The recent terror attacks in France and Belgium — exposing Balkanized and uncoordinated intelligence gathering much like the U.S. after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks — affected the ability of European police to respond, NYPD Commissioner William Bratton said Monday.
“This was their 9-11 moment,” Bratton told reporters, referring to the attacks in Paris and Brussels. “Europe, despite no longer having physical borders between countries, the various intelligence agencies are operating often times as independent agencies.”
Bratton made his comments at a news conference in which he and Mayor Bill de Blasio briefed reporters about an NYPD counterterrorism table top exercise in which borough commanders, with little notice, were told to react to four simultaneous attacks on “iconic” places in the city.
The specific targets weren’t identified but the hypothetical attacks involved commanders having to make quick decisions as simulated police radio calls told of explosions and active shooter locations.
“They all did a great job,” said NYPD Chief of Department James O’Neill about how commanders handled the terror scenarios. “As we saw in Paris, anything can happen and it is not necessarily going to happen at twelve o’clock noon on a Monday.”
The mayor and police commissioner held the news briefing in the wake of recent comments, particularly those of Republican presidential hopeful Donald Trump, questioning the ability of the U.S. to respond to terror threats.
De Blasio said such sentiments are “defeatist,” adding: “I am quite sick of Donald Trump negating the ability of this country to protect itself.”
Bratton said “we are as prepared as anybody can be” but noted the likelihood that eventually there will be an attack.
“At some point in our lives, that is the reality,” Bratton said.
In recent days, de Blasio and Bratton have both strongly criticized comments by U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, who is vying against Trump for the Republican presidential nomination, for saying the NYPD should resume intelligence activities in Muslim communities in the five boroughs.
Both city leaders Monday repeated their message for Muslims to push back against the notion that they shouldn’t be part of American society. The result of such ethnic and religious segregation, de Blasio said, would lead to the same problems European societies face.
“That would be the pathway to creating the tensions and divisions that exist in many of the European nations, where the Muslim residents and Muslim citizens feel they don’t actually belong,” the mayor said.
As part of the NYPD’s counterterrorism operations, Deputy Commissioner John Miller will travel to Paris and Belgium in the next several days to get a perspective about what happened during the attacks and subsequent investigations into terror networks.