to take a question or two, sir?

QUESTION: I have a question for both the mayor and the police commissioner. Secretary Ridge said today, the intelligence is unusual in that it is very specific. It's the first time ever the alert system has been used in a targeted fashion. And that it was alarming in its amount and specificity. Do you also see it that way? Can you elaborate?

BLOOMBERG: Well, it's clearly is different in specificity. But let me remind you, it has no time frame, and obviously is information that was collected over a long period of time.

What this city has to do is continue to constantly enhance its training, its vigilance, its ability to respond as well as prevent. And there's no question that when you have specific targets, you will focus a little more resources there. But we have to make sure that we don't do that at the expense of the resources that we're devoting to the rest of the city to keep everybody safe -- Sir.

QUESTION: Leading into that, how does this affect the preparations for the convention? Certainly you have a lot of resources dedicated there?

BLOOMBERG: It has not, we have been working very hard in planning. What we're going to do during the convention, just as what we do when there's a Yankees game or a Mets game or what's going to happen when we have the tennis open here. Whenever there's a large crowd, or a symbolic event, obviously, that is a more likely target, and we are working on training to make sure we do it.

QUESTIONS: Do you have enough resources to do both? I mean, these are both large tasks?

BLOOMBERG: There's no question that there's a limited number of resources. And if you remember, that is why we did not grant permits for street fares for many of them on the weekend before the convention. In that case, we know that we're going to have big protests here that we did grant permits for. And other police department only has a certain number of resources, and so, when it comes to permitting, we can, to some extent, control the need for our resources.

Having said that, we will spend the money to do what has to be done, sir?

QUESTION: Mr. Mayor, bottom line, what do people living or working near the two Citicorp sites and the Stock Exchange do? Should they not go go to work?

BLOOMBERG: About what they should do is go to work and go to business and enjoy the very freedoms that the terrorists find so threatening. There is, for them, nothing different this Monday than it was last Friday.

Clearly, the police department continues to ramp up their vigilance and their training and keep changing the deployment of their resources. But if you live or work in one of these buildings or anyplace else, you've known all along, New York City, because it represents to the world these very freedoms is always going to be a target. Yes, miss?

QUESTION: Mayor, is this going to affect Tuesday's events over at Statue of Liberty or any...

BLOOMBERG: Not that we know of at the moment. Yes, sir?

QUESTION: Yes, president dealing reelection campaign revealing how tough it is with terrorists. Isn't that a political ploy after the Democratic convention?

BLOOMBERG: There's nothing political about this? There's hard and fast evidence of people doing research on where they might strike, and this is a credible threat. And we would be derelict in our duty if we didn't take this as seriously as we possibly could. I repeat, you should go about your business, I find it hard to see how there is anything political in this, miss?

QUESTION: Mr. Mayor and also for Commissioner Kelly, what can the public do to help out? I know we've talked about this before, but what are the key things they can look for?

KELLY: As the mayor said, we want the public to be vigilant. Again, look through life, you might say, through the prism of September 11. We have a hot line to get some very thoughtful calls.

We get in normal times from 20 to 40 calls a day. We go out, we investigate them, when they have credibility. I think that's the most important thing they can do. And obviously, also as the mayor said, we think that there are going to be significant amount of security deployed. I know there will be at the locations in question. We believe that we've done everything we possibly can to safeguard these locations for business tomorrow.


QUESTION: I wonder if you could give us a better insight why you find these reports credible? Some of the people like New Yorkers and probably some of the people in this room say well, the 9/11 commission said our intelligence hasn't been the best. And why are we to rely on these intelligence reports when previous intelligence reports have been either misleading or have missed certain things?

BLOOMBERG: Well, there is a specificity here in terms of identifying specific targets. And obviously, the persons or persons who wrote these -- the original information that we got had done some research.

You are correct, however, that there is no reason to know, yes or no, whether this is any more or less of a threat. Only in retrospect, I suppose, someday will you know.

But our intelligence services, while certainly the 9/11 commission did criticize them, we do have an awful lot of intelligence services around the world, both the U.S. and others. And their job is to collect information and to give it to the appropriate parties. And it's then Homeland Security's job to make sure it gets disseminated. And New York City Police Department's job to help us tell people about it and to prepare in case it turns out to be true.

But to ask the man in the street well, do you believe it? I don't know whether they should believe it or not. They're not in a position to know whether it's credible any more than we are. You just would have to go and take the appropriate steps just in case. Yes, miss?

QUESTION: What will need to happen for you to raise the terror alert level? This is a specific threat. What would need to happen for you to raise the terrorist alert level?

KELLY: You mean here in New York? I think really would depend on specificity and immediatacy. The information that we have is very specific, but it's not tied to a particular plot.

It is in essense a very detailed vulnerability analysis, you might say, of these locations. But the information we have now is not specifically tied to a threat.

If you had something with this level of specificity tied to a specific threat, which was also specific, I think that's when you might see the red alert level.

BLOOMBERG: Miss, you have a question. QUESTION: Conversations with Secretary Ridge, did you discuss with them a possible need for additional resources? And also a possibility that now that the threats have been disclosed that potentially the targets can change (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

BLOOMBERG: No. 1, the secretary did volunteer any resources that we want, as did the governor incidentally, and the city has been talking to the state about whether any part of the National Guard would be useful. But we've been doing that for a long period of time, and actually last week separate from this had discussions about when it comes to the National Convention, Republican convention here, whether or not some of that would be useful, and we'll make decisions as we get closer to that.

As I pointed out earlier, you are exactly right, one of the problems is if you put all your resources into these targets it may well be that was an attempt to deliberately deceive us. And so, when we talk about devoting resources to protecting this city, we have to make sure we don't take away resources from other potential targets, sir?

QUESTION: Other sensitive locations and the landmarks that you will beef up security around. What other corporations, are there businesses, what landmarks?

BLOOMBERG: We have a responsibility to protect the people in all five boroughs. Obviously, it is a much more difficult job. Where you have heavy concentration of people. Whether there is during the day working or where they live.

Some buildings are more vulnerable than others. Some buildings are more obvious targets, because of their unique architecture or their place in the city's history. And there's no secrets as to what those are. Just take a look at any national landmark, take a look at any big office building. The World Trade Center, the twin towers, 3,000, 2,800 people died there. They were just office buildings, but they represented New York which is why I assume they were picked. Miss.

QUESTION: Millions of cars and trucks are driven each day. How are you goingto go about putting check points. How many will there be? How will you you check these cars and trucks? Can you elaborate on that?

KELLY: If I understand your question, how are we going to differentiate?

QUESTION: How are you going to check each car and every truck that comes in here? How will you be able to do that?

KELLY: We're not going, realistically, we're not going to check every car and every truck, we're going to do some checks that are random, some that are specific, dependent on information that we have, particular vehicles, vehicle types that we want to look at.

Also we positioned our checks at certain key locations that funnel into the lower part of Manhattan or midtown Manhattan and our bridges. I mean, we're not going to have checks throughout the city.

So, the number of checks, truck checks are going to be a reasonable number, they're not going to be, you know, that many. But the officers doing it will have information that is given to them as to what we think is appropriate to look for. Vehicle type is important.

BLOOMBERG: One of the ways when you have something where you can't do everything is, you look for ways to get a subset of the number of places you should devote your resources to. You also have some random assignments of resources so that nobody knows, nobody can predict exactly what you'll do that you always look at one kind of car, you want to make sure you look at every kind of car.

Since you can't look at every car, you look at some in each group. And every day you want to look at a different group. Yes, sir.

QUESTION: Is the intelligence specific enough to know whether or not suicide pacts or possible (UNINTELLIGIBLE) explosive (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

BLOOMBERG: It's -- nobody knows. Suicide bombings have been, clearly, become a weapon of choice by terrorits around the world, which makes it much more difficult for the intelligence community and for the police departments of the world to protect the public.

All the way in the back, sir.

QUESTION: Yes, is there reason to believe the people who put together this detailed vulnerability analysis are still in New York? Are they still in the country? Is there any chance they have been arrested?

KELLY: I don't think there's any reason to believe that they're here. Quite frankly, we don't know specifically where they are. We have no information that would indicate that there are sleeper cells, as they're called, or that this individual or individuals who put this together are here in New York.

We don't have the...

QUESTION: ...level of detailed specificity and it wasn't something that the details, they were checking actual floors and checking actual garages. It seems like some people here in New York...

KELLY: No -- yes. There were clearly personal surveillance done at these locations. People visited these sites to do this, this type of surveillance and information gathering. Some of it is public information, parts of it are -- is information that you reasonably conclude that you can only get this information if you were physically present at the location.

BLOOMBERG: But it's also true, that we don't know when the information was collected. Some of this information could have been collected over the last few years.

So what is different today with this report is, for the first time we see a report that identifies specific targets, and the level of surveillance of those targets is higher than what we've seen before. But that is not to say that there hasn't been, and continues to be for many years now, threats in general, and we've said all along in our arguing for Homeland Security money, it is New York and Washington, places like that, it is the financial sectors that are the most likely targets. And that's not changed, sir?

QUESTION: Are you looking for specific vehicles that have been stolen?

KELLY: Are we looking for specific vehicle, plate numbers, that sort of thing? No.

QUESTION: Any type of vehicle -- I imagine you're screen certain types of vehicles. Any type of vehicle you're looking for?

KELLY: Well, we're not going to get into the specifics of what were looking for, but yes, we're looking at certain type vehicles. Capacity of certain vehicles obviously is a factor in what we look for. Sir.

QUESTION: You mentioned that have been in conversations with Tom Ridge prior to today. And we reported last night about conversations between the fed, the federal government and N.Y.P.D. over the weekend. Can you just tell us what's happened since this communication first started and now, and why are we at this point making this hype?

BLOOMBERG: Well, we're at this point, because it took a little while for everybody to study the data, try to ascertain its validity, its seriousness, make sure that it wasn't a hoax by one person. And there's no question, this is a bit of research that has taken time, and that is serious.

And it should make -- it's the sort of thing that we have to make sure that we respond to, but we also have to, tomorrow morning, get to, get on the subway, go to work, and enjoy the freedoms of New York.

And nothing's changed there. The timing could have been yesterday or could have been today. It will take one last question. The young lady back there had a question.

QUESTION: Yes, what was the N.Y.P.D.'s involvement, if any, in collecting this information?

KELLY: N.Y.P.D. involvement in obtaining this information?


KELLY: We had no direct involvement in obtaining this information. We start discussions with the intelligence community, with Secretary Ridge, Homeland Security, the FBI on Friday. And this information has been rapidly developed. This is very recently obtained information, and it was developed very quickly and very effectively. But in terms of obtaining the information, we had no direct involvement.

BLOOMBERG: Thank you very much. Appreciate it.


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