Last night’s international developments – the killing of Qassem Soleimani, a top Iranian military commander in an airstrike in Baghdad ordered by President Trump – put New York’s defenses on high alert. This morning, Mayor Bill De Blasio held a press conference along with Police Commissioner Dermot Shea and NYPD’s Deputy Commissioner of Intelligence and Counterterrorism John Miller to update the public.
They acknowledged the increased threat to our city, a top terrorist target, and urged vigilance by its residents, and assured that as of now, no credible threats have been identified. But it is a changed world as of this morning: “I think it’s really important for New Yorkers to understand that we are now potentially facing a threat that’s different and greater than anything we have faced previously,” Mayor De Blasio said.
Chief Shea said that “what you will see going forward in New York City in the wake of the news overnight is that heightened vigilance in terms of uniformed officers, many with long guns at sensitive areas, critical structures.”
Here is the transcript of the press conference.
Mayor Bill de Blasio: Our world changed last night, and I wanted to gather everyone together to talk about what this means for New York City, what this means for our people.
The fact is we are dealing this morning with a reality we have not faced previously, and it’s very, very important for everyone to understand that and to understand that in these changing circumstances the City of New York and the NYPD are acting immediately to ensure that New Yorkers are safe.
I want to talk about what I think has changed but first I want to affirm something, based on six years of working closely not just with the NYPD, but with the Joint Terrorism Task Force, the FBI, our federal partners, our State partners, the level of unity and focus and professionalism and coordination between all of the agencies that keep us safe is at the highest it’s ever been. And even though we are going to confront, I believe, some new and very profound challenges I start with real confidence in everyone who protects us and their ability to work together to do that.
That being said, I think it’s really important for New Yorkers to understand that we are now potentially facing a threat that’s different and greater than anything we have faced previously.
Over the last 20 years, this city more than any other has suffered the results of terrorism. But the terrorism inflicted upon us came from non-state actors. It came from very dangerous terrorist movements and individuals. As of last night, we are dealing with a different reality. And I said it last night, we are in at this point a de facto state of war between the United States of America and Iran.
None of us knows how this will play out. It will likely take weeks and months, maybe even years before we see where all of this goes. But we have never confronted in recent decades the reality of a war with a government of a large country with an international terror network at its behest. And no one has to be reminded that New York City is the number one terror target in the United States. So we have to recognize that this creates a whole series of dangerous possibilities for our city.
I am not saying this to be alarmist. I’m not saying this because I assume any outcome. I am saying this because New Yorkers deserve to know that we have entered into a different reality and we have to be ready. I have absolute faith in the NYPD which has built up its own extraordinary intelligence gathering capacity and extraordinary ability to protect us from terror and has been watching the actions of Iran and its proxies for many, many years. There’s a tremendous amount of information as you will hear in a moment from Deputy Commissioner Miller, tremendous amount of information we already have on the activities of Iran and its allies.
So we will be prepared to protect New Yorkers. But I want all New Yorkers to know that the idea of each and every person playing a role takes on added meaning right now.
Again, we are dealing with an adversary that we have never confronted previously on this scale. And that fundamental notion, if you see something, say something, if you see something, say something. It takes on even greater meaning now. And we have plenty of examples of New Yorkers heroically stepping forward and informing the police of something they saw or heard that ended up saving many lives. We need people to be thinking that way right now.
Before I turn to the Commissioner and Deputy Commissioner I will say there’s no way to predict what happens next. And it is probably unlikely that we feel the effects in the immediate term, but my fear is not just about the immediate term. It’s about what happens in the months and even the years ahead, and the fact that we need to stay in a state of constant vigilance. So there will not be a moment where we let down our guard, particularly where the potential of hostilities with such a dangerous adversary exists. Again everyone should be aware, everyone should be vigilant, everyone should feel it is their responsibility to join with the NYPD to help make sure we are all safe.
In the meantime, New Yorkers should do what we always do in the face of adversity. Just continue to go about our lives unafraid, aware always, realistic, tough – New Yorkers are the most worldly, wise people there are. So the fact that we face a new threat cannot and should not change peoples’ lives. It should simply make us more vigilant and aware that we are all in this together. With that, I turn to Commissioner Shea.
Police Commissioner Dermot Shea: Good morning everyone.
To reiterate, there are no specific, credible threats to New York City at this time and it’s worth mentioning that.
I will say this is what the NYPD does though on a daily basis – monitor the threat stream, track unfolding events around the world in real time. We do this because what happens in Baghdad, what happens in Tehran, Tel Aviv, London, or France can and does affect us here in America and certainly affect us in New York City.
We did this before yesterday, target hardening critical structures. We did it last week, we did last month, we did it last year, and we will certainly continue to do it going forward. So with our Counter Terrorism and Intelligence Bureaus, our Joint Terrorism Task Force partners, and with all of our law enforcement, State, local and federal partners, we will continue to detect, work to prevent any acts of violence before it occurs. That is what we do, the men and women of the New York City Police Department, and they do a great job of doing it.
So what you will see going forward in New York City in the wake of the news overnight is that heightened vigilance in terms of uniformed officers, many with long guns at sensitive areas, critical structures, and of course continuing ongoing dialogue with our community leaders who may be affected by this upon seeing it. As always we ask New Yorkers to remain vigilant and anything at all out of the ordinary, 8-8-8-NYC-SAFE. Please call.
Deputy Commissioner of Intelligence and Counterterrorism John Miller, NYPD: So, let me just start where everybody else started which is we have no specific, credible threat emanating from the actions undertaken yesterday regarding New York City.
But we live in a complex threat environment in our day-to-day – normal. So we are coming off the heighten deployments of the holiday season, which is part of the normal. Separate from that we have, aside from terrorism, a series of hate incidents, anti-Semitic incidents in certain neighborhoods around the city which we have deployed against.
In this case, we have an international incident that can and likely will have global implications and, as the Commissioner said, any incident on that level will have a ripple effect that is felt in New York City.
We didn’t start thinking about this last night. This is something we’ve studied over a number of years that entails a number of specific investigations and arrests that have occurred. So, we’re aware that New York is a top terrorist target. We’re aware that people have looked and probed for targets here before. And we are lucky to be the city that has the most significant investment – an investment that’s been increased under this administration in our counter-terrorism resources, whether that’s the money we spend on it or the sheer number of people we dedicate to it.
So, the message to New Yorkers, of course, is to go on about your daily lives, go do the things that you intend to do, but as you see security out there, particularly NYPD personnel at different locations just factor in we also ask the public for heightened awareness. As the Commissioner said, if you see something say something.
We talk about suspicious activity – whether that’s someone trying to elicit information in an unusual way about the security of different locations, whether that’s the testing or probing of security or access at a location whether that’s a government location, critical infrastructure, symbolic target, suspicious photography, observation surveillance. We really depend on people because they know what’s normal on their street, on their block, in the neighborhood where they go to work every day to use their instincts and to not be shy about calling.
MTA Chief Safety Officer, Patrick Warren, also issued a statement this afternoon: “Out of an abundance of caution, the MTA has taken additional steps to enhance customary dynamic layers of security following recent international events. As the NYPD has indicated with regard to New York City, we are aware of no credible and specific threats to the transportation network at this time.”