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Monday, October 6, 2014

Cuomo’s terrorism card game

He jets to Afghanistan and announces a new commitment to address threats. Honest awakening or election-year opportunism?

EUO 3TP Kap Kim/REUTERS Riding high.
Gov. Cuomo came away from his surprise trip to Afghanistan with a bold statement about terrorism:
“You want to say New York is one of the top targets? Then I’m telling you that we’re going to be the most prepared,” Cuomo declared in a conference call with reporters.
“We are going to design the most sophisticated homeland security system ever designed,” he said. “If we’re saying the terrorists are becoming more sophisticated, well, we’ll become more sophisticated and we’ll stay one step ahead.”

Cuomo had better be prepared to back that grand promise up with a detailed, long-term plan — or be revealed as playing politics with the most deadly serious issue of all.
In the aftermath of 9/11, the NYPD built up a counterterrorism capability widely regarded as world class. It includes a robust intelligence division with officers stationed at overseas hotspots, a 3,000-camera “Ring of Steel” in lower Manhattan and Hercules Teams of heavily armed personnel to respond to major threats.
Where does Cuomo think those fall short? What can he, as governor, do that the NYPD, the CIA, the FBI and the five branches of the U.S. armed forces cannot?
And if he believes this is such a high priority, why did he wait until now — five weeks before Election Day — to bring it up?
The words “terror,” “terrorism” and “security” do not appear in transcripts of any of Cuomo’s first three State of the State speeches. He used them this January to note that he was hiring former NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly to help him establish an emergency preparedness college, to address not just terror threats, but also natural disasters.
As recently as May, Cuomo created a commission to “reinvent” New York City’s mass transit system — which is on everybody’s short list of likely terror targets. Yet his mandate for the panel made no mention of preparing for bombs or poison gas — only weather-related threats such as hurricanes and flooding. Nor do any of the commission members seem to have especially notable expertise in security.
Four months later, roughly coinciding with both the 9/11 anniversary and the traditional start of campaign season, the trajectory changed. Cuomo organized a series of high-profile events that simultaneously reminded New Yorkers that terrorism remains a real threat while attempting to show that he was on the job.
He met with federal and local security officials. He announced joint exercises and beefed-up enforcement with New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. In the wake of reports of a terror plot, he very publicly rode the E train to show he was not afraid, a level of courage demonstrated on a daily basis by millions of ordinary New Yorkers.
But his most attention-grabbing step of all was a Defense Department-sponsored flight to Afghanistan with a bipartisan group of four governors, three of whom are up for reelection. The schedule included briefings from military officials and chances to pose in armored vehicles and with wounded soldiers.
EUO 3TP Kap Kim/REUTERS Looking tough.
To explain the sudden focus, Cuomo points to the rise of ISIS, the mass-murdering, hostage-beheading band of jihadists whose sheer bloodthirstiness has caught a lot of people off guard.
His aides insist that he is engaged not in mere security theater, but in a serious effort to immerse himself in an issue of importance to the state — not unlike the way he plunged into storm preparedness in the aftermath of Irene and Sandy.
Still, the flurry of anti-terror activity undeniably works for him politically. If nothing else, the Afghanistan sojourn distracted from Cuomo’s refusal to accept a one-on-one televised debate against his Republican challenger, Rob Astorino.
And, as Cuomo well knows, the terrorism issue can put opponents in a box. During Cuomo’s failed run for governor in 2002, his snarky comment that Gov. George Pataki had only held Rudy Giuliani’s coat after 9/11 drew widespread criticism.
Now, when Astorino mildly says that Cuomo’s Afghanistan trip and other actions must be viewed through “the prism of politics,” Cuomo, in turn, accuses him of politicizing security.
The CEO of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, Paul Reickhoff, has mixed feelings about Cuomo’s trip.
“If you can use it as a way to engage the people of New York, and the people of America, that we’re still at war, then it’s a good thing,” said Reickhoff, himself a former member of the New York National Guard and veteran of Iraq.
But “he’s got to show that it’s more than photo ops,” Reickhoff added. “He’s got to show the policy proposals and, frankly, the outcomes.”
Reickhoff was talking about better state services for veterans when they get home.
The same goes for keeping New Yorkers safe. Let’s see the beef, governor.

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