Lessons learned from the Newburgh plot
Look at the Newburgh case and you'll find good, old-fashioned police work that involved intelligence, courage, ingenuity, and dogged effort by many agencies
Editor's Note: For more than a decade and a half, Lt. Jim Glennon has taught a class called Arresting Communications. Check out Glennon's book entitled Arresting Communication: Essential Skills for Law Enforcement published by PoliceOne Books.
By Lt. Jim Glennon, Lombard, IL (ret.)
James Cromitie, Onta Williams, David Williams, and Laguerre Payen have pleaded not guilty to charges that they conspired to use weapons of mass destruction and sought to acquire and use anti-aircraft missiles against U.S. military aircraft. Known better as the Newburgh four, this group of individuals tried last year to blow up two synagogues and shoot down military planes in New York. They were caught because of excellent police work by a number of agencies, and their case offers some important reminders for cops everywhere in America. Notably, that this kind of thing can happen in your area, and your ability to coordinate efforts across numerous departments can be the key to winning the fight against terrorists.
We Must Remain Vigilant
"This latest attempt to attack our freedoms shows that the homeland security threats against New York City are sadly all too real and underscores why we must remain vigilant in our efforts to prevent terrorism,” New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg said in a statement after the FBI and other agencies successfully thwarted the plot.
I don’t always agree with Michael Bloomberg, but this may be one of the most accurate and unfortunately prophetic statements he has ever made. The only things I would add are that the threats are certainly not limited to New York City, and remaining “vigilant” apparently is in the eye, and political belief system, of the beholder.
This country is constantly under some form of attack. Our borders are incessantly breached by criminals and terrorists, our citizens overseas are being kidnapped, tortured and heinously murdered, and our brave military personnel are targets by terrorists and their mission and intent slurred to a great extent by our own media.
Ignorance and Indifference
As collective citizens who make up the greatest country ever to exist, our greatest enemies, in my estimation, are: ignorance and indifference. You can’t fight enemies we are both uninformed about and apathetic towards. Within the law enforcement profession we have to fight through these same states of minds.
In the Street Survival Seminar we do an hour long block called Terrorism: Battling the War in America’s Heartland. I both love and hate facilitating that block.
Why do I love it? Because I’m as fascinated as I am horrifically frightened by the reality of the terrorist mindset and the ever-present threat to our country and our way of life. Our politicians and media can put any politically correct wrapping on the rhetoric of combating terrorism that they wish to but, those of us in law enforcement are the ones who must meet the reality of this jihad and kill it in its tracks right now. I like talking about that and sharing my enthusiasm with others.
Even in Our Ranks...
Why do I hate it? Because when I look out in the audience and into the eyes of the attendees, I would estimate that as many as half of those present don’t think battling terrorism will ever really involve them. So I see the enemies: ignorance and indifference, right there within our own ranks.
The truth is that all free people need to understand the reality of terrorism and the different motivations that embrace a philosophy which advocates killing for political or religious reasons. Being unaware or apathetic in law enforcement is akin to national treason as we are the last line of defense for our way of life. And truthfully, we do a pretty damn good job.
What doesn’t get a lot of play in the media are the incredible efforts both our military and our police forces put in on a 24/7 basis. Hell, even our successes — the foiled plots, the arrests, the information obtained from suspects - don’t get the respect they deserve among the political class and our “unbiased” media.
So let’s make it clear right here: our law enforcement brothers and sisters do a great, great job using tried and true methods of detection and investigation that ultimately lead to apprehension and the saving of countless (literally) lives.
A Long, Well-planned Investigation
If you look at the Newburgh case, you will find good, old-fashioned police work that involved intelligence, courage, ingenuity, and dogged effort on the part of many agencies. The four would-be terrorists were arrested on May 20th, after a nearly year-long FBI investigation. The NYPD played an important role throughout that time, and although it’s not been specifically reported in the news, it’s a pretty good bet that Newburgh PD and the New York State Police also had a hand in the investigation.
Rep. Peter King of New York, the senior Republican on the House Homeland Security Committee, recognized it and said following the arrests: "This was a long, well-planned investigation, and it shows how real the threat is from homegrown terrorists." King recognized two important things: the efforts and success of law enforcement and that “homegrown terrorists” are now a reality.
However, another of the political class, Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., said the following: “If there can be any good news out of this case it's that the group was relatively unsophisticated, penetrated early and not connected to any outside group." My problem with that statement is that it both minimizes the efforts and huge success of law enforcement, as well as inferring that since there was no immediate and obvious connection to an “outside group” and as there was a lack of “sophistication” that these psychotic terrorists were somehow less of a threat.
Ignorance and indifference?
Tried and True Investigative Methods
The FBI, the NYPD, as well as the other unmentioned law enforcement personnel that worked this case did what they are trained and committed to do: stop dangerous criminal terrorists before they can strike. They used tried and true investigative methods: informants, surveillance, persistence, and understanding of both laws and their enemies.
I don’t know how formal or informal the “task force” that worked this case was. I know in my career that task forces failed sometimes but most often they worked extremely well. Why they worked was dependant on several things: the leadership, a clear mission, an atmosphere that allowed the talent assembled to contribute and finally, ego and territoriality being put aside. When working a case, nothing is more important than the goal and nothing ensures success more than cops being allowed to do what they to best.
As part of a series of articles we did on the anniversary of 9/11 last year, PoliceOne editor Doug Wyllie wrote an exceptional piece that addressed the new mindset of law enforcement officers in today’s terrorism age. In this particular case, the reaching out of terrorism-minded psychopaths into our own backyards for “homegrown” operatives gave us an opening. The investigators recognized that the terrorists themselves changed their own “profile.” We now have U.S. citizens in terrorist organizations. This created an opportunity for infiltration. And that is exactly what these dedicated men and women did: infiltrate. And we won.
Law enforcement succeeds when it evolves. In order for it to evolve there has to be education about the enemy, a lack of ego and territoriality, and leaders willing to listen to the people who know their work. Couple those things with bravery, a sense of duty, and dogged police work, and we may win this thing after all.