How FBI New York Helps Protect New Year’s Eve
Collaboration is central to guarding the city’s iconic celebrations
Each year, the FBI’s New York Field Office joins forces with local, state, and federal partners to ensure that residents and visiting tourists can safely partake in New Year’s Eve (NYE) celebrations across the city.
The New York Police Department plays point on NYE security within the five boroughs, and the FBI supplements those efforts by providing specialized support teams and resources, explained FBI New York Assistant Special Agent in Charge Michael Burgwald, who helps lead the field office’s crisis- and technical-response efforts.
Partnerships and Planning
Pre-NYE planning is a team effort between the FBI, NYPD, and local and federal partners that occurs throughout the year, said Special Agent Brian Wittenberg. He’s coordinated special events for the New York Field Office—including New Year’s Eve security—for the past six years.
“It's a continually refined process of trying to make sure that the New Year's Eve celebration—which is essentially a six-hour live show from Times Square that's broadcast on television around the world—is safe and accessible for all of the people who are coming to enjoy a memorable night,” said Wittenberg.
The New Year’s Eve plan adjusts from year to year in response to local and world events.
“Part of the FBI's contribution is we make sure that all of our 56 offices, all of the legal attaché offices, and all of our partner agencies overseas are appropriately leveraged so that our local planners and the New York City community has the very best, timely information about what's occurring around the world and that they can tailor their approach to make sure we're best protecting the public,” Wittenberg said.
On the last day of the year, the Bureau’s presence is spread out between multiple locations:
- A joint operations center located at the FBI New York Field Office’s lower Manhattan headquarters
- “A forward command post” located closer to the main celebrations in Times Square, which Wittenberg said allows FBI New York leadership and Bureau partners to “monitor the information in the event in real time together and then be poised to work together should there be an unplanned incident or any other type of matter that requires a response”
- A mobile command vehicle that Burgwald says features “a number of terminals” that can “house personnel from our intelligence brethren to our operational brethren to look at any near-term threat specific to that event”
- Partner-agency command posts scattered throughout the city where Bureau personnel are co-located with our partners, ready to respond to risks, should they arise
But we don’t just coordinate with law enforcement—our partners in the effort include everyone from the National Weather Service to the City of New York Sanitation Department. “It's really the full spectrum of government coming together to keep the public and the event safe and things moving as smooth as possible,” Wittenberg said.
As for the FBI itself, our street-level footprint on New Year’s Eve is a diverse sampling of our agency’s various areas of expertise. Our personnel on the ground include special agents, task force officers, intelligence professionals, technical experts, bomb technicians, Evidence Response Team members, crisis management specialists, and more.
“It's a continually refined process of trying to make sure that the New Year's Eve celebration—which is essentially a six-hour live show from Times Square that's broadcast on television around the world—is safe and accessible for all of the people who are coming to enjoy a memorable night.”
Brian Wittenberg, special agent, FBI Newark
Visualizing the Threat Picture
FBI New York personnel aim to be ready for anything when safeguarding NYE festivities, Burgwald said.
“Those threats can really range the ideological spectrum that can go from your traditional violent criminality to certainly terrorist attacks for New Year’s Eve,” he explained.
For example, on Dec. 31, 2022, an attacker driven by extremist ideology attacked three NYPD officers with a machete. The attacker, Trevor Bickford, recently plead guilty to federal terrorism charges in connection with the attack.
Wittenberg says that the night of the festivities, the FBI takes nothing for granted.
“During the course of the event, there is a constant assessment of how things are going and, as needed, we can adjust our plans and redirect some of the experts that we have deployed just to make sure that everything is going as smoothly as possible,” Wittenberg said.
As for 2023’s event, “there were no significant incidents,” Wittenberg said. “The plan and the new measures that were put into place to make sure that the event was smooth and not disrupted were very effective.”
It’s event for which no news is good news.
“The New Year's Eve event is just a reminder of the love of mission and just the sheer dedication to the FBI's mission to keep the American people safe,” Burgwald said. “The team’s collective work is often done away from the spotlight, so when an event goes off without a quote unquote ‘incident,’ that's a good thing.”
History of Response
The FBI has been involved in protecting New York City’s New Year’s Eve festivities in some way, shape, or form, since at least the 1940s.
“It goes back at least to World War II when the ball drop for 1942 and 1943 did not occur due to wartime restrictions,” Wittenberg explained. “They actually had a dim out and a moment of silence during those two years, so our predecessors in the FBI during that time were involved in the decision and the security measures to keep New York safe during that period of conflict, and they've remained involved to a certain extent since then.”
The FBI’s involvement in NYE security became “significant” starting in the lead-up to the year 2000. Since then, Wittenberg said, the FBI’s role and the power of our event-related partnerships have progressively strengthened, and the process of protecting New York City from potential crisis has become progressively smoother.
“New Year’s Eve in Times Square is a remarkable event and it's a privilege to be a part of the team working to keep it safe,” he said.