As the new head of the NYPD intelligence analysis section, Rebecca Ulam Weiner will be trying to prevent attacks on the city with weapons of mass destruction, a subject with which her family has a unique historical connection.
Weiner's grandfather, Stanislaw Ulam, a Polish mathematician who fled Nazi Europe, worked on the original atomic bomb project and was one of two men chiefly credited with devising the hydrogen bomb.
"It is an irony which I have been struck by before," she said. "One of the great regrets I have is that he isn't alive. I would have liked to talk about it with him."
In an interview with Newsday, Weiner fondly recalled her grandfather, who died when she was about 7, remembering how he played memory games with her. In the third grade, Weiner said, she wrote a short paper in skinny, handprinted letters about Ulam's work on the bomb.
His 35-year-old granddaughter, a cum laude graduate of Harvard Law School, has been working for the NYPD in its counterterrorism program since 2006.
Weiner has served as legal counsel for intelligence analysis and run a team dealing with security issues related to the Mideast and North Africa. She is succeeding Mitch Silber, who has taken a job as executive managing director with K2 Global Consulting, an international investigative and threat analysis firm in Manhattan.
In a statement, Police Commissioner Ray Kelly noted Weiner was the first person from local law enforcement in 2010 to serve as a liaison to the National Intelligence Council, which provides strategic assessments to the government.
Weiner, who spent her childhood in New Mexico, has been steeped in international affairs. Fluent in French -- she worked for a time in Paris -- Weiner has been an international security fellow at the John F. Kennedy School of Government Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs.
It was at a Belfer Center presentation on the NYPD terrorism program that Kelly met Weiner, department spokesman Paul Browne said.
In her new job, which she began Friday, Weiner will be a key adviser to the NYPD for all international and domestic terrorism threats against the city and will play a role in managing department policy, which she said has made the city less inviting to would-be terrorists.
"One problem is that of homegrown [terrorists]," said Weiner. Another is the instability in areas of the world, which could exacerbate the terror threat.
"If you look at recent areas of conflict in the world . . . Syria, Yemen, Nigeria, Somalia . . . to a large degree security implications for New York City depend on how those things are construed," she said.
"Such a perception as the West at war with Islam, turns us into a potential target," Weiner explained. "If perceived as a local conflict, it is less a threat."
As a legal counsel to the counterterrorism program, Weiner said all fact-finding and intelligence gathering has been done according to the law. Some Muslim groups have criticized reports about surveillance by the NYPD, saying their civil rights were violated.
Weiner said she will spend some time in her new job getting up to speed on all chemical, biological and radiological threats, which terrorists aspire to use as super weapons.
"If anything, it makes me more committed to nonproliferation and to make sure [nuclear] technologies are not misused," she said.