Northeast Times

Homeland security

It’s a whole new world out there, thanks to 9/11 and the In­ter­net, and the po­lice are on top of it.

A lot has changed in the United States in the dec­ade since the 9/11 ter­ror­ist at­tacks.

Air­port se­cur­ity screen­ings are more thor­ough. Gov­ern­ment sur­veil­lance is more com­mon­place. People tend to be more sus­pi­cious of one an­oth­er.

Some things have changed in Is­rael, too, but not ne­ces­sar­ily be­cause of the 9/11 at­tacks.

Is­rael­is have been on the front lines of ter­ror­ism for dec­ades. And if the past is, in­deed, an in­dic­at­or of the fu­ture, they will con­tin­ue to live amid the im­me­di­ate threat of vi­ol­ence.

In March, Chief In­spect­or Joseph Sul­li­van of the Phil­adelphia Po­lice De­part­ment lived un­der the same threat for 10 days dur­ing a trip to Is­rael. Op­por­tun­it­ies for sight­see­ing had noth­ing to with his jour­ney.

Rather, his was a pil­grim­age to a na­tion rife with know­ledge about how anti-es­tab­lish­ment ex­trem­ists op­er­ate. As com­mand­er of Phil­adelphia’s Home­land Se­cur­ity Bur­eau, Sul­li­van brought many les­sons back to the City of Broth­erly Love. Chief among them, per­haps, was the com­mit­ment among all fa­cets of Is­raeli so­ci­ety to com­bat­ing ter­ror.

• • •

“The thing we quickly learned is their sys­tem is based on vo­lun­teer­ism,” Sul­li­van re­cently told a North­east Times re­port­er. “They live un­der a con­stant threat, but they re­fuse to al­low that con­stant threat to af­fect their daily lives.”

“Af­fect” should be in­ter­preted as a re­l­at­ive concept.

That is, in the United States, man­dat­ory mil­it­ary ser­vice for young men may seem like a rad­ic­al concept, but in Is­rael, it’s been the norm for gen­er­a­tions.

Per­haps as a nat­ur­al pro­gres­sion, para­mil­it­ary ser­vice — like on loc­al po­lice forces known as civil guards — is a vo­lun­teer activ­ity in many areas there, Sul­li­van said. By and large, Is­rael­is are well-drilled in first aid, too. Many carry beep­ers so they can re­spond to emer­gen­cies as they arise.

The Anti-De­fam­a­tion League sponsored the trip, dur­ing which Amer­ic­an au­thor­it­ies met with Is­raeli mil­it­ary spe­cial­iz­ing in coun­terter­ror­ism. Sul­li­van and oth­ers on the trip also met with po­lice of­fi­cials, para­med­ics, air­port se­cur­ity spe­cial­ists, private se­cur­ity ex­perts and lead­ers from the in­tel­li­gence com­munity.

In the last 10 years, the Phil­adelphia Po­lice De­part­ment has de­veloped its own col­lec­tion of highly skilled spe­cialty units, all op­er­at­ing be­neath the Home­land Se­cur­ity um­brella. Sul­li­van, a 28-year po­lice vet­er­an, has been in charge of them for the last three years.

“We wouldn’t ex­ist without 9/11,” the chief in­spect­or said, “not in the way we do now. I’ve been an of­ficer, a ser­geant and a lieu­ten­ant in the SWAT unit, and we nev­er had the cap­ab­il­ity and equip­ment that we do now.”

Bur­eau­crat­ic­ally speak­ing, SWAT is just one ele­ment of Phil­adelphia’s home­land se­cur­ity. Oth­er branches with­in the bur­eau in­clude bomb dis­pos­al (bomb squad), the air­port unit, civil af­fairs and dig­nit­ary pro­tec­tion. All have their own ded­ic­ated man­power and com­mand setups.

As a se­cur­ity pre­cau­tion, the po­lice de­part­ment does not dis­close pub­licly how many of­ficers are as­signed to in­di­vidu­al units.

• • •

Not to be con­fused with the Home­land Se­cur­ity Bur­eau, the home­land se­cur­ity unit is the ad­min­is­trat­ive branch of the bur­eau and in­cludes Sul­li­van and his staff. The home­land se­cur­ity unit has three primary ob­ject­ives: train­ing, plan­ning and in­tel­li­gence gath­er­ing for the rest of the bur­eau and the en­tire po­lice de­part­ment.

On the train­ing front, hav­ing vari­ous spe­cialty units work­ing un­der one com­mand al­lows in­di­vidu­al of­ficers in each unit the op­por­tun­ity to learn skills dir­ectly from one an­oth­er.

“We fo­cus on cross-train­ing,” Sul­li­van said.

For ex­ample, of­ficers in SWAT may learn cer­tain ex­plos­ive-hand­ling prin­ciples, host­age-ne­go­ti­ation meth­ods and first aid, to name a few. Mean­while, bomb-dis­pos­al of­ficers may learn high-risk res­cue tac­tics and ar­son in­vest­ig­a­tion.

The know­ledge-shar­ing isn’t lim­ited to Phil­adelphia po­lice. Of­ficers may train with the fire de­part­ment and fed­er­al agen­cies.

As a res­ult, the pro­cess pro­duces of­ficers like De­tect­ive Joe Rovn­an. As a mem­ber of Sul­li­van’s staff, Rovn­an has been trained as a mem­ber of SWAT, as an EMT, in wa­ter res­cue and in haz­ard­ous-ma­ter­i­al re­sponse. Per­haps most im­port­ant, he is the de­part­ment’s lead host­age ne­go­ti­at­or.

Like­wise, De­tect­ive Tim Brooks of bomb dis­pos­al is trained as a bomb tech­ni­cian, ex­plos­ive in­vest­ig­at­or and ar­son in­vest­ig­at­or. He also is a sworn fed­er­al agent through the Bur­eau of Al­co­hol, To­bacco, Fire­arms and Ex­plos­ives.

As a side note, Brooks and Sul­li­van were among the earli­est au­thor­it­ies to ar­rive at the scene of the fatal Ride the Ducks boat crash on the Delaware River last sum­mer. Both were off duty at the time and happened to be in the neigh­bor­hood.

Brooks lit­er­ally jumped in­to the murky river in an ef­fort to res­cue some of the 35 pas­sen­gers and two crew mem­bers who were spilled in­to the wa­ter after a barge plowed in­to the stalled tour­ist boat.

“That’s the pro­to­type,” Sul­li­van said of the of­ficers in his spe­cialty units. “It’s a mind­set. It’s about pro­fes­sion­al­ism, about high stand­ards and do­ing the best they can do.”

Their du­ties stretch far bey­ond what the pub­lic might per­ceive as counter-ter­ror­ism activ­it­ies.

• • •

If a sus­pi­cious pack­age turns up at the air­port, home­land se­cur­ity units will be called to the scene. The same is true when a fu­git­ive bar­ri­cades him­self in­side a house, when a for­lorn hus­band takes his wife and kids host­age, or when a de­lu­sion­al em­ploy­ee goes on a shoot­ing ram­page at work.

When a Kraft Foods em­ploy­ee shot two co-work­ers to death at the com­pany’s land­mark North­east bakery last Septem­ber, Sul­li­van and his troops were there with­in minutes to re­lieve the loc­al patrol of­ficers who were first on the scene.

“We drove (the sus­pect) in­to a bar­ri­cade situ­ation, and we went from an ag­gress­ive ap­proach to a de­fens­ive ap­proach,” Sul­li­van said.

After word soon reached po­lice that in­no­cent em­ploy­ees were hid­ing in­side the plant and in im­min­ent danger, SWAT switched gears again, raid­ing the room where they had cornered the sus­pect. The al­leged shoot­er sur­rendered without fur­ther in­jur­ies to her­self or to co-work­ers.

“A lot of times, people think we just want to go in and get the guy, but the only time a situ­ation is suc­cess­ful is when nobody gets hurt,” Sul­li­van said.

He eas­ily rattles off count­less oth­er real-life scen­ari­os in which his of­ficers take the lead. When a sui­cid­al al­leged drug ad­dict threatened to jump from an over­pass onto Wood­haven Road a few months back, host­age ne­go­ti­at­ors talked him down while oth­er of­ficers pulled him to safety.

And when au­thor­it­ies dis­cov­er a po­ten­tially ex­plos­ive drug lab, the re­sponse in­cludes SWAT, bomb dis­pos­al and the fire de­part­ment, along with drug en­force­ment.

• • •

Phil­adelphia is for­tu­nate not to have ex­per­i­enced a ma­jor ter­ror­ist at­tack. Per­haps that’s largely a res­ult of status. New York and Wash­ing­ton are more likely pri­or­it­ies for those seek­ing to make an in­ter­na­tion­al state­ment.

But the Quaker City does have its po­ten­tial tar­gets, such as In­de­pend­ence Hall, the Fed­er­al Re­serve Bank and highly pop­u­lated areas typ­ic­al of a city its size.

And not all ter­ror­ism is in­ter­na­tion­al or af­fil­i­ated with an or­gan­ized group.

Any loc­ale can be vul­ner­able to a “lone wolf”-style at­tack, in which an in­di­vidu­al plans and ex­ecutes vi­ol­ence. It may in­volve an in­de­pend­ent re­li­gious ex­trem­ist, a ra­cial su­prem­acist or a single-is­sue polit­ic­al act­iv­ist.

Ac­cess to ex­trem­ist pro­pa­ganda is great­er than ever due to the World Wide Web, as are step-by-step in­struc­tions on how to build very dan­ger­ous devices.

“The In­ter­net is a game-changer, and that’s something we can’t shut down,” Sul­li­van said. “That’s why we see the lone-wolf of­fend­er as the biggest threat right now.”

Oth­er times, the con­flict may in­volve a do­mest­ic or­gan­iz­a­tion. Sul­li­van thinks the mod­ern-day ap­proach could have made a big dif­fer­ence in the city’s two dis­astrous con­front­a­tions with the rad­ic­al or­gan­iz­a­tion MOVE in 1978 and 1985.

“We con­sider in­tel­li­gence and in­form­a­tion-shar­ing our most im­port­ant tool,” the chief in­spect­or said.

“MOVE is an ex­ample of how in­tel­li­gence was not dis­sem­in­ated early on in (their) build­ing be­com­ing so for­ti­fied. (Neigh­bors) re­por­ted everything, but (in­form­a­tion) did not get out to the units that needed it.”

Today, the home­land se­cur­ity unit is a clear­ing­house for in­form­a­tion on po­ten­tial threats, wheth­er the re­ports come from over­seas op­er­at­ives, the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment, oth­er jur­is­dic­tions or the gen­er­al pub­lic.

Sul­li­van has “top secret” clear­ance to work with the FBI. George Ven­izelos, the fed­er­al agency’s spe­cial agent in charge in Phil­adelphia, has been very re­cept­ive to co­oper­a­tion, ac­cord­ing to the po­lice com­mand­er.

“The idea of someone like me hav­ing that top-level clear­ance didn’t ex­ist be­fore 9/11,” he said. ••

Re­port­er Wil­li­am Kenny can be reached at 215-354-3031 or bkenny@bsmphilly.com

You can reach at wkenny@bsmphilly.com.

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