By Noah Shachtman January 08, 2009 | 5:35:22 PM
The New York Police Department wants to be able to shut down cell phones, in case of a terrorist attack.
During last month's massacre in Mumbai, terrorist handlers over micromanaged via mobile phone the assaults on the hotels, train stations, and Jewish center that killed more than 170 people.
In testimony today before the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, New York Police Commissioner Ray Kelly (pictured) said he wanted to take out that "formidable capacity to adjust tactics while attacks are underway."
We also discussed the complications of media coverage that could disclose law enforcement tactics in real time. This phenomenon is not new. In the past, police were able to defeat any advantage it might give hostage takers by cutting off power to the location they were in. However, the proliferation of handheld devices would appear to trump that solution. When lives are at stake, law enforcement needs to find ways to disrupt cell phones and other communications in a pinpointed way against terrorists who are using them.
For now, Kelly said, the NYPD is taking a whole range of measures to stop another Mumbai-style spree -- from working with private businesses to interdicting boats to training recruits in heavy weapons to installing a spycam network across downtown Manhattan.
But Charles Allen, the Department of Homeland Security's top intelligence official, confessed to the Senate panel that "response to a similar terrorist attack in a major U.S. urban city would be complicated and difficult."
The chaos the attacks created magnified the difficulty of mounting an appropriate response. First responders, in order to deal with such a crisis, must first and foremost have adequate information on what is occurring as well as the capability to mount a rapid and effective response that minimizes the impact of the attack. In Mumbai it was not immediately clear to authorities whether there were multiple attack groups or a single group. The attackers were able to exploit the initial confusion because of the indiscriminate firings to move on to new targets. While preparedness training for this type of attack may not have prevented it, the effects likely could have been mitigated and reduced if authorities had been prepared and had exercised responses to terrorist attacks across all levels of government. Within the United States, our national exercises incorporate not only federal inter-agency participants, but also include regional, state, and local authorities, in order to identify potential gaps in our responses.