Spending millions to build the largest counterterrorism operation of any police department since 9/11 still might not have stopped the Boston Marathon suspects if they got to the city with a plan to attack Times Square, officials said Thursday.
"We have a lot of [police] presence and resources there, but there are no guarantees," Police Commissioner Ray Kelly said at a City Hall news conference.
Kelly noted that Boston suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev told investigators he and his brother, Tamerlan, wanted to drive to Times Square to set off bombs.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg noted: "All we can do is everything we can and that is exactly what we are doing. The public has a right to expect us to keep them safe to the extent humanly possible."
Security experts agreed that even with a massive investment in security infrastructure, with over 3,000 interconnected surveillance cameras, special computer programs to recognize suspicious packages and other activity, a committed terrorist could still strike.
"You cannot prevent somebody who is determined and has the capability of [making] an improvised explosive device from doing something," said former CIA analyst and private security consultant Larry C. Johnson. "You can't defend against that. But it is worth noting this kind of incident is extremely rare."
Times Square was the intended target of Faisal Shahzad, who was arrested in May 2010 for an attempted car bombing there. He pleaded guilty and is serving a life sentence.
NYPD spokesman Paul Browne said the city's network of cameras is the last line of defense against a terror attack and, as the Boston attack showed, a powerful investigative tool. More important is the ability of police to get undercover agents to bring back intelligence about terror plots before they happen, Browne said.
"You have to remember the cases made in New York over the last 10 years have been made from intelligence, informants, different sources of information, surveillances and an ongoing effort by NYPD," said Robert Strang, head of Investigative Management Group, a security consulting firm. "You have to look at whole picture, not just the cameras."
Tourists and New Yorkers in Times Square Thursday didn't seem frightened. "I don't feel unsafe," said Ernest Herbert, 49, senior cook at the Jekyll & Hyde Club Restaurant Bar in Times Square. "You have to always be on your guard."
With Sheila Anne Feeney