NYPD Boosts Social Media Monitoring After Hatchet Attack on Cops

The Power of Persuasion Online

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William Bratton.
William Bratton. Credit: Bloomberg/Peter Foley

The New York City Police Department is increasing its monitoring of social media and the web in an attempt to identify what it called potential lone wolf terrorist threats following a hatchet attack on four officers last month.

After a meeting yesterday in New York with police commanders from Los Angeles, London and Washington as part of the NYPD's Operation Sentry program, Commissioner William Bratton said the department has had to significantly broaden such scanning because many young men and women are being attracted to extremist movements online.

"They're trying to access sites that they're going to find stimulating and try to make up for whatever deficits they have in their lives in terms of trying to find meaning or a cause," Mr. Bratton said of youth seeking out extremist websites.

In October, 32-year-old Zale Thompson, described by police as a "self-radicalized convert to Islam," was shot and killed after allegedly attacking four officers in Queens with a hatchet in what the department has labeled an act of terrorism. That attack came a day after a Canadian soldier was murdered in Ottawa by a man also described by authorities as a radicalized follower of Islam.

Operation Sentry
Operation Sentry was formed about eight years ago as a program to share intelligence among police departments because terrorist plots including the 1993 attack on the World Trade Center and the 2005 bombings of London's mass transit system were hatched elsewhere.

The program now has more than 150 members, as law enforcement agencies in the U.S. and around the world need to collaborate while facing a "continuing, emerging, constantly changing threat" from terrorism, Mr. Bratton said.

Operation Sentry is especially important now because the threat has changed and law enforcement agencies are no longer battling a terrorist organization but a network spread more widely and across a greater number of groups, said John Miller, the NYPD's deputy commissioner for intelligence and counterterrorism.

Power of the web
It's a challenge to stop such attacks as terrorist groups are employing a "slick, well-packaged" message on the Internet that plays on emotions and can be hard to prevent, Mr. Miller said.

"If the conspiracy to commit a terrorist act is a conspiracy of one and the planning for that is unsophisticated, doesn't require a lot a lot of preoperational surveillance and is only happening in the mind of the offender, from an intelligence standpoint, from a prevention standpoint, that's very hard to detect," Mr. Miller said.

Relatives described Thompson as a depressed recluse who spent much of his time on his bedroom computer looking at "anti-Western, anti-government" postings. Police said he had been increasingly using the internet to research terrorist groups and acts of violence in the time before the attack.

~ Bloomberg News ~

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