Editorial: A reminder that NYC is a terror target
The House Intelligence Committee held a decidedly friendly hearing this week to let the National Security Agency do some explaining about its secret surveillance of phone and email traffic, a proceeding blithely dismissed by an American Civil Liberties Union official as "a PR stunt" and not a fact-finding mission.
Most New York City residents -- whether they're comfortable with the controversial NSA programs or not -- would probably want to argue with the ACLU on that.
Intelligence officials in fact devoted part of their time to fleshing out the details of terror plots against two crucial cogs in the local economy: the New York Stock Exchange and the city's subway system.
An FBI official told the committee that while the NSA was monitoring a terrorist in Yemen, it discovered he was talking with a person in Missouri. As agents checked out this connection and broadened the investigation to others, they realized they were learning about a plot to bomb the stock exchange. Participants had gone so far as to conduct surveillance of the NYSE building. Agents moved in and defused the plan.
The official, Sean Joyce, also said the NSA intercepted an email from a terrorist in Pakistan who was talking with someone in the United States in 2009 about perfecting a recipe for explosives. That led agents to the discovery of a plot to bomb the subway system, he testified. Najibullah Zazi later pleaded guilty to a charge of conspiracy to use weapons of mass destruction and is now in federal prison.
New York has always been a terrorist target -- from the 1920 bombing on Wall Street that left 38 dead, to the 1993 bomb at the World Trade Center that killed six, to the 9/11 attacks that took more than 2,750 lives in Manhattan.
But for those of us who live in the five boroughs, the NSA hearing was a necessary reminder of New York's abiding vulnerability and of the tough trade-offs we will continue to face. Like all Americans, we want freedom and we want safety. But sometimes in this jam-packed place, those demands clash with an especially brutal force. The NSA hearing put that dilemma into painfully sharp focus.