When the NYPD's effectiveness is questioned, the department's most ardent supporters frequently point to a long list of terrorist plots said to have targeted New York since 9/11. The list often is described as plots thwarted by the NYPD.
"One can't argue with results," said Peter Vallone, the New York city councilman who heads the Public Safety Committee. "The results of this gargantuan effort have been that at least 13 planned attacks on New York City have been prevented."
In reality, however, the NYPD played little or no role in preventing many of those attacks.
Some, like a cyanide plot against the subway system, were discovered among evidence obtained overseas but were never set into motion. Others, like the 2006 plot to blow up U.S.-bound airliners using liquid explosives, were thwarted by U.S. and international authorities, and plans never got off the ground.
And some, like the 2008 subway plot, went unnoticed by the NYPD despite the money and manpower devoted to monitoring Muslim communities, according to the NYPD files obtained by the AP. The files along with interviews show the NYPD was monitoring Zazi's mosque, and also the Muslim student organization Medunjanin attended. Zazi and Medunjanin were friends and had been praying together regularly since 9th grade. As the years passed, Zazi grew increasingly upset about civilians killed by the U.S. military in Afghanistan; Medunjanin was outraged by the way Muslims were treated at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison, and he promoted jihad at the mosque and after basketball games with friends, according to court documents. He said his friends didn't have the "balls" to do anything.
The plot was discovered after U.S. intelligence intercepted an email revealing that Zazi was trying to make a bomb.
Those programs, meanwhile, have widened the chasm between the police and the city's Muslims, a community the Obama administration says is a crucial partner in the effort to prevent another terrorist attack. Fed up with a decade of being under scrutiny, some Muslim groups now urge against going directly to police when someone hears radical, anti-American talk.
They reason that the person is probably a police informant.
Each morning at the NYPD, Cohen meets his senior officers to discuss the latest intelligence before he briefs Kelly. There is no bigger target for terrorists than New York, the nation's largest city and the heart of the financial and media world. Cohen repeatedly reminds his officers that, on any given day, they might be the only thing standing in the way of disaster. It's a mentality that officials say underscores the seriousness of the threat and the NYPD's commitment to the effort.
Several current and former officials point to that pressure to explain why programs rarely get scrapped, even when there are doubts about their effectiveness. Nobody wants to be the one to abandon a program, only to witness a successful attack that it might have prevented.
At the federal level, intelligence programs are reviewed by Congress, inspectors general and other watchdogs. The NYPD faces no such scrutiny from the City Council or city auditors. Federal officials, too, have been reluctant to question the effectiveness of the NYPD, despite spending more than $1.6 billion in federal money on the department since 9/11.
After House Democrats circulated a letter signed by 34 members of Congress recently asking for a federal review of the NYPD's intelligence programs, King, the New York Republican, accused them of smearing the police department. [See photos of U.S. troops in Afghanistan. ]
The Justice Department under Eric Holder repeatedly has sidestepped questions about what it thinks about the NYPD programs revealed by the AP. Some Democrats in Congress have asked prosecutors to investigate. Since August, the department has said only that it is reviewing those requests.
During the Bush administration, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and senior Justice Department officials received a briefing in New York about the NYPD's capabilities, according to a former federal official who attended.