A Day in New York, Pt. 1
Tracking Terror Threats
A New Day in New York, Part 1
It’s 11 o’clock on a Monday morning in early July. Coffee cup in hand, Joe Demarest is standing before a packed conference room deep in the heart of our New York office in Manhattan. Glancing quickly at the bullet points he’s made in his green, government-issue notebook, he looks up and says, “All right everybody. Let’s get started.”
It’s the regular weekly meeting of our New York Joint Terrorism Task Force.
Filling the room are a hundred or so major players and agency reps on the task force, the oldest and largest of its kind in the nation. Beyond poking fun at himself and sharing an occasional laugh, Demarest is serious and straightforward while he leads the meeting, asking probing questions and expecting everyone to know their stuff.
Demarest’s intensity is driven by the task force’s daunting daily task: protecting the Big Apple, one of the country’s ultimate terrorist targets, from possible attack by global jihadists and by homegrown radicals inspired by their ideology. Since 9/11, to be sure, there has been no shortage of threats to run to ground—from a plan to bomb the Herald Square subway station a few years back to the recently disrupted plot to blow up major fuel tanks at J.F.K. airport.
To do its job, the task force pulls together some 500 investigators, analysts, and other experts from 44 different government agencies in the region. Represented are officials from law enforcement, homeland security, the military, and the intelligence community. They each bring to the table their own skills and perspectives; at the same time, they are tethers to the information pools of their larger agencies, which range from Amtrak to the Yonkers Police. Nearly half of the task force members hail from outside the Bureau. The lion’s share—more than 130 in all—are supplied by the New York City Police Department, our partner on the terror task force for more than a quarter century.
Demarest begins the meeting by briefing the contingent on the FBI’s latest investigations and initiatives, turning the floor over to his case agents and analysts for the telling details. He then goes around the room, agency rep by agency rep, calling on each to share what they know and what they have going on in the week ahead.
“This is one important way of making sure nothing falls through the cracks, of keeping everyone up to speed and in sync,” says Demarest, a nearly 20-year veteran of the Bureau who worked international terrorism operations at FBI Headquarters for several years after 9/11 before returning two years ago to the city where he has spent most of his career. “We all have to be transparent. Our success depends on it.”
This growing transparency has helped the task force gel into a virtually seamless operation, says Demarest. “We’re so intertwined that where you’re from doesn’t much matter anymore,” he points out. “We think and act as a team.”
In the days ahead, we’ll talk in more detail about how this team operates—in particular, how it is synthesizing and acting on intelligence in new and important ways. Stay tuned.